Guardians vs Explorers: Firing of Epistemological Guns

A few days ago we discussed two types of people, the Guardians and the Explorers. We considered how they deal with presuppositions, recognizing that the former refuse to surrender their ground, and the latter refuse to cease their journey. Today we will go over one more aspect where the difference is readily apparent.

The Firing of Epistemological Guns

That may be a complicated sounding title, so let’s explain this in a simple way. The word epistemology means a “study of knowledge.” Essentially any time we ask “how is it that we come to know something?” or “how is it possible to know anything?”  we are asking epistemological questions. The scientific method of making predictions and seeing whether or not they come true, is one type of epistemological view (empiricist). Other epistemological views are based on intuition, or feelings and experiences. In these views our intuition, experience, or feeling are the way we “know” whether something is true or not.

And this is where another big difference between the guardians and the explorers becomes very apparent.

The Explorers usually have an empiricist epistemology while the Guardians usually have an epistemology based on intuition. The Explorers tend to use the scientific method in discovering or testing truth claims, while the Guardians use anecdotal stories, ad hoc hypotheses, and post hoc rationalization to defend truth claims.

The Explorer

Predictive hypotheses

Usually the “explorer” will make a hypothesis (a statement or prediction), and then test this to see if it has predictive power. For example, I can say “this herb cures thyroid cancer!” and then I give this to 10 people with thyroid cancer. After some time, I must test all of these people to see if their cancer is cured. If it’s not, I can no longer make claim. If all are cured, then the herb worked, if none were cured, then it did not work. If the answer is in between, we need to conduct many more experiments to figure out what is happening and how. I don’t merely make up answers as to why the herb always works, but didn’t in this case.

Let’s give a theological example: Suppose someone says “this preacher has the gift of healing, and he can heal all diseases!” The explorer is completely open to any possibility, including (a) that the healer is real, or (b) that he is fake, or that (c) he thinks he is real and people via placebo effect think they are healed. The explorer is not yet committed to any of the options, but wants to land where the evidence is.

So he makes three possible predictions based on all these options

  • if the healing is real, there should be a good amount of medically documentable cases of healing, it doesn’t have to be every single patient, but it must be notably larger than the statistical likelihood for a natural recovery from each disease,” or
  • if the healing is not real, we will not find any medically verifiable healings,” or
  • if the healing is placebo, there “healed” patients will continue to degrade, or we will find evidence of misdiagnosis, or healings will only be untestable psychosomatic diseases, but never something testable, like an amputated leg being regrown in front of everyone.

Next the explorer spends a year following this preacher around and collecting the data, once there is a large amount of data, the explorer will see which prediction matches his or her data. Whichever prediction matches the real world is likely the better idea, even if that idea is different than ones presupposition.

The Guardian

When defending a presupposition the Guardian uses a few methods, but the following three are very common.

Anecdote

Say for example the Guardian belongs to a large group of people who are against modern medicine and consider it to be deeply flawed. He feels this way because anything artificial and “not natural” is intuitively unhealthy and wrong. He tells an acquaintance “I read that this herb cured Jim’s cancer. Jim was sick and all the modern medicine couldn’t help him, but then this herb did it. Those modern doctors just don’t want to release this secret.” At this point no amount of empirical evidence or data can change the Guardians mind, for:

  • He or she started off intuitively knowing modern medicine is bad, and
  • Jim’s story, which has no references and cannot be tested, had a powerful emotional effect on the Guardian. To give up this anecdote the guardian would have to give up his sentimental connection to Jims story and call Jim a liar. It’s easier to call an abstract set of numbers a “lie” than it is to call Jim a “liar.”

Ad Hoc Hypothesis

Let’s go back to the healing evangelist story. After spending a great deal of time following the healer, a set of medical doctors survey the people who claimed to be healed. They discovered that 80% of these were continued getting progressively worse, and the other 20% were affected by the placebo effect, they felt better, but the data showed otherwise. They bring this data to the guardian who strongly believes in the healers work being 100% effective.

His response? He will make an ad hoc (on the spot) hypothesis, which is essentially any explanation that can be used to explain away or refuse to accept this new information. For example, he might say:

  • those 50% who are getting worse were healed in their spirit, not flesh, the healer also heals spiritual diseases,” or
  • those who are getting sicker must have lost faith in the healing that happened to them” or
  • the tests by the researchers were biased because they don’t want to believe, only a charismatic Christian can do the test correctly.”

So then an ad hoc hypothesis is any explanation that is made up on the spot to “explain away” facts or data that purports to change ones presuppositions. An ad hoc hypothesis is never predictive, and when its tested and fails, is replaced by another ad hoc hypothesis. At some point, you could literally have an infinite regress of ad hoc hypotheses, one explaining away the criticisms leveled at the other.

Post Hoc Rationalization

The difference between ad hoc and post hoc is that the former refers to something in the “spur of the moment” and the latter to something “after the fact.” When it comes to rationalizations/hypotheses, sometimes an ad hoc and a post hoc can overlap.

Post hoc rationalization occurs when new facts are uncovered, which were never predicted by your theory, or were even against your prediction, but now that they are factual, you strongly claim them as your own. For example, early Muslim clerics argued that the earth was flat because certain Quranic verses seemed to indicate that. However, once advocates of science discovered and proved that the earth was an ellipsoid sphere, Muslims began to argue that the Quran had always taught this and in fact predicted this before the advent of science.

In the case of the healer, once the “80% not healed/20% placebo” dataset is given to a guardian who presupposes the healings were real, the guardian can respond to this data by making the following post hoc rationalizations:

  • Well of course that’s the case, most people have little faith, so even though the healer has 100% power to heal, the people are very faithless, and exactly as we predicted, most have weak faith” or
  • Just as we expected, satan robs a huge amount of people of their healing if they refuse to be steadfast and open doors to sin, we expected most to would lose their healing” or
  • What scientists call the placebo effect is proven to be a genuine healing, and just as we predicted many people were healed and in response science tried to take away God”

A post hoc rationalization has a big advantage over simple ad hoc hypotheses, and that is the post hoc already relies on data that has been collected, and simply adopts that data as its own. Basically the post hoc rationalization will never be useful in discovering new things, but will simply adopt anything notable and claim that this was already expected.

Conclusion

So there you have it, these are two totally different ways of thinking and dealing with hypotheses. One makes predictions to test for answers, the other starts with answers, and thinks of ways to explain away non supporting data. People often do this with theological and biblical studies, with some delving into the text, looking for answers, however challenging they are to deeply held presuppositions, while others simply declare that they already know what the Biblical text says, and explain away new challenges by ad hoc hypotheses or post hoc rationalization. Knowing these two different mindsets might just help us understand why we often talk past each other and equip us with the understanding to host better dialogue.

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