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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Epistemic closure

I learned a new phrase yesterday, "epistemic closure." See here for the Wikipedia article on the subject. The article says:

The term "epistemic closure" has been used in US political debate to refer to the claim that the belief systems of political conservatives are closed systems of deduction, which cannot be affected by empirical evidence.

In other words, political conservatives don't listen to facts that contradict their belief systems. They tend to listen to conservative talk radio, watch only Fox News news and commentary, follow right-wing web sites, and read conservative-leaning newspapers.

The article is actually mostly about the theory of knowledge, as a philosophical matter, and the sentence quoted above is almost all it says about politics.

There have been recent examples of epistemic closure in political discourse. One of these is the mis-prediction of right-wing political "experts" on how the recent Presidential election would turn out, most famously Fox's Karl Rove doubting that the Fox News experts had called Ohio correctly, and reports that Mr. Romney, himself, on election night, didn't believe that he could lose. Other news sources, and the Obama campaign, believed, in the days before the election, that Mr. Obama would be re-elected.

Another example relates to Hurricane Sandy. The Wikipedia can be edited by anyone. (I have edited it a little myself, but not on substantive political matters.) A report, based on analysis of who was doing the Wikipedia editing, says that a single individual deliberately kept references to global climate change out of the Wikipedia article on Hurricane Sandy for several days, because he didn't believe there was any such thing. (I credit The Foundry for much of the information referenced above.) The article on Hurricane Sandy does, now, refer to global climate change.

Epistemic closure by right-wingers is bad enough. However, I'm sure that the Left has its own epistemic closure, and that's bad, too. But, far more serious, is epistemic closure about eternal things. I am epistemically closed about salvation. I believe that I have a sin problem, which condemns me to eternal separation from God and the good. I believe that the only solution is to accept the sacrifice of the crucified and risen Christ, and go on to follow Him as Lord of my life. Can I prove this? No. I seldom even read or listen to sources that discredit these views, or think about them. I'm epistemically closed. There are those with other views, of course.

I recently had an on-line discussion with an atheist, who asked why an all-powerful god would be so concerned about sin, and why a blood sacrifice was necessary to pay for it. These are good questions. I attempted to answer them, and some others did, too, but I doubt that this person was much impressed -- he has his own epistemic closure about this subject.

I believe that there's a sin problem in the world, and Christ is the solution. I hope you do, too.

Thanks for reading.


FancyHorse said...

This is very good. I had never heard of that term. I don't watch Fox news and I do listen to NPR, but I'm still a conservative, especially on moral issues. A bit more liberal than many conservatives I know, as I feel we should be more charitable to those who have less and more welcoming to immigrants.

Changing the subject, would you do me a favor and try to look at my blog? I have been overwhelmingly inundated with spam comments in the past few weeks, and it was getting worse every day it seemed, so I made the blog available to other blog writers only. Now, another Blogger/Blogspot blogger has told me that she can't see it. I want to know if others are affected, too. Thank you.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for the comment. We are largely in agreement, I believe.

I can't see your blog, either.

I suggest requiring commenters to verify that they aren't robots. That should take care of the spam. It makes it harder to comment, but the blog would be visible.

That's under Settings>Posts and Comments>Show Word Verification.

FancyHorse said...

Thanks for the suggestion. I think (hope) my problem is solved now!

Martin LaBar said...

It seems to be.