I’ve noted James H. Olthuis before (many times now!).  He isn’t the end-all, be-all of worldview—I think many others also unpack worldview very nicely, but he does provide a good working definition even if I think some things could be worded or explained differently.  Again, his summation of worldview (narrative/faith) and similar extrapolations (postmodern) are critical for understanding what I mean when I talk about “faith” “narrative” and “belief.”   The one area I want to pull out for this post is how we might think about the fact that worldviews are varied and even contradict each other.  Well, if we understand how they are formed, we should expect this.
Now, one could press the claims of faith or thought or socioeconomic or passion as the prime determinant in worldview formation. But that route, I believe, leads unavoidably to reductionism and dogmatism. I suggest that no one factor can be said to be the maker of a worldview. All the factors of life – biophysical, emotional, rational, socioeconomic, ethical, and “religious” – affect worldview formation simultaneously and interdependently, one dominating the others at one time, another at another time. My claim is that such an integrated, multidimensional model of worldview formation is comprehensive and flexible enough to explain the existence and credibility of the many diametrically opposed worldviews with their competing claims.
We should be clear here that his noting of the “claims of faith” is meant to speak to, for instance, the claims of the Lutheran faith, or Catholic faith, or Mormon faith.  In other words, a set of teachings or formal creeds within a religious tradition.  He isn’t speaking of faith in the sense of that decision to believe and hold to one worldview over another, which is inherently a matter of faith in the sense of the risk we associate with loving another.
Once we understand this process of worldview formation it makes, in my view anyway, the objection that because narratives differ we must either hold them all equally false or we must withhold judgment- untenable. All it means (the fact that narratives differ/are contested) is that we must try and understand each other as we recognize the above noted dynamic.  It calls for dialogue, not dismissal or some sort of withdrawal.  Living in this world and with others makes this impossible anyway.  What it also helps us to see is that worldviews differing and contradicting isn’t tied to the fact they make metaphysical claims, but rather that they do so with all these other factors in play.  And making metaphysical claims, unless one were to never comment, never reflect, never theorize, never speculate, just simply note facts like reading from an encyclopedia, is something that everyone does anyway.  The only person who does not do this is the person who takes a vow of silence (even then his lived life would betray him as our actions are always our true philosophy—so there is no escape!).  And one can only critique one set of metaphysical presuppositions from another set.  So thinking the problem lies there (inherent to metaphysical claims) is folly to say the least.  Everyone is a philosopher, from the street person to the president of Harvard and “everyone” includes scientists—even empiricists.  Whether arm-chair, professional, or somewhere in between- we all philosophize and, in fact, this is inherent to our humanity and what makes us, indeed, human.  To object to any of this would only prove my point.  The moment one started with his objection and began to articulate, he would be…philosophizing!    
The further help is that understanding this dynamic should lead to a little more humility in the holding of our own worldviews and also tolerance, without losing the parallel claim that not all narratives are true or of equal stature (a completely different question).  In other words, I need to know that many factors (most beyond my control) led me to have the worldview I currently hold.  Part of the ongoing development of our worldviews is the process of peeling away those aspects that are purely cultural and tribal or at least recognize the fact that they are.  And the cultural and tribal aspects are true of scientists, atheists, agnostics, and anyone else.  No one is born and raised in a vacuum.  Part of that same maturing process is learning to own what we feel is critical and what we are passionate about and what we need to let go of.  That is the journey.  Therefore, doubt should be our constant companion and our worldview should always be in process. 
After I have discussed the formation and structure of a worldview in its many dimensions, I will turn to the question of its function. I believe that a worldview can be a medium of mediation and integration in a two-way movement between the commitment of faith and all the other modes of human experience. Certainty received in the surrender of faith leads to a way of living via a worldview. Concomitantly, a way of life, in all of its modes and moments, influences the commitment of faith via the mediation of a worldview. To my mind only a model which highlights such two-way reciprocity enables us to avoid canonizing worldviews (as if they were the pure expression of faith or the infallible bearers of truth) while it also keeps us from minimizing them (as if they were only the reflex and rationalization of socioeconomic interests, genetic predispositions, or emotional needs).
We all are tempted to fall into one of these ditches.  The trick is to navigate such that we take both movements into account and hold them both in hand so as to keep balance.  All fundamentalism,  I believe, is a result of falling into one of these ditches.
Don’t end up in a ditch.
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81 Responses to Ditches

  1. Hi Darrell

    Here is precisely where I think you are making a logical error. You say we only doubt something because we believe some other thing. The agnostic position is not based upon doubt but uncertainty, and uncertainty does not imply belief in some alternative.

    Take twin primes. Are there an infinite number of them – I don't know. So I wouldn't answer that question with a yes or a no. I am uncertain, and that uncertainty does not imply any positive belief (beyond the belief that I don't know).

    Now, the table analogy has become tortured, so I'll leave it. The only claim I'm making is that the agnostic does not hold beliefs that contradict those reasonably held by others. You disagree with this, and I remain interested in a demonstration as to why this might be the case.



  2. RonH says:

    Hi, Bernard…

    Well in the first instance one would need an example of a belief I hold that others don't, and from there we could begin to consider whether this was because of a lapse in reasoning, or because my position was wrong. If I can't show the former, then the latter could reasonably be claimed to hold.

    If you can't show the former, all that proves is that you haven't figured out how to show it. The latter could be claimed, or not. It proves nothing at all. Just because you don't see a flaw in either your own reasoning or Darrell's, doesn't mean there isn't one. One of my profs in college was fond of saying (regarding software quality) that testing never proves the absence of bugs, only their presence. Honestly, who do you think at this point is most likely to be reasoning badly: you or Darrell? Why?

    As for your connection between taste and belief… On this point I must simply throw up my hands. At multiple points, he and I both have proffered positions of yours that we consider beliefs, only to be told that what may look to us like a belief is really a matter of taste. If tastes are founded on beliefs, then your earlier responses would appear disingenuous. If the tastes in question aren't founded on beliefs, then I don't know what to make of this appeal now to belief-founded tastes. I feel like I'm trying to grab water, and whether or not I have a taste for it, I have definitely lost the patience for it.

    I do not recognize your belief that the last comment in my earlier post contains a logical flaw. If you and Darrell cannot agree on a definition of “belief”, then he cannot engage your challenge in any way to which you will lend credence. If Darrell assumes your definition of belief, then of course your challenge will be unmeetable — your definition of belief and the framing of your challenge are sides of the same coin. But that demonstrates the consistency of your reason within the context of your own worldview. However, I thought the question on the table was concerning how to adjudicate between your worldviews. To that, your challenge says nothing until you can agree on the definition of belief.

    You have a simple challenge. From your perspective, Darrell has not only been unable to meet it, he has been unable even to realize that he's not meeting it. Doesn't that seem odd? What further proof do you need that Darrell is being unreasonable? Do you have any reason at all to believe he's not? If so, what is it?


  3. Hi Ron

    Exactly right. Just because we can't find the flaw, doesn't meant here isn't one. Nevertheless, if two people reason their way to opposite conclusions from the same starting point, then we can assume one is flawed. And if we choose (as the agnostic does) to only follow evidence and reasons as far from the shared axioms as they can take us, then an inability to establish the line of reasoning removes licence to speculate. Consistency would require me to withdraw the claim at this point, and I would.

    Anyway, sorry you've lost patience at this point. The nature of reasoned inquiry is exactly this, I'm afraid. It's slow, painstaking and immensely frustrating. But I like it, because it helps me reshape my view of the world. I find it immensely helpful.




  4. Burk Braun says:

    “Since believing in a transcendental aspect to reality is by far, historically and even presently, a much more accepted view than a soft or hard empiricism, where is the true common ground here?”

    Darrell, all-

    I think even I can clear up this one. Bernard certainly does not mean “popular” by his universal or commonly accepted premises. He means a premise that is logically and empirically defensible- one that everyone agrees with, because they are compelled to deal with reality, as we all are. I.e., ” to assert some state of the world is true.”

    So, believing in a trascendental aspect is surely popular and infinite words have been spilled explaining why it is reasonable, compelling, and the rest. But those works have not really succeeded, and the issue is very much contested, because it is not an inescapable part of the reality we have to deal with. And even if “something” of the sort were defensible, then its nature and contents are wholly unknown, making silence, not to mention non-belief, the best policy.

    “I say, “Oh that’s fine what you believe, that there is no God, but I restrict my beliefs to only those things that encompass transcendence and partly I do that because most people believe in God and this way I stay on common ground.

    Yes- that is just the thing. Does this make any sense? It is just the question of what distinguishes rigor from popularity. Transcendence is not the common ground at all. There are many traditions that do not claim it or deal with it. And those that do all disagree about what it contains.

    The real common ground is the ground we all walk on- reality. That I think is what Bernard is getting at. And making careful inductions about the various unseen elements of that reality likewise involves a rigorous process, by which we find electrons, game theory, mathematics, etc. It is a structured process, and jumping right to the intoxicating ice cream that is transcendent godliness.. well, that is quite obviously not a product of any kind of ordered process of reasoning, but of psychology.


  5. Darrell says:


    I point out exactly the thing I think you believe and indeed are certain about, which is encompassed in your restriction. And you only responded to a tiny portion of my argument. Indeed, I just looked back through the entire thread and notice that you rarely answer anyone’s questions or respond directly to anyone’s argument. At this point Bernard, I just don’t think you can “hear” the other person. Instead of responding to the actual arguments anyone is making, you simply re-state your case as if no one else has said anything.

    The fact you make your case by framing it in a negative restriction and not a positive “I believe A to be true” is simply an issue of semantics and is entirely meaningless and moot as far as the substance of this conversation. For all practical matters as far having a philosophical conversation, no matter the metaphysical issue (the type discussed on this blog), you will always (because of your arbitrary restriction, which is not commonly held by- the- way—what is commonly held is methodological naturalism) come down on the side of, and interpret things, from a empirical perspective. At the end of the day, you are a garden variety empiricist. No amount of semantical phrasing changes that. So you can rest easy knowing you will never have to address the issue of whether or not God exists since such lies outside your restriction, your boundary, your fence.

    At this point your deep desire or need (irony again) to have this issue seen your way has become an obstacle to further conversation. My suggestion would be to run it by Eric Reitan or some other professional philosopher. You may find many of them on your side and it would be great to hear their reasons and why they support you.

    I am happy to address any other issues that interest you from my posts, but I will not keep re-hashing this same issue over and over. And if you feel it is always going to be a component or part of anything you need to say, well, since you already know my thoughts and response—there will be no need for me to respond further so don’t interpret that to mean anything other than I have already addressed it as best I can.


  6. Darrell says:


    “…So, believing in a trascendental aspect is surely popular and infinite words have been spilled explaining why it is reasonable, compelling, and the rest. But those works have not really succeeded…”

    Works that hold there is a transcendent aspect to reality have succeeded far beyond any combination of works of a purely philosophical naturalist/materialist account. I have no idea what you are possibly talking about.

    Further I know what Bernard means. I mean the same thing. The belief in a transcendental aspect to existence is not so prevalent because it is popular (although I know you need to interpret it that way because of your materialism), but because the vast majority of people past and present feels it fits better with our experience of the world, indeed the way the world works than a view that is entirely materialist or empirically described.

    Putting that aside though, would you be fine with the argument I lay out—if I couch it the way Bernard does?


  7. Hi Darrell

    I'm sorry you feel that way. I'm not trying to avoid the issue, just focus it towards those parts here genuine progress might be made.

    You are right, I'm not hearing your case, which is to say that I can't yet find the argument beneath the assertion. I absolutely understand that you are asserting my decision not to form beliefs beyond those that may be derived logically from commonly held axioms, represents a sort of belief. I'm not failing to hear that at all.

    What I'm not hearing is the reasoning behind that assertion. Why does a decision not to form a belief, in itself represent a belief? A belief in what? What style of belief are we talking about within such an assertion?

    You seem to be consistently saying two things. One, that such a stance does indeed betray a contested belief, and two, that you are unable to express this belief in the simple 'bernard believes that…' form. It is this apparent mismatch that puzzles me. I don't understand how one can be sure the first assertion is reasonable, while remaining unable to express that assertion in simple 'A believes B' terms. So, to avoid harping on about the the same old thing, why is it so difficult for you to name the belief you are sure I hold? Maybe addressing that could take us forward.

    I do hear that you think I hold to the foundational beliefs of empiricism, and that these themselves are disputed. However, empiricism is a broad term, ranging from the methodological naturalism that you yourself endorse, through to forms even of idealism. And not all of these types (methodological naturalism being a good example) rely upon contested axioms. So, again, should you be able to clarify what you are claiming here, by naming the disputed beliefs that, by dint of my empiricism I hold, we could perhaps have a crack at assessing its logical validity.

    Or you might not want to. Which is entirely understandable. I do appreciate the extent to which conversations of this type can become deeply frustrating, and I'm not aiming to cause discomfort.

    All the best



  8. Darrell says:


    I have met every request for explanation and unpacked my position to a much greater extent than you. I’ve devoted entire posts. Again, you rarely answer anyone’s direct questions or deal with their direct arguments. Just read through the comment thread. In the mean time you sit back and tell everyone the subtly of your position is so razor edged and so fine, that we all keep missing it. This has become a pee under the shell game. I don’t even think Burk understands your position because he often identifies you as a fellow empiricist as well. I noticed when he did in the form of a question recently on your own blog, you did not respond. What does that tell you?

    This repeated challenge or yours, which again is simply a semantic issue at best, means nothing of substance. It is a distinction without a difference.

    The onus is on you now. Why don’t you devote some posts to why you are not an empiricist or what kind you are? And why it matters.

    I think I’ve done my part and I don’t think I have any bar I need pass here.


  9. RonH says:

    Hi, Bernard…

    if two people reason their way to opposite conclusions from the same starting point, then we can assume one is flawed.

    That's right. But if two people reason their way to opposite conclusions from different starting points, we aren't justified in making that assumption. I think this is what Darrell is saying: you and he are working from differing starting points, so it's possible that neither of you are reasoning badly. Your starting point seems to have no room for that possibility. The gravitational constant of your worldview seems to pull inevitably towards the conclusion that Darrell is irrational. This is why I was pressing you in my last comment about your thoughts on whether or not he's being reasonable (to which you did not respond). I think Darrell's inability to not only meet your challenge but even comprehend it is significant. I appreciate that you may find such a conclusion distasteful, but it seems inevitable. After all, the one way he could demonstrate to you that your reasoning is flawed is to meet your challenge — which he seems to be unable to understand.

    I understand the nature of reasoned inquiry. The point here is that reasoned inquiry can only take you so far, and only from a starting point that is the foundation for the inquiry and not itself a product of it. A worldview. Rationalized, perhaps, but not a product of reason.

    (For the record, I don't think anyone in this discussion is irrational (anyone else, that is — I have doubts about my own rationality…). You've all got fantastically rationalized worldviews, and I admire you all greatly. I remain baffled as to why Burk, who clearly thinks Darrell is irrational, would find it reasonable to continue to engage him in discussion. But… well… folks do all kinds of things for fun, so who knows.)


  10. Hi Ron

    My challenge really is nothing more than an attempt to clarify Darrell's criticism of my position. His criticism, if I understand him correctly, amounts to a claim that the sort of agnosticism I enjoy is not immune from the problem of choosing between contested axioms.

    Now this might be exactly where I'm going wrong, and you may be able to help me out, but I'm assuming the claim 'The world view A entails contested beliefs' is a logical one, that is we look at world view A, and by examining its component parts, deduce that it does indeed contain a contested axiom. If this is how it works, then Darrell and I disagree on a matter of reason. As to whether or not it is Darrell or I failing in our reason, well unless we are prepared to see that one through, (and Darrell too has tired of this game) we may never know.

    You suggest an interesting alternative. That Darrell's claim that 'world view A entails contested beliefs', can not be explained from shared principles, but in fact relies upon an appeal to a foundational belief within Darrell's worldview that I don't hold. Now, if that is the case, I wonder what the nature of said belief might be, and how it flows into Darrell's claim. I don't see how that would work, but certainly if Darrell was to put it in this form, 'Because of my fundamental belief A, I am led to conclude via the following line of reasoning, that the agnostic world view leads to contested beliefs of the type B' then I'd not consider that unreasonable. I also suspect it would bring into clear focus exactly what we mean by world view, so I'd love to see it pursued.

    But what would such a belief be, and what would the development of belief into argument look like? It's not immediately apparent to me. Do you see it?



  11. Hi Darrell

    If your motivation is genuinely one of shared understanding, then maybe we can shake the format up in such a way that it's much harder for me to appear elusive. How about you ask a single direct question, a single sentence say, and I answer that directly, without digressing. And you keep that up until you have enough evidence to establish your case that my agnosticism relies upon a contested axiom. At which point you present that?

    To begin in that spirit, you ask what type of empiricist I am. Here, as clearly as I can manage, is the answer.

    It appears to me that some metaphysical beliefs are inevitable, in order for any understanding, hypothesising or even discussion to occur. Principal amongst them is the belief that the world contains sufficient regularity for expectations to make sense. I claim, that within human discourse, this belief is uncontested, for language, the medium of our thought, requires such stability through time.

    I'm not sure if deductive logic should be seen as a separate necessary principal here, or whether it can be established purely from the inductive rule that that which worked in the past, all things being equal, is the best bet for the future. Nevertheless, these two types of reasoning have yielded methods of inquiry that we trust simply because they have worked. Using them we have extended the range of our commonly accepted truths. So we accept conclusions about electricity, for example, that would seem unintelligible to our forebears. The acceptance is forced upon us (disagree, well feel free to test out that electric chair for yourself). Such beliefs, though always tentative, are constrained by our interaction with reality.

    When we move into areas where reality does not constrain us, which is to say there is no way of convincingly demonstrating to another person our point of view is correct, because our point of view is in a part a function of variable world views, we face choices in terms of our beliefs. Reality, it would seem, can tolerate a range of interpretations.

    My choice, at this point, is not to disbelieve, but rather to withhold belief, as might a person observing a coin toss. Maybe existence implies purpose, maybe it's just a brute fact. I honestly have no idea which is more likely, I have no sense of how to choose between them, so I watch the coin, and in the interim believe in neither outcome over the other (whilst understanding that one such outcome is inevitable). I don't think this choice is any more rational than the choice to trust one's intuition and appeal to an alternative means of gaining knowledge (so long as this means does not contradict aforementioned accepted beliefs and inferences).

    That's the kind of empiricist I am. I don't think empirical models necessarily describe reality, beyond the observation they are constrained by reality in a way other models are not. And this constraint in part explains our ability to extend shared knowledge in this one field.

    Does that help? If you think I have evaded anything here, ask that single question and I promise to address it.



  12. Burk Braun says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    If you really want to know, I do not entirely agree with your earlier formulation:

    “Going back to the separate but equal analogy, just because a person never says anything assertive in the form of “I believe black people are dumb…” as a reason for his separation from them, if his restriction is such that it still creates an atmosphere of separation then he is still just as prejudiced as the person who would claim such.

    It would be like me saying that I restrict my beliefs to only those things that have a transcendent aspect to them, but I’m not claiming there is a god necessarily. Then when approached by the atheist who is trying to “reason” with me, I say, “Oh that’s fine what you believe, that there is no God, but I restrict my beliefs to only those things that encompass transcendence and partly I do that because most people believe in God and this way I stay on common ground.”

    So on every question that had a metaphysical component regarding laws, morality, education, politics, the environment, and every other significant area or life, I could continually come down on the same side as Christians but not claim any assertive or positive belief in God. In other words, one could create a space where they never have to make a positive belief statement, but the “restriction” they create guarantees where they will come down on any given issue.

    Burk, would that work for you? Or would you rightly call foul?”

    This just shows the importance of philosophy over emotion. Sure, if I show my disagreement by separating myself from your positions, I am in opposition, and evidently do not share your conclusions, and probably not your premises, which makes me unreasonable in your system of belief. (I had previously addressed the unwisdom of your reversal of empiricism, claiming supernaturalism as some king of common ground, on the basis of popularity.)

    But what does all this amount to if no reasons are given? Not very much. It is emotion, or perhaps taste.. its origins are murky, and may range from personal dislike to philosophical disagreement. It isn't going to sway you from your side, unless it comes with the kind of incense, singing, and elaborate costumes that may clinch a properly emotional argument. The assertion of reasons is very important.

    … cont…


  13. Burk Braun says:

    … cont…

    But I guess the issue is whether the unreasonableness of my obduracy (or Bernard's) can be made plain in some way that doesn't just resolve to your own prejudices and preconceptions. On your own system, there is no way to do so, since we are each trapped in our own world view, which somehow gives us leave to declare it universally truthful (as I believe you believe the Christian message is) while at the same time extending tolerance to those we are aware have differing or even conflicting world views. To me, this doesn't make any sense.

    Tolerance, however, isn't the problem here. The problem is that truth claims are extremely dangerous, seeing as they can be used (and indeed necessarily) define other viewpoints and other people outside of the zone of reasonableness. So I think that the most important lesson is that truth claims need to be approached with great humility and high standards, which is precisely what agnosticism is about.

    Either you live in a postmodern world where nothing is true, and each person is entitled to her or his own story / narrative, without judgement based on “truth” criteria. Or else you live in a more traditional world where criteria for truth do indeed exist, which is what philosophy is all about, among other subjects. And there are areas of knowledge where these standards can be reliably applied (empiricism, in general, and logic).

    And there are areas where these standards can not be applied, such as supernaturalism and myths taken artistically, and art in general. It is simply invalid to claim “truth” here where truth can not (or at least has not) been shown, and thus invalid to assert belief, which leads necessarily to an agnostic position. Not that one does not or can not psychologically “believe”, even fervently, but without philosophically grounded knowledge, it doesn't meet the philosophical bar for belief, (“warrant”, might be a proper word), which I think is what Bernard is applying.

    If truth standards are sloppily applied, then one ends up with poorly founded and formulated claims that exile people (others) from the zone of reasonableness, and enforce what is in essence prejudicial worldviews. That is my view of religion. The claim that you can stipulate your own “truth” via narrative and faith and gut feelings and popularity, without judging others by that truth standard, is I believe disingenuous.


  14. Darrell says:


    I addressed your “popularity” charge. It is not prevalent simply because it is popular. It is prevalent because most people think it fits with their experience of life and fits with the way the world “works” so to speak. It is further common ground in addition to the common ground of methodological naturalism.

    “But what does all this amount to if no reasons are given? Not very much. It is emotion, or perhaps taste.. its origins are murky, and may range from personal dislike to philosophical disagreement.”

    Exactly. You do realize I am just mimicking Bernard’s outline of his reasons for his agnosticism, right?


  15. Darrell says:


    “…So I think that the most important lesson is that truth claims need to be approached with great humility and high standards, which is precisely what agnosticism is about.”

    But you do not approach your own truth claims with humility. You dismiss out of hand those you disagree with just as you objected to this very post, which was a post about being humble toward our own truth claims and not falling into one of the two ditches.

    By the way, are you now changing your status from atheist to agnostic?


  16. Burk Braun says:


    I did sort of realize you were portraying Bernard's position, but it is hard to be sure as these things wind on. I tried to just say what I can in a straight way.

    Now, humility.. that is a good question. Do Anglicans eating crumpets with their Imam friends show humility? No, they are showing civility and emotional friendliness, but intellectually, they do not change their beliefs or give up their doctrines. Personal civility and intellectual humilty are two quite different things. I am pretty straight about things I and others do now know about, which encompasses a great deal of the religious corpus.

    It is abundantly clear by this point in history and philosophy that conjectures about this transcendence you like so much, like Eric's prognostications about hell, are not based on knowledge, and indeed are based on very very little indeed. He is usually polite about it, but intellectually, his hubris in disposing of hell and making other cosmic arrangements is, frankly, breathtaking.

    On agnosticism, I have, I think mentioned that agnosticism is the only fool-proof position, as it were (!). Additionally, I do bet on atheism, since my reading of the evidence, psychological and cosmic, pursuades me strongly that atheism is very likely true. But that is both an add-on on top of basic agnosticism, and is speculative. It is not a 100% “truth”.


  17. Burk Braun says:

    That is.. “do not know about”


  18. Darrell says:


    That would seem to indicate you think his position then is not tenable?


  19. Darrell says:


    “It is abundantly clear by this point in history and philosophy that conjectures about this transcendence you like so much, like Eric's prognostications about hell, are not based on knowledge…”

    You mean “empirical” knowledge. And that would be correct but also just begs the question.


  20. RonH says:

    Hi, Bernard…

    I'm convinced that until you and Darrell can agree on definitions of “belief” and “taste”, your interactions will continue to be drawn into the belief v. taste vortex. The statement “The world view A entails contested beliefs” cannot be evaluated until the definition of “belief” can be agreed upon. Evidence that you do not share a common definition (or at least one of you thinks you don't) can be found somewhere on Darrell's blog here — I know, because I've read it more than once, and even pressed the point myself. Darrell, can you help us out with some links? You should know the way around your Byzantine dream better than I…

    (Now, given that I agree with Darrell's worldview thesis, my prediction is that searching for a common definition is not likely to turn out to be any easier. However, it might provide focus on the nature of the disagreement.)


  21. Darrell says:

    Link or post?


  22. RonH says:

    Host's choice. I only meant that I know you've posted on this specific definition issue before, but I don't recall where well enough to pull up the links to your posts just from your archive. I don't have the time to google it up at the moment, but figured you probably knew what posts were relevant.

    No point in replowing old ground. But if there's a spot of ground left uplowed somewhere in there, that's another story… 😉


  23. Darrell says:


    Since so many of the posts and threads have covered the same ground-I'm really not sure.

    Maybe this one: http://byzantinedream.blogspot.com/2013/02/what-does-narrative-encompass-and-other.html


  24. Burk Braun says:


    Quite right- empirical knowledge is the only knowledge that addresses the correspondence truth paradigm. You yourself acknowledge faith as the ultimate mechanism by which you gain other beliefs- that and “feels right” and “makes sense with other experience” and other wholistic mantras, which bubble up from our intuitive apparatus, which, as I have labored to point out, is good at some things, not good at many other things.

    I don't think those cut it, and nor clearly does Bernard, which is why I deem him an empiricist, and am like you puzzled by some of his backtracking on that score. One doesn't have to make a metaphysical religion / speculation of it to take empiricism as the evident limit of our secure knowledge (which thus warrants belief). It continues to be curious to me how our religious instinct compels us to invest our most fervent belief in our most poorly supported knowledge. Or perhaps it is just our ornery, combative nature!

    About the linking/posting issue. I have to say that I see great virtue in repeating one's self(!). I can't say that you (or I) have made our selves as crystal clear as we possibly can, so writing serves as a continuing process of refining and crystallizing our thoughts, for which I appreciate the space that you provide.


  25. Darrell says:


    “…You yourself acknowledge faith as the ultimate mechanism by which you gain other beliefs…” No, what I have acknowledged is that faith is the mechanism by which we view life, existence, our experiences, and would include therefore how we view and interpret the physical world. We don’t “add” other beliefs on top of “facts.” We rather interpret the facts through our faith/narrative, whether that narrative is philosophical naturalism of Christianity. And faith is more than simple intuition or subjective emotion. Had to clarify.

    I just want to be clear here: So you do not buy the argument I laid out that mimic Bernard’s?


  26. Darrell says:

    I meant philosophical naturalism “or” Christianity.


  27. Hi Ron

    You may well be right with regard to definitions. They're certainly the first point of business in these discussions.

    You've got me thinking about the minimum requirements for the definition of belief required to get my argument off the ground. Essentially, belief entails choosing that a particular description of reality is more accurate than the contradictory statement. (To believe there is a God is to see 'there is a God' as a more accurate description of reality than 'there is no God'.) So similar to correspondence theory of truth, I guess.

    If Darrell doesn't hold that believing implies this, then our disagreement does indeed collapse into one of definition. I'd be surprised if this is the case, but not unpleasantly so.



  28. Hi Burk

    I resist the term empiricism only in an attempt for clarity (although I suspect that in this I have failed miserably). There are things usually associated with empiricism that I don't hold, specifically that all knowledge flows from experience. I've always been taken, perhaps unduly, by Hume's challenge to induction. If this holds then we can't properly say that knowledge flows from experience, unless knowledge is confined only to the already experienced, which seems hopeless. So one must move beyond that somewhat, by choosing to believe non-empirically established truths to get going. And because debates like this one turn almost entirely upon the point of which such prior commitments are justified, I try to be careful to acknowledge up front the leaps I too make (and then attempt to categorise them in some way that provides justification, hence the notion of a best guess).

    But it may be this distinction does nothing but muddy the water. It may well be that many would see my general approach as being of the empiricist style, and the label people choose is neither here nor there to me.



  29. Burk Braun says:


    I think that saying the knowledge flows from the already experienced isn't such a bad proposition. Induction is a speculative enterprise, making probablistic models of the world. Knowledge is a sort of dialectical process, combining knowledge of past events with estimates of future ones, and unseen mechanisms, etc. Empiricism is a word for this dialectical process.

    One could add that many of our core assumptions or instincts are matters of past experience as well, laid down by evolution. Our assumptions of gravity, vision, basic physics, etc. are inherent in our bodily and mental construction, and fare well under normal circumstances. Likewise with our social instincts and naive metaphysics. Only when we go past the normal circumstances, at micro/macro scales and the like do these native capacities break down and need to be codified / disciplined into something more formal like capital E empiricism.

    But the real question is whether it is possible to get valid knowledge from any other place than this empirical dialectic of imagination / speculation <-> testing. Empiricism has plenty of room for imagination, thought experiments, etc. But all that doesn't count as knowledge unless tested, at least in my book.

    So the non-empiricist would say that their gut feelings about the rightness of their metaphysics are indeed tested, against their “lived experience”, and against their general sense of how reality works, and in agreement with billions of other humans. But it should be rather clear that this is an entirely circular argument, intuition buttressing intuition. The discipline of checking the model against reality in a detailed way that makes the mechanism logically compelling is missing. One way to tell is that the details of these models are so vaporous and changeable, within and between traditions. The more detailed the model, (say, the revelations of John), the more obviously absurd and dreamlike the propositions become.

    (I'll say parenthetically that the most interesting attack on empiricism concerns our sense of what is correct. What constitutes an answer to a given proposition is to some extent a matter of intution, which is our intuition of matching the search pattern of an hypothesis with the results that empirical engagement provides. All this is grist for a great deal of critique and care in the scientific “method”.)

    A bolder non-empiricist would say that they are individually gifted with capabilities that the lowly and blind atheist does not possess- a sense of cosmic insight that yields truth with capital T, no empiricism required. I reject that out of hand, though William James had a good discussion of it, and it can be shot down quite easily. I have not heard that particular claim explicitly put here.

    Darrell seems to go mostly with a switcharoo between the former option of intuitional “empiricism” and the postmodern claim that nothing is true anyhow, that sufficiently intuitive interpretation can get us through any sort of empirical difficulties, and empiricism is bunk (or that everything is true- just as bad). I wouldn't call it either coherent or compelling, but it does lead to endless discussion!


  30. Hi Burk

    I agree that the proposition the past anticipates the future is good one, indeed I'd suggest a necessary one. The point I'm always aware of, however, is that it's not an empirically testable one. In this regard, empiricism as you describe it, is based upon a deep and unshakeable intuition. The question that interests me is what, if anything, makes this particular intuition different in kind from the other types of intuitions we are both so cautious of. Is it simply that it's a no choice intuition (my preferred explanation, but not an entirely satisfying one) or is there another way of carving it?




  31. Burk Braun says:

    I think there is a different way of carving it, which is to say that the probabalistic knowledge one gets from empiricism, given the caveat that the future is not guaranteed and all our observations and thoughts are prone to error… given all that, it is far better than the alternative of non-empirical “knowledge”.

    Which I put in quotes because it is not knowledge at all, not even of the tentative, caveated kind that explicit checking with reality provides. It is imagination and intuition, which are powerful resources, both for hypothesis making and for psychological certainty-production, but not for warranting knowledge.

    The value of empirical knowledge is tested all the time, though our interactions with reality- I really don't understand where this “not empirically testable” meme comes from. Our bodies are built with the expectation that the day turns and the sun comes up tomorrow- this is empirically validated and the empirical method of doing this kind of validation is itself validated all the time, by the fruits it bears, in understanding and practical effectiveness. It is not proven by my feeling good about it, or by popular agreement, but by its continuing and increasing accuracy as a method and general approach.

    The question is- what better method is out there, and are alternative cognitive methods actually sources of knowledge on par with this empirical one?


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