Knowledge in Deism

The final element of any paradigm is epistemology: given the set of assumptions / axioms on which the paradigm stands — what can we discover and know with certainty (contingent on the assumptions being true, of course)?

In revealed religion, the word of god is infallible at every level. God didn’t just create everything — he also revealed some very specific truths about his creation, and any further inquiry risks contradicting this revelation. This is a problem, as it inevitably leads to

a) arbitrary limits on scientific inquiry, and

b) the breakdown of the religion itself over time, as new scientific findings contradict some of the religion’s old claims.

This is why Islam banned scientific inquiry for all but few religious scholars from the 9th and 10th century onward. This is why the Catholic church has prosecuted many scientists as heretics through its history. And this is also why most established religions are in decline throughout the modern world (wherever science is taught).

In the UK:

And in the US:

And even in places you wouldn’t expect:

It seems that revealed religion cannot coexist with science and education, specifically because what is “revealed” tends to contradict what is observed. So either the religion suppresses what is observed (as many countries in the third world still do), or.. what is observed suppresses the religion.

In atheism, no one has designed anything, and there is no coherent plan for anything; we can try to explore the way things are, but we have to be ready for the eventuality that what we discover may not make much sense.

Even the mention of Occam’s razor is meaningless in this context — if the system was designed, a simpler and more coherent system would be more likely (because designers tend to favor simpler and more coherent systems); but if the system evolved without external direction or guiding principles, why would the same be true? Entropy in closed systems increases over time — so shouldn’t we expect an evolved closed system to be as entropic as possible?

Besides, the scientists’ judgment and sincerity cannot be trusted in this paradigm either. If scientists do not have the free will necessary to judge or tell the truth — how can you trust their findings? How do you trust the judgment of someone who has no free will to judge? How do you trust yourself if you have no free will to choose whom to trust?

Epistemology in this paradigm is a rabbit hole with cynicism as the only possible endpoint.

By contrast, let’s examine what things would look like in a deistic framework.

To reiterate, this framework rests on one 3-part assumption:

.. and no additional information or revelation of any kind.

Note that in this framework there is a grand design, created by some creator who seems to be either smarter than us, or from a more advanced civilization than ours, or both.

We don’t know much about the creator or his intent, but we do know the design exists. We also suspect it might involve some hacks and ugly workarounds (because we have them in all of our designs) but, at the very least, we know it makes sense to someone — and he is likely smarter than us.

That’s a much easier starting point for figuring things out, isn’t it?

In this paradigm, the gathering of knowledge (whether in science, philosophy or other pursuits) is akin to reverse-engineering someone else’s tech.

The entire structure of the scientific method — not as it is, but as it should be in its purest form, without tribalism and inertia and idea suppression and peer review —

Looks suspiciously similar to the basic method for reverse-engineering a gadget made by another company:

  • You want to understand how this gadget works
  • You learn as much as you can about the discipline to which this gadget likely belongs
  • You formulate some hypothesis about how the gadget might behave in various scenarios
  • You turn the gadget on and run some experiments on it
  • You analyze the experiment results
  • You share your conclusions with other engineers
  • Repeat

In fact, the IEEE’s definition of SRE (software reverse engineering) is:

“the process of analyzing a subject system to identify the system’s components and their interrelationships and to create representations of the system in another form or at a higher level of abstraction”

Isn’t this the proper definition of science?

But now, let’s try to re-examine the creator assumption and whether it is necessary for the scientific method to work. Does this method still make sense if the gadget we’re reverse-engineering has no creator and just.. appeared? I’m not so sure anymore.

Why would you expect it to behave in any consistent or predictable manner then? Why would you expect a simpler explanation to be more likely than a convoluted one? Why would you..

Wait, who is you and why do you have the free will to decide to look into this?

A non-random person having non-random thoughts.

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