Daily Maverick Religion Science

What would it take to prove you wrong?

As submitted to The Daily Maverick

Metaphysical claims involving things like the Law of Attraction, astrology or homeopathy all share at least one feature: It’s very easy to find evidence for them. There exist a broad set of claims for which this holds true, and they are often collected under the summary term of pseudoscience. Pseudoscientific claims make predictions or offer explanations just as scientific claims do. Where they differ is in failing to offer a robust set of underlying laws, or even hypotheses, which can be empirically shown to justify those predictions or explanations.

Daily Maverick Morality Religion

The dangers of tolerance

As published in The Daily Maverick, a companion piece to my previous post entitled Suffer the little children (some overlapping content, sorry).

Julian Barnes’ novel “Nothing To Be Frightened Of” opens with the sentence “I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him”. This echoes a question asked by Daniel Dennett in “Breaking The Spell” – that of whether we care more about being able to believe that our beliefs are true, or about those beliefs actually being true.

We might have rational doubts about all sorts of beliefs, yet still want them to be true. Or find value in living our lives under the assumption that they are true. It would be impossible – or at least exceedingly difficult – to live your life feeling that your job was meaningless, that you were not loved or that you had no free will and no actual soul, despite the fact that one or more of those statements may be true. We seem to seek out (and perhaps that indicates need) some transcendence or metaphysics in our lives.

But those desires and/or needs do not make their objects true or real. We need to bear in mind the possibility that certain beliefs serve a social or psychological function only, and that “belief in belief” may take us as far as we can go. In other words, that no value is added by insisting on the actual truth of some of our beliefs. In particular, we need to contemplate the possibility that treating some beliefs as literally true could be harmful, rather than neutral.