Theism and Epistemic Scepticism
The creationist employment of epistemic scepticism is a marvellous example of the mind numbing stupidity of this doctrine. In brief, the argument goes (and it has many variants) that the reason that we observe evidence for such-and-such a phenomenon that appears to support a paradigm that would contradict their interpretation of Scripture (chronology, etc) is because they were deliberately placed there by God, that is, that the universe has been set up to appear as if to be much older than it actually is. Of course fossils were designed to "test our faith". (Rolls eyes)
One can only marvel at the sheer lack of gumption of someone bravely idiotic enough to venture this idea. A common response is the “Last Thursdayism” notion, that is, that it would be equally valid to assert that everything was actually created Last Thursday, including all our memories, to make it appear as what we think the history of the universe and ourselves has been.
At any rate, what the “last Thursdayism” argument demonstrates about what I call the Argument From Trickery, hereafter referred to as AT, is that it is essentially a variant of epistemic scepticism. Epistemic scepticism constitutes arguing that reliable knowledge is not possible because it is not possible to know that our faculties for gaining knowledge are reliable in and of themselves. The most familiar example is Descartes Demon, or his question on the distinguishing between dreaming and wake-ness. Yet Descartes was not the first to come up with the notion. A more modern conceptualization is the solipsistic brain in the vat hypothesis.
None of the EP arguments actually affirm anything, rather that because we cannot establish that it isn’t the case that our epistemological faculties are being manipulated, hereafter referred to as SP (Sceptical possibility) such as that my experiences are being generated by neural input/output simulations such as in the Matrix, that I can actually have knowledge about the world which I inhabit. In brief:
1. To know Q, S must know ¬SP
2. S does not know ¬Sp
3. S does not know Q
Again, we can marvel at the theist who fails to see the internal contradiction in using an EP argument to support a proposition:
1. If SP, ¬Q
2. S knows SP
3. S knows ¬Q
Naturally, they cannot articulate how on Earth S is supposed to know SP hence ¬Q. The claim of SP is an ad hoc justification for something that has been refuted. The utterance “S knows SP” leads to an internal contradiction, rather akin to me asserting “I am actually a brain in a vat”. The obvious point to take away is something that is so simple to grasp it is simply a marvellous demonstration of stupidity that anyone could fail to grasp it: If SP, then S cannot know Q! If it is true that such-and-such epistemological faculty is actually being manipulated in some way, then
a) It is impossible to know this (S cannot know SP)
b) Knowledge claims, any knowledge claims, cannot be affirmed (S cannot know Q)
The claim that an agent is manipulating our world (God, in this case, plays the role of Descartes demon) is not verifiable, but a true EP is not meant to be verifiable, and cannot be verified. Rather, by virtue of that it cannot be falsified, S cannot know Q! Bizarrely, these people act in a manner as if the assertion “SP” somehow supports their ability to make knowledge claims, rather than completely eliminating the concept of reliable knowledge altogether! The utterance “God is manipulating the world to make it appear as if Q is true” where Q are all the concomitant claims made by empirical science which contradict the beliefs of those making the claim, is an absurd utterance. As we have seen, it is impossible to sensibly utter “SP is true” without leading to internal contradiction (undermining your ability to make the knowledge claim K that SP is true). In addition, in this case, it is merely an ad hoc which is used to avoid the knowledge claim at hand being falsified. We’ll call this knowledge claim (Genesis account, etc.) B. As before, Q refers to our empirical findings:
1. If Q, ¬B and if B, ¬Q
2. Q appears true
4. Therefore SP
5. Therefore ¬Q
6. Therefore B
One doesn’t need a vast intellect to spot the unsubtle error in the argument. I won’t spell it out.
"Physical reality” isn’t some arbitrary demarcation. It is defined in terms of what we can systematically investigate, directly or not, by means of our senses. It is preposterous to assert that the process of systematic scientific reasoning arbitrarily excludes “non-physical explanations” because the very notion of “non-physical explanation” is contradictory.