Saturday, May 22, 2010

Saturday Quote

"Only religion could suppose an unjustified certainty to be an improvement on ignorance." ~Victor Stenger, Philosophy Now, Issue 78, What's New About the New Atheism?


4 comments:

E said...

I can't make sense of this.

He must really mean that only religion could suppose an unjustified certainty to be *knowledge*?

Actually, I'm still confused: he probably doesn't think "the religious" understand themselves to have knowledge on "religious" matters.

Which of "the religious" understand themselves to hold to "unjustified certainties"?

(And BTW, what is *religion*? Is there really such a thing as religion in the way that he seems to suppose there is? I'm skeptical.)

In any case, a quick Google of Stenger reveals that his last book was called "God: The Failed Hypothesis". How embarrassing for him. This precisely the kind of mistake that characterizes new-atheism. (Even if it also characterizes, hmmm, let's call them new-theists.)

*Hangs head*

E said...

Dear Mr. Stenger:

Did you stop to consider whether traidtional Christian theology puts forward God as a hypothesis?

Do you really think the only options before us are: (1) successful hypotheses, OR (2) "unjustified certainties"?

Kane Augustus said...

Ed,

Just a quick point of clarification: Stenger's latest book was The New Atheism. It was published in 2009.

In any case, I will elaborate on Stenger's point in an upcoming article. His approach is evidentialist, but he fails in his approach because he offers no evidence for his opposing point of view. So saying, he can't rely on the all-trap of burdening the theist because has no justification for his own position, aside from hypothesis.

Second, (and this is where his approach is stronger), he couches his evidentialism in the analytic tradition of linguistic philosophy -- a tradition I am fond of, but wary about at the same time. If words cannot be defined to correlate to anything useful and evidential, then they are meaningless and should be discarded. For example, 'god' is really not definable because defining 'god' requires some understanding of God's nature, which even classical theism says is beyond human capacity. Hence the agnosticism underwriting theism and bolstering Stenger's atheism.

E said...

"If words cannot be defined to correlate to anything useful and evidential, then they are meaningless and should be discarded."

A now positively antiquated strategy. (All the rage, what, 60 years ago?) Try to settle a controversial philosophical issue (the divine) with another (semantics). Still, let the argument proceed afresh. Confession: for the life of me I can't imagine he'll manage to squeeze any fresh milk from that dry old philosophical teat.

"'god' is really not definable because defining 'god' requires some understanding of God's nature"

There's a technical sense in which this is true: a sense which I suspect is entirely beyond Stenger. We CAN say, for example, that God is pure actuality and immaterial. (These are statements of negative-theology.) Though, again, I'm pretty sure Stenger has no grasp of what it is to be immaterial in the relevant sense. (Not ghosty mist, but completely non-composite.)