Hyperskepticism: The Wrong Side Of A Continuum
|October 11, 2010||Posted by StephenB under Intelligent Design|
Philosophers and scientists who know their business recognize that any attempt to seek knowledge presupposes the existence of a rational universe ripe for investigating. The fact that we even bother to make the effort says something about our nature. As Aristotle says, “all men by nature want to know.” That is why the discovery of a new fact or truth can be a joy for its own sake. To be sure, knowledge also provides practical benefits, empowering us to pursue a self-directed life style, but it also edifies us, leading us on the road to self-actualization. To be intellectually healthy is to be curious.
On the other hand, we can, by virtue of our free will, act against our natural desire to know. For better or worse, there are some truths that many of us would prefer not to know about. The compelling nature of an objective fact can pull us in one direction while the force of our personal desires can pull us in the opposite direction. When this happens, a choice must be made. “Either the thinker conforms desire to truth or he conforms truth to desire.”–E. Michael Jones
Because we experience this ambivalence about the truth, we must be on guard against two errors: (a) talking ourselves out of things that we should believe [hyperskepticism] or (b) talking ourselves into things that we should not believe [gullibility]. Hyperskeptics attempt to justify the first error by calling attention to the second error, as if there was no reasonable alternative to either extreme. On the contrary, the ideal solution is to seek a rational midpoint –to balance a healthy skepticism about unconfirmed truth claims with a healthy confidence in truths already known. The one thing a thinker should not do is be skeptical or open-minded about the first principles of right reason, without which there is no standard for investigating or discoursing about anything “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”– G. K. Chesterton
In the spirit of public service, then, I present this little test for analyzing our readers’ proclivity for hyperskepticism. Hopefully, those who indulge will not find any predictable patterns, since I strove to keep them at a minimum.
Yes or No
 Can we know anything about the real world?
In asking this question, I am probing for your orientation on the matter of external facts with respect to our internal experience. Can we really know if such a thing as a tree exists, or is it the case that we simply experience mental representations of something that may not be a tree at all? [Reminiscent of Kant’s hyperskepticism]
 If the answer to  is no, is it, under those circumstances, possible to conduct rational investigations or participate in rational discourse?
If I can feel the experience of something that seems like a tree, without knowing that it is a tree, or if I am just using words to describe my experience, can I use my reason to draw other meaningful conclusions about the world? In other words, can I, absent a knowable external reality, reason not just validly [with internal consistency] but also soundly [align my understanding with the truth of things]?
True or False
 The law of non-contradiction [a thing cannot be and not be at the same time] is not a self-evident truth.
Inasmuch as scientific progress has demonstrated that Aristotle was wrong about the four basic elements of the earth, it is not unreasonable to suggest that he was also wrong about his so-called laws of logic.
 The law of causality is a self-evident truth.
I can accept this proposition unconditionally, not only as a second law of logic, but also as an intellectual companion to the first law of logic? Put another way, if a thing cannot be and not be at the same time, that fact influences or informs the law that nothing can come into existence without a cause. There is a logical connection between the claim that Jupiter cannot both exist and not exist and the claim that it cannot come into existence without a cause?
 Our knowledge of the real world is reliable but imperfect.
We may not know everything there is to know about a tree, but we do know that something is there that we call a tree and that it is more than just a collection of parts–something that exhibits “treeness.”
 A finite whole can be less than any one of its parts.
A crankcase can, in some cases, be greater than the automobile of which it is a part.
 The universe is ordered.
Material objects move in such a way as to indicate some kind of function or purpose.
 The universe may be ordered to a purpose, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it needed an intelligence to do the ordering or establish the purpose.
Purpose can exist without intelligence.
 The universe is, indeed, ordered, but that doesn’t mean that its order is synchronized with our mind’s logic.
The mind’s logic [if it’s raining, the streets will get wet] may be inconsistent with the order of the universe [If it’s raining, the streets may not necessarily get wet.] The proposition that there is an unfailing correspondence between the logic our rational minds and ordering of the rational universe is something that should be demonstrated through evidence and cannot be reasonably accepted as a “self-evident truth.”
 There can be more than one truth?
Each specialized branch of knowledge can have its own brand of truth, and that truth may well be incompatible with truths found in other specialized areas.
 In some cases, a cause can give more than it has to give.
Something can come to exist in the effect that was not first present in the cause. It may well be, for example, that an immaterial mind could emerge from matter even though matter has no raw materials containing anything like immaterial mental substances.
12-20, Yes, No, or I don’t know.
 Does truth exist?
Is truth absolute, not relative–objective, not subjective–universal, not contextual–and indivisible, not many?
 Is there such a thing as the natural moral law?
Is there an objective standard of right and wrong that we [humans] did not invent [or socially construct] and to which we are morally obliged to follow in spite of our personal preferences or in spite of public opinion?
 Does the human conscience exist?
Do we, as humans, possess some kind of inborn instinct that makes us feel bad about ourselves when we do something wrong and feel good about ourselves when we do something right. Can that same conscience be habitually silenced and ignored to the point at which it stops sending signals?
 Is design detectable?
Can we discern the presence of intelligence from the biological and cosmological patterns found in nature? Can we discover the presence of intelligence from patterns found in human artifacts even if we know nothing about the history of those artifacts? Can minds detect the activity of other minds?
 Does God exist?
Is there a personal, omniscient, omnipotent, eternal, self-existent God who created the universe and all the creatures that inhabit it?
 Is God organic with the universe?
Could God and the universe be one and the same thing?
 Can matter investigate itself?
In order for a scientist or a philosopher to investigate the universe or the world, must he exist as a substance of a different kind than the object of his study? Are two such realms of existence really necessary, or can the relationship between the investigator and the object of investigation be explained from a monistic framework.
 Evidence can speak for itself; it need not be interpreted by or mediated through the rules of right reason.
Science can stand alone. It needs no metaphysical foundations in order to be rational.
 Ask yourself this question: Do I have free will?
Do I have something to say about my fate? Can I say that I could have made choices other than the ones that I did make, or that I could have created outcomes different than the ones I did create? Do I have the power to act contrary to my nature, predisposition, desires, and appetites?
 If the ordered universe is synchronized with the laws of logic, it could be a coincidence.
Even if we do have “rational” minds, and even if they do correspond to a “rational universe,” there is no reason to suggeset that it had to be set up by something or someone. It could just be that way.
 Theistic Darwinism is a reasonable hypothesis.
A purposeful, mindful God may well have used a purposeless, mindless process to create humans.
 A universe can come into existence without a cause.
Not all effects require causes. Further, some things that are often characterized as effects, such as our universe, may not really be effects at all. Even if it does, itself, act as a cause, the physical universe could be, but need not be, the result of a prior cause.
 Unguided evolution is a reasonable hypothesis.
There is no reason to believe that humans could not emerge as a lucky accident from solely naturalistic forces.
 Cause and effect can occur without a first cause.
Granted, a cause/effect chain exists in nature, but that fact alone does not compel us to posit that only a first cause or causeless cause can explain