Richard Dawkins on truth and “ways of knowing”

December 19, 2020 • 10:45 am

It’s been a while since I’ve seen an article by Dawkins appear in a magazine or newspaper, but now there’s a new one on the nature of truth and knowledge in The Spectator (click on screenshot for free access). Yes, it’s a rather conservative venue, but you’re not going to see The Guardian publishing critiques of theology and postmodern denial of objective truth. And Dawkins does take some pretty strong swings at Donald Trump, e.g. “For him, lying is not a last resort. It never occurs to him to do anything else.”

The article first defines what scientists mean by “truth”, and then attacks two areas that dismiss that definition—or at least offer alternative “ways of knowing”:

What is truth? Richard begins by analogizing scientific truth with the “the kind of truth that a commission of inquiry or a jury trial is designed to establish.” He adds this:

I hold the view that scientific truth is of this commonsense kind, although the methods of science may depart from common sense and its truths may even offend it.

I like that idea—though Massimo Pigliucci will be enraged—because it shows there’s no bright line between scientific truth and the kind of truth that people establish using “common sense”, which I take to mean empirical inquiry whose results people generally agree on. Truth is simply what exists in the universe and can be found by common assent. That’s with the proviso, of course, that there is a reality to be found, and one that’s independent of us. I’ll take that as a given, and don’t want to argue about it. And, of course “common assent” means, in science, the assent of those capable of evaluating data.

Finally, while truth is always “provisional” in science, there are some truths so well established that we can regard them as “not really that provisional”. These are the truths whose reality you’d bet thousands of dollars on. It’s unlikely, as I say in Faith Versus Fact, that normal DNA will some day be shown to be a triple helix, or a water molecule to have two atoms of hydrogen and two of oxygen. This is a point that Richard makes as well, and one we should keep in mind when we debate those who argue that, “Well, science is tentative, and can be wrong—and has been wrong.” To wit:

It is true that Newton’s laws are approximations which need modifying under extreme circumstances such as when objects travel at near the speed of light. Those philosophers of science who fixate on the case of Newton and Einstein love to say that scientific truths are only ever provisional approximations that have so far resisted falsification. But there are many scientific truths — we share an ancestor with baboons is one example — which are just plain true, in the same sense as ‘New Zealand lies south of the equator’ is not a provisional hypothesis, pending possible falsification.

Bad thinkers. Finally, the two groups Richard excoriates for rejecting the notion of scientific truths are the theologians on one hand and the PoMo-soaked philosophers and Critical Theory mavens on the other. First, the theologians, who by now are low-hanging fruit:

Theologians love their ‘mysteries’, such as the ‘mystery of the Trinity’ (how can God be both three and one at the same time?) and the ‘mystery of transubstantiation’ (how can the contents of a chalice be simultaneously wine and blood?). When challenged to defend such stuff, they may retort that scientists too have their mysteries. Quantum theory is mysterious to the point of being downright perverse. What’s the difference? I’ll tell you the difference and it’s a big one. Quantum theory is validated by predictions fulfilled to so many decimal places that it’s been compared to predicting the width of North America to within one hairsbreadth. Theological theories make no predictions at all, let alone testable ones.

Nor has theology ever, by itself, established a single truth about the universe. I keep asking people to give me one, but they either can’t or bring in truths that are empirical and can be verified not by revelation or dogma, but only by observation and testing. Ergo, theology is not a “way of knowing.”

And then the poor PoMos and Critical Theorists get their drubbing (remember, the roots of Critical Theory are in the filthy humus of postmodernism):

A more insidious threat to truth comes from certain schools of academic philosophy. There is no objective truth, they say, no natural reality, only social constructs. Extreme exponents attack logic and reason themselves, as tools of manipulation or ‘patriarchal’ weapons of domination. The philosopher and historian of science Noretta Koertge wrote this in Skeptical Inquirer magazine in 1995, and things haven’t got any better since:

Instead of exhorting young women to prepare for a variety of technical subjects by studying science, logic, and mathematics, Women’s Studies students are now being taught that logic is a tool of domination…the standard norms and methods of scientific inquiry are sexist because they are incompatible with ‘women’s ways of knowing’. The authors of the prize-winning book with this title report that the majority of the women they interviewed fell into the category of ‘subjective knowers’, characterised by a ‘passionate rejection of science and scientists’. These ‘subjectivist’ women see the methods of logic, analysis and abstraction as ‘alien territory belonging to men’ and ‘value intuition as a safer and more fruitful approach to truth’.

That way madness lies. As reported by Barbara Ehrenreich and Janet McIntosh in The Nation in 1997, the social psychologist Phoebe Ellsworth, at an interdisciplinary seminar, praised the virtues of the experimental method. Audience members protested that the experimental method was ‘the brainchild of white Victorian males’. Ellsworth acknowledged this, but pointed out that the experimental method had led to, for example, the discovery of DNA. This was greeted with disdain: ‘You believe in DNA?’

You can’t not ‘believe in DNA’. DNA is a fact. . . .

While different groups of people have different interests, and that may lead them to work on areas that reveal truths heretofore hidden, that doesn’t mean that there are different ways of knowing. Barbara McClintock, for example, was touted by her biographer Evelyn Fox Keller as having a special female-linked “feeling for the organism” that led to her Nobel-winning studies on mobile genetic elements. I don’t buy that thesis, but there may be some truth to the claim that female evolutionists helped emphasize the important role of female choice in sexual selection.  If so, that means that different aspects of a problem may appeal to different groups, but in the end the truth or falsity of ideas are established the same way by everyone. McClintock did her science the way everyone else did, as do those who study sexual selection. There may be many ways of thinking, but only one way of knowing. 

And that way of knowing is what I call “science construed broadly”: the use of observation, testing of hypotheses, attempts to falsify your theory, experiments, and so on. Science has more refined methods than, say, an electrician trying to find a glitch in house wiring, but in the end they both rely on a similar set of empirical tools.

Richard will of course be faulted for attacking the beloved notion of “other ways of knowing”, but in the end he’s right. And of course there are all those people laying for him, who will claim he’s arrogant in giving science such hegemony over truth. He attacks this head on:

Some of what I have claimed here about scientific truth may come across as arrogant. So might my disparagement of certain schools of philosophy. Science really does know a lot about what is true, and we do have methods in place for finding out a lot more. We should not be reticent about that. But science is also humble. We may know what we know, but we also know what we don’t know. Scientists love not knowing because they can go to work on it. The history of science’s increasing knowledge, especially during the past four centuries, is a spectacular cascade of truths following one on the other. We may choose to call it a cumulative increase in the number of truths that we know. Or we can tip our hat to (a better class of) philosophers and talk of successive approximations towards yet-to-be-falsified provisional truths. Either way, science can properly claim to be the gold standard of truth.

Amen! I’ll finish with a quote I used to begin Chapter 4 in Faith Versus Fact. It’s from Mike Aus, a former preacher who left the pulpit after admitting his atheism on television. Since then he hasn’t fared well, but he did produce one quotation that I think is telling:

When I was working as a pastor I would often gloss over the clash between the scientific world view and the perspective of religion. I would say that the insights of science were no threat to faith because science and religion are “different ways of knowing” and are not in conflict because they are trying to answer different questions. Science focuses on “how” the world came to be and religion addresses the question of “why” we are here. I was dead wrong. There are not different ways of knowing. There is knowing and not knowing, and those are the only two options in this world.

h/t: Eli

55 thoughts on “Richard Dawkins on truth and “ways of knowing”

  1. A perfect article by Dawkins save one part: Philosophers of science have not considered (Popperian) falsifiability a sufficient condition for something to be considered as science for a long time. The demarcation problem, I believe, is still an active problem.

    Because of this, the characterization of philosophers as saying that “scientific truths are only ever provisional approximations that have so far resisted falsification” is inaccurate. The average philosopher (of science) is probably more willing to say something is true without adding any qualifiers than the pop-sci-writing physicist who, when pressed, waffles about theories being only very accurate predictive tools then turning around and claiming that reality really is fundamentally probabilistic.

    1. Interesting. But what’s wrong with saying that reality is fundamentally probabilistic? One can believe that and still comfortably say something is true without any disclaimer, since any other kind of omniscient certainty is unavailable to human beings (and anyone else).

      1. There is no problem with saying reality is fundamentally probabilistic per se, at least without getting into the bullets you have to bite to believe quantum mechanics is probabilistic. It’s that claiming reality is fundamentally probabilistic on the basis of quantum mechanics, while being an instrumentalist about science that is the problem.

        I find this pattern a lot in pop-physics. The writer claims something similar to instrumentalism, saying quantum mechanics is just a tool to organize our observations to sidestep the interpretational issue, then a few sentences later claim that quantum mechanics says that reality is probabilistic.

        But that was just a contrast for the modal philosopher of science, which is my main point. The philosopher of science, is more likely to say that a scientific theory is true, period, than said pop-physicist, who is likely to add something about it just being a convenient tool to categorize observations.

        The main point of Dawkins’ article is still correct, of course, but making a false claim in an article about truth is somewhat ironic.

        1. You claim that philosophers accept science for what it is, on the same grounds as scientists – it works – but then you add that philosophers actively study something they call “The demarcation problem”.

          It seems to me something has to give. And I suspect we will find that philosophers want to add something that is unnecessary – or at least of no concern of science – but also that they don’t want to do any [science] work.

          1. I don’t see how something has to give. All science works but not all that works is science. Mathematics, for example, works, but isn’t science in the sense of physics, sociology, or even plumbing. So what is it that separates science from 1. these other types of things that work, and 2. the things that claim to be scientific but aren’t?

      2. But is it absolutely true, or is it just probable, that “reality really is fundamentally probabilistic”? I think Richard’s point here is that there’s a certain irony in disclaiming knowledge of truth as such while at the same time claiming knowledge of the truth.

    2. Dawkins makes a basic error in the first lines of his essay. A jury trial is not a method for establishing truth – it is a way of deciding whether guilty or not guilty on the evidence available for the purposes of society’s governance. That may or may not be the truth. Most would also say as truth about the world is objective there is only one truth so a finding of truth that turns out to be false is self-evidently not a finding of truth

  2. “Nor has theology ever, by itself, established a single truth about the universe.”

    Perhaps the continued existence of theology in 2020 reveals that many people resolutely enjoy having the wool firmly pulled over their eyes. I forget which Dawkins’ book discussed this, A Devil’s Chaplain perhaps.

    At this point in history, it’s child’s play to discover the evidence necessary to discard the God hypothesis.

  3. Commenting to sub before reading:

    A recent thought occurred to me because of the recent OWoK article:

    Other ways of knowing is fine as long as the truth claim is _shown_ – but of course, the objective of OWoK is to _tell_, not _show_.

    Then I just thought : OWoK is in the business of Other Ways of Showing.

  4. Prof. Dawkins is correct, Trump will eventually go away but what about the damage done. That may take much longer.

    I wish someone would tell me about all the small earthquakes we are having in Wichita the past two weeks. Just had another one at 11:42 am. This was a good jolt, I would guess 3.5 maybe. All of these hits have been within 2 miles or less of where I live.

      1. Yes, I think it must be from fracking although most of the fracking was in Oklahoma. They had lots of quakes down there for several years. Not that far away so it must be related. Usually if I get the news later they say what the thing was, 2.8 or 3.1 and they are all centered close by. They will say 13th and Greenwitch or 21st and Rock Road.. That last one is 1/2 mile from my house to the intersection.

      1. Yes, when I get time I’ll have to look it all up. I was outside talking to a neighbor and there were three shakes while we were standing there. There may be a fault running from around Oklahoma city all the way up to Omaha. It seems to run through Wichita.

    1. (Previous reply deleted)
      There’s a relationship between fracking and earthquakes in Oklahoma. The USGS.gov has published on it. Use keywords study earthquake fracturing Oklahoma. I got a screenshot, but this platform doesn’t support them apparently.
      Note Wyoming is suffering the same fate.

  5. Truth is simply what exists in the universe and can be found by common assent.

    Years ago, I was sitting with my New Age friends having tea as they talked about the intuitive and spiritual “truths” available to the open-minded inquirer, sharing stories about various amazing experiences they had had on various occasions and emphasizing how their common appreciation of each personal encounter broke down the isolation between them, bonding them together in the Search for Truth.

    Knowing I was a skeptic, a couple of them then wondered how I approached Truth.

    “Okay,” I started. “Look down. See this table?”

    “Yes.” They nodded, waiting for my own story.

    “So do I.”

  6. I just got my Christmas present early!
    Pure truth, succinctly stated and wrapped in elegant writing. How did you guys know that was exactly what I wanted for Xmas in 2020?

    Coyne: “There may be many ways of thinking, but only one way of knowing.”

    Dawkins: “We may choose to call it a cumulative increase in the number of truths that we know. Or we can tip our hat to (a better class of) philosophers and talk of successive approximations towards yet-to-be-falsified provisional truths. Either way, science can properly claim to be the gold standard of truth.”

    Can we put these into the Ten Commandments of Science, carved into obsidian, and enshrine them at the Cathedral of the National Academy of Sciences?

  7. I followed the Sokal hoax and its aftermath back in the day. There was actually some interesting and thoughtful work produced once the dust settled. There were good books by people like Susan Haack, Meera Nanda, and Ian Hacking. There were symposia where the two “sides” actually made attempts to communicate with each other (The book “The One Culture?” collects the results of one such meeting).

    It’s depressing to see how little impact all of that seems to have had in the end.

  8. B.J, Miller’s choice of words in the NYT was felicitous: “We do have fuller ways of knowing.” Right, we know what these ways are full of. They are also full of the pigeons’ wealth. From the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, through the gilded Mediterranean cathedrals, to our current televangelists, specialists in other ways of knowing have been plucking the pigeons for thousands of years. The grift continues in other venues as well: in “Coast to Coast” radio, in American Made Media Consultants LLC, and, at perhaps a lower revenue level, in the ivory tower’s priesthoods of postmodernism and grievance studies.

  9. Dawkin’s article was a bit of a Reason’s Greatest Hits for me (and for most of the readers of this blog, I would think) but it’s a good time to restate simple truths. Millions of Mercans just spent a month believing an election was stolen and they’ve spent most of a year believing a deadly virus is going to magically disappear. I’m grateful to Dr Dawkins for his timely polemic – it is entirely and unfalsifiably True.

  10. ‘And the fools rage and imagine vain things.’

    No one who has ever truly looked at the detailed precision of a cell or studied what we know so far about dna or for that matter, any real scientific exploration into actual disciplines – excluding the posh new wave belief systems that are all the rage today,

    let me put it this way, one of the greatest hoaxes perpetrated on man is the polar opposite of the entropy laws and that is: even though we know for a fact that the universe will one day wind down and the clock will stop, the religion of the atheists shoves this evolution lie down our collective throat.

    If the earths water came by way of cosmic bombardment and the earth for millions of years was this viscous ball of molten lava; how is there water 30 to 60 miles deep?

    God bless those who have ears to hear and eyes to see in the name of my risen lord and Savior Yeshua Jesus Christ.

    1. Someone needs a freshman lesson in thermodynamics to understand the difference between open and closed systems.

      I know little about geology, but it’s not hard to imagine the crust of the eart h beginnning to cool and partially solidify while comets continue water delivery for a few million years. Plate tectonics and a four and a half billion year old age of the earth provides plenty time for that history.

    2. I’ve got bad news for you. A lot of people in this part of the world are convinced that your Yeshua Jesus Christ is just a local manifestation of the cosmic Buddha Mahāvairocana. The historical Buddha of India is a more valid manifestation of same, though.

    3. “the religion of the atheists shoves this evolution lie down our collective throat.”
      Evolution is as much a fact as an oblate spheroidal Earth and only the willfully and arrogantly ignorant insist otherwise. Calling science a religion is merely the religionist attempt to move everything into the realm of religion where they can argue endlessly. Evidence supersedes unshakable convictions.

      “how is there water 30 to 60 miles deep?”
      Science has been addressing that (down to at least 1,800 miles) with experiment and evidence and it will obviously figure out the answer:
      https://envirobites.org/2020/07/24/earths-largest-water-reservoir-could-be-1800-miles-beneath-the-surface/

      In contrast, sacred superstitions always start out with their preferred answers and work backwards, which obviously precludes any self correction mechanism since that answer is always permanent.

      So you must be a flat Earther as well since Jesus said so:
      https://biblehub.com/matthew/4-8.ht
      And of course disease is caused by demons since Jesus said so:
      https://biblehub.com/matthew/17-18.htm
      https://biblehub.com/luke/8-32.htm
      etc…

      In general it is not really possible to parody the terminally irrational since any such parody would be indistinguishable from the real thing.

    4. Seeing how you finish with magic incantations of your personal choice, I don’t think your aim was to discuss the science. You seem insistent on making an irony of your quote and of your forcing magic down other’s throats,

      But FWIW, you can’t understand biology without knowing the facts of its basic process of evolution. And anyone can nowadays learn how to observe it from home by availing themselves of tutorials and genetic data from, say, NCBI web site – when you know how to test it for a fact it takes about 30 minutes.

      Biology of cells do not depend on other entropy flow than that from the Sun when light is being converted to heat while doing useful work such as growth and replication – neither individually concerned with evolution – and exporting that heat and its entropy to space, same as the rest of Earth. If you want to add some pizzazz to that, cell organization work the same way as refrigerators keeping stuff better “organized” (not decomposing).

      That the local universe will “wind down” towards heat death doesn’t mean that the universe stop its process of expansion or – if inflation is correct – that it will not continue to spawn new habitable universes. That too is based on observation.

  11. A good reminder of what an excellent science writer Dawkins is! I was slightly surprised this ran in The Spectator, which used to run scads of articles knocking the Gnu Atheists. Perhaps they recognize that Woke folk and Postmodernists are a bigger threat than left-of-center atheists? Perhaps it’s also a sign that the Gnu Atheists have succeeded in giving atheists greater visibility and cultural importance.

    1. I suspect it’s just The Spectator deciding to run an article they know will be a bit controversial in order to spice up their Christmas issue.

  12. I am reading an interesting book on the scientific method. It is The Knowledge Machine by Michael Strevens. He argues that the scientific revolution came about much later than other cultural developments because science rests on which he calls an “irrational” iron rule—that arguments must be ultimately decided only by mutually-accessible and agreed-upon evidence and nothing else. This simple impersonal rule underlies the scientific enterprise and insulates it from the inevitable biases and foibles of the human beings conducting it.

    1. If you’re the captain of a boat, it’s normally irrational to have your sailors tie you to the mast, stuff wax in their ears, and promise not to obey your signals for the rest of the day. Unless you know that you’re about to sail past the call of the Sirens and not be able to resist.

      Sometimes the rational response to future anticipated irrationality looks like present irrationality – to those who do not know the big picture, or who have decided to de-emphasize it.

    2. The rule of “mutually-accessible and agreed-upon evidence” in turn rests on the empirical fact that
      the sensory perceptions of multiple witnesses most often agree. This agreement is either an
      amazing coincidence (as postmodernists would have to insist), or it is the sign of an independent physical reality which elicit the sensory perceptions.

      And did the scientific revolution come about so much later? The philosophical naturalism of the pre-Socratic Greek Milesians and atomists precedes the conventional time of the scientific revolution by about 2000 years. Maybe it just took that long before advances in glass technology and lens-grinding made eyeglasses (not to mention telescopes and microscopes) possible.

      1. The fact that when you slap your hand down on a desk you simultaneously (i) feel a physical shock at the point where you hand can go no further, (ii) hear the sound of the impact and (iii) see your hand contact the desk surface is all the evidence anyone should need that there’s a reality outside the phenomenal experience of our senses, even in the absence of multiple witnesses. I’ve never been able to grasp how those who believe that there is nothing in the word independent of our consciousnesses can plausibly account for the simultaneity of our sensory experiences in our interactions with the physical world. Surely, you would think, the null hypothesis here has to be that there is indeed something there that is independent of our senses, no?

  13. Always fun and insightful to hear from Dawkins – he’s been a bit coy of late. I saw him speak (for the first time) at a talk in Brooklyn for his new kids’ book (which I bought for my nephews in Australia) almost exactly a year ago and he was in very good shape then.
    His stock speech was fine but I was particularly impressed by how he handled the question time: didn’t miss a beat – funny, engaging, intelligent. He should be “Sir” Richard Dawkins if you ask me.
    D.A., NYC

  14. 2006: “What a fine and balanced article. Science for the win” – PZ Myers.
    2010-onwards: “This is heretical WHITE SUPREMACY. Get the pitchfork” – PZ Myers.

    BTW, yesterday Dawkins tweeted about wokeness and how Biden needs to keep it at bay. Which he does, BTW.

    Cue lots of drones and idiots attacking him, claiming:

    1. It doesn’t exist and is just an invented bogeyman.
    2. It is just about having empathy, compassion, and love, etc. You know, like religion. /s

    The above two statements are contradictory, of course. It shows how defenders of woke defend their religion. Either it doesn’t exist, or it is just a set of positive feel-good emotional pull-factors – the same ones used by religions and various ideologies (Communism, etc.) when questioned about their actual beliefs.

    One of the church-goers determined to defend the faith of woke went down the path of #2, above. Anybody criticising woke was just opposed to empathy, love, compassion, fairness, and was in league with the Far Right, or something like that. After a quick search of their social history, I pointed out that this particular true believer of woke had a history contradicting statement #2, and of course, it then blocked me.

    And there is the lesson for all.

  15. “… it is a true fact that we are cousins of kangaroos”

    I think that’s looking at Ze Frank – True Facts!

  16. Another dimension to this large difference Dawkins is illustrating has to do with the questions – good, productive questions, and how they arise from productive science.

    What kind of question is “do you believe in DNA” or is the wine simultaneously blood, and how long have they been asked?

  17. “And then the poor PoMos and Critical Theorists get their drubbing (remember, the roots of Critical Theory are in the filthy humus of postmodernism)”

    That cannot be right. Critical Theory comes from Horkheimer’s 1937 work of that name. The movement now called “postmodernism” emerged mostly in the post-war era. The main works associated with it are rather 1960s onwards. The infamous side of postmodernism is even later, more 1980s and 1990s peaking in the “science wars”.

    Perhaps, you switched the terms around by accident, “roots of postmodernism are in critical theory“, but even that statement would be arguable. There is clearly a connection, but it’s more like Darwin to Social Darwinism. The early Frankfurt School philosophers, Horkheimer and Adorno, are not regarded as postmodern, and the later ones, like Habermas have been highly critical of it. The Frankfurt School and the Critical Theory were contributions very much in spirit of the Enlightenment, sapere aude, and in spirit of Kantian ethics that says that humans cannot be mere means to an end.

    The Frankfurt School criticism of science and enlightenment comes from witnessing the failure of the revolution, the Leninist counterrevolution, that turned Russia into a totalitarian state that just did use humans as mere means to an end, for instance to industrialize Russia. And from witnessing the Nazi project of using humans as mere material to achieve some state goal, also in a totalitarian way. The criticism is towards seeing reason as merely instrumental to master and exploit nature (and people).

    The things we associate mostly with postmodernism today are incompatible with critical theory. Critical Theory seeks to understand through explanation, praxis and values. I’d say it’s akin to medical theories that rely on normative assumptions of a “healthy” person through which we can come up with a “germ theory of disease”, and that helps us understand what’s going on. If we hadn’t that, various organs would just be different types of tissue, or we wouldn’t even conceive of organs. Bacteria and viruses would be just some stuff that goes in and out of cells.

    As I see it, a Critical Theory does that on a societal level, because it assumes that you cannot get a grip on what is going on without some approach that assigns meaning to what goes on, and uses these tentatively to see what could be done about it. This is, in a way, an experimental, practical approach, also informed historically by the Werturteilsstreit, both of them.

    PS: great to see Dawkins writing again.

  18. We may know what we know, but we also know what we don’t know.

    And we know that the paper production, which should correlate with answering new questions to some degree, is exponentially increasing.

    We know we know a lot, but we also know that there is much we don’t know.

  19. Dawkins’ article on truth and knowledge, as reported by Jerry, is good on criticizing the ways in which people play fast and loose with these notions. Unfortunately, it is not so good on the positive aspects of these notions.
    Bertrand Russell was fond of reminding us of the epistemic ontological confusion. And this appears in Dawkins’ account of these notions. But Russell bids us keep epistemological matters of how we know something separate from ontology, viz., what is the case independently of what we know.
    This distinction is important in Russell’s 1918 Lectures on Logical Atomism, In Wittgenstein’s Tractutus (in which facts make up the world), and in more recent works such as David Armstrong’s the A World of States of Affairs (i.e., facts). Alas ignoring the distinction vitiates much writing on truth and knowledge.
    This issue is often discussed these days in terms of what is called the “Fitch paradox” (or the Fitch-Church paradox) which says, briefly: There are propositions which are true but they are not knowable. This forces us to think about the difference between something being true and its being knowable as does Goedel’s proof that there are unprovable truths gets us to think about the difference between truth and provability.
    Some, like me, do not regard the Fitch paradox as even a paradox; it is simply what one would expect from taking a sufficiently realist view of truth. Once that is settled it is a simple matter to see that there are unknowable truths.
    So it does not do to make too close a link between truth and knowability, as Dawkins does. The two readily come apart. But not for those who are likely to muddle up these matters.

  20. I don’t really disagree with anything said here, but I would offer the following.

    First, as to truth and the jury trial, there are in fact, famously or perhaps infamously, many so-called “barriers to truth” that have been deliberately created in order to promote “values other than truth” that are sometimes allowed to take precedence. One example is the exclusionary rule that prevents the use of evidence obtained in violation of the Constitution. Whatever one may say about this, the upshot is that the truth that is “found” in jury trials may be quite some distance from actual truth as the scientist would conceive it.

    Second, in relation to “different ways of knowing,” I would offer this for consideration. There are at least three different ways of knowing a Beethoven sonata. The musicologist would have one way of knowing it, the concert pianist who is proficient at performing it would have a different way of knowing it and, most importantly, the connoisseur listener, who was intimately familiar with the sounds of the sonata and engaged by them at a deep emotional level, would have still another way of knowing it. Or, to take an example from another realm, the way of knowing colors utilized by the color-blind color scientist Mary, in Frank Jackson’s famous thought experiment, would be different from the knowledge of colors that most people experience.

    But even if there are different ways of knowing that are suitable when it comes to knowing art, for example, it does not follow that they are valid as ways of knowing nature. Perhaps the point is that whether the knowledge of a given truth is valid or not depends on whether the appropriate way of knowing was applied in obtaining it.

    1. I’d add :

      Testable predictions follow from objective, quantitative, or even qualitative knowledge.

      Subjective experience, even recorded in language, cannot show those requisites, and so fails the test of prediction.

      And the only way to test truth claims is to ask what follows from them – to test the knowledge.

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