My daughter turned four months old yesterday, and I realized that since her birth, it is still getting more difficult, not less, to find time to write here. For a while, she was taking extended naps and encouraging my wife and me with indications she might be one of those low maintenance babies you sometimes hear about. She’s been disabusing us of that notion over the past month or so, unfortunately.
On the other hand, I have been simultaneously working on two substantial and heavily-researched posts—one on the legal and political legacy of the baby boomers, and another reviewing Lawrence Lessig’s Republic, Lost. These efforts, too, have contributed to the slow rate of posts of late.
In the meantime, I’ve long been meaning post a response to something Tod Kelly wrote in his “Confession” back in August:
I’ve always been somewhat suspicious of the entire business of capital “P” Philosophy, and at different times in my life have found it pretentious, distracting, purposefully exclusionary, and a linguistic tool to reshape reality when your belief system is proven to be wrong. Mostly though, my problem with Philosophy is its reliance on combat rather than collaboration. An example: In Jason’s recent post on the FOX Facebook page where thousands of Christians called for the death, rape and beating of atheists, I had what can best be described as a total disconnect with Tim Kowal. Tim’s initial assertion was that in order for my beliefs to count, I needed to come up with an entire system of epistemology, ethics and metaphysics that other atheists and agnostics could agree to*. Until I did this, Tim argued, we couldn’t debate and find a winner as to whose belief was correct. And while I grant that Tim’s approach to personal belief is quite common, I nonetheless find it an astoundingly bizarre way to approach a subject that is in turns a source of both communal connection and self-identity, deeply personal and often private.
. . . .
*For what it’s worth, I totally reject this supposition. If we are standing in my front yard and you insist there is a dragon across the street that we can’t detect, you might well need to use linguistic gymnastics to define “reality,” declare how we know things to be True, and create an entire metaphysical system whereby your assertion that a dragon no one can detect is really there is “proven.” I reject that I have to do the same to reject your proposition. You might say you’re just being intellectually honest, and I might say that you’re using cleverness to be intellectually dishonest. You say to-may-to…
Reading back through the comments in the post Tod is referring to here, perhaps there’s not much left to say. Besides, Tod’s “total disconnect” might not be with me only, but with Jason as well, evidenced when Tod asked, “Why do I have to create an entire metaphysical philosophy, just to say ‘no thank you” to you[r religion]?” and Jason answered, “ “You don’t have to. But if you want to be rigorous, to be philosophical about it, you should.” This certainly does not mean one’s beliefs “don’t count” short of meeting this intellectual burden. It just means that arguments in a debate about epistemology and metaphysics that lack intellectual rigor don’t count, or, at least, don’t count for much.
But given that Tod regards the topic as “deeply personal and often private,” it doesn’t feel right to press the point. Still, I do not like the thought of a “total disconnect.” As Tod raises the issue of “tribalism,” I can’t help but conclude he feels our respective tribes are positively unfriendly with one another. Granted, the “Christian tribe” is not going to be particularly friendly toward the “atheist tribe.” But certainly these two tribes are not monolithic. And Tod strikes me as the sort of person who relishes in finding commonalities between otherwise inapposite groups. (I like to think this describes me as well. For example, my last post concluded the Occupy movement and the Tea Party have some common ground.)
Establishing commonalities, however, requires careful scrutiny of each side’s presuppositions, metaphysics, world views, or first principles, whatever you like. Thus, I was disappointed that Tod apparently took me as being obstreperous or intentionally abstruse when I said “It is a precondition—if not directed by logic then certainly by the standards of fair and honest discourse—that if one is going to criticize another’s epistemology he reveal the terms of his own epistemology that make the criticism intelligible in the first place.” The point of this observation, after all, was to bridge the “total disconnect” between the two sides of the debate, not to create one.
I was encouraged, at least, that Mr. Likko took my statements in the spirit in which they were intended by recognizing that rejecting the existence of God is something quite other than rejecting the existence of “a dragon across the street” or “virgins in Newport Beach,” and offered the possible beginnings of an atheistic metaphysics based on Platonic Forms. Again, I grant that finding common ground here is exceptionally difficult. In all my years having this debate, I have found exactly one other person like Burt who was willing to engage the metaphysical problems at issue. But I am gratified to know that, even here, lightning can strike twice.