Sunday, January 29, 2012

An intellectual arms race

From time to time I do some reading in the more technical areas of philosophy (like epistemology or the philosophy of logic) where topics like truth and objectivity are dealt with in what appears to be an intellectually rigorous way. It all looks and feels very scientific, and of course various formal logical and mathematical systems are employed.

I am attracted to this sort of thing, but I keep pulling back from committing myself to it mainly because I keep finding apologists for religion amongst the ranks of philosophers and logicians. (The latest one I stumbled upon was Bas van Fraassen, a distinguished philosophical logician and a Roman Catholic.)

Of course not all logicians and philosophers have a religious or metaphysical agenda, but I tend to think that the whole structure of the discipline is dependent on these people, not because without them there would be fewer philosophers (that's another issue), but because they - the religious ones - are actually setting the agenda.

My suggestion is that if a group of intelligent secularists set out to deal with questions of truth and objectivity they would not feel compelled to elaborate the daunting intellectual theories which fill the bookshelves and the scholarly journals and which help to justify the continued existence of a profession devoted exclusively to these matters.

But, when you have a significant number of religiously-inclined thinkers involved, a kind of intellectual arms race ensues, with the sad, and ultimately truth-obscuring, results we have before us.

Of course, I am making the assumption that religious doctrines are false, but that's an assumption the truth of which I see no reason to doubt.