Reasonable Beliefs2021 Jan 21
We all believe many things:
- I believe that science does a good job of leading to true explanations of what happens in the material world (the natural world). This is especially true for science that can be repeatably verified by experiment. note
This is less true for the historical sciences because repeatable experiments are not available to re-align mistaken ideas now to the physical world of before. It is impossible to re-run time to make experiments on it, therefore our knowledge of what happened in the past is always uncertain. What we are able to do is to make inference to the best explanation.
Again also, this is less true for social sciences. In this area of study the unknown variables are very large and therefore it is difficult to determine the actual relationships of cause and effect. I also believe that there is an immaterial component to humans. Therefore, we would expect reduced success for studying humans using a method that is designed to discover the workings of the material world.
- I believe there are true things that are immaterial but real. These things are not part of the physical world because they are not based in matter or energy. These can include mathematics, philosophy, and spiritual things. note
Many scientists are rigid materialists. They believe nothing exists beyond the material world. However there are things that are not explainable on the material-only model. I believe therefore that materialists take their position not from material evidence but from personal philosophy.
Note that things like mathematics and philosophy are instantiated in the brains of material people, but the ideas themselves are immaterial and they are real. The spiritual also exists in a non-material realm. Like the world of ideas, the fact that spiritual things are immaterial makes them no less real.
Of course it is quite possible to have incorrect understandings about any true things (whether material or immaterial). Therefore, we should carefully seek truth about all things.
- Science has no say regarding the truth or the existence of immaterial things because those are simply outside of its realm of authority. note
- Immaterial metaphysical things are the very basis of the world of science. note
- Science can sometimes imply immaterial things outside of its realm. note
For example: The cells of all living things have stored information which drives regulatory systems, adaptive systems, complex machinery and much more. In all uniform human experience, the source of this type of complex specified information is always only from an intellect. It is never from natural causes.
The universe is pitifully inadequate to have naturally produced this set of information. (See The Probability of Life) The information of life is so complex and difficult that it is even possible that humans might never fully understand it. Therefore, living things that we see could not have come from dead material things. (We haven't even considered the hard problem of human consciousness.)
However, life had to have come from somewhere. Therefore, this would imply that a (super) intellect not of this universe invented the information in living things.
We must assume a number of metaphysical things about ourselves and the material world before we can even do science. These assumptions of science are immaterial.
Now generally, the results of science are models of the material world which can be used to make predictions, which are testable. Note that the concepts of these models are not made of either material or of energy. Therefore, the actual products of science are also immaterial.
See also a discussion of this from biology
Science generally answers only questions of "what" and "how" about our physical world. (See also What is Science?) Questions about non-physical things are simply outside the jurisdiction of science. It is just unable to say anything meaningful about them.
Therefore, a scientist (or anybody) who speaks about things that are immaterial does so unscientifically, that is, they speak without any scientific authority on the matter.
- I believe we should choose our beliefs about immaterial things based on related evidence in the material world. Our beliefs should be evidence-based. This does not guarantee correctness of beliefs, but it can reduce mistakes. note
Material evidence supports the idea of an immaterial world. For instance, things like mathematics and philosophy are immaterial, and we believe these exist (because they have effects in the material world).
I also believe there is physical evidence that supports spiritual immaterial things. I have written about this in The Probability of Life. In the book Return of the God Hypothesis, this argument is extended positively to support theistic implications, which then includes spiritual implications.
If you take the view then that spiritual things have genuine reality, then comes the question of which proposed spiritual things are the true things. Certainly not all proposed spiritual things can be true because among all the ideas there is much conflict.
Spiritual teaching can be considered on the evidence for historicity. (Did the leader exist? Was the teaching transmitted reliably?) It can be considered by pragmatism. (Does the teaching about spiritual things correspond to practical experience? Does predictions that it makes prove true in living?)
In this way, spiritual beliefs can be shown to be supported by evidence from the material world. The best beliefs will have the best support.
- I believe we should know why we choose our beliefs. We ourselves should be aware of the evidence for our beliefs (if any exists, what it is, is it good evidence, etc). If we do not know why a belief should be held, we should always be free to ask to find out more, without retribution. And we should seek to find the best evidential beliefs.
To illustrate, I believe the universe had a beginning (a Big Bang). All material, energy, and time originated at this big bang. Before the Big Bang there was no material, there was no time, and there were no natural laws. Of course then, this Big Bang was not a natural process.
Therefore, anyone who thinks the Big Bang happened believes in at least one fantastic supernatural thing. They believe the world came into material existence out of nothing, without a physical cause. Belief in some supernatural things is a reasonable and logical position. note
Note that some scientists have theories about the Big Bang (e.g. it was a quantum fluctuation). However, theories like this are not tested (we have not made our own universes), and they are not evidenced.
We do believe from science that there are quantum fluctuations everywhere around us today, but none of them are producing universes like the one we live in. In addition, the standard theory says quantum fluctuations only produce virtual particles that appear and vanish instantly and that these particles are not even real anyway.
The "nothing" out of which the universe came was not even like the "nothing" of empty space out there. "Empty space" is not empty. We can make measurements on our most empty of "empty" spaces in our universe and there is always something there. It is definitely much much more than genuine nothing. However, before the Big Bang, not even our own "empty" space existed. So space itself was created at the Big Bang.
If there was no material, and there was no time, and there were no natural laws before the Big Bang, then there was no physical cause for the universe. Of course nothing in our experience ever happens without a cause. This strongly suggests that the cause of the universe was not physical and not naturalistic.
It was all very super-natural!
Note that this group of believers in the supernatural should include most scientists even though they may not think about the Big Bang this way.
All of our beliefs are based on something. This something is always some combination of evidence, philosophy and felt opinion. What you believe about material, natural things largely comes from evidence, but it also comes from your philosophy and opinions. In a similar way, what you believe about supernatural things also does come from evidence (as well as from your philosophy and opinions).
Beliefs are never blind. They are always based on some amount of evidence. The best beliefs have good evidence, and then they are reasonable.