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The truth of my truthiness July 18, 2011

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
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Way back in the stone ages, also known as 2009, I posted some thoughts about religion on this blog (I know, shocking!).  Riding the memetic wave of “truthiness” which was all the rage back then (ah, the good ol’ days…), I wrote a piece called Truthiness of Religion to rave reviews, mass popularity, and numerous awards…which I turned down and subsequently requested never to be publicized that I was offered such prestigious recognition…because I’m humble….   Also, that mass popularity has seemed to have been forgotten, almost as if it never actually happened.  Strange….

Let’s just let that subject drop, m’kay?

I had not forgotten about the piece, but I didn’t expect it to receive any attention either.  It was just one of hundreds of posts that sits in the archives of posts here, many of which are occasionally discovered by some internet surfer (I might be going to far into the stone age with that usage…).  But in the last few days, this particular post inspired not one, not two, but three responses!

OK, that’s an exaggeration.  In reality it was a three-part (and they are all short) response from one blogger; a Presbyterian pastor in New York by the name of Herb Swanson.  So, here are the three parts:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Now, I don’t want to respond in full yet.  The reason is that I have emailed Pastor Swanson and he has said he will get back to me.  I will quote my email to him in its entirety below, as I think all the salient points are hit upon there:

I discovered your post in response to mt comments about truthiness and religion.  I was interested in commenting because I think you got two essential facts wrong about my views, but you don’t seem to allow comments on your blog (which is unfortunate, because it does not allow for dialogue or genuine openness.  Much like a sermon; no questions or comments from the audience.)

You said, on part I:

The reason they are so angry at each other is because they are fighting over common territory, which they both agree is “the truth.”  They both think about truth in absolute terms.  The new atheists believe that there is only one truth, which is the truth of science.  For them science is an absolutely dependable method for discovering the truth.  The literalists posit their absolute truth in the “facts” of their faith.  There is no room for dialogue with either group.  We best leave them to their war.

This is not true.  I am not an absolutist in any way.  I recognize the slipperiness of truth (I’m a philosopher).  I believe that science, far from being absolute, is probabilistic and gives us tentative conclusions.  These tentative conclusions, called theories, become less tentative the longer they survive scrutiny.   Occasionally, with great effort and verification, our theories become better an better.  A classic example is the fact of gravity and its explanation.  Einstein’s improvement of our understanding, the theory of relativity, is better than Newton’s explanation.  Newtons observations are still pragmatically true for every-day uses, but it’s not “True.”  Quite possibly, Einstein’s general relativity will be improved upon, and so until then it is our best explanation and works for levels of description bordering on our current understanding.  One we have a better understanding of string theory and such, some new genius might add more fine detail to the theories explaining gravity and the other fundamental forces.  So General relativity is only “true” in the sense that it is the current best explanation which has been repeatedly verified.  No other explanation is better than it.  That’s what truth is, for me.  This is not an absolutist’s position at all.

Therefore, I do not claim any absolute truth but I do say that the claims of supernaturalism do not pass skeptical analysis.  The burden of proof is on the claimant (e.g. you), and I am not convinced so far, despite earnest attempts to understand. 

Also, you claim that we are not worth talking to.  The funny thing is that we are not generally interested in dialogue with the literalists because they are so different from us.  The canard that we are like them, just on the other side of the issue, is one we are getting tired of.  Not only are we not absolutists (which they tend to be), we share almost nothing with them other than the superficial similarity of the desire for truth; I say superficial because their methodology is terrible for attaining any.  Our methodologies for truth (our epistemology) are drastically different, hence our different conclusions.  They talk of truth a lot, but they don’t have any justification to back up that use.  You cannot say the same thing about science. And if you think you can, then you are falling prey to the postmodernist relativism of modern intellectual thought.  And no, relativism and absolutism are not the two dichotomies from which one can draw a false seed of my own demise.  In other words, if one is not an absolutist, they are not, therefore, a relativist.  That is sophomoric at best (just in case you had that thought….)

In part II, you say:

McGonigal then distinguishes between two states of mind, the first this creative one and the second a critical or analytical state of mind.  Only the second state leads to truth. 

This is also not true, at least not completely.  I recognize that good art has much to teach us, and we learn much through it.  Creativity is a source for truth, but it cannot, on its own, determine that something is true.  I think that distinction is essential here.  I only think that we need to verify the things we learn via skepticism when they make claims about the nature of reality.  Quite often, things learned from creative impulses are true without much need for verification, and other times even when this seems to be the case, it is due to some cognitive error due to our poorly evolved truth-detection machines in our head. 

But more importantly, I do not think we can make a clean distinction between creativity and reason.  The notion that we can is based upon an ancient idea derived from Plato, and recent neuroscience shows that the two attributes are linked in more ways than we are consciously aware.  This is true not only with moral thinking, but with so called “pure reason” (a fiction that even the great Kant was susceptible).  There is no pure reasoning, nor is there any pure feeling; that is too simplistic a categorization of what goes on in our heads.

Later in the same post, you say:

McGonigal believes that physical reality is reality.  Anything pertaining to the emotions or the a-rational is not real, not true.  Only physical realities can be true.

I want to clarify here.  I believe that emotions, in fact all experience, is a part of physical reality.  I just believe that sometimes what our body/brain come sup with in terms of experience is not always a mirror of any real thing outside of it, however.  That is, the experiences are real, but the simulations that are represented are not always simulations of real things.  We can simulate reality, but we also make grave errors in perceptions, whether via optical illusions or otherwise. Our brains are very easily fooled, as people such as James Randi and other magicians have taught us.

I could comment on more, but most of part III think you might guess what I would say.  Well, given how poorly you understand the “new atheist” position, based upon your comments in your posts, I will not make that assumption.  I will, nonetheless, leave it alone.  If you wish to discuss that we can do so.

The fact that you don’t leave these posts open to public comment, indicates that you are the one who does not want dialogue.  You think there is no talking to us, but you don’t even try.  You make assumptions about what we think rather than ask, and when you do make those assumptions, you do not allow a public forum for us to respond.

I’ve never seen an atheist blog that does not allow comments.  I’ve seen many Christian blogs that do as you do.  That speaks volumes about our relative interest in dialogue.

I will hope to get some actual dialogue going with him, because he is just another theist who seems to have a lot of misinformation about what new atheism is all about.  I’m thinking that I will also have to alert him to my new project, which is intended for people like him and his congregation.  I will post any further developments about our correspondence in coming days.

(BTW, I’m still in correspondence with Dr. Robert Benne.  Right now, not much to report on, just having a discussion about epistemology at the moment.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here is some linkage: one, two, and three)

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Comments»

1. Pastor Herb Swanson rationalizes his cowardice « The atheist, polyamorous, skeptic - July 18, 2011

[…] a post from earlier today (which, by the time this is published, will be tomorrow), I linked a three part response to an old […]


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