Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How Much Do Human's Know? How Much Do You Personally Know?

Taken as a percentage, what would you propose is the sum of man's knowledge of the known universe?  If I were to break that down a bit, what do we know about all things outside of earth's domain?  Of all the stars, planets, black holes and other things swirling around out there, what do we human's know?  1%?  Less than that?  .1%?  .0000000001%?  What would you suggest?

Closer to home - Of all that there might be to know about the things in the domain of earth above the ground, what % do we know of what there might be to know?  About clouds, whether patterns, things that might live 5 miles above the earth?  1%?  .1%?  .0001%?  What number would you put on that?

Still closer - Of the things that populate the earth's floor, like animals, plants, rocks, bugs, and other things that are neither in the air or under the earth or water, what % do we know?   .0001%?  more?  less?

What about the percent of our knowledge of things under the ground?  Then what percent of thing under the water?  What % of knowledge do we possess of all the things there are to know about human anatomy, especially the brain?  What % do we know about human psychology?  And what % do we know of human interaction with others, including other animals, plants, and our environment?

What % do we know about the microscopic and invisible things of life.  What % of knowledge do we have about the history of man, life, the planet, the universe?

If man's total knowledge of the things of his world and his universe amounts to some miniscule amount compared to all there is to know, then what percent of all human knowledge do you personally possess?  1%.  .01%.  Much less?  And of what you "KNOW" to be true and what gives credence to your unique understanding?  The ideas and opinions of other men who also know as much as you about all of this, but maybe a bit more about something you don't?  And what is the source of their knowledge?

And yet we are ready to fight, draw blood, destroy lives, and kill over our understanding of how things are or how we think they should be.  Personally, as I sit in my home office and stroke my new kitten, I know for sure that I know a very small fraction of the workings, thinkings, and ways to train and take care of this much studied little animal.  We are fools to think we have any real knowledge, and this is the Christian God's definition of pride.

17 comments:

Bernardo said...

Whenever I react the full weight of an object and then release it, it falls! Every time!

The sun traces the same arc across the sky every year!

Deprive an animal of oxygen, deprive a plant of light or water... you will get very predictable results.

We can know things because we are good at saying "Whenever you do this, you get that outcome", and "Whenever you do that but change it like so, the outcome changes like this", and so on.

Sure, all that this really says is "This is the way things have happened SO FAR". But that's good enough for us to design and build clocks, telephones, computers, airplanes, and spaceships.

We can't know fully. But we can observe carefully, notice that "Every time we do this, we get that", and plan/design accordingly.

If you take Newtonian physics, plus the pioneering work of people like Otto Lillienthal and the Wright Bothers, of Tesla and Marconi and Thomas Edison and Volta and Watt, plus the work of the people who developed transistors and vacuum tubes (and from there, the computer), and you call that "pride"... then this kind of "pride" is fine by me.

Bernardo said...

And another thing.

There are two very different kinds of “knowing” that science does. Here you confuse one for the other.

The first kind is modeling. That means trying to describe cause-and-effect relationships between things you can observe. Electricity, fluid flow, the relationships between populations in an ecosystem… One thing we can do is try to make general statements about how these things work. This is about the different KINDS of things that exist, the KINDS of relationships that exist between these things, and how those relationships work.

The second kind can be called “cataloguing” or “stamp collecting”. That’s discovering THE THINGS that exist. The species of plants and animals and so on, the chemical elements, the particles, the stars and planets and comets, all the ways a human body can get sick and all the mechanisms that could bring it back to health, etc.

You say that our catalogue is a small fraction of what there is. It’s a substantial but incomplete catalogue of what there is on Earth, and probably a very tiny catalogue of what there is in the universe.

But this has nothing to do with how good or how general our models are. Maybe our models describe practically every kind of matter we could ever encounter. If you were to place some people on any random corner of the universe, it is likely that the size and composition and energy flow of the stars over there, the orbital shapes of planets and moons around them, the geological phenomena on those planets and moons, the chemistry of all those materials, and even the life crawling around their surfaces, would all be fairly “understandable” by our systems, analogous to something we’ve already seen, roughly predictable even at first using our imperfect models. We might not find anything in the universe that would make us go “What the heck is THAT? We don’t even know what KIND of thing that is! How did it do THAT?”

Or maybe not. People have said things like this for a long time and today we know they were mistaken. Starting with the ancient greeks, through the Dark Ages and the Renaissance, and then over the past couple of centuries, people thought they had models for everything that could exist, they thought they had pigeonholed everything in the universe… but they hadn’t. Up until the past 30 or 40 years, if you showed someone an iPhone it would be indistinguishable from magic. So who knows what’s out there.

But still. Just because our catalogue is very incomplete, our ability to make sense of things well enough to catalogue them is pretty high. We’re looking in every direction as hard as we can, and I think we’re making pretty good sense of what we’re seeing.

Bernardo said...

And one last thing.

I know that I don’t know everything. I look at everything we know, and I think of how in 300 years someone might look back and laugh at how little we know, just as we do today for the people of 300 years ago.

This makes me CURIOUS. I want to get out there and learn more. I want to find phenomena that make me go “Ok, I can’t quite explain this”, and sharpen my models until they give me some predictive power over those initially-strange phenomena.

And you know what’s the best way to shut down my ability to exploit this curiosity? Saying “God did it”. The moment you say “God did it”, you stop looking for the cause-and-effect mechanisms, the equations, the models that (although imperfect) would allow you to harness that phenomenon. Granted that we don’t know it all, part of the CAUSE of why we know as little as we know is… religion.

http://www.absurdintellectual.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/DarkAges.gif

Randy Kirk said...

Is there any chance we can put this last segment of your response to rest once and for all. All the major universities were founded by solid Bible believing Christians and almost all the major scientists were Christians who believed that God did some of it. The idea that God started it or has a hand it in might shut down your curiosity, which would be sad indeed. But it obviously drove the curiosity of science for many generations as these scientists desired to learn more about the face, hand, and nature of God.

Bernardo said...

It's not that simple.

Those scientists may have believed that God did SOMEthing, but they did not believe that God did the thing they were studying.

A neuroscientist who believes that the mind is (at least mostly and presently) naturalistic, but who believes that the Big Bang and maybe even evolution were miracles? No problem.

An astrophysicist who believes that the Big Bang was (at least mostly) naturalistic, but who believes that the mind can only be explained by a supernatural soul? No problem.

A "biologist" who believes that evolution and/or the mind are "irreducibly complex", i.e. miracles? An "astrophysicist" who believes that the Big Bang was a miracle? A neuroscientist who studies phenomena he/she thinks are directly influenced by a supernatural soul? Problem!!!

It's ok for scientists to say "God influences the world". And you're right, this has been the case for many great scientists and other important intellectual pioneers without whom we would be missing a big chunk of modernity.

But if they think "God influences this phenomenon I'm studying", then they're not really scientists, and their belief is getting in the way of them really studying the mechanisms behind their phenomenon of interest. Luckily this hasn't happened often (modern-day creationists being the one case I can think of).

Randy Kirk said...

What if we were to take your thought just one minor step further. Would it get in the way of scientific curiosity if I believe that God is the primogenitor of everything, but that He wants man to explore and understand as much as man might want? Within this idea as God as first cause, the scientist analyzes, evaluates, tests, speculates, theorizes about every possible aspect of how things came to be.

Bernardo said...

I think most religious scientists are deists. So what you're talking about (in your latest comment) already happens. And no, I don't think it's a problem. They pretty much all believe that God created a mechanical universe and we're picking apart the mechanisms. (And they recognize the possibility that the Big Bang might not be that creation, even if there WAS a divine creation at some point in the past).

But some people go beyond this. They insist that God didn't just create a mechanical universe and then let it run via its own mechanisms. They insist that God must hand-hold the process, and cause mechanisms to deviate from what they would naturally/automatically do. That's when you believe in miracles instead of naturalism. That's when you go from deist to theist.

So yes, I agree that deism is compatible with naturalism, and so it does not stifle curiosity. But theism, by definition, is anti-naturalistic, and does get in the way of unraveling the mechanisms of the universe.

You will have a very hard time getting me to disagree with anything that fits into the deist point of view. I was a deist until very recently, and I still try and put myself into a deist point of view when I go to a Christian church, and it's not very hard for me to do. (You'd be surprised how much of Christianity can be made compatible with a deist outlook).

A theist's God has to break his own rules in order to get things to progress the way he wants. A deist's God is smart enough to foresee the problems and tweak the starting conditions so as to get the desired result without having to "cheat" or interfere with the system. You can guess which of these two kinds of Gods I consider superior, if one is to exist.

Randy Kirk said...

If God could make it, he can suspend any part of it for his purposes. So miracles do not defeat science. They merely create evidence of a superior force outside of nature. In fact, that is exactly why God and Jesus are always picking guys to change the world who seem so unlikely. That is why he has Israel as an unlikely favored people. That is why the ideas that Jesus, an unlikely savior, brought to the world were so unlikely to be seen as the beginning of the largest movement in history. It shows that God is involved and that He is worthy of worship.


The great part about debating you on this issue is your intellectual honesty. I only hope I am doing as well.

Bernardo said...

If you define God [and in my head, this says: "If you define your imaginary God..."] as being omnipotent, then yes, of course he can break nature's rules. But doing so strikes me as ugly, inelegant, clumsy, kludgy, and showing less talent and foresight than just getting everything right in the first place.

But then, you say, maybe the kind of universe God wants is not a universe that can be achieved deistically. Maybe breaking the rules is an integral part of the plan; the only way to make people aware of the existence of the supernatural level of things.

The problem is, though: I believe that EVERYTHING has a naturalistic explanation. If something SEEMS like it doesn't, then I believe that it's just a matter of time before we work out the mechanisms. Like I say above, maybe in 40 years we'll all have devices in our pockets with capabilities that would baffle today's most brilliant physicists. Seeing how many "miracles" and "supernatural phenomena" and "acts of divine intervention" have been revealed to be naturalistic, I expect that it's only a matter of time before they ALL are. Maybe this kind of progress is asymptotic, sure. But to me, calling anything "a miracle" is nothing more than a failure of imagination, a failure to trust in the power of naturalism. As someone who has studied a lot about the mechanisms in the universe, maybe I have more to go on as far as expecting layers of mechanisms to underlie complex phenomena. But like you point out, I don't know everything, and physicists don't know everything, so anyone (be it me, a physicist, or someone who has not studied as much science as me) can make that leap of faith into naturalism if they want to, if they find it as elegant and empowering and beautiful and exciting as I do.

But I'm digressing. What I really want to say here is: If your God performed miracles so as to show everyone that he's God, then he should not have created minds like mine, who so strongly prefer (and are so good at) interpreting all observations as naturalistic phenomena (even when there's no known naturalistic mechanism yet that would cause the phenomena). If this is his method of convincing us that he exists, then he should know that it will not work on creatures who are not convinced by it.

Randy Kirk said...

The Bible clearly says that there will be those who look at the obvious and try to come up with explanations that deny God. So God isn't surprised by this, and those who are "foolish" will have their reward. Just as those who are foolish enough to deny gravity or believe they will not succumb to addictions or early death from cigarettes, etc.

God gave us the ability to choose. And I don't think it matters much how sophisticated one is in their knowledge of physics or biology. It comes right back to pride, whether it seems so or not. For me to suppose that my puny little brain, no matter how magnificent, is so significant that I can manifest my own theory of truth based on my own experience, study, testing, or understudy of others is just beyond comprehension.

Naturalistic thinking also eliminates an entire realm of possibilities in research. If it cannot be supernatural, then all analysis that might include the supernatural is discarded. Thus, those who choose such thinking limit their imagination, not increase it. I am free to pursue truth claims that appear to be natural phenomena every bit as much as you are. I am not at all limited in doing so, as is proved by the huge amount of important science done by Christians.

And the fact that naturalism is elegant is a reason for believing it is created. There is rarely any elegance in the random.

Bernardo said...

It is obvious to me that supernaturalistic explanations/models of observed phenomena get replaced by naturalistic ones, over time. It would be foolish to deny this.

"And I don't think it matters much how sophisticated one is in their knowledge of physics or biology."

I agree with you there. It doesn't take much study of science to develop a trust in a naturalistic universe.

"It comes right back to pride ... my puny little brain, no matter how magnificent, is so significant that I can manifest my own theory of truth"

That's not pride. That's trusting the universe to be understandable. (Not necessarily by MY brain, just in principle). Whenever you look at any phenomenon, you can be optimistic and say "We could probably crack this nut" (which says less about us than it says about the nut), or you could be pessimistic and say "The workings behind this are beyond the reach of human comprehension". All the progress humankind has made in understanding the world (the physical world and the human world), and all of my personal progress I have made in improving my life, has come from nut-cracking optimism. I reject your pessimism, in principle, even if it is ultimately correct. Even if you're right and there are some phenomena we'll never understand (like the God you propose), believing this would be so detrimental to my well-being and to the progress of humanity's knowledge that I deny your pessimistic belief not only on a proper truth/evidence basis (God sounds made up and there is no good evidence for God) but also on a utilitarian happiness-optimizing basis.

"Naturalistic thinking also eliminates an entire realm of possibilities in research."

Yes. The made-up realm. You show anything supernatural to be anything but made-up, and James Randi has a million dollars for you.

(And let me precede your reply by saying that an argumentum-ad-populum fallacy is not a reasonable, logical, or valid answer to this).

"those who choose such thinking limit their imagination"

Yes, we limit it only to real things, trying to exclude made-up things. How dare we be so proud? ;]

"And the fact that naturalism is elegant is a reason for believing it is created. There is rarely any elegance in the random."

The alternative to "created" isn't "random". The alternative is "following mechanical, understandable, predictable, general, reliable, consistent rules". The naturalistic universe is elegant because it is consistent rather than whimsical. And I do not believe that elegance is evidence for creation. (Is God elegant? Then he must have been created! ;]).

Randy Kirk said...

It's obvious to you. Is it conceivable to you that the opposite is obvious to me. If you are referring to science, all I see is backtracking and fixing the naturalistic explanation of yesterday with the new improved one of today, which will undoubtedly be supplanted by some newer theory tomorrow.

Or I have the Bible, which hasn't changed its opinion at all. It says there are stars more innumerable than sand. It says that the earth is a ball. It says that there was chaos before there was order.

Now more than a few scientist look into the cell and say words like irreducibly complex and consisting of so much information that it is impossible to think cells are not the creation of an intellect.

NO ONE fails to trust in nature and a naturalistic explanation. We choose to believe that all this fabulous order comes from intelligence, not some odd chance.

You return over and over again to what has to be the easiest part of this debate to get past. The belief in God hasn't and doesn't today prevent anyone from a robust effort to understand nature in all of its glory. Why do you keep saying that somehow this would be true for you. It certainly hasn't been for me. Or Newton or Einstein or Franklin or Edison or any of those mentioned in the article about the great scientist that believe.

Your last argument begs the question. What can you point to anywhere that is consistent that isn't created. Laws of nature just appeared, like the matter in nature, and the energy to propel it, and the information to direct it within the scope of those laws.

The jews just happened to continue to exist as a "nation" in exile unlike any other people group for 100's or 1000's of years, and then regroup from time to time as specifically prophesied by the Bible. People died horrible deaths rather than expose the lie that the risen Christ walked among them.

We Christians are not stupid fools believing in Santa Clause because our mommies told us to. We, like you, have the ability to review the evidence and conclude wisely about our own understanding and experience.

Finally, the throw in at the very end is nice, but there are things we have to have faith in. Our human brains cannot conceive of infinity, period. The universe was either always in existence (impossible to conceive) or came into existence from nothing. I have concluded that it is easier to conceive of an infinite Spiritual world that has no time dimension than to try to imagine a material universe that has always existed or that burst into being from nothing.

Bernardo said...

"backtracking and fixing the naturalistic explanation of yesterday with the new improved one of today."

We call that Progress. I see you're not a big fan.

Yes, naturalistic models are always being improved. But it doesn't mean that the old models were crap. It just means they're not as precise as the new models. Newtonian physics is enough to get you to the moon... but you need Einsteinian physics to make GPS work properly.

"Or I have the Bible, which hasn't changed its opinion at all."

And that's the problem with religion right there. Thanks for explaining it so concisely.

"It says there are stars more innumerable than sand. It says that the earth is a ball. It says that there was chaos before there was order."

Scientists have been making MANY basic claims like this (many more such claims than the Bible, and also more specific and useful claims) for decades, even centuries, and these basic claims do not often change. The details change. So that comparison you just made (between some of the Bible's big basic claims and science's small specific claims) is not a valid one.

"NO ONE fails to trust in nature and a naturalistic explanation."

Wait, I bet I can find a good example... There's one, in the line immediately above that!

"... irreducibly complex ... consisting of so much information that it is impossible to think cells are not the creation of an intellect"

That is a CLASSIC god-of-the-gaps failure to trust naturalism.

"the article about the great scientist that believe."

Any article that says that Einstein was a believer must distort his words so much, I would never trust it.

"What can you point to anywhere that is consistent that isn't created. Laws of nature just appeared, like the matter in nature, and the energy to propel it, and the information to direct it within the scope of those laws."

I think they were always around in some form. I never said they "just appeared". I'm going to start keeping track of how often you criticize me for beliefs I don't actually have. It's the second time in tonight's round of comments, third or fourth since we started this debate again over the last couple of weeks.

"there are things we have to have faith in"

I think so.

"The universe was either always in existence (impossible to conceive)"

More possible to conceive than your impossible God.

Bernardo said...

I should clarify that last statement, before you start accusing me of strong atheism.

Deistic god: Perfectly possible.

Theistic god, who can break his own rules and perform miracles if he wants: Not impossible, I guess. (Not as elegant as a deistic god who can set things up right in the beginning, but that’s a personal aesthetic opinion).

Christian God, who… Is both omniscient and omnipotent, but can create creatures so unpredictable that even he cannot predict their behavior? Impossible, logically incoherent, self-contradictory. Is omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent/loving, but created a world full of suffering and injustice? Impossible, logically incoherent, self-contradictory. Was incarnated into a man who both knew the big-picture plan and didn’t know it? Impossible, logically incoherent, self-contradictory. The Christian god is about as possible as a square circle, as an invisible pink unicorn.

Bernardo said...

Okay, it's looking like the disappearing comments from Monday night aren't coming back, so... I'll try to re-write mine.

Part 1:

"It's obvious to you. Is it conceivable to you that the opposite is obvious to me."

Ten thousand years ago, everything - from animal behavior, to weather, disease, you name it - was thought to be caused directly by the gods/spirits, in real-time. During the past couple of millennia, some of these things were still thought to be caused by the gods/spirits, but some have at least been observed to be part of regular cycles (the seasons, the phases of the moon) or causal consequences of other physical things. During the Enlightenment, even fewer things were still thought to be directly caused by gods/spirits in real time. Today, practically all of those things - weather, disease, celestial cycles, the formation of the solar system and of geographical features, the rise of biodiversity, more and more about the functioning of the mind - are understood as physical phenomena, not as gods/spirits influencing the world in real-time. The fraction of observed phenomena attributed to miracles has been steadily shrinking for all of recorded history. I feel comfortable extrapolating that trend. (And so did Hippocrates).

"all I see is backtracking and fixing the naturalistic explanation of yesterday with the new improved one of today, which will undoubtedly be supplanted by some newer theory tomorrow."

Yes, we call this Progress. I see you're not a big fan.

Besides, the newer "replacement" models are only slightly better and more precise than the older models they replace. The older models are not completely wrong (just as the newer models aren't completely right. They're only better). Newtonian physics is enough to get you to the moon. But you need Einsteinian physics in order to get GPS to work properly.

"Or I have the Bible, which hasn't changed its opinion at all."

And that is the primary problem with religion (as I explain here). It doesn't self-correct, or at least tries not to. It thinks it has all the answers, and has for 2000 years (and they call us atheists "proud"!). Thanks for describing it much more concisely.

"It says there are stars more innumerable than sand. It says that the earth is a ball. It says that there was chaos before there was order."

Those are very broad claims. They are not precise enough to be predictive. What science keeps adjusting are its smaller, more precise claims. The broader claims - about the stars, the earth, the beginnings of the universe, the nature of life - do not change, and even they are much more precise and useful than these biblical ones. Your comparison (between the Bible's large broad claims and science's small specific ones) is invalid, but even in that comparison, science comes out ahead.

Bernardo said...

Part 2:

"NO ONE fails to trust in nature and a naturalistic explanation"

You're wrong. I bet I can find a good example of this to show you. Oh, wait, there's one, in the line immediately above your incorrect claim:

"irreducibly complex ... so much information ... it is impossible to think cells are not the creation of an intellect."

That is a CLASSIC example of a god-of-the-gaps failure to trust naturalism. I trust that there is a naturalistic explanation for those things (and in fact, many do exist and are ignored by ID proponents), you do not (because you think God Did It).

"or Einstein ... or any of those mentioned in the article about the great scientist that believe."

Any article claiming that Einstein was a believer must be twisting his words so much, I would not trust it.

"What can you point to anywhere that is consistent that isn't created?"

All kinds of physical phenomena in the universe - everything, basically - are consistent but not created. Who created the phases of the moon, the Earth's seasons, the migrations of birds and butterflies, the freezing of water at certain combinations of pressure and temperature?

Besides, is your God consistent? Then he must have been created!

"Laws of nature just appeared, like the matter in nature, and the energy to propel it, and the information to direct it within the scope of those laws."

I never claim that anything "just appeared". I believe all this matter and energy has always been around in some form.

"there are things we have to have faith in"

I agree with that.

"The universe was either always in existence (impossible to conceive)"

More possible to conceive than your impossible God.

I should clarify that last statement, before you start accusing me of strong atheism.

Deistic god: Perfectly possible.

Theistic god, who can break his own rules and perform miracles if he wants: Not impossible, I guess. (Not as elegant as a deistic god who can set things up right in the beginning, but that’s a personal aesthetic opinion).

Christian God, who… Is both omniscient and omnipotent, but can create creatures so unpredictable that even he cannot predict their behavior? Impossible, logically incoherent, self-contradictory. Is omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent/loving, but created a world full of suffering and injustice? Impossible, logically incoherent, self-contradictory. Was incarnated into a man who both knew the big-picture plan and didn’t know it? Impossible, logically incoherent, self-contradictory. The Christian god is about as possible as a square circle, as an invisible pink unicorn.

Page1Listings.com said...

Yes, we call this Progress. I see you're not a big fan.

Your progress is sometimes my regress. Let's take life expectancy. Very good deal that we have decreased the death rate of newborns, infants, children, and impoverished. But the loss of 4,000,000 babies in womb each year isn't in those longevity stats.

And the longevity of folks age 60 has not changed a ton. There is also a question of quality of life for the 75 year old whose no longer got family all around him, because progress has made grandpa old and useless.