Morgan,

Great debate we’ve gotten ourselves into, right? You’ve raised some very good points and gotten me thinking hard about God and belief when I should be thinking about torts and contracts. For that, I salute you!

I’m afraid that your last post brings us to the irretrievably pretentious world of– you guessed it!— epistemology. And from what it sounds like so far, you and I are coming at this discussion from opposite epistemological poles.

You wrote:

Doctrines that teach the “unknowability” of things are de facto impediments to knowledge!

I disagree. I believe that all knowledge— spiritual and material– is limited by at least some level “unknowability.” In any endeavor, it’s not truth, but probability that we’re really looking for.

You’ve praised science for its coherent, systematic, and progressive nature. It’s reason, objectivity, and empiricism that make science “good” and bring us closer to discovering the “truth.” If you hold these values in such high esteem (and you do so with good reason), then you (and Dawkins) are going to be skeptical of other modes of inquiry (here, religion) that do not rely on those values.

Where you and I part ways, I think, is in our view of “truth.” I think your arguments so far have expressed an earnest concern for discovering the truth– pinning it down, examining it, and bettering society as a result. I’d agree with you that the search for truth is an important thing, and we’re all better off when people embark on this journey. I disagree with you, it seems, because I think that “truth,” on its very best day, is “warranted assertability” or “low uncertainty.” (Bounce this notion off a physicist, and see if they agree). In my opinion, neither science nor religion can uncover an absolute truth. Our minds, the world, the universe are all part of one giant grey area. This shouldn’t make us hopeless, however. I actually think it’s empowering– having uncertainty as a backdrop should 1) provide a catalyst for inquiry and action and 2) provide a humbling, philosophical ground for all of our human achievements.

I’m something of a pragmatist, so I’ll use the words of William James to shed some light onto where I’m coming from:

On pragmatic principles we cannot reject any hypothesis if consequences useful to life flow from it. Universal conceptions, as things to take account of, may be as real for pragmatism as particular sensations are. They have indeed no meaning and no reality if they have no use. But if they have any use they have that amount of meaning. And the meaning will be true if the use squares well with life’s other uses.

James seems to put the spiritual and material on equal footing. And I think he’s absolutely right in doing so. If you aren’t looking for some sort of absolute, objective “truth,” what makes science any more “right” than religion?

In James’ lecture “Pragmatism and Religion” he, an avowed disciple of the scientific method, admits to having his own religious beliefs that lay somewhere “between the two extremes of crude naturalism on the one hand and transcendental absolutism.”

I, too, stand somewhere in this grey area, in between these two extremes. It’s enough to drive both fundamentalists and atheists mad.

As a final point, back to Dawkins’ book, I wonder how much of his project is simply in the interest of giving atheists a sense of belonging. My girlfriend, Erin, raised this point in a discussion we had over Thanksgiving. Atheiests, like Christians, Jews, Muslims, and any other religious sect like to have others with whom they identify. Is Dawkins giving atheists a community, or is he building a dogma?

I guess I’ll have to read the book to see for myself.

Daniel Corbett

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