But reason can only do this through our becoming brave enough (or desperate enough?) to turn it on our deepest question: How and why can we coherently know anything?
This question can now be answered, through recent insights into our functional selection of scientific knowledge, and its answer can be seen to establish On-Demand-Repeatable Physical Observation (ODRPO) as our most powerful and reliable knowledge determinant. ODRPO cannot be established exclusively. It cannot be shown to forbid our use of other and more subjective determinants – ultimately, all the way down to what feels right, or what we’d like to be right – in areas that have not yet been subsumed into our rapidly expanding sphere of directly ODRPO grounded knowledge (science). But it can finally dismiss the effectively alternative and superior basis for knowledge through which we can see ourselves to have been maintaining proposals that are logically controverted by each other and by science.
ODRPO grounded reason can now show that what we have been meaning by ‘truth’ is finally either ‘an impossible independent basis for knowledge’ or ‘a redundant independent basis for knowledge’.
I do not propose to launch into the analytical case against ‘truth’ here. It forms the core of my main essay. But I can show a little of what its acceptance entails. I can show the helpless vulnerability to rational attack of even our strongest and most influential irrational system – Christianity – as soon as truth’s protective shield has been disabled.
All of Christianity’s foundational claims have long been within science’s expanding sphere. ODRPO can show that disease is not cured by the casting out of demons, that water can’t be turned into wine, or walked on, and that reanimation after three days of being dead is not a biochemical possibility. Our initial belief in Christianity’s Supernatural Being can be seen to rest entirely* on our belief in these and the other similar supernatural events that are reported in Christianity’s foundational text (the Bible). Rationally, analytically: If we can no longer believe in the occurrence of those particular supernatural events then we can no longer believe in the existence of that particular Supernatural Being. Christian apologists have devoted rivers of ink to obfuscation of this, but its clear logical necessity stands. If it doesn’t stand – if we are willing to fudge the epistemic ledger at even this most basic level – then nothing does. Knowledge is finally just whatever the strongest or most persuasive of us can coerce or hoodwink the rest into believing.
* I will, of course, concede that we can become emotionally addicted to specific Supernatural Beings after the fact of our initial belief in them, and thereby ‘feel the truth of their existence in our hearts’ and other such subjective justifiers exactly as the theists report. But I’m not offering my point at that level. I’m offering it at the level of how we can come to believe in any particular Supernatural Being in the first place; as opposed to some other, or none at all. For this, precisely, we need that particular Supernatural Being’s particular justifying miracles. The Quran does not yield the Christian God, nor the Bible Allah.
All who now retain belief in the Christian God – and so, as just clarified, in his establishing miracles – can be seen to be doing so from the basis of an absurdity and a tautology (circular reasoning with no apparent link to reality). The tautology is: “We believe that these miracles could happen because we believe that they were done by the Supernatural Being whose existence we are inferring from their having happened.” The absurdity is: “We are going to believe in these miracles from precisely the same grounds – of subjective appeal, and second and third hand anecdotal reporting – that we can see to be available for the millions of other miracles (those of all other religions) in which we don’t believe.”
To dive briefly down to the epistemic level: I think that we’ve been maintaining our gullibility – in effect, our susceptibility to such tautologies and absurdities – as part of a vast negative feedback loop. We can see that we have been passing to our children first our belief in possession of a qualitatively better kind of knowledge (‘truth’) than can be gained through our inarguably fallible senses and cognition (ODRPO). Then; and exactly as confirming examples of this special and better kind of knowledge, we’ve been passing to them proposals that are emotionally and politically seductive, but also blatantly irrational: The water walking, post rigor reanimation, ‘demons theory of disease’, our universe having been created by a jealous capricious and vindictive bronze age despot (who we’re commanded to love!?), and so much more. It is from the basis of such stuff – passed and accepted not as tentative/conditional/merely-human knowledge, but rather as the actual state of reality – that we’ve been requiring our children to develop their own mature reasoning faculties. Most starkly, we’ve been asking them to learn to reason from an inviolable foundation of reality itself not making a damn bit sense. This can be seen – through a look back over the 7000-year slow motion train wreck of our accessible history, and forward into our apparently fast approaching species dieback – not to have been an unbridled success. It has observably been adaptive, in a strict Darwinian sense, for group selection at our clan, tribal, and even nation-state levels of social organization. It has been superb for social bonding, emotional motivation, and our creation of militarily efficient hierarchal control systems. [Or, to call the spade a spade, for keeping most of us and most of the time in a condition of cowed and obedient pseudo-adolescence; fine for exploitation as drone laborers and/or cannon fodder.] But I think that it can be shown to have been, at a deeper level, an on-balance disaster for us as individuals, and for our species and our environment. I think that my essays make this case. They form my best yet attempt to show something that I believe to be of vital importance, but that we have all been thoroughly trained from birth to be unable to see.
We’ve had at even our most academic philosophical level, for the 80 years since publication of Karl Popper’s Logic of Scientific Discovery, the possibility for throwing something like a monkey wrench into the machinery of our absurd-belief-systems <=> reason-sabotage feedback loop. My essays propose the wrench as clear dismissal of our ‘truth’ illusion. Again: Our belief in our possession of the qualitatively better kind of knowledge from which our directly ODRPO grounded knowledge can legitimately be overruled. [So, and in consequence of such dismissal, our deep acceptance that people simply don’t do things like walking on water, or turning it into wine, or reanimating and flying up into the sky after having been dead for 3 days.] As the whole negative feedback loop thereby starts to unravel and self-destruct – at the practical level; as we start to spread from science into the rest of our knowledge the Popperian transition to holding and propagating all of our proposals from our real and merely human justifications for their acceptance (‘saw it’, ‘heard it’, ‘was told it by my mom’, ‘read it in an apparently well researched book’, etc.) as opposed to our illusion of their possession of a reason-independent and emotionally seductive property (‘truth’) – strong and mature reason will become increasingly enabled in our minds. The nonexistence of the Christian God will become every bit as obvious as that of unicorns, or Zeus, or Russell’s Teapot. My suggestion is simply that by shifting our attack to its deepest epistemic root we could now start to kill our whole ancient tree of seductive authoritarian irrationality. As is covered in detail in my main essay, we’ve had all of the necessary intellectual pieces for this in place for at least the 80 years since Popper’s main insight. We have only needed to assemble them. The ruby slippers image was Leaving Truth’s only possible cover, and if the book could have a sound track then it would be Mark Knopfler’s ‘Going Home’.
I’ve tried to give in these few paragraphs a very abbreviated (perhaps too abbreviated?) sketch of my book’s identified problem and proposed solution. If I’ve been at all successful – so, in even starting to communicate the depth and urgency of the problem – then please try Leaving Truth. Then, if understood and accepted, help me to throw in my above referenced ‘wrench’. Note: For both better and worse, this is philosophy written by an engineer. LT’s main essay contains four clear action-item suggestions by which the wrench – explicit and effective dismissal of our ‘truth’ concept – can be engaged.