Thursday, November 5, 2009

Empirical Inadequacy

Oft heard arguments these days the likes of, "prove this" or "show me that" are essentially based on empiricism. More often than not, compliance with the scientific method is referenced as the determinant of the purity of anything one might offer as empirical evidence.

One of the chief attributes of this framework, which is also among it's least considered attributes, is how extremely limited it is. For example a coach says, "kick the ball", and a player kicks a ball. On the surface it appears that the coach communicated instructions to the player and the player reacted appropriately, but what of this scenario can be empirically demonstrated? Is there a provable cause and effect relationship? Does the correlation of events prove causation?

Adherence to the scientific method requires reproducability. Since the player might have kicked the ball of his own will without hearing the coach's instruction, or he could have disregarded the instruction and not kicked the ball at all, or a myriad of other possiblities, the scenario is not reproducable. Since the results will not be consistent when the events are reproduced, the principle of falsifiablity applies and the idea is rejected as false, or unprovable empirically. Briefly, empiricism is insufficient.

I could whittle away at the events one by one, but what we end up with in the end is that the only empirically demonstrable relevant items in this scenario are the pyhsics of sound in atmosphere. We can demonstrate repeatedly that expelling air while vibrating vocal chords and changing mouth shapes, creates variable wave patterns in the atmosphere which cause vibration in eardrums within a certain distance. You could bother to describe the realtionships in space or go a step further and demonstrate impulses in the nerves and some other biomechanics if you want, but that's irrelevant here. Other than that, empiricism is useless to describe the situation as we all normally percieve and understand it, with any degree of certainty, or relevant detail, or meaning.

Any assertion that the player did what the coach said is purely speculative. It is the existence of will in the scenario invalidates the use of empiricism to judge it.

Often, when an empiricist is faced with a "why" question, they will offer a "how" answer. It is so common that it is seldom noticed. For example, the answer to the question; Why is the sky blue? has nothing to do with light rays, atmosphere or refraction. Those are all "how" answers. "The sky is blue because God wants it that way," is a valid "why" answer. Whether you agree with its correctness or not, it addresses the actual question.

"Why" answers always come down to "who" consciously willed something, and since the existence of will in a scenario invalidates the use of empiricism to judge it, empiricism can not ever be used to answer any "Why" questions.

Since God wills, empiricism is an inadequate framework to use to try and assail Him. It is therefore an unproductive waste of effort to honor any request to try to demonstrate "proof of God" empirically. Those making such requests are either ignorant of empiricism's limited range, or are trying to reframe a discussion into an invalid framework for it. If they do so delliberately, they are not seeking the truth of a matter, but are seeking a (false) victory in the debate.

Empiricism has a valid and very useful purpose in this world. But it's limits need to be respected.

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