Tag Archives: truth

Question Everything (Except…)

tumblr_m8tq30CQvB1rq27uuo1_500In his “Miracle of Theism”, Mackie discusses the idea that people might believe in God without any rational reason. In fact, he discusses a few ideas under that heading, asking whether fideism (belief without reason) can be an intellectually respectable position.

My position, like Mackie’s, is that it cannot. In fact, I want to do Mackie one better and say that “just because I believe” is not an intellectually respectable position regardless of the content of that belief.

Mackie, it seems, is only interested in this question as it relates to theism. It never seems to occur to him that, if one must give a reason for one’s beliefs, then materialists, neutral monists, non-reductive naturalists, and other non-theists must also defend their views.

It is, I would say, the general approach of the non-theist to appeal to his/her views as a sort of default position, a thing not to be questioned in the same way that other views are.

But, not only does this distort any real attempt at getting at truth, it prevents non-theistic views from really being examined or refined. As one who believes in questioning–in subjecting views to scrutiny, I’ve believe in the value of challenges, and don’t trust a view that I’m not allowed to question.

Of course, there are those who would balk at the idea that one is allowed to question theism (usually seizing the chance to mock it), but their actions betray the lie. They’ve been given the right to question theism, as is evident from the fact that they’re openly questioning it.

And I have no problem with questioning in itself, but simply take the same approach to the assumptions of non-theist views.

But Mackie doesn’t object to this so much as fail to notice that it is a significant point. If he can’t defend his view on the same terms that he asks that theism be defended, then he has not made a case that his view is superior.

Debate Fatigue

Having spent more than five years consistently debating religious topics online, I’ve come to quite a number of conclusions. I’ve realized that debate can stretch the mind, and that I was far too sure of my own expertise, among many other things.

I’ve also realized that there’s little more to be gained from it.
I really don’t mean to be dismissive; there is a great deal of good that has come from the experience. Still, the area of thinking which can be exercised in such debates is highly specific.

Though I am sure an atheist encounters similar problems, that she would label somewhat differently, my experience has slowly become an argument against what I call “perpetual incredulity”.

I do not mean to argue against a general skeptical approach. I fully agree with atheists that we should draw our conclusions carefully. Or, rather, I agree with those atheists who actually do so. As often, I’ve encountered a non-believer who, while ostensibly championing rationality, refuses to admit anything which could be construed as favoring theism – regardless of the actual facts.

While it may seem effective in debate to declare that there isn’t the slightest bit of evidence pointing to theism, or that ignoring a claim can be equated with neutrality toward it, this is where I lose interest. Far from impressing me, I’m left feeling like I’m butting against a mind as closed as any fundamentalist.

Slowly, I’ve come to see that it is only those who realize that there are reasonable people on both sides of the argument, and, by extension, there are reasonable arguments on both sides, that are worth attention. Those who see nothing reasonable about those across the divide can never understand more than the most unreasonable part of the opposition. That is, they can never understand the debate in more than its crudest form.

There, of course, is the balance that reason demands. Judgmentally concluding that the opposition has no rational case is as detrimental as pseudo-intellectually refusing to take a position. These are traps for the intellectually lazy; the greatest minds avoid them.

And this is the last challenge of debate, I think. To abdicate neither to unthinking strife nor unthinking diplomacy. There comes a time, however, where those are the only paths remaining if one wishes to remain involved in such discussions on the web. It does not take a herculean effort to exhaust the intellectual level of a popular debate. While one may occasionally contribute in spite of this, I find the repetitive demands that I undeniably support every statement I make – in the eyes of an opponent determined to deny – a pointless and exhausting one.

Frustrating though this is, I happily endured it until it became boring. That is to say, until I began to ask what alternative view of morality and meaning in life were being supported by my opponents – and was told that there was no answer.

That was the point at which I lost all interest in listening to those individuals’ attacks of my position. We’ve all known relentless critics, and I’ve never known them to contribute nearly so much as they destroy.

Are we Post-Modern?

Postmodern DemotivatorThis is a question I wouldn’t have thought to raise myself, but, having heard it, I did find myself intrigued. The speaker in question pointed out that no one is post-modern about reading the directions on a medicine bottle – that science should be accepted, and the non-scientific is meaningless. As such, he claimed that our current cultural perspective is very modernist.
Of course, this struck me as an oversimplification. While it is true that modernist thought emphasizes the importance of scientific discovery, it does not allow for the disregard of meta-narratives that occurs within post-modernism. This is a difference which, I feel, is very relevant to our culture.

The most succinct way I’ve heard it put is, unfortunately, also the most cynical:
No one is post-modern on issues (s)he really cares about.

I’ve often had the thought that post-modernism is, for most of us, more an excuse to avoid debating what is true than something we actually believe. It’s simply much easier, and superficially pithy, to say “you do it your way and I’ll do it mine” than to hash out the differences. Even agreeing to disagree means at least two things. (1) Stating directly that you think a person is wrong, and (2) hashing out a seemingly limitless pile of arguments regarding truth.
Neither of these things are comfortable, and I can definitely understand the appeal of stating that there is no truth.

But is “there is no truth” a true statement? While this is hardly the mantra of philosophically sophisticated proponents of post-modernism, it is a common implication from laypersons. Our culture seems to house a disturbing indifference toward the idea that there is no truth – no objective ethical standards, and no ultimate narrative of life and its meaning.
Personally, I do find it hard to believe that anyone truly accepts these ideas. The closest I’ve come to accepting them have been among the most horrific times in my life. Nor do I think it likely that the oppressed peoples of the world will be nearly so amiable to moral relativism as those of us who are complicit in that oppression.

I think I do, in fact, believe that our commitment to post-modernism is largely a matter of courteous talk. Try though we might, we believe certain things to be true. Rather than deconstructing our own beliefs for the sake of another belief (in post-modernism), I’d much rather that we simply found a way to separate “your claim is false” from “I judge you to be inferior”.

Were we able to do that, all this talk of there being no truth, or multiple truths, would become unnecessary.