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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Monday, October 18, 2010

A coda on Ruse and Kitcher

Ruse says that Christians can say:

We don't accept African medicine. Why should we accept African religion? As a non-believer you may not think much of these arguments, but the point is that the Christian does. And unless you are prepared to give Christians the possibility of such an argument here, as I am and Kitcher is not, then they are not going to be interested.

But why should Kitcher say something in which religious believers - people who have supernatural beliefs - are "interested"? Kitcher rejects supernatural beliefs. He argues against them. True, he is prepared to go a bit soft on people whom he sees as merely "doctrinally entangled" as long as the latter don't try to impose supernatural beliefs - or ideas that are based on them - on others. But it's not Kitcher's fundamental goal to accommodate supernatural beliefs, and nor should it be.

At the same time, the issue here is not about [giving] Christians the possibility of such an argument. Christians can say what they want. They have freedom of speech, and I don't see how Kitcher is trying to take it away from them. Admittedly, Kitcher doesn't think that Christians (of the genuinely believing kind) have good arguments, but neither does Ruse! So I can't work out what Ruse is trying to convey. Perhaps the point is that if you accept the NOMA principle you think that any religious views are just plain illegitimate from the beginning unless they are confined to morality and the meaning of life. But Kitcher doesn't accept the NOMA principle. He thinks that's there's supernatural religion around, that it's real religion, and that it's false. That's very different from Gould's NOMA position.

In the end, how much more is Ruse saying than, "Religion is false, but we shouldn't say so"? And is that really the sort of thing that can coherently be said to the public? I could say it at a dinner party to a bunch of fellow atheists, but once Ruse says it in the Huffington Post ... the game's up isn't it? Ruse is not only endorsing atheism but even the thrust of Kitcher's arguments for it.

These meta-debates about what we can say do get tricky ...

1 comment:

Ophelia Benson said...

Well, frankly, what Ruse seems to be saying is that he thinks supernatural religion is false but that it is somehow wicked to say that in a way different from the way he says it and that he is a fine fellow for saying it but other people are rotters for saying it. That's all I can make of it, anyway - one minute he is boasting of his atheism and the next minute he is boasting of his hatred of atheism. Either way there's a lot of boasting.