I thought it would be a good idea to more fully describe and define my assumptions and my personal justifications for the things I self-identify as on this blog and elsewhere.
As some of you know from personal experience and many of you from reading my posts on this blog, and for those of you who are new to the site (welcome!), I’m an atheist with regard to virtually all concepts of a god, an agnostic on the philosophical position on whether it is possible to definitively know or to not know that any gods exist (I hold that it isn’t, and welcome anyone to demonstrate otherwise), and a humanist with regard to ethics and personal values. And of course, I’m also an inveterate skeptic regarding matters of controversial, questionable, bold or otherwise revolutionary claims made about physical reality and allegedly scientific facts.
I reject nothing on the basis of any dislike of those who believe, nor obstinate denial, fear or hatred of that which is believed.
I’m a believer in science and reality, not a denier of what we can honestly say we know. My personal inability to imagine, know or understand something at any given time does not affect reality in any way, nor my acceptance of it. The universe is more imaginative than any human being can ever be, and much more subtle and creative than even an entire planet of genius-level artisans.
It is reality which limits what I can know, not what I can know that limits reality.
I leave it to those who argue, incoherently and often by misappropriating and appealing to quantum mechanics and other poorly-understood ideas, that reality doesn’t exist, to be the true deniers.
I simply have seen no real evidence or sound argument for anything supernatural, paranormal, or other sorts of extraordinary claims despite a lifetime of looking, that truly justify my acceptance of these claims as real to any degree of certainty significantly above zero. I suspect that the paranormal and supernatural do not exist, though I do not believe this absolutely, but I do not believe that they are a necessary component of reality. I do not argue for the impossibility of the paranormal, only that it isn’t likely given the best evidence to date. I accept the possibility, indeed, as a given, of things in the heavens or Earth not dreamed of in my philosophy, or anyone else’s for that matter, including those who claim secret or hidden knowledge of the ancients.
I do not need anything outside, apart from, or above nature to complete my picture of reality, as there is plenty more interesting that is known, and can be known. There are hypotheses I just don’t need. The natural and the normal are interesting enough, and more likely to be true. Their evidential scorecard in comparison to the supernatural is much more compelling.
Everyone, even those who claim knowledge of the mystical, is profoundly ignorant of much of what there is to know, and there are things that we cannot know unless we ask questions and actually do the hard work of finding out.
We cannot do that by merely believing, without sound reason and solid evidence.
I reject the notion that it is mere faith to accept anything as fact without that something being proven absolutely, since the concept of believing anything absolutely is the very definition of faith.
Nothing can truly be known absolutely on the basis of a finite data set, and realistically, no one can ever possess more than a limited amount of information at a given time. No matter how much you know at a given time, you are always acting upon incomplete information, so what you can honestly say you know at the moment is always incomplete, always a little incorrect no matter how close to the truth you come.
So science deals only with tentative, provisional facts that we can improve upon, update with better information and more accurate findings, not tenets of certain, eternal Truth.
I reject the notion that we can discover truths of the world using reason alone, without sufficient support by observable facts. Even reason, which I otherwise value highly, is nonetheless fallible even when logically valid, for without the support of facts, it can draw us to commit fallacies and come to counter-factual conclusions.
I repudiate the idea that anecdotes and personal experience are a reliable, much less infallible, means of determining complex causation, because of the subtlety of Nature, the perceptual and technological limits of humans, even the limits of the laws of logic and the laws of the universe as we understand them. Personal testimony, common sense, and subjective perception do not trump scientific methods, measurement, and observation. And they are useless, worse than useless, when used in attempts to deal with entities and events apparently outside our ordinary, everyday lives.
I do not believe that we can solve the issues stemming from ignorance by rejecting knowledge.
I reject the claim that faith, in the sense of irrational belief without or despite evidence, is a valid way of really knowing things. I reject the notion that claims should not be tested against evidence. I reject the idea that the unintelligible and logically incoherent are to be sought out and promoted as profound truths about the world.
While it is true that all knowledge contains belief as an element, it doesn’t follow that belief by itself equates to knowledge: There are countless things that people believe, often with great conviction, but which are either not demonstrable as true, or are demonstrably not true.
Even if billions of people around the world were to believe that H.P.Lovecraft’s alien gods were real, that belief would not make it so. Belief, or disbelief, only influence our interpretation of reality, and only our direct effort in acting upon reality on the basis of what we believe can make our wishes happen, within the limits of logical, physical, or contingent possibility.
But at the same time, I also accept that trusting others based on the evidence of knowledge about them gained by past experience is a virtue, and necessary for all productive human interaction. This is not the same to me as faith, not in the irrational, religious sense.
I agree that telling somebody that they can be or are a ‘good person’ can have beneficial effects over time on their emotional growth as a person, but this is not merely because of the trust held by the one saying it, but upon the favorable demeanor and the expressed behavior shown toward the one whose self-esteem is thus encouraged.
It’s not the trust alone that changes them for the better, but the way you treat them.
Generally speaking, people react positively from being well-treated, and this reaction winds up making a better person. This is based on the evidence of experience, the experience of those receiving such treatment, not upon faith in the religious sense.
I do not believe that I am making a bold or extraordinary claim in saying that science is the most effective means of understanding matters of factual reality we have so far. Science’s tangible and immediately apparent results speak for themselves.
It is science’s critics, who assert without evidence that the object of their dislike, in particular its processes and standards of evidence, are irreparably broken and therefore false, who are making the bold claim. They fail to support their contention by demonstrating to reasonable satisfaction any alternative that works at least as effectively if not better, and with comparable if not superior results.
After all, plenty of alleged alternatives have been attempted, but no faith or ideology-based approach to knowledge can hold a candle to one that uses the methods to offset bias and human error and systematic observation that science does as effectively, and as usefully, as it does.
I await the day when someone comes up with a better, more powerful idea…though I’m not holding my breath.