Critical Rationalism for Christians

  • An overview of Critical Rationalism and how it relates to Christian Transhumanism by Micah Redding
    • shared and developed on Facebook here
  • INTRO to CRITICAL RATIONALISM Critical Rationalism is the philosophy of Karl Popper and his intellectual successors, notably quantum computing pioneer David Deutsch. It is concerned with the question “How does knowledge grow?” Popper’s key insight was that knowledge grows through a process of Conjecture and Critique. That is, new ideas are created, and then they are tested, compared to other ideas, and so on. Over time, better ideas can accumulate, and worse ideas can be rejected. This is in contrast to theories that attempt to show why certain beliefs can be “justified” or “proven”. Instead, Popper suggests that ideas can be “severely tested”, and then valued based on how well they have withstood such tests. Rather than the traditional focus on “where ideas come from”, Popper puts the focus on “how well ideas withstand tests”. In science, this is the source of the idea that scientific theories must be falsifiable. Falsifiable theories are theories that are built to be severely tested.
  • SOME CONCEPTS in CRITICAL RATIONALISM
    • Realism (objective reality really exists)
    • Fallibilism (we can’t be certain what that reality is)
    • Tradition (we have to start from existing knowledge)
    • Error-correction (we have to improve that knowledge over time)
    • Persons (are knowledge creators)
    • All life is problem-solving (and that’s beautiful)
    • Institutions: Habits, traditions, customs that shape human behavior (non-coercively). This includes everything from hand-shakes to parliaments. By analogy, consider how a paved path directs human foot-traffic, without needing to fence humans in. Institutions are social technologies, and civilizational progress consists in the progress of effective institutions.
    • Problem-Solving: The process of identifying problems in the network of current theories, and conjecturing new theories to resolve them. Paradoxically, the more problems are resolved, the more new problems are discovered. Thus, our most long-standing scientific theories introduce the deepest problems. Problems are good, however, because they show us opportunities to grow towards a better understanding of ultimate reality. Since ultimate reality is infinite, problem-solving continues without end. Problem-solving is identical with growth or progress.
    • Knowledge and Explanatory Knowledge: Knowledge is any useful information or structure, that can cause changes in its environment. This includes everything from genes to computer programs to intuitions to institutions. Knowledge is “hard-to-vary”. That is, most mutations will considerably degrade usefulness. Thus, severe testing will tend to sustain good knowledge, while eliminating less accurate/effective knowledge. Explanatory Knowledge is knowledge that consists of far-reaching models of how things work. This makes it exponentially more useful than other kinds of knowledge. Explanatory knowledge is even “harder-to-vary” than other kinds of knowledge. Explanatory knowledge is universal. That is, any system in the universe can be explained/modeled to any degree of accuracy. Only persons create explanatory knowledge. The connection between persons and explanatory knowledge means people have a “special relationship with the laws of physics”.
  • SOME RAMIFICATIONS of CRITICAL RATIONALISM These are some ways that people have interpreted and applied the ideas of Critical Rationalism. There are many disagreements around these topics. Free speech. The fundamental process of knowledge creation is critiquing ideas, even very good ones. This means critique cannot be impeded. Thus free speech is an epistemological necessity. Non-coercion. For the same reason, coercion of any kind impedes the growth of knowledge. If a choice is coerced, it means that critique of that choice has been impeded, and knowledge creation is being slowed or reversed. All life has some coercion, but this explains why less coercion = more knowledge. Democracy. The reason democracy works is not because it is the “will of the people”, but because it allows us to treat policies and politicians like science experiments. We can test them out, and then critique and reject the bad ones.
  • THE NATURE of PERSONS
    • Persons are universal explainers, that is, they can create Explanatory Knowledge modeling any system in the universe.
    • Because persons are universal explainers, and Knowledge is Power, they can reshape and redirect any system in the universe. In conjunction with persons, nature can do vastly more than it could ever do otherwise.
    • Because persons are universal explainers, they can potentially explain each other. This establishes a categorical equality of persons.
    • Because persons are knowledge creators, in order not to destroy the process of knowledge-creation, they should be treated non-coercively.
  • Non-Coercion and the Growth of Knowledge
    • Maintaining the growth of knowledge is the primary ethical imperative of Critical Rationalism.
  • CONNECTIONS with OTHER PHILOSOPHIES
    • Pragmatism:
      • Critical Rationalism is similar to Pragmatism, in that both concern theories/ideas/structures that are always provisional, and are evaluated according to their usefulness.
      • Critical Rationalism differs from Pragmatism in using “knowledge” to describe our provisional theories, and using “truth” to describe the conjectured objective reality that we have no direct access to.
    • Baconian Empiricism:
      • Baconian Empiricism is not empiricism in the later sense of the term. Rather, it is a process of constructing knowledge, using explanatory models, through repeated rounds of experimentation, conjecture, and evaluation.
      • In this sense, there is a lot of practical overlap between Baconian Empiricism and Critical Rationalism.
      • Critical Rationalism also operates on the Baconian principle that “Knowledge is Power”.
      • Karl Popper criticized Bacon, but was criticizing Bacon as seen through the lens of later empiricists such as Hume.
  • Critical Rationalism for Christians
  • Critical Rationalism for Christians

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