I am taking an undergraduate class titled Philosophical Borderlands of Science and Religion at The University of North Alabama for my Interdisciplinary Studies degree. I chose this class because of just how frequently fringe theory pops up in the massage and spa professions and I wanted to try to clean up my thinking on scientific and spiritual matters. So far so good! I am enjoying the class and learning a great deal by taking it in conjunction with Finite Math during the same semester. Philosophical Borderlands covers things like the Demarcation question in science where it is presumed or assumed that science deals only with objective facts and reality while the religion and humanities cover everything else. Philosophers of Science disagree with this assumption and suggest that there is a degree of overlap and this is the origin of the question where does science end and religion begin?
As a massage therapist, there are certain sociological assumptions that we may or may not take for granted in forming our worldviews of the body and the body’s role and position in society and how best to interact with clients or guests who may not share the same views. Quite often, massage narratives attempt to sell us the idea that we should approach the body as if we were old school romantics, living in the end of the Victorian era and that we should strip away the repressive pretensions of a previously gilded age. This is more than a little Gothic and because of its emphasis on structuralism ventures into the realm of queer theory depending on whom you ask but I digress. What I would like to do is share with my readers some of what I am learning in the class as I go thru the semester. I plan to provide updates once a month.
Let’s start with Epistemology or How do we know what we know. When we begin with Epistemology we must define a rational argument, which is a series of statements in support of a proposition. The reasoning can be either deductive or inductive. The Rock on the very top represents Truth or a proposition from a rational argument. Each side of the arch represents either inductive or deductive reasoning to reach the truth.
At the bottom of the arch are things like physical phenomena, sensory data from the five senses, observations, the physical world and facts. But there is a problem with inductive reasoning. CD Broad said that ‘induction is the glory of science and the scandal of philosophy’ and apparently he’s right for the purposes of this class! The problem of induction in philosophy and science is whether or not it is possible for inductive reasoning to lead to knowledge. The most commonly heard example of this problem is the ‘All swans are white’ problem. The problem with this is that in order to correctly prove the hypothesis you must examine every swan that has ever lived, in perpetuity, across time and in the future. It just can’t be done. In inductive reasoning, one makes a series of observations and infers a new claim based on them. For instance, from a series of observations that a mailman delivers the mail at 8am on Monday, it seems valid to infer that next Monday he will do the same, or that, in general, the same mailman will deliver the mail at 8 am next Monday. That next Monday the same mail man delivers the mail at 8 a.m. only adds to the series of observations, it does not prove he will deliver the mail every Monday at 8 a.m.. First of all, it is not certain, regardless of the number of observations, that the mailman always delivers the mail at 8am on Monday. In fact, we cannot claim it is “more probable”, since this still requires the assumption that the past predicts the future. Second, the observations themselves do not establish the validity of inductive reasoning, except inductively.
This problem of induction is and was so profound in the 18th and 19th centuries that Frederick Nietzsche issued his statement in The Gay Science and Thus Spoke Zarathustra that ‘God is Dead.’ Nietzsche essentially said, that there is no real objective truth to get at, so tell the best lie you can.
When it comes to Deductive logic and reasoning, we are on more solid ground. The stone at the top of the arch that represents Truth or a hypothesis, is the place where we begin, not with deduction on the other side. From the top, we work our way down to deduction which is known thru a slightly different twist in science and in philosophy as reductionism. By working our way down to deduction and measuring it against the sense-data, observable phenomena, and the physical world, we can then move back to induction and reach the top of the arch once again and if you reach a logical impasse you change not the facts or observations of sense phenomena, but the hypothesis you began with. In this way, deductive reasoning is very polite to human beings by giving them the benefit of the doubt in what they think they know as truth or fact and avoids over analyzing the psychology of individuals who have claims about things like the paranormal or set ideas about spiritual experience. The premise behind deductive logic is that truth begts truth. If you start with an axiomatic truth such as the definition of a line or a plane in mathematics, you can deduce further truths from these correct definitions. Philosophy works the same way. If you reach a logical impasse, it is the hypothesis that is wrong and must be changed, not the sensory data phenomena.
At this point in the class we are looking at logical fallacies. More on these to come very soon.
- The Realities of Reason – Association for Psychological Science (psychologicalscience.org)
- Sloppy Language About What’s True: Part III (wmbriggs.com)
- Join The Discussion (unfspb.wordpress.com)
- Where’s the Line of Demarcation Between Science and Pseudoscience? (sententias.org)