Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Some Thoughts on Atheism, II: Knowledge v. Opinion


Yesterday we saw that atheists (if they are being honest) hold their beliefs by faith just as much as believers in a deity.  The catch here for both atheists and theists, and the cause of much of the acrimony today over many things, not just religion, is that opinion may or may not be true, whereas knowledge is certainly true.

Mortimer J. Adler, cir. 1910.
This is not surprising.  Mortimer Adler identified the confusion over the difference between knowledge and opinion as one of the most damaging, even dangerous “philosophical mistakes” of the modern age.  (Mortimer J. Adler, Ten Philosophical Mistakes. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1985, 83-107.)

The problem with religious believers is that some of them tend to base matters that properly belong to reason, on faith.  The intellectually flabby attacks on non-believers (or, especially, other believers who don’t appear to believe exactly as the believer thinks they ought) that consist of quoting Biblical passages or papal encyclicals as if that proved something other than a lack of rigor or even honesty on the part of the believer are a case in point.

First Vatican Council defined infallibility
One egregious example is Catholics who insist that something is true because the pope said so.  They ignore the fact that “infallibility” doesn’t mean that something is true because the pope said so, but that the pope said so because Catholics believe it to be true.

You may have to do a lot of digging to identify the specific error of such believers (particularly because it is easy to agree with them in many cases), but it always comes down to a private interpretation of something they have decided to accept as God’s personal revelation to them, without reference to facts or logic.  This leads to an inevitable parting of the ways, usually with cries of outrage and various accusations by the “betrayed” believer, who doesn’t realize (or doesn’t want to realize) that the betrayal — of reason, faith, and common sense — was his.

#30#

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