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Old 22nd June 2016, 02:02 AM
Spearthrower Spearthrower is offline
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Default Skeptical Empricism

Following a conversation with the salubrious Aphorist where he attempts, yet again, to convince me that I'm an atheist, I thought a new thread all of its own would be more appropriate!

I'll warm it up with reference to mentions of this position by people who are not me!

https://www.edge.org/response-detail/10123

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Skeptical Empiricism
In politics and society at large, important decision are all too often based on deeply held presuppositions,ideology or dogma or, on the other hand, on headlong pragmatism without study of long-range consequences.
Therefore I suggest the adoption of Skeptical Empiricism, the kind that is exemplified by the carefully thought-out and tested research in science at its best. It differs from plain empiricism on the sort that characterized the writings of the scientist/philosopher Ernst Mach, who refused to believe in the existence of atoms because one could not "see" them.
To be sure, in politics and daily life, on some topics decisions have to be made very rapidly, on few or conflicting data. Yet, precisely for that reason it will be wise also to launch a more considerate program of skeptical empiricism on the same topic, if only to be better prepared for the consequences, intended or not, that followed from the quick decision.

https://thecriticalthinker.wordpress...al-empiricism/

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Taleb is a skeptical empiricist: or one who considers historical evidence only as a PARTIAL indicator of probabilities, as opposed to naive empiricists who consider historical evidence as the complete basis for predicting future events. Skeptical empiricists like Taleb never admit to knowing the truth fully, and only fully consider evidence that DISPUTES a claim, while evidence that SUPPORTS a claim can never be fully accepted.
My bold

http://www.reinventing-business.com/...-becoming.html

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The map is not the territory, or: All models are wrong, some are useful -- and some are very damaging. The most dangerous thing to do is pretend that, because some things hardly ever happen, they never happen. Assuming that an approximation is the truth will eventually bring disaster.

For Taleb, one of the biggest offenders is the Gaussian distribution (the bell curve). I would add the field of genetics and evolution -- misapplied we got eugenics and "the survival of the fittest" (a phrase Darwin apparently never used) which have justified monstrous behavior (or maybe the monsters would have found some other way to justify what they did if these weren't available).

The book is a challenge -- it is hard to let go of your (albeit wrong) certainties and nerdist "knowledge" of rules. But once you do, the world expands, and it begins to feel liberating to be free of the naive models and the boxes they put you in.

And the first parable of Skeptical Empiricism:

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Black_swan#The_turkey
(citation from book)

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Consider a turkey that is fed every day. Every single feeding will firm up the bird's belief that it is the general rule of life to be fed every day by friendly members of the human race 'looking out for its best interests,' as a politician would say.

On the afternoon of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, something unexpected will happen to the turkey. It will incur a revision of belief.

The meaning of the parable, or at least my take home message, is that we can never ever hope to prove that something is correct. We model the world on instances, and when all these instances are the same, we feel validated in being confident that this explanation is complete or true. Whereas, it only takes One Black Swan to disprove the claim that all swans are white.

This is a major element of human psychology. It's the basis of what we believe and how we believe it.

It's a warning that while we must repeatedly test our own beliefs, we must always hold in mind that we are probably wrong even after a life-time of testing. Unknown or undiscovered data may have a major impact on how we perceive the world, and we can never know what we have yet to discover.

This is one of the reasons why I won't say I am an atheist generally, while being quite clear that I don't believe in any of the gods historically manufactured by humans, projecting their cultural prejudices onto the cosmos.

I simply have no data at all, so my disbelief is native and latent - it cannot be inspected because it doesn't exist, just as I don't believe in things of which I've never heard. It's not a position for me, it's a not-position.

Let the fun commence!
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Old 22nd June 2016, 05:20 AM
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THWOTH THWOTH is offline
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Default Re: Skeptical Empricism

Does not the abject failure of theists (etc) to support their own claims on their own terms give us rational grounds to withhold proportioning assent to those claims and, in so doing, does that not render one an atheist without further need for qualification?

I don't see atheism and sceptical empiricism as mutually exclusive.
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Old 22nd June 2016, 08:21 AM
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Default Re: Skeptical Empricism

Bookmarking to read when sobersober.
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Old 22nd June 2016, 09:43 AM
Spearthrower Spearthrower is offline
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Default Re: Skeptical Empricism

Sober squared?
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Old 22nd June 2016, 09:51 AM
Spearthrower Spearthrower is offline
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THWOTH said View Post
Does not the abject failure of theists (etc) to support their own claims on their own terms give us rational grounds to withhold proportioning assent to those claims and, in so doing, does that not render one an atheist without further need for qualification?

I don't see atheism and sceptical empiricism as mutually exclusive.
I see atheism wholly subsumed by skeptical empiricism. I think theists have no grounds at all to believe what they believe. Nothing in their position is established by experiment or by empirical evidence, it's entirely a manufactured make-believe. I don't credit that make-believe to any degree anymore than I would credit the jabberings of a child playing make-believe as true, and for me, there is no importance whatsoever in holding a position specifically contrary to it. I think that lends theism far more credit than it deserves.

Of course, that doesn't mean I am judging you or anyone else. I am trying to come to a position that I feel wholly comfortable with.
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Old 22nd June 2016, 10:33 AM
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Darwinsbulldog Darwinsbulldog is offline
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Default Re: Skeptical Empricism

I still think agnostic atheism covers it, although I am NOT forcing Spearthower to use that descriptor. The agnostic bit covers his point that nothing can ever be absolutely proved, no matter how much evidence is in support of a claim.
That being said-that the truths only possible are only "working truths", it is reasonable to base one's life on such working truths, provided on keeps an open mind about such working truths possibly being proved false sometime in the future by further evidence.

I do not see how such a position makes me a rabid ideological puppet however.

Edit to add, of course, when one is not talking about gods or the belief or lack of belief in them, then Skeptical Empiricism is a good descriptor.

My only problem with is that evidence does not flow freely and at a constant rate. In other words, some evidence is harder to find than others. Procedures, techniques and technology have to advance before we can even pose a question scientifically, never mind find evidence for and against such proposals.

Last edited by Darwinsbulldog; 22nd June 2016 at 10:38 AM.
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Old 22nd June 2016, 10:53 AM
Spearthrower Spearthrower is offline
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I still think agnostic atheism covers it, although I am NOT forcing Spearthower to use that descriptor. The agnostic bit covers his point that nothing can ever be absolutely proved, no matter how much evidence is in support of a claim.
For me, it's narrowly focused on gods, and I see the category as being irrelevant in the same way as mermaids and ancient aliens.

I would say ignosticism is closer to what I'm espousing: there is no real definition of this alleged category of divine beings, so nothing can actually be said about it.

Of course, this entails the utter rejection of all the silly man-made manufacturings of gods that happen to look just like them and hold the same cultural values - historically and empirically, the entire category is bunk. It's not a real category. Thus, I think rejecting the category makes more sense to me.
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Old 22nd June 2016, 11:07 AM
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Default Re: Skeptical Empricism

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Spearthrower said View Post
For me, it's narrowly focused on gods, and I see the category as being irrelevant in the same way as mermaids and ancient aliens.

I would say ignosticism is closer to what I'm espousing: there is no real definition of this alleged category of divine beings, so nothing can actually be said about it.

Of course, this entails the utter rejection of all the silly man-made manufacturings of gods that happen to look just like them and hold the same cultural values - historically and empirically, the entire category is bunk. It's not a real category. Thus, I think rejecting the category makes more sense to me.
I understand mate, but unlike other forms of supernatural "psychological phenomena" [like fairies, eternal life, ghosts, etc, etc] people rarely go to war because of Unicorns. They do go to war over gods. People do listen to priests that cause them to hate gays, etc, etc.

As far as the effect these undefined and non-existent gods are concerned, people's belief in them makes them do strange, and often unkind things.

Show me a tyrant that cites his evil deeds because fairies, or because unicorns, and I will concede the point.
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Old 22nd June 2016, 11:16 AM
Spearthrower Spearthrower is offline
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Darwinsbulldog said View Post
I understand mate, but unlike other forms of supernatural "psychological phenomena" [like fairies, eternal life, ghosts, etc, etc] people rarely go to war because of Unicorns. They do go to war over gods. People do listen to priests that cause them to hate gays, etc, etc.
Yes, I know that - I should have mentioned it in this thread too.

But the degree to which people utterly commit to their nonsensical beliefs, and the lengths they will go to in order to harm other people who don't genuflect in homogeneity, doesn't lend that belief any greater value than someone who thinks reiki energy is going to heal them.

I am not saying that rampant, rabid theism is not a problem; I am saying that the label 'atheist' does nothing whatsoever to solve that problem: it's just an 'us' and 'them'. Subscribing to the label 'atheist' doesn't cure this problem at all. Being an atheist doesn't make it go away, so as far as I'm concerned, this is irrelevant with respect to labeling one's own beliefs.

Instead, I think we need a more ordered system of thinking that is well aware of our species' psychological biases, which elevates empirical support, and which is automatically suspicious of any claim made in the absence of evidence. To me, atheists may, or may not concur with this point because atheism is a catch-all that says nothing at all about the rational capabilities of the person so labelled, it's just a label saying 'not theist', and stands for nothing more than that.



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Darwinsbulldog said View Post
As far as the effect these undefined and non-existent gods are concerned, people's belief in them makes them do strange, and often unkind things.
So do many other unevidenced ideologies which we apes use to segregate ourselves.

In the other thread, I pointed out that I see plenty of atheists who adhere to white supremacy, to cultural superiority, or to other idiotic and unsupportable claims about the nature of reality, and these people have historically been unkind to others. My position is in rejection of all of these claims, rather than being restricted to one facet which is, to a large degree, just a symptom of poor rationality.


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Darwinsbulldog said View Post
Show me a tyrant that cites his evil deeds because fairies, or because unicorns, and I will concede the point.
I don't have any desire for you to concede the point. I am not here to dispute the claim that theists do X. But your point is terminally irrelevant with respect to what I am saying too. It's a red herring, albeit one I don't think you're employing intentionally. Whether theists do X, Y, or Z and that needs to be countered is irrelevant as to whether I consider skeptical empiricism to be a more worthwhile label than atheism.
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Old 22nd June 2016, 12:25 PM
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wearestardust wearestardust is offline
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Default Re: Skeptical Empricism

The following may sound terse and combative and even dismissuve; I just have limited time to engage in this very interesting discussion and don't have time explicitly to frame my thoughts as the provisional views for discussion. Nor, for that matter, to create a linear narrative rather than thought-bubbles. Please read generously, accordingly.

Not sure there is anything to argue about in empirical scepticism.

If being an atheist is not believing in gods, and one doesn't believe in gods, then one would seem to be an atheist.

Many atheists are dickheads, and irrational, and generally unpleasant. Just as theism gives permission for some people to be awful, atheism is taken by some to be justification for racism, particularly in its Islamaphobic guise. Atheism doesn't seem to stop MRAs from being awful. Indeed I would say that while sound atheism is a subset of empirical scepticism, the atheist community includes many people who are neither empirical nor skeptics.

But - and here is the point of the preceding para - disagreement on issues other than god-belief with awful atheists does not make one not an atheist, any more than disagreeing with MRAs gives me warrant to say I'm not a man. As much as I would prefer otherwise.

I do understand, nonetheless, that tactically - or sometimes just as a matter of courtesy, or not looking like a dickhead, one might not call oneself an atheist. To take a trivial view, when I get back to my in-tray after this, I won't be signing off as the atheist branch manager, just as the branch manager. Less trivially, in many social contexts, if being atheism is not relevant, then raising it may well be a distraction. I rarely take an explicit atheist in the sense of wearing it on my sleeve in LGBTIQ issues, for example, even though religion is arguably the greatest sustaining force for contemporary homophobia. But that doesn't make one not an atheist.

Saying "I'm not an atheist; I'm part of this bigger group" strikes me as similar to saying "I'm not a feminist, I'm a humanist".

One of the tricks that theists try to play is to implicitly argue that god-belief requires a special, just for that purpose, epistemology. The "you can't prove to a certainty that god doesn't exist". Aside form being burden of proof shifting, it's an example of this: no, we can't, but then, we can't prove anything to a certainty outside closed logic systems. It seems to me that insisting that agnostic atheism is the only sound atheism falls prey to this trick. There are all sorts of things that we are happy to say don't exist - of course provisionally, like all knowledge; and noting that negative statements are always a little more provisional than positive ones. But for some reason some atheists are unwilling to say "I think god doesn't exist" when they exactly the same warrant to say so as for "I think there are no faeries at the bottom of my garden".

I will admit an emotional buy-in to the last para, in that it infuriates me when theists think that agnostic atheists are somehow on their side.
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Last edited by wearestardust; 22nd June 2016 at 12:29 PM.
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