Tuesday, 1 November 2016

The Principle of Charity and the Principle of Ridicule/Incredulity

- Bruce Long

Godists and mystics get away with a lot under the auspices of the principle of charity, and because of the pragmatism of others. A lot that they probably shouldn't, that is. Why? Because people bend over backwards to accommodate their views to the misapprehension that it is necessary and that godists think the same way, or that if godists don't think that way we should be better, or else that every kind of idea deserves a fair hearing on an equal footing.

In philosophy, it is an important part of the discipline to deploy the principle of charity in one's argumentation. Simply stated, it means that one does not discount one's opponent's argument on an ad hominem basis or due to - say - cultural trends, popular opinion, dogma, or arguments from authority. The principle of charity keeps us honest - and guards against error - in the same way as does properly understanding the opponent's argument to the extent that one can re-express it fluently.

However, when one's opponent starts to claim that their position cannot be argued with or understood on the basis that it is a divine mystery, that it involves magic, or that you need to be not only an expert in some esoteric or spiriturally/mystically acquired ability in order to be able to interpret it: then the principle of charity is not appropriate anymore. I propose that, under those conditions, a principle of ridicule or incredulity must come into play.

A principle of ridicule or incredulity should be deployed when the opponent substitutes magic or inaccessible mystery in the place of argumentation and reference to external and objective support that is independent of their own position (does not beg the question per the philosophical definition of not appealing to one's conclusion as a premise). Instead of assuming the opponent has a sound understanding of the contingent issues and premises, one should assume that basically - they have nothing.

For example - you do not in fact have to be an expert in any kind of theology to criticise that theology, nor to identify its logical and moral inconsistencies, or just its general incoherence and ridiculousness. You certainly don't have to be mysteriously internally inspired on some unquantifiable basis. You don't have to be a mechanic to know when your car has a certain kind of problem. You don't need to be an alchemist to know that alchemy is bunkum. You do not need to believe in astrology to realise that the alignment of the planets at the time of your birth has nothing to do with your personality and psyche - notwithstanding some kind of random and non-regular epigenetic or in utero effects due to radiation or something.

You don't need to be a Hitler scholar or a Nazi to know that Nazism is both anti-semitic (as in the anti the people - not the faith), and you do not have to be a racist to call out the KKK. You do not have to be a Hindu scholar to know that the Caste system is both bigoted, vile, and oppressive. In fact, the latter example demonstrates that Hindu scholars must be suffering from biases due to their a-priori religiously based assumptions.

Likewise, you do not need to be a theologian to know that Islam and Christianity are unbelievably bigoted. These comparisons are not apples and oranges in terms of what is relevant. The abductive argument here is exactly salient. The similarities are relevant.

Some things simply have the property of being ridiculous, and we should not try to deny it. Grue round squares, Pauline Hanson, Answers in Genesis, Islamic feminism, and Ted Cruz for example: all patently ridiculous and mostly illogical.

But maybe it is different when it comes to - say - the origins of life and the universe? Surely no one knows enough to really say whether there is a god or not? Well - putting aside the important detail that specific religious propositions about what god would look like do not follow from the possibility of the existence of some kind of intelligent designer: let's run a miniature dialectic as a kind of caricature of the debate.

Atheist: Evolution is the best explanation for the origins of life, and some kind of cumulative process that resulted in the appropriate kinds of physical complexity is the best possible explanation for the existence of the cosmos.
Godist: Nothing comes from nothing - and certainly not functional complexity. Your evolutionary processes would have to come from God.
Atheist: How do you know that nothing comes from nothing? Moreover, what is nothing? Is it even possible? Maybe there has always been something.
Godist: Yes. God.
Atheist: So why is this complex and somewhat moody god thingy lying around?
Godist: God has always existed.
Atheist:  Did it evolve?
Godist: No. God has always been the same.
Atheist: Well, something that does not change cannot process any information or do anything at all, so technically your god being would have to change, but how is the existence of such an entity more likely than complexity arising out of simple structures over vast amounts of time?
Godist: God. A miracle?
Atheist: And why did that happen?
Godist: God.
Atheist: And the basis for this 'God' thing's existence is?
Godist: God.

The atheist is not deploying needless Pyrrhonism here (just asking 'why?' over and over again like a mischievous toddler). The godist is simply being ridiculously circular. The questions are more than fair.

That the Godist's answers sound like the chanting of a perseverating psychotic on heavy medication are an indication that the principle of incredulity now needs to be deployed.

The Godist is not owed the principle of charity here, and nor is an assertion of the requirements of theological expertise an out. A gloss on a ridiculous circularity doesn't diminish the nature of the ridiculous circularity.

What the godist is owed is ridicule.

If they claim that theolgical expertise is a prerequisite for understanding, then the incredulity should be greater. The basis of the theological discipline is what is being challenged in the first place.