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apologetics, Culture, God

Empiricism

I was having a discussion with a person who believed that all truth is determined through empirical testing.  This is known as empiricism.  An example of the type of truths this worldview would acknowledge would be like if you mix an acid and a base you will get a water and a salt.  Like if you mix HCl (Hydrogen Chloride, or Hydrochloric Acid) and NaOH (Sodium Hydroxide) you will get water and NaCl or table salt.  This will always happen and this can be determined empirically.  Empirical study is good.  However it is not the only method to arrive at truth as the empiricist claims.

There are many things we rely on and hold as true that are not empirically demonstrated prior to accepting them.  One example is the law of causality.  This states that every effect has a cause and that if you apply the same cause you will get the same effect.  If this wasn’t true you couldn’t do any empirical study at all.  It would be meaningless.  In the above example of acids and bases, if the law of causality wasn’t true (or you couldn’t assume it was true from the outset) you’d have no reason to believe that the water and salt produced were the result of mixing the two components together.  It was just something that happened and you couldn’t assume it was caused by the conditions.  It might just have easily turned into chocolate milk.  In fact you couldn’t even assume your senses were working with any regularity at all.  Maybe the experiment worked the way you observed it, maybe your senses (the chemical and electrical mechanisms that make up those senses) worked differently that time.  Why not?  It’s because we expect this order in the universe.

But even more fundamentally than that the view that all truth must be determined empirically is self-refuting.  The belief that all truth is empirically determined is itself a truth that was not empirically determined.   It is assumed a priori.  It, at least in this person’s usage of it, is circular.  His position was that all truth is empirically derived but when presented with other ways to arrive at truth (like logic) he said that those don’t demonstrate truth because they are not empirical in nature.  So in essence he has defined truth such that only his definition of truth can fit it.  That’s begging the question and is logically fallacious.

So like most (if not all) non-Christian worldviews, empiricism is internally inconsistent.  Perhaps I’ll do a series of these on different worldviews.  Maybe I’ll do the relativist worldview next…

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Discussion

2 thoughts on “Empiricism

  1. I often find the problem with non-Christian or secular philosophies is the challenge in articulating fully what they are. Your talk of ‘all truth’, for example, seems to be a failure on the part of your friend to fully articulate the limitations of empiricism. If they had instead described empiricism as a reliable way of producing justifiable and consistent knowledge, then the idea of it being self-refuting because empiricism is itself a truth claim that cannot be empirically validated wouldn’t properly map onto the description of empiricism given. Instead, empiricism’s score card of consistent, reliable, philosophically defensible and useful knowledge would stand as empirical evidence for its power.

    The deeper problem is that empiricism isn’t a complete set. The actual method people use for knowledge is one of conjecture (often based on induction and rationalism), testing (empiricism), doubt (critical thinking) and repetition. I don’t think “inducto-rational critical empiricism” will ever take off as a name, but the idea is encapsulated in the philosophies of science and in ‘fallibilism’ (the idea that we should be testing with the goal of finding flaws in an idea).

    Posted by Allallt | May 19, 2016, 3:25 pm

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