understanding knowledge, reason, science and spirituality

source of knowledge and science

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How do we know what we know? Is it handed to us on stone tablets or is it something that we discover, with our understanding of the discoveries changing with each new discovery? It is important when talking about knowledge to distinguish what inductive and deductive reasoning are and are not. This is important because there has often been a false dichotomy between science and spirituality that has often been pushed.

Deductive reasoning starts with a generalization, premise or hypothesis considered to be true and then applies the generalization to a certain instance to determine if the the specific instance is true. One example is this: “Premise 1: All planets in the Solar system rotate around the Sun. Premise 2: Earth is a planet. Inference: Therefore Earth rotates around the sun.”

But deductive reasoning is also used to test whether a premise or hypotheses is true. For example. “Premise 1: All fruits are red. Premise 2: Oranges are fruits. Inference: Therefore Premise 1 is false—not all fruits are red.”

Inductive reasoning starts with the observation of specific phenomena and draws from them a particular conclusion. For example: “Earth is a planet in our solar system and revolves around the Sun. Mars is a planet in our solar system and revolves around the Sun. Saturn is a planet in our solar system and revolves around the Sun. Therefore, all planets in our solar system revolve around the sun.”

There is less certainty to this than there is there would be if the premise was already known to be true. The validity of the conclusion would only be true until a planet in the solar system is discovered that doesn’t revolve around the sun. No such planet has been found yet, but for all we know, it could happen. If it were to happen, we would either determine the conclusion to not be true in all cases, or perhaps we would find other reasons to classify the object as something other than a planet.

Inductive reasoning deals with uncertainty, but it is from those uncertainties that new hypotheses could be tested through deductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning opens the door to new possibilities never before considered, and it is through the proper use of both inductive and deductive reasoning that we have been able to technologically advance as a society up until this point.

It needs to be pointed out, however, that personal or institutional bias can warp both inductive and deductive reasoning.

For instance, what is often referred to as “deductive Biblical reasoning” starts with a premise that not everybody agrees with. Biblical deductive reasoning starts with the assumption that everything in the Christian Bible is true and is of the highest authority, an authority higher than reason itself. These are not my words, but words from a Christian writer. Some of the statements say all we need to know about this line of thinking. Examples include “Deduction from the Bible results in absolute certainty.” “Some believe that we can prove the Bible is true with logic. This is an unbiblical rationalism which places the authority of reason above the Bible. In order to prove the Bible, we would need propositions of higher authority than the Bible which is impossible by definition.” (emphasis is mine)

Impossible? Okay. Which Bible? The New Testament wasn’t assembled until three centuries after the first scripts were written. And until the invention of the printing press in the Middle Ages, the Bible had to be hand-copied. Plus, in the last century or so, tens of thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament have been recovered, dating back centuries, and researchers have found that later copies of the New Testament differ significantly from earlier copies. Among these manuscripts found, there are instances where scribes added things to the Bible that weren’t previously there. For example, Pentecostal Christians cite Mark chapter 16, verses 17-18 which claims that believers in Jesus will have extraordinary powers. But earlier manuscripts of the New Testament stopped at chapter 8 of the book of Mark.

Nevertheless, according to Christians who take the Bible literally, all scribes were inspired by God, and thus the changes found in later versions were also inspired. Note that this statement is also a form of deductive reasoning from the premise that Bible is the highest authority.

This effort to promote a type of “science” that has the Christian Bible as its highest authority has created division within American society. It has caused a reaction that itself is sometimes misguided and manipulated. One example is how the biotech giant Monsanto deliberately tried to position itself in opposition to climate change deniers, and insinuated that if people don’t believe in Monsanto’s take on genetic engineering, then they must not believe in climate change either and are as “anti-science” as the aforementioned Christian Bible literalists. This tactic has fooled some liberal-minded people, but as this article from Organic Consumers Association points out  not all claims of scientific proof are scientifically valid.

As a former graduate student, I can testify that there is a lot of biased pseudoscience that get published in the most prestigious academic journals. After all, just as some Christians want to uphold the Bible as the highest authority, there are no shortage of scientists wanting to fend of challenges to theories they thought they had proven. Modern science isn’t immune to ego and politics. Unfortunately, such ego and politics only undermines science as a whole, and bolsters the opinions of those who believe that knowledge is, in fact, handed to us from divine authorities.

For the scientific method to be upheld we must accept that any premise can potentially be disproven and we must be willing to adjust our sense of reality in the wake of new evidence. Understanding the scientific method and understanding what makes something valid or not valid is something everyone should know. The potential for bias needs to be taken into account and should be an impetus for holding a scientific study to greater scrutiny. Most modern journalists (and their editors) either don’t even understand this or don’t care. As such, we must rely upon our own scrutiny, not upon the published word.

In my honest view, inductive and deductive reasoning don’t make the Universe any less spiritual or magical than it actually is. Some of the most spiritual people in the world are scientists. Having examined closely the fruits of creation, they become more filled with awe and wonder rather than existential materialists. There are without a doubt aspects of the Universe that exist today that we have yet to understand, perhaps entirely different dimensions of reality we have yet to discover.

One of the greatest mysteries of science is something that we encounter every waking moment of every day. That mystery is our own consciousness and self-awareness. We know it exists, but we have yet to fully understand its origin or source.

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