Troy, nice job on THIS BLOG ENTRY about whether or not to dismiss or evaluate a claim, and if evaluation is merited, then how many resources should be used and to what extent it should be investigated (if at all). You lay out a good approach. Rejecting out of hand illogical claims and non-verifiable anecdotal claims makes good sense. To go into a little more detail: You perspicuously point out, regarding your approach to dismissing or evaluating claims, that there must be “…some sort of evidence obtainable that will meaningfully demonstrate the truth or falsity of the claim.”
First, I submit we take another step back—the interest level of a claim is more important than its truth or falsity. Logicians tend to think that truth/falsity of a claim is paramount, but our experience in the world says otherwise.
Second, exactly what kind of evidence is required? In sensation-based empiricism (Hume’s work is the quintessential example), the only elements admissible as evidence are sense data. However, the sensationist theory of perception and its accompanying epistemology don’t permit causality or induction. Hume’s arguments are clear, cogent, and forceful on this score. However, we have to know that the same process happens today as happened a billion years ago when two hydrogen atoms combine with one oxygen atom (production of water), and on the sensationist epistemology, we can’t know that. Further, it’s more than just causality and induction which are in question. The status of the continuity of time, the status of mathematical objects, and the status of truth itself are also in question on the sensationist ontology (but never mind as there’s plenty of grist for the mill to simply focus on induction and causality!).
A.J. Ayer and others have simply thrown up their hands and say we just have to assume it’s rationally possible to conduct science in the way we’re doing it now, and can’t sit around and wait for the logical problems to be solved! The irrationality coming from such an otherwise amazing mind is—well—mind-blowing. Isn’t there a good REASON that logic dictates major problems on this score?!?!
Anyway, one answer is Whitehead’s theory of perception, which combines Hume’s sensationism with modern science’s view of the human nervous system and its visceral/kinesthetic modes of operation. Thus Whitehead’s theory of perception is holistic and doesn’t succumb to the logical problems of a purely sensationist/empirical theory of perception. Rather than the constituents of reality being hard material stuff which hits our sense organs and activates them in an externally-based sense, reality is actually internally related to itself and data is passed directly through it from moment to moment. As our brains and nervous systems interact with reality there’s a lot more going on than just photons hitting the body and causing (woops—there’s that logical snafu again) reactions on the skin, eardrum, etc.
But therein is the problem for the materialistic, atheistic, reductionistic, sensationistic ontology and accompanying epistemology: The Process ontology explains how real causality and real induction are possible and the exact same set of arguments also show how time, mathematical objects, and universals are real, and how the correspondence theory of truth makes complete sense. And they don’t want to hear about realism.
Talk about Bass-Ackwardness! The process philosophy and theology requires realism, while so-called objective, scientific empiricism has to deal in coherence and pragmatic theories of truth, and has to argue for ultimate relativism and anti-realism! Post-modern science has really gotten itself into a terrible snafu.
However, my guess is as science, especially neuroscience, gets deeper and deeper into the details of the operations of the brain, that the neuroscientists will be among the first to admit that spatiotemporal events which are actually internally related to each other are at the base of reality rather than material stuff. Once there’s scientific energy put in this direction, Whitehead and others will be re-discovered and their work hailed as visionary. (This is for another post, but this is the reason Heidegger, the phenomenologists, and the Existentialists probably won’t experience the same kind of re-discovery, because they didn’t take on science and accept science qua science like Whitehead did.) Aloha