1. How can we find out about the universe?
‘Experiments are the only means of knowledge at our disposal. Everything else is poetry, imagination.’
- Max Planck
I agree with this statement. I happen to like poetry, so I do not feel that it is a pejorative one. I think that there are some things that can only be said with poetry. As the ideas in this work are beyond experimental verification, they too are poetry.
I think with Peirce that science is the natural and original mode of human thinking, with which we all begin. I do not have any specialist knowledge of the very young; I have only been very young once myself, and have been the parent of someone who is very young. I have kept fish, and listened to anecdotes about fish. This leads me to believe that the capacity to put together sense impressions in order to obtain a model of the environment is present in the so-called “lower” animals, as well as of human beings well before birth. I have clear memories of myself back to the age of two (still very old for the purposes of this discussion) and can never remember my reasoning processes being substantially different from the ones I now employ; the main feature of my intellectual life has been the waxing and waning of the hormonal irruptions that have periodically derailed these reasoning processes. When you are very young, you make observations of your environment. You manufacture a model of your environment based on these observations, and make predictions of the effect your actions will have on your environment. To the extent that you are capable, you act on your predictions and observe the effects. If they are not what you expected, you modify your model. Once you have made the inference that the large creatures around you are trying to communicate information which accords - as far as you can tell - tolerably well with the model you have already determined, you will increasingly abandon the method you have been employing thus far - known as science - for the method of authority. (vide Peirce)
Axiom: The universe we see is really there.
Axiom: There is such a thing as truth.
The assertion that the universe is really there, and that there is one true model for it, does not imply that we can know what the universe is really like. We can make hypotheses, and test them, and get an answer which appears to be a good approximation to reality, but there is no short cut which will give us certainty.
I suggest that the only two ways of fitting behaviour to reality are science and natural selection. Natural selection is slow, and unpleasant for the individuals involved. Science is much better. It seems to me highly probable that the more our personal theory of everything is consistent with the rules that apply in the external world, the better we are equipped for survival. It follows that the platitude ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion’ is nonsense. People are entitled to their opinions to the extent that they are based on a knowledge of the external world, are constructed in a logical and self-consistent manner, and do not contradict any experimentally verified datum. If certain axioms are assumed in the formulation of their opinions, they should as far as possible take pains to state them at the outset. I am aware that in saying this I set myself up to be hoist by my own petard! I urge you to seek out where I might fall short of my own criteria, and I will endeavour to bear them constantly in mind. I hope this will help me to maintain a proper spirit of humility in this undertaking.
Given that science is the only means of knowledge at our disposal, how can we know anything about God? Moving from one 19th century American Pragmatist (Peirce) to another (James) I would argue that only personal experience of God can give us any knowledge about Him. Apprehension of this personal experience as a real interaction with a person is Faith. I cannot disprove any other person’s Faith, nor can I test my own. There is no point beating anyone about the head for not having this, or to expect them to “believe” in God if they don’t.