Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Critical Thinking and the Invisible World View Premises

I was cleaning up and enhancing my Index of the Hunt, when I was reading my description for Round 8:
1 out of 8 planets in the solar system have life, therefore God
I was being a bit snarky, but there's a reason for that. If we de-snark it, it'd be more like "Only 1 of the planets in the solar system has life, which indicates it was made specially for us." The argument (as I understand it) makes no gorram sense to me. Bizarrely, though, this apparently makes perfect sense to creationists? Are they really thinking to themselves, when they make such an argument, "NAILED IT!"?

What's up with that?
Unless you hadn't noticed, I have an interest in epistemology... not necessarily in raw philosophy, but rather the mechanisms that help us consistently learn about the world accurately. I babble endlessly about the standards of evidence, and logical fallacies, blah blah blah.

A sub-interest of mine could be called the "psychology of applying epistemology".

Surely, you've heard the question, "Why is there something instead of nothing?" It's a good deep question, but a more gooder and more deeper question is, "Are you assuming that nothing is the default?" It may literally be impossible for nothing to exist.

That's critical thinking in action - challenging the assumptions one holds, as they influence both conclusions and understandings. The difference between me and a creationist is that I'm more actively trying to make sure the premises of understanding are grounded in reality.

By "premises of understanding", I mean those unspoken underlying tenets of reality that one holds true, and assumes everyone holds as true too. These hidden premises, can make a colossal difference in whether one accepts or rejects an argument.

... and is mostly to blame for why apologists, and counter-apologists are often speaking past each other, with nil capacity to convince or persuade each other about any point of argument.

Sometimes, it's blatant. Bible-thumpers will announce quite proudly that they simply accept the Bible is true, and that's that. Any attempt to argue or debate them, outside of that presupposition, just doesn't register... just like any attempt to debate counter-apologists with that presupposition doesn't register with us, as being valid.

It's not always so blatant - cue the argument "We're the only planet we know of with life, therefore, that indicates a creator."

I'm often left scratching my head, wondering how they get from A to B. The argument itself seems to be nonsensical. From my perspective, they've stated a number of scientific facts, which I may generally accept as true, and then, out of nowhere, out of the blue, all of a sudden, declare that a creator must have been responsible - an assertion that appears to have no logical connection to the premises. Often, especially in the case of the Institute of Creation Research's arguments for creationism, they'll fail to even attempt an explanation that connects the premises to the conclusion.

"Wait, what?", I'll exclaim.

It's further confuzzling to try to talk to a Bible-thumber, who continually spouts off Bible quotes at me, as though they demonstrate something about reality. I've often asked them, "... what are you doing?", and the closest thing to an answer I've gotten is, "we think you need to hear this."

Yeah... I've read the Bible. Thanks. That means this person can skip the annoying Tourette's-style verse injections into the conversation, right? I usually just skip the verses as irrelevant.

Anyway, returning to the argument; the only way I can make this "Argument from Life is Rare" make sense is if I guess that they're operating with an unspoken premise that life wouldn't exist without a creator... or something similar.

That's when it struck me, while reading my reaction to that argument. I'm looking at it with a significantly different set of underlying premises. From what I understand about the universe, it seems reasonable to me that life is probably fairly common. Just like the rules of the universe produce planets, black holes and stars, it may also produce life on a regular basis.

From my perspective, life being rare isn't a problem, but in fact, if it'd be highly unlikely that life is considerably rare. The regularity of life would be the norm. That's why when the creationist and I look at the argument, one of us will nod in agreement, and the other will raise an eyebrow and scratch his head in perplexity. I don't start with the presumption that life wouldn't be possible without a god.

That's why I remarked that of course we'd be the only planet in the solar system with life, if the rate was 1:1,000,000 ... that's just statistically expected. The rarity of life is already a part of my godless understanding of the universe. That's why the argument was lost on me.

I think the next time I'm in a debate with a theist/apologist, I'll try to dig a bit deeper into understanding into those hidden unspoken premises. Who knows, maybe it'll help me "unlock" the potential to getting through to them.

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