The Testing of Assertions
August 17, 2009
Hardly anyone is going to openly defend muddled thinking or disrespect for evidence. Rather, what people do is to surround these practices with a fog of verbiage designed to conceal from their listeners – and in most cases, I would imagine, from themselves as well - the true implications of their way of thinking. George Orwell got it right when he observed that the main advantage of speaking and writing clearly is that “when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself.”
Further to this, this, this and any number of things in the archive, the following may be of interest. Here’s Alan Sokal, speaking in Stockholm, May 2009, on the scientific worldview - and its opponents. Targets include practitioners of pseudo-medicine, theologians and the priestly caste of postmodernist bamboozlers. It’s a long speech and Sokal’s own leftist reflexes intrude a little too often, especially towards the end, but there are nuggets to be had. There’s an amusing schtick involving the substitution of theological fuzzwords with something more direct, and this, on religious truth claims:
Each religion makes scores of purportedly factual assertions about everything from the creation of the universe to the afterlife. But on what grounds can believers presume to know that these assertions are true? The reasons they give are various, but they ultimately boil down to one: because our holy scriptures say so. But how, then, do we know that our holy scriptures are free from error? Because the scriptures themselves say so. Now, theologians specialise in weaving elaborate webs of verbiage to avoid saying anything quite so bluntly, but this gem of circular reasoning really is the epistemological bottom line on which all “faith” is grounded. In the words of Pope John Paul II: “By the authority of His absolute transcendence, God who makes Himself known is also the source of the credibility of what He reveals.” It goes without saying that this begs the question of whether the texts at issue really were authored or inspired by God, and on what grounds one knows this. “Faith” is not in fact a rejection of reason, but simply a lazy acceptance of bad reasons. “Faith” is the pseudo-justification that some people trot out when they want to make claims without the necessary evidence.
Via James S.