There may be some things in this essay
that address, again, the ongoing conversation taking place within the threads of the last several posts. Here is a good quote:
“The supposedly self-evident truth of the non-existence of the Creator is nothing more than a postulate that cannot be demonstrated – as Dawkins, like many scientists and philosophers before him, recognises. It is nothing more than an opinion, a belief, just as much the product of a sort of “faith” as the opposing thesis. Atheist rationalism cannot claim for itself a monopoly of scientific validity for the simple reason that its view of God is not “scientific” – is not proof-based and is, in fact, but an assemblage of hypotheses and probabilities.”
I do think the writer misspeaks when he says that Dawkins recognizes this truth, as he clearly does not. Anyway, here the writer sums up what I think is the way we need to address the issue of narratives that oppose one another on critical points:
“One would have thought that the only truly humanistic attitude – midway between two theses that cannot prove themselves definitively – would be to make a commitment to ongoing debate, and then actively to pursue it out of concern for mutual intellectual integrity. It is only through such a clash of ideas that we learn to be self-critical and approach intellectual humility.”
He touches on one of the dilemmas I hear often, which is this: If there are two beliefs that can be reached by reasonable people in reasonable ways, then are we not “privileging” one over the other if we were to say (or if those holding the opposing beliefs were to say), this narrative is “true” and the other “false”? Isn’t it “exclusivist” to hold that one’s metaphysical beliefs are true, while the other persons’ are false?
I have already noted my response to this sort of question, but here it is again:
“…The matter of all faiths (comprehensive world-views/philosophies) being ultimately unfounded by appeals to evidence and facts alone, is not the same issue as to then how do we know which one is correct (and such an issue and question assumes so much by the way!). That is another question and matter. The first assertion no doubt can lead to the next, but everyone wants to jump there before they sit for a moment and take in the fact that their own faith, their own world-view, sits on an equal plane with other narratives in the sense that it is an interpretation of the facts and evidence—it is not a one-to-one direct correlation between our gaze of the universe and TRUTH. Of course that is what we want, that one-to-one correlation so we can say, “Look at me—I’m right and everyone else is wrong—because I have all the facts and evidence on my side (or the “right” reading of the Bible—“it clearly says…”). It is the fundamentalist temptation, for both the secular and religious, whether it is a “reading” of nature or the Bible or other text.”
“Finally, because all narratives sit on this equal plane, it should not necessarily lead one to conclude that one cannot then ever know which one is true or truer than another. Because to conclude such could only mean that one had a-priori set up a bar (had in mind) for truth that no narrative can reach. Any such bar could only be constructed or arrived at by some other faith, some other world-view or philosophy.”
The dilemma was also addressed by James Olthuis. Here is what he writes in the link I provided in another post:
“There is another important implication of understanding worldviews in this way. If we recognize that though our faith is affirmed and nurtured in terms of our worldview, still our worldviews do not flow from our faith alone, then we have the room as well as the obligation to acknowledge and honor other world-views as being significant and worthy formations of a common underlying faith. Such recognition allows us to endorse our own worldview enthusiastically even as we recognize and learn from other worldviews.”
“Even though we can do nothing other than confess and use our perception of reality as true for us – if we didn’t so believe, we would have another perception – we may not canonize our interpretation of reality as the infallible blueprint for life. Such absolutization of our views conveniently absolves us from the need constantly to test and refine our own perceptions, and it negates the possibility of seriously considering any other perception of truth and reality. Indeed, it blocks us from being truly open to God’s revelation.”
And of course, this is exactly what fundamentalists, whether like Dawkins’ of the secular type or those of the religious type, fail to see and do. So when I think of Bernard’s “distaste” issue, it could be that he is reacting to the fundamentalist urge to “canonize” their interpretation of reality. And I agree with him. However, it is not mutually exclusive to believe, one, that my narrative is true (in Olthuis’s sense of the ultimate) and, two, that I am still a flawed person who is on a journey and needs to continue learning and growing. Any one of us could learn over time that our narrative is wrong. This is what we normally call a crisis of belief or faith (it can happen—and does—to the atheist, the theist, and the agnostic) and is how “conversion” happens. We also need to be open to the possibility (fact!) that we do not understand well or misapply what could still be a world-view/narrative that captures the truth of reality.
We cannot then (because of the fundamentalist error and our reaction to it) make the mistake of thinking that one side is “privileging” or being “exclusivist” because there are a number of things we would have to assume to come to that conclusion.
First, we would have to assume that such claims are private opinions rather than truths in an objective and universal sense. Out of respect, we should take the atheist and theist at their word, that they really believe what they do- in a universal, for all time, and in all places sort of way. The agnostic’s objection then should be, “I just don’t know who is correct here,” and not, “It has nothing to do with who is correct (they may be for all I know!), it’s just that I don’t like the idea of privileging private subjective opinions over others because such is exclusivist.” “They are both reasonable people who have reached their conclusions in reasonable ways- viewing the same evidence.” To the contrary, logic, I think, demands that if we believe something to be true, whether “The earth is round” or “God exists” we are not then “privileging” or being “exclusivist” to assert its truthfulness, even if someone disagrees. The person asserting the “privileging” critique must recognize that logic or explain why it doesn’t hold. And, again, it matters not that the truth of each statement is reached in different ways (They must be reached in different ways- otherwise we commit philosophical category errors).
Second, we would have to assume that only those claims or assertions that can be shown empirically can be true, again, in the sense already noted. This just begs the question and also ends in making philosophical category errors. It also, ironically, actually privileges empiricism- the epistemology of a greater narrative called philosophical naturalism. In other words, this is where we get the idea that all meta-physical beliefs are on the same plane so to speak. “They are all equally immune from empirical proof therefore…” These two lines of thought, these two assumptions, actually “privilege” the narrative (Enlightenment/Secular) of those who assert this charge of “privileging” or of being “exclusivist”.
In my view, then, the only reasonable type of agnosticism that makes sense to me is the one that simply says, “I just don’t know whether or not God exists.”
Now, it would still be fairly easy to deconstruct such an honest and plain response and get to the narrative or world-view that provides one the reasons to come to that conclusion. Even when we say, “I just don’t know,” we have reasons for doing so. For instance, a dead give-away would be if the person followed up that response with, “I just need more evidence…” However, there are some who do not reflect much. Perhaps life is a struggle to survive day-to-day or paycheck to paycheck. Some people never have the time or were given the educational resources to pursue and contemplate what we would call the “big questions.” Clearly we could see such a person honestly asserting, “I don’t know— I’ve never thought about it much.” However, even this grouping is probably a small minority. Most studies seem to indicate that those at the lower economical levels and those with only High School educations, are far more prone to be theists or spiritual. But if we just leave it there (“I just don’t know.”), barring belief, I think the agnostic has certainly carved out a space that is far more reasonable than explicit atheism.
The bottom line: True tolerance respects and recognizes real differences as important and significant and seeks understanding; it does not assert a condescending dismissal of differences as if we were speaking of differences of taste or private opinion-and not the very things people believe deeply and strongly as true, objective, and ultimate matters.