How do we know anything: A response


Our friend Debilis in a recent post created a strawman of materialists arguments against whom he obviously would come victorious. He starts by writing

The idea is that, if we can’t measure it, there’s no reason to think it exists.

I don’t know if materialists, whoever they are, make such a claim. I am interested in knowing how he could know something exists unless given by experience or by his senses. I have to say here, that the human mind can conceive of concepts, or ideas that exist nowhere else except in his imagination but given by things in nature. I can conceive of an animal with the legs of a leopard, a camel’s face and a sheep’s tail, and finger nails of a human. This abstract animal doesn’t exist but one immediately sees that it is formed of those things that man draws from nature.

Our friend goes on to write

It is simply false, factually incorrect, to say that all evidence is physical–and demonstrably so.

but offers no evidence to support his claim that this is false. He assumes that by making the assertion he has proved its falsity. No you have barely scratched the surface. Please, show me, if you can, how materialism is false.

He continues in the same manner,

But this is so far off the mental maps of most non-theists that it is difficult even to explain to them the concept that not all evidence is physical. They often respond with “Show it to me so that I can test it scientifically.” or “But without evidence, how can you know things?”. The point is completely missed.

where one on reading for the first time thinks he has read something profound but is just a strawman. It is not every time that you will be asked for scientific test. For example, when I see a painting and like it, a scientific test is not needed to verify that I like it and  two all this purely physical.

Whereas it is true that

We each have a basic experience of reality: a sense of the truths of logic, a sense of one’s self as a thinking person, a sense of right and wrong, and, of course, a sense of the physical world around us. This experience is the basis for everything we know. It isn’t perfect, of course, but we accept it as valid until we have a reason to think otherwise.

I don’t see how this is an argument against materialism or better still how it supports anything out of our sense perception. In fact, this statement supports the claim of materialism that experience is the basis of everything we know. To claim it is not perfect, is to miss the point. Our senses do not make judgements, that is done by the understanding or mind if you want to call it that.

It is at this point I get lost

No one believes in the mind because of what they saw in a brain scan (there’s no evidence for the mind to be found there, anyway). We believe in the mind because we experience our own thoughts. Nor do we believe in the moral, or even the physical, for any other reason than that we experience these things. This is almost tediously obvious.

Does he sincerely believe in mind/brain dualism? That the mind is not a brain state. That our thoughts are brain states triggered by sensations reaching the brain or recall from memory?

When a person makes a claim such as this

That is, unless one has imbibed the materialist dogma that all evidence is physical. In that case, one doesn’t want to start with basic experience, but with that dogma. And this is entirely arbitrary. No one has ever been able to give a reason to believe it, and there is a rather long list of reasons why it is false.

but fails to give a single piece of evidence to support this claim, it is time to ask them to come back to reality.  It is contemplation of chimeras that led man to create phantoms, ghosts, gods, demons and genii. It is a failure to consult nature, to try to understand her that one makes a claim that starting with experience is a dogma that is fallacious. Man learns, but by experience and it is only by turning to nature does he truly learn about his surrounding and himself. To claim it is arbitrary and false is to base ones knowledge on what the priests tell him.

He then writes in conclusion

 I agree that we shouldn’t accept an idea without a reason to do so, but that would mean rejecting this arbitrary claim that all evidence is physical.

which then leaves me wondering what was his point in the very first place? Was it to show that we shouldn’t believe those things for which we have no evidence or is it to make a contrary claim that we should believe in chimeras because we can think them? But if we reject the claim that we should not believe things we don’t have evidence for, where will we stop? Do we start believing in winged horses, talking donkeys, fishes for public transport and people rising from the dead to name but a few?

In attacking materialism, Debilis wants us to accept chimeras as having the same probability of existence as those things we have experienced through our sense organs. He wants us to have for our teachers priests, monks and imams who when they had the reins of power, the world was in darkness. It is by consulting nature, only, that we can learn about it. If we stray from it and start believing in chimeras, we lose our grounding and end up believing in phantoms we have created in our minds.

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

7 thoughts on “How do we know anything: A response

  1. john zande says:

    Our friend is a consummate expert at the Strawman. Just look to his post: The Extraordinary Claims of Materialism. It is astonishingly disingenuous, yet he seems unable to recognise that fact. He creates an entire set of prescriptions for this thing he calls a “Materialist” (which is a term he and other theists have simply made up) and proceeds on his rant as if they are true.

    There really is no saying how ridiculously obtuse these apologists can be.

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  2. Mordanicus says:

    The idea that materialism might be true, is psychologically uncomfortable to some people. The fact that a great deal of the world around us can be understand through materialism, especially causes severe cognitive dissonance in some people. However, their attachment to their believes is so strong that even intelligent people might turn their reason of, the defend their disputed believes.

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    • makagutu says:

      I see no reason why one should keep relying on falsehoods he was fed in childhood as a way of explaining the universe.

      It is only fair that one grows up from such phantoms and face nature as it is, however uncomfortable we may find it.

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      • Mordanicus says:

        Neither do I, I can only turn to psychology to explain why people act as do. But an explanation of a certain behaviour is no justification of it, something many people have trouble to understand.

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