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Empiricism & Rationalism

Empiricism is the theory that experience is of primary importance in giving us knowledge of the world. Whatever we learn, according to empiricists, we learn through perception. Knowledge without experience, with the possible exception of trivial semantic and logical truths, is impossible.

Rationalism, in contrast to empiricism is that reason, not experience is most important for gaining knowledge. There are three different types of knowledge that a rationalist might put up forward his vied and undermine empiricists.

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Three types of empiricism

Classical empiricism is characterized by rejecting in-born knowledge or concepts. John Locke wrote of the mind being a tabula rasa, a “blank slate”, when we enter the world. At birth we know nothing; it is only subsequently that the mind is provided with information by experience.

Radical empiricismholds that all of our knowledge is coming from the senses. This naturally leads to the principle that the meaning of statements is directly tied to the experiences that would confirm them. It is only if it is possible to empirically test a claim that the claim has meaning. As all of our information comes from our senses, it is impossible for us to talk about that which we have not experienced. Statements that are not tied to our experiences are meaningless.

Moderate empiricists allow that there may be some cases in which the senses do not ground our knowledge, but hold that these are exceptions to a general rule. Truths such as “there are no four-sided triangles” and “7+5=12” need not be investigated in order to be known comes to us from experience.

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The rationalist might argue that we possess at least some innate knowledge. We are not born with any knowledge, as the empiricist John Locke thought, which we gain through experience. However, when we are born to the world we already gained some knowledge before. We at least possess some basic instincts; arguably, we also possess some innate concepts, such as a faculty for language.

The rationalist might argue that there are some truths that we gain knowledge through experience, however the whole knowledge doesn’t come from the experience. Aesthetic truths, and truths about cause, for instance, seem too many to be of this kind.Two people may observe the same object, yet reach contradictory views as to its beauty or ugliness. This shows that aesthetic qualities are not presented to us by our senses, but rather are overlaid onto experience by reason. Similarly, we do not observe causation, we merely see one event followed by another; it is the mind, not the world, that provides us with the idea that the former event causes the latter.

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Who was an empiricist?

Descartes and Locke have remarkably similar views on the nature of our ideas, even though Descartes takes many to be innate, while Locke ties them all to experience. One might claim, for example, that we can gain knowledge in a particular area by a form of Divine revelation or insight that is a product of neither reason nor sense experience.

Major empiricists e.g. Hume, have rejected the theories as either speculation, beyond what we can learn from experience, or nonsensical attempts to describe aspects of the world beyond the concepts experience can provide. The debate raises the issue of metaphysics as an area of knowledge.

 Plato locates the superiority of a priori knowledge in the objects known. What we know by reason alone, a Platonic form, say, is superior in an important metaphysical way, e.g. unchanging, eternal, perfect, a higher degree of being, to what we are aware of through sense experience.

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A "creationist" is someone who rejects natural scientific explanations of the known universe in favour of special creation by a supernatural entity. Creationism in its various forms is not the same thing as belief in God because, as was discussed earlier, many believers as well as many mainstream religious groups accept the findings of science, including evolution. Nor is creationism necessarily tied to Christians who interpret the Bible literally. Some non-Christian religious believers also want to replace scientific explanations with their own religion's supernatural accounts of physical phenomena. Some, known as "young Earth" creationists, believe the biblical account that the universe and the Earth were created just a few thousand years ago. Proponents of this form of creationism also believe that all living things, including humans, were created in a very short period of time in essentially the forms in which they exist today. Other creationists, known as "old Earth" creationists, accept that the Earth may be very old but reject other scientific findings regarding the evolution of living things.

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The Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang theory is the cosmological model for the early development of the universe. The key idea is that the universe is expanding on its own. Consequently, the universe was denser and hotter in the past. Modern measures suggest that the Big Bang occurred 13.8 billion years ago which is considered the age of universe. After the initial expansion, the universe cooled sufficiently to allow the formation of particles e.g. Protons, neurons and electrons. The Big Bang theory does not provide any explanation for the initial conditions of the universe; rather, it describes and explains the general evolution of the universe going forward from that point on.

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Hubble's observation was taken to indicate that all distant galaxies and clusters have an apparent ‘’velocity’’ directly away from the point: that is, the farther away, the higher the apparent ‘’velocity’’, regardless of direction. Assuming that we are not at the centre of a giant explosion, the only remaining interpretation is that all observable regions of the universe are receding from each other.

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The theory of evolution states that evolution happens by natural selection. The key points are that: individuals in a species show a wide range of variation, this variation is because of differences in their genes, individuals with characteristics most suited to the environment are more likely to survive and reproduce and the genes that allow these individuals to be successful are passed to their offspring.

Individuals that are poorly adapted to their environment are less likely to survive and reproduce. This means that their genes are less likely to be passed to the next generation. Given enough time, a species will gradually evolve.

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Types of evolution

Atheistic evolution says that there is no God and that life can and did emerge naturally from pre-existing, non-living building blocks under the influence of natural laws (like gravity, etc.), although the origin of those natural laws is not explained. Special creation says that God created life directly, either from nothing or from pre-existing materials.

Theistic evolution says one of two things. The first option is that there is a God, but He was not directly involved in the origin of life. He may have created the building blocks, He may have created the natural laws, He may even have created these things with the eventual emergence of life in mind, but at some point early on He stepped back and let His creation take over. He let it do what it does, whatever that is, and life eventually emerged from non-living material. This view is similar to atheistic evolution in that it presumes a naturalistic origin of life.

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Intelligent Design

Intelligent design is the theory that life, or the universe, cannot have arisen by chance and was designed and created by some intelligent entity.

The proponents of Intelligent Design claim that it is a scientific hypothesis that seeks to develop scientific methods for detecting design in objects and systems.  They also claim that these methods support the idea that the Universe and life on earth was designed by an intelligent entity. So does the system of thinking called Intelligent Design represent a scientific approach and does it add anything to our body of knowledge?

Intelligent Design claims to be a credible alternative to main stream science. Intelligent Designers say that they say nothing about the identity of the Intelligent Designer. Michale Behe has claimed that he has identified a concept that he called 'Irreducible Complexity' that proves that certain aspects of biological systems could not have evolved.  

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Intelligent Design

Dembski claims that he has developed an infallible scientific method for identifying Design in Nature, and in an amazingly self-aggrandising way, claims to have discovered a new conservation law - the Law of the Conservation of Specified Information.

Intelligent design is a descendant argument of William Paley’s argument from design (analogy of the watch). Intelligent design directs both experimental and theoretical research it how limitations on the ability of Darwinian evolution to evolve traits that require multiple mutations to function. Practical implications such as fighting problems like antibiotic resistance or engineering bacteria.

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Irreducible Complexity

Irreducible complexity is an argument by proponents of intelligent design that certain biological systems are too complex to have evolved from simpler, or "less complete" predecessors, through natural selection acting upon a series of advantageous naturally occurring, chance mutations.

Michale Behe claims to have shown exactly what Darwin claimed would destroy the theory of evolution, through a concept he calls "irreducible complexity." This idea applies to any system of interacting parts in which the removal of any one part destroys the function of the entire system. An irreducibly complex system, then, requires each and every component to be in place before it will function.

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What can religion teach us about the universe

  • That human beings have a purpose
  • That God created the universe and how he created life
  • Why humans came to being
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What can science teach about the origins of the un

  • What happened in the Big Bang and what is going on with the universe
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What does religion not teach about the universe?

  • How was the universe made
  • No suistainable facts
  • Cause of God
  • Genesis and creation doesnt tell how to interpret the story.
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What does science not teach about the universe?

  • What or who caused the Big Bang to happen
  • Why Big Bang happened
  • Anomalies
  • The origin of life
  • Cosmology
  • Uniquness
  • Morality
  • Rationality
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