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Breaching the Epistemic Barrier

Breaching the Epistemic Barrier September 11, 2021

I recently wrote an important piece explaining the foundations to my entire worldview. Go read it. I’ll remind you of the impressive infographics I got my design department to put together:

The last one illustrates how, when being moral or thinking something about the character or attributes of God, it is impossible to know whether your beliefs have a 1-to-1 correspondence or close resemblance to the source (God or some Platonic realm). I was expecting a reply similar to that which Luke Breuer provided on the last piece:

If there is an epistemic barrier between my abstract ideas and God’s, is there also an epistemic barrier between my abstract ideas and yours? If not, how do they interact?

Where are the biggest gains to be had, in ordering one’s abstracta and epistemology and such in the way you think it should all be done? I’m guessing you are doing a little bit more than just asserting fallibilism?

This is a great comment. So let me expand.

It’s ALL about epistemology.

When my idea of morality is different to Luke’s, I can know this almost definitely because we communicate, and our communication is validated and verified by others, and by our own data and analyses. I say X, Luke says Y. We disagree. There is effectively no barrier (past the Descartes’ Evil Daemon or The Matrix scenario) because I can simply reply to him or email him. Or, heck, even go and see him or Zoom call him if we so desired. I can get first-hand confirmation, and also confirmation of everyone else on Earth if they have access to the internet.

Essentially, we interact.

So what’s the difference between this scenario and interacting with God.

Well, all the usual ones. If God is revealed in a 2000-year-old book, then we don’t have epistemic warrant for believing it. I have set this out in several books and my next one (Why I Am Atheist and Not a Theist). And one religion and its claims has to compete with all others, and offer a resounding epistemic win in order to be thoroughly warranted.

I don’t think any religion even comes close.

What other revelations are there, where revelation means some kind of interaction with the source material?

Well, there are artefacts, like a holy book. Perhaps books, perhaps a stele here or an inscription there.

Still, nothing on Earth that has come up with the goods. And even if, say, an ancient inscription did, or an ancient holy book did really come from a particular divine truth, we still can’t really know that. Such claims are still not believable in the present world as we know it.

So this comes onto personal revelation – including personal revelations to others who then impress them onto ourselves.

Essentially, personal witness, experience of revelation from any source is highly problematic:

  1. You can’t use them to convince others. Even theologians and apologists like William Lane Craig recognise this. You cannot rationally convince someone else with a divine revelation or experience. Especially given the vast array of these over time and place that are mutually exclusive. It would employ special pleading and double standards.
  2. Even for yourself, they are problematic. We can use inductive reasoning to cast serious doubt on divine revelations. After all, the recent shooter in America who killed his family claimed God asked him to do it. Every religion in the world over time and place has had adherents experiencing gods that are mutually exclusive. In order to say that your revelation was true, and that you understood it correctly and thus it had 1-to-1 correspondence (or close to), you would have to overcome an exceptionally low prior probability (the vast amount, if not all, previous personal revelations have been incorrect) wth epistemic certainty and special pleading that yours was, indeed, veridical.
  3. But, seriously, how many believers have actually had real, veridical personal revelations that allow them to have beliefs that they somehow know are 1-to-1 correspondences to the source material (God and moral rules or some Platonic realm). Seriously, how many people have ever said, “I know every moral rule in the world because I have been personally revealed them by my god”?
  4. Irrespective of all this, you still build up your world from a subjective, experiential scenario. First comes subjective experience, then everything else. Indeed, this is the fundamental of idealism. Idealism is the main threat to my worldview (not belief in God, or even evolution, but what I believe of the world – that there is a material reality outside of my mind.

I could go on and on about epistemology here – it’ll all be detailed in my book. The fact that there are 42,000 different denominations is evidence that the Christian God doesn’t exist hasn’t clearly communicated or interacted with humanity. We have 42,000 denominations of Christians, each with their own personal interpretations of God and God’s desires and commands (and that’s not to mention the myriad other religions and their multitudinous denominations and sects, and all of their individual interpreters), all claiming that they have it right, that their beliefs have the closest correspondence.

Of course, to do this, you need to…

  1. establish that  God exists;
  2. establish that you have the right god;
  3. establish that you know your god’s attributes, desires and commands so that
  4. when you are being moral, you are aligning your morality accurately with your god.

There are all the obvious epistemological problems with this, some detailed earlier and in the previous article. I just don’t know how you can know, with any level of certitude, that you are aligning, short of God coming down and verifying this in person and in a way that you were confident actually happened.

But on a day-to-day basis, you are still using ordinary morality, morality that doesn’t require God or gods. You are hopefully knowing that rape is bad. Not from divine revelation – after all, rape is countenanced often in the Old Testament. As is slavery and many other moral ills. “But God wouldn’t countenance rape – those Bible verses are poorly interpreted!”

But how would you know this without already knowing, through moral reasoning, that rape or slavery is bad, and that God wouldn’t countenance them?

No, morality is based on reasoning, and the abstracts and reasoning exist in because they are constructed by our subjective minds.

Now the second part to Luke’s comment is also very interesting. But that can wait till tomorrow – it deserves a post of its own.

 


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