Your Daily Epistemology

I came across this passage in Sam Harris’ extended takedown of Obama’s appointee to head NIH Frances Collins’ attempt to reconcile science and Christian faith.

Elsewhere [Frances Collins] says that of “all the possible worldviews, atheism is the least rational” (Ibid, p. 231). I suspect that this will not be the last time a member of our species will be obliged to make the following point (but one can always hope): disbelief in the God of Abraham does not require that one search the entire cosmos and find Him absent; it only requires that one consider the evidence put forward by believers to be insufficient. Presumably Francis Collins does not believe in Zeus. I trust he considers this skeptical attitude to be fully justified. Might this be because there are no good reasons to believe in Zeus? And what would he say to a person who claimed that disbelief is Zeus is a form of “blind faith” or that of all possible worldviews it is the “least rational”?

I sometimes worry that the cause of secularism gets too caught up in the wrong debate. That is, Harris is right that the evidence supporting the existence of the God of Abraham as described in the Judeo-Christian faith is woefully lacking, but it doesn’t follow from this necessarily that god doesn’t exist at all. Indeed, all that can be logically inferred from Harris’ Zeus example is that it’s possible to form consensus that the evidence adducing the existence of a deity is insufficient. As such, it doesn’t particularly make sense to be waging the battle for secular values in these terms.

Rather, the point as far as secularism is concerned is that for all practical purposes, the evidence supporting the existence of the God of Abraham is so woefully lacking that arguments purporting to be based in reason but which nevertheless rely on assumptions of faith are groundless. To use Harris’ Zeus example, it doesn’t particularly matter whether or not Zeus exists, it matters that a belief in Zeus and the value of observable evidence are practically irreconciliable. Accordingly, Zeus’ perceived will has no place in arguments on which evidence is weighed by its observable or provable merit.

Anyway, to bring this back to public policy, the main issue is that if we decide that observation is a sufficiently good way to tackle public policy issues — and I believe it is — then superstition should be left out of the equation. Politicians who make arguments for public policies based in faith should have the intellectual honesty to at least admit they don’t find observed reality very convincing.


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