Is there an absolute truth about anything
Faith, truth, knowledge: an attempt at clarification
The scholars of naturalism accuse me of having difficulties with the concept of reality and especially with that of the truth in the sense of an accurate description of the same. The current issue of Spektrum der Wissenschaft (8/2017) gives me the opportunity to explain why I am actually suspicious of these terms.
“What is truth?” Is already on the front page of the magazine. The main article "Epistemology - Science, Knowledge and its Limitations" tries to answer: Truth is what describes reality correctly. Michael Esfeld thinks that there are good reasons to assume that physics describes reality at least roughly as it is.
Realism is metaphysics
He makes a picture of reality. The physicist, writes Michael Esfeld, breaks up nature into ever smaller units: “The further this breakdown progresses, the more the objects lose their individual properties.” Thought through to the end, the world is a very large number of expansionless and propertyless To describe point particles.
These particles remind me of the invisible dragon in my garage. I have great difficulty convincing others of the existence of this being. Michael Esfeld will fare no better with his propertyless point particles.
Helmut Zinner, for example, cannot cope with the concept of the propertyless point particle (online discussion, August 3, 2017). It is not consistent with the usual view of ontology. “A property is an ability to influence other real things or to be influenced by them.” Michael Esfeld agrees: “That is why properties can be understood as relationships between things, rather than as something that is inherent in individual things independently of their relationships . "
In classical physics, too, gravity is a physical property that only reveals itself when other bodies are added. What now? Does the point particle have properties or does it not have any? Let's leave it to Michael Esfeld to find an answer. For me, this is more about what he basically propagated scientific realism, which seems to be quite popular among philosophers at the moment. There is a noticeable confusion in terms of the perceptions of the reality postulated as existing. The questionable properties of the point particles are still the slightest problem.
reality is the idea of an outside world that exists independently of our thinking. The acceptance of such an otherworldly reality serves to simplify our language and, above all, has a regulative effect: We strive for true knowledge of this reality. In doing so, we cannot know how close we can get to it. Socrates expressed this insight in the words: "I know that I do not know".
The ontology defines the truth
Anyone who has an ontology such as that of scientific realism, who believes to have at least approximately recognized the essence of things, can ascribe truth to the laws of nature. The scientist leaves the relatively stable basis of his testable and proven theories and moves into the realm of metaphysics and belief. In contrast to science, it is about confessions there.
On the use of the term: The subject of science is this world, i.e. the world of phenomena. The intersubjectively testable and proven theories about it represent our Knowledge So in this sense we do know something. Karl Raimund Popper's falsifiability criterion marks the boundary between science and metaphysics.
The Faith is that not methodically justified but unequivocally held to be true. I can believe metaphysical sentences that I find plausible. I can't know them.
The realistic foundation presented by Michael Esfeld is crumbly and easy to clear away from a practiced twist of facts. Without need, the realist takes a weak position against pre-scientific religious warriors. Realism, with its claims to truth, undermines the position of science; so it is going very differently than intended.
The realist has a hard time facing even crude attacks on science. What else has he to offer against a belief system that says that the world was created by a God and that everything you need to know about it was revealed in the Bible? Any scientific knowledge that contradicts this belief can be dismissed as a temptation of man by God. Only the unbeliever finds it strange that Almighty God should bother with leading people by the nose. So be it: Faith stands against faith. Truth against truth. Which belief a person thinks is plausible is up to him alone.
Michael Esfeld replied to my doubts about the usefulness of the concept of truth in the online discussion on the article (August 3, 2017): "The statement, for example, that water is composed of atoms instead of being a primary substance is true."
The argument misses the point. Of course, statements within a theoretical building such as logic, mathematics or a scientific theory can be true. Otherwise the theory would not be consistent. It has nothing to do with the truth of the theory itself - and this is what we are talking about here. Axiom systems will not be assigned the rank of truth either, but will be judged according to their usefulness. However, they should be free of contradictions, namely in such a way that only truth can be deduced from truth within their area of validity. It really depends on which one Rules of the game is played.
I don't seem to be all alone with my doubts about the reality-based concept of truth. Two more voices follow from the discussion of the article.
Wolfgang Klein (July 26, 2017): “In general, I consider the term 'truth' in connection with natural sciences to be completely misleading. There is 'truth' in logic and mathematics, or in lawyers. There it is operationally well-defined. "
Sebastian Dilcher (07/27/2017): “Nobody will deny that the models we use to describe nature are initially constructions of our minds. If you also want to believe that the world is really like this, you can do that - but to call this 'realism' and an attitude that is superior to constructivism seems to me quite adventurous. "
I am convinced that every truth claim, which is justified only within an ontology, weakens one's own position. The good disposition displaces the scientific argument. The discourse that promotes knowledge suffers. Who wants to get into the ring against a truth owner?
Those who deviate are threatened with the moral club: "Anyone who is constructivist in this respect even harms humanity," writes Michael Esfeld. Contrary to their noble intention, this attitude plays into the hands of the fact manipulators: truths stand against other truths - undecided, uncompromising.
Truth plays an inglorious part. It has a divisive effect. That suits the human tendency to structure everything clearly, to classify everything as possible according to black and white, to simplify.
For me it is no wonder that realists isolate themselves and lock themselves in with like-minded people in echo chambers. At least that's the observation I've made over the past decade - as a marginal observer of the skeptic movement. A fighting community is formed that cultivates the same communication culture and similar rites as their opponents. They are also believers, namely those who have dedicated themselves to intelligent design, a para-science or a conspiracy theory or the like.
Among the truth holders of the realism type one speaks of immutable laws of nature, wonder are assigned to the unreal supernatural and thus withdrawn from the investigation. The appears as a new term Scientability. It is characteristic, therefore, that mainstream science is overestimated, and this leads to a lack of sensitivity to the surprisingly new. Realists in this sense have a problem with creativity.
Of course, all of that cannot be blamed on Michael Esfeld. But it thrives in the thinking environment that is propagated by him scientific realism is shaped.
Ultimately, this thinking harms the Enlightenment, including the fight against climate change, which Esfeld seems to be particularly dear to the heart.
A better strategy is if we first establish that the truth is not the issue. It's about Decisions made to the best of our knowledge.
What best knowledge Karl Raimund Popper has already explained to us in his Logic of Research. He only introduced the reference to reality later - and rather hesitantly.
Nothing is more effective against charlatanism, conspiracy, fortune-telling and superstition than outrageous science with clearly defined and forgery-proof tests or reliable reports on it.
Even the realist knows this view of things (January 20th, 2017): “If you tell a journalist that X doesn't work because it can't work or because it contradicts some laws of nature, that's nice, but it's easy to be more dogmatic Naysayers over. However, if I say that we have already tested 60 people without success, then that is much more convincing. So convincing that on the phone I can almost hear the other person's speechless pause for thought, how the last resistance, the last objection collapses, because you can then no longer answer to save the paranormal. "
After this confession, he shows the real reason for the test: "So: yes, the tests are worthwhile, even if the point is actually not (anymore) to actually find out something."
So the test is PR, a pure advertising event. Science thus becomes the garnish for unquestionable truths.
This works as long as cleared ground is not left, as long as it is only about homeopathy, dowsing and the like. There where it gets interesting, in the border areas of science and in the hotly debated topics in society such as climate change and green genetic engineering, this approach will not get you any further. Truth claims damage your own credibility!
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