Last Updated on 2020-01-17 by Joop Beris
The third part of the debate that wasn’t a debate, a conversation I had with Makayla, over on Twitter. The first part can be read here and the second part can be found here. I recommend you read those before reading this part.
In the previous part of this conversation, we explored the beliefs of Makayla and ended with the question: “How can we know what is true and what is evidence?” We pick up the debate that wasn’t a debate with her answer to that question.
Disclaimer: Makayla gave her permission for the creation of this post and it’s follow-ups. I promise to represent her part faithfully though for brevity, I will have to condense both her and my points.
How do we know something to be true?
Discussions with religious people often hinge on this single problem: how do we know something to be true? They seem to be unaware that faith is not the same as knowledge. Believing something is true is different from knowing that something is true. Naturally, the topic came up in the debate that wasn’t a debate by a question that Makayla asked.
Im curious. If an individual’s read something that they already disbelieve… Isn’t there no point then in reading it because no matter what it says the individual already has a biased opinion that it’s wrong then the summary of what they read is always going to be what they think and not what the literature may actually say.
I saw this question as a way to approach the topic of how we know something to be true, so I tried to direct the conversation in that direction.
It all comes down to how we know something is true. For that, we have to keep an open mind and be willing to examine evidence, even if it does not support the beliefs or opinions we hold.
That argument works both ways, by the way. If a person reads something they already believe, they’re probably not going to be ready to examine what they are reading critically.
So the question is: how do we know something to be true?
Makayla had an answer to this.
I surely can’t claim to know everything. However, one way I can know what is true is based on my personal experience. Also If someone else gives me their testimonial evidence I cannot credit them for being wrong necessarily because then I would have to know all. Science is another way, however it cannot be biased. I feel as too much of it these days are. A lot of people put their own opinions in their work and then their research is going to only match their opinions. Can you get the true nature of something if the research is only compromised by an individual’s opinion rather than the facts at hand? So it’s almost unfair. That’s where an individual uses discernment and even has to research for themselves both sides and see which one lines up and which one has gaps. I do not necessarily want to put my credibility in other individuals opinions. But honestly there are a lot of factors to consider.
There are a number of strange assumptions in this reply but I won’t go into that right now. Instead, here is my answers from the conversation.
As far as true science is concerned, it is always peer reviewed to protect against someone’s personal beliefs taken for truth. However, a lot of science reporting is very poor so that doesn’t help matters. I think in general, when you try to determine for yourself whether something is true or not, you use both reason and evidence. Would that be fair?
She agreed that this was a fair statement.
Would it also be fair to say that the best answer to a question is usually the one that requires the least amount of conjecture, interpretation and external factors?
You’ll notice that I am carefully trying to introduce Occam’s razor. I’m still kicking myself for not including “the least amount of assumptions” but in the heat of the discussion I phrased it poorly. Sorry about that.
Whether Makayla was familiar with Occam’s razor and was trying to avoid it or if she genuinely has the following opinion, I don’t know but suffice it to say that her answer baffled me.
Mm I don’t entirely think so because then by doing so it could rule out possibility of additional answers. It’s almost putting a limit to them. Saying as if everything inside a box is an answer because I am inside the box and everything outside of the box cannot be an answer because I am not outside the box. The box is only a barrier. Since I can’t see what’s on the other side of the box, how can I say there isn’t additional answers? It’s in a way to me leaves even more room to be subjective.
Never mind that we put a limit on possible answers or reasons for some occurrence every day. She appears to be of the opinion that we should not rule out certain answers a priori.
Yes, by saying something is the best answer, you automatically limit the playing field. It doesn’t mean there can’t be other possible answers but the best one is the one that has the highest likelihood of being true, wouldn’t you say?
To me It’s honestly depends on how that answer was concluded the “best answer”… Did the individual look at the possibilities ( all playing field) or just one and then concluded that? If they didn’t look at all and concluded that then yes they are putting a limit on it. And I believe that the highest likelihood of it being true also depends on the individuals limit on what they consider reasonable.
The lower the limit set the lower their reasoning level…a higher limit a higher level…and if you have no limit then can you not then consider every variable and then conclude a valid ” best answer”?
Her answer didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, to be honest. It seems to be something of a word salad and reading it back now, I realise I should have asked her to explain it to me again but I didn’t. Instead, I decided to clarify my position with an example.
There are many possible answers to questions but not all answers are equal.
For instance, if someone enters a room and sees coffee spilled on the floor, there are many possible answers to how the coffee got there. For instance, there is the answer that the coffee has always been there, or the coffee appeared overnight or someone spilled the coffee and didn’t bother to clean up. Which of these has the highest likelihood of being true? According to your statement above, you begin with the premise that each of this possible answers has equal validity. Would you stand by that statement in this case?
Fortunately, Makayla didn’t think that each of the possible explanations was equally valid because for me, that would have been the end of the discussion. There is no point in trying to have a reasonable discussion with someone who has abandoned reason to such a degree.
However, with her answer, things got side-tracked.
I don’t think all are equal depending on the circumstances of the matter or the object being discussed. But may I ask how did the cup off coffee get there in the first place to even be spilled? Did not someone have to make the cup of coffee? ….in my opinion many scientists are focused on the details of “why did the coffee spill, how did it spill, and even under what circumstances” because they can be logically explained and analyzed it to the T. But they don’t seem to acknowledge what to me is the more important question “How did the cup of coffee come into existence.” …
I would think that if someone views everything as equal. Like if plant, animals, humans, rock,… As all equal then the answers would be equal. But to an individual that thinks human life is more precious than a plant, rock, or animal, because of how its designs are so fragile and unique… Then they wouldn’t be equal because one is valued more than the other. It depends on the individuals way of thinking. And also their views.
Her answer irked me somewhat, partly because it was beside the point I was trying to establish but also because I thought it was a ridiculous argument. I tried to remain civil, though.
Well, how cups of coffee are made isn’t much of a mystery, fortunately. I wouldn’t be able to function without it. I don’t think there is anyone alive today who would argue that all things are of equal value, no matter what faith they are or have no faith. Just because things have the same origin, doesn’t mean they are of equal value. That’s a ridiculous argument, sorry.
Fortunately, this statement came from an incorrect interpretation I had said earlier, about humans essentially being no different from any other animal or plant. She had taken that to mean that I thought humans, animals, plants and even rocks had the same intrinsic value, which is of course not what I meant at all.
This caused the discussion to move away from how we know things to be true and onto the terrain of evolution and morality. That’ll have to wait for the next installment of the debate that wasn’t a debate.