Last updated on 22 Jun 2018
Jeez. You go away for a few days, to the beach and countryside, and come back to find that progress has been made in philosophy; in particular regarding the right view to hold about religion and the religious.
The story so far: I wrote a series of posts about agnosticism, especially one on what agnosticism about any idea or claim might be. Then I took Jennifer Michael Hecht to task. My commentators, and those at Larry Moran’s blog, and Larry himself, have, however, deeply undercut my arguments.
First, Larry points out that arguments about the existence of God require one to take a position on fairies. One can only be agnostic about gods to the extent one is agnostic about fairies. My previous argument that this is comparing unlikes has, in one fell swoop, been demolished! Of course, there must be other reasons for thinking that we can rule fairies out of contention (let us call them faeries to avoid confusion) which do exist but are undetectable. It cannot be the principle that “if it is unscientific it is irrational” for that would be the positivist presumption and that would be unscientific. I know I am wrong about positivism here, because Dan Hicks pointed out that some positivists weren’t positivists about everything. So positivism is never self-defeating, even when the positivist presumption is applied by some to everything.
Larry must have other reasons for showing that faeries do not exist – other than being uninterested in what some people claim; this, as Larry must appreciate, is not about what I the reasoner think is true, but about what others who make these claims must be called. I look forward to him enlightening me on this.
This leads to the clarification of several commenters: I had thought there was a difference between my having reasons to believe in some claim and others making claims and being critiqued for having them. I had (wrongly, as it turns out) thought that if somebody held a view that I happened to think false, but which was logically coherent and not contrary to facts, they might be wrong but rational. It turns out, much to my surprise, that to be wrong is to be irrational! This, if nothing else, is progress! We have turned a corner here. If somebody has a false belief, they are ipso facto, irrational and to be denigrated in public and have metaphorical rotten fruit thrown at them.
It is such a good thing, then, that none of these commenters believe anything that is false. We live in such a wonderful time.
My mistake was to think that one should disparage beliefs we thought to be wrong, but to give reasons. Oddly (and falsely) I had thought that was the meaning of “rational”; the giving and following of reasons. It turns out, that to be rational is to believe the right beliefs, and to treat those who one disputes as fools. If I believe there are no gods, because all gods (or fairies) so far proposed are silly or false, then anyone who believes in un-silly or not yet shown to be false gods, no matter what arguments they may put forward, I should not take these arguments or views seriously. I can just dismiss them like that [snaps fingers].
This makes philosophy so much easier. I look forward to the recognition of the philosophical community of these obviously true principles (and of course, being scientific principles, they will have underlying data and experiment to validate them, which, although boring, will be important to those of us who cannot immediately see the self-evidence of them).
My other main error was to think that something that should not be true of skeptics and rational people was to try to belittle, insult or demonise those whose views we dispute. This is so 19th century of me! Mill, pah! A mere apologist for unnecessary tolerance. Truth does not come from discussion; it comes from believing the right things. This is not at all like the way religious communities exclude and denigrate those they disagree with because they are wrong and so what they do is prejudicial and exclusionary, whereas when atheists do it, it is not at all either of these things.
Of course, when somebody makes an argument for a conclusion you disagree with, and you are Right (we may as well capitalise that blessed state of Enlightenment), the appropriate response is not to make counterarguments showing how the conclusion does not follow from agreed facts or logic, but to insult them. Call them a “word cake baker”. Compare them to creationists. Redefine terms so they are wrong, appealing to common definitions that are under dispute. I wish I had never been taught the rules of what I wrongly thought were reasoned argument. I could have saved so much time just calling people silly poo poos.
Finally, I see that mere consistency is a hobgoblin of little minds. On the one hand it is clearly the case that atheism is not the denial that gods exist, but simply a lack of belief in gods, so agnosticism is atheism. On the other it is clearly the case that atheism is the belief that no gods should be believed in as gods do not exist, so agnosticism is a failure of nerve. And, and this is the major progress in the debate (precursored by O’Brien in 1984), these views are true at the same time, despite the apparent logical contradictions. And as we know, all truths can be proven from a contradiction…
I now go to make something of myself in industry.