Getting Along: Civil Disagreements with a Thinking Christian
Tom Gilson at Thinking Christian was kind enough to offer a critique of Reality and its rivals, an article that discusses the justifications for intersubjective empiricism (exemplified by science) as our most reliable way of knowing, how empiricism tends to support naturalism, and the ethical obligation we have to one another to be empiricists (and thus, perhaps, naturalists). He then invited me to a debate in three parts, which you can read here.
I won’t reprise the arguments since the disagreements are perhaps less important than the tone of the discourse, which was pretty amicable. Since it’s unlikely that unanimity on the fundamental questions that worldviews address will ever be achieved, it’s crucial that worldview adversaries share a belief in live-and-let-live tolerance, otherwise things can get very nasty, as the history of ideological conflict shows. They should agree that maintaining an irenic philosophical pluralism is more important than achieving world domination for their worldview, because that’s simply not achievable given human diversity. Better we disagree peacefully than try to enforce an untenable uniformity.
I wrapped up my contributions by noting all the common ground that had come to light during the debate. I’ll quote that and the end of Tom Gilson’s reply, just as an example of how focusing on commonalities helps to generate cross-ideological comity. To put it succinctly and imperatively: everybody play nice!
…But what I’ve learned from this debate is that we agree about those [epistemic] commitments more than I expected. We agree that “first person data” – for instance the subjective experience of being embraced by God – aren’t alone adequate to prove the claim of God’s existence. We agree (I think) that intersubjective evidence using public objects is necessary to justify that claim to persons not having such experience. We agree that history and philosophy have intersubjective elements to them, and we agree (I think) that one can’t simply reason one’s way to God: philosophical arguments supporting God’s existence involve premises about how the world actually is in various respects (otherwise you wouldn’t be interested in history or science, which of course you are). We also agree that there are unsolved mysteries about how the world works, that dogmatism is to be avoided, and that argument, not force, is the best way to resolve worldview differences. And if they can’t be resolved, we agree that we can still live peacefully together in an open society (my cardinal value). So all told we agree on a lot, and for that and the very civil discourse I’ve encountered here, I’m most grateful.
...I continue to hold that God can communicate his reality to persons in a private manner, and that he does so, and that the shared reality of that experience among believers is as valid as persons’ shared experience of “red.” This is in addition to, not instead of, external inter-subjective validations.
I agree that there is epistemological value in your two requirements [the insulation and public object requirements], but I hold that to place complete reliance on them is self-defeating. I think you probably have agreed with that in the end, but I’m not entirely sure.
This has been an interesting discussion. There’s room for more response here, and (whether this is good news to you or not I don’t know!) I have two further topics to address from your epistemology article, relating to meaning and ethics, so I’ll take those up in blog posts before long. I appreciate your excellent interaction!