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This question is about the general ideas of acceptance and rejection in scientific fields, and while largely theoretical, is based on a conversation I'm having with a self-styled skeptic. I'm hoping for some clarity on how the thought process works, how I think it should work, and how my discussion partner thinks it should work.

Imagine a claim that was made 5000 years ago (ca. 3000 BCE, at the dawn of writing), recorded as a part of some kind of myth about "the gods" in ancient Mesopotamia somewhere. It was warped out of any recognizable truth and remained a part of a myth until a recent discovery confirmed that the one part (not the whole myth) was actually a point of fact that was difficult to prove, yet which met some level of "extraordinary proof" that allows at least a degree of acceptance as demonstrably not false. People have believed it for thousands of years, but only as a part of a doctrine of false or possibly specious claims (untested at best, demonstrably false at worst, much like many claims in the field of mythology which tend to be metaphors anyway).

Now imagine that this singular claim is the founding point for an entire system of beliefs, most of which are specious at best, and at worst superstitious. And yes, people who believe are taking the revelation as "proof" that their beliefs are real. But it doesn't work that way in reality, of course. The validation of the singular claim does not necessarily validate everything else connected to it.

So then, why is it considered illogical to accept the support for the thing that actually does hold up, while perfectly logical to throw out the baby with the bathwater and require wholesale acceptance or rejection of the whole myth? Can't we accept parts which are simply true, in and of themselves, rather than needing to reject a truth because it supports a myth? Or is it a requirement to concede the entire myth as false and ignore the single claim that validates the one portion?

Thanks for any input on this. Let me know if any clarification is needed.

migrated from skeptics.stackexchange.com Feb 6 '17 at 1:02

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  • Didn't see this one on a search. And oddly, skepticism is actually a philosophy, even if not all philosophies are skeptical... "notable claim" is a strange anti-pattern on the original, as well. So. Now that I'm here.... can people really comment on this, or is there too much vagueness? – Vishwa Jay Feb 6 '17 at 2:05
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    We have no difficulties to imagine that some archeological finding can change current "level of knowledge" about e.g. Moses ( the scholarly consensus is that the figure of Moses is legendary, and not historical) or Noah's Ark. But the Bible is not an "axiomatic system" based on a single principle such that, founding support for it, and due to the fact that all the remaining "propositions" of the system can be logically deduced from it, we can assert that the system is true. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Feb 6 '17 at 8:23
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA: Well put. I'm trying to reconcile one sliver of knowledge that can be demonstrably proved and (without getting into details of the private conversation here) trying to causally separate a far more simple system than the interlocking mish-mash philosophies of the Bible. This is a claim that the acceptance of one fact must necessarily result in acceptance of the whole belief system, because the skeptic has declared that I "can't have it both ways". I really wish I could just disclose the whole conversation, it would simplify things greatly. – Vishwa Jay Feb 6 '17 at 8:42
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    Skepticism is a philosophy, but if you had read the Skeptics.SE FAQ or welcoming guide, you would see that it isn't for discussing the philosophy of Skepticism, but for applying scientific skepticism to notable claims to determine their truth. This question was way out-of-scope there. – Oddthinking Feb 6 '17 at 12:15
  • While I didn't in fact read that, I was unaware. Nothing more, nothing less. I'm sure they could have had a lot of issue because of it, however. – Vishwa Jay Feb 6 '17 at 23:46
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If there is a logical argument from one preposition, P, that has an undetermined truth value:

i.e. P implies Q, and Q implies R, and R implies S.

Then if you later discover P is true, you must accept S is true.

If your interlocutor understood that such a logical argument existed, they could reasonable argue that you must accept that either the entire system (P, Q, R & S) are true, or that P is false. Evidence for the provisional acceptance of P would also be evidence for the provisional acceptance of S. (And vice-versa: Evidence that S was false would also be evidence that P was false.)

If you don't agree that such a logical argument exists, you don't need to make that choice. In particular rejecting a proposition "because it supports a myth" is an "appeal to consequences" fallacy.

I am guessing that the disagreement was because your interlocutor believed an argument with those implications existed, and you did not agree or were not aware of it.

  • While I understand where you got the "appeal to consequences" implication, I didn't mean to infer that. The issue isn't the fact that it's a myth; it's that P is true, and the truth value of the remaining Q, R and S are unsupported by fact. The argument I'm facing is that since P is true, Q, R, and S must be accepted wholesale, or P must be rejected. – Vishwa Jay Feb 6 '17 at 23:43
  • @VishwaJay: Does your interlocutor believe that P logically implies Q? Or just that if one text asserts P, Q, R and S (independently), then evidence for one implies evidence for all? – Oddthinking Feb 6 '17 at 23:57
  • The problem is exactly that: I can't accept that he accepts it, but is merely trying to block the acceptance of P. However, without giving anything personal away, the crux of P is a recent scientific publication that confirms P, without saying anything about Q. Since he doesn't accept P (for reasons unknown to me), he is trying to assert that exact kind of causal link, in spite of my objection that they really have nothing to do with one another. – Vishwa Jay Feb 7 '17 at 3:51
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As I understand it, although it is believed that P implies Q, R, S, etc. It is not a fact! Therefore, even if new evidence "supports/proves" P, it does not follow that this evidence directly supports/proves Q, etc., nor indirectly (through P).

  • Exactly my position. Is it possible to reasonably assert that acceptance of P does not require acceptance of Q (etc.), and that this is simply splitting a hair that isn't reasonable to split? – Vishwa Jay Feb 7 '17 at 5:58

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