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May 02, 2006


Doctrinal Engineer

Equality -

You amaze me how deft you are at explaining these issues. I wonder what the criteria are for classifying sources as credible? Is consensus the best criteria, given that scientists often disagree? Or should familiarity/expertise with the question at hand be the most important criteria?



That's a good question. Continuing the alien visitation example, I'd say Carl Sagan=credible source; Billybob in the pickup truck who just downed the sixpack and swears he saw a UFO=non-credible source.

I think consensus is a good start. Scientific consensus on many things is pretty well settled. Of course, consensus does not mean unanimity. Where there is lack of scientific consensus, this would place things outside the "approaching certitude" range of knowledge. Whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing JFK or was a hired gun, for example. While there is a consensus among experts who have studied the matter that LHO was a key figure in the assassination of JFK, there is no consensus on whether he acted alone. I would argue that in this instance any expression of knowledge approaching certitude be received with great skepticism for this reason.


In a dispute of "knowledge" between two people with diametrically opposed views, you apeal to the authority of the majority of humanity. This could be a faulty authority, depending on the question. I assume you mean to appeal to the majority of the "experts", or those who have informed opinions and experience in the subject matter, and not the teeming, unwashed masses.


That's right, I speak of "reasonable reliance on credible sources." For some matters, I suppose a simple majority of the teeming masses might suffice. But I think most of the time, looking to the consensus that has formed by folks studying the issue as objectively as possible I think lends the greatest support for knowledge approaching certitude. For issues on which no such objective consensus can be determined, I would recommend withholding judgment and taking a skeptical view of any claims to certainty on such subjects.

Joseph's Left One

Well said. All knowledge is filtered through perception and language, but when you realize that absolute certainty is not necessary or even possible, you are left with probabilities.

I know a Mormon who insists that to even assert that there is anything such as truth is to be a fundamentalist who deals only in absolutes. For her, all truth is subjective. And I suppose that falls in nicely with Mormonism, which posits a subjective testimony as the source of all truth.

Some of us want better.

Doctrinal Engineer

Consensus is a good start, as long as we're always willing to entertain new ideas that part with the consensus. After all, the movers and shakers in the scientific world are those that break away from the consensus. A good way to judge whether a new idea has the potential for expanding truth is whether or not it creates a stir in the debate. If it can be easily demonstrated to be false and hence dismissed, then it's probably not something that can expand on truth.

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