Promoting confusion

A great feature of the scientific endeavour is that our ideas, hypotheses and theories are usually tested against reality. In fact we get very worried when we can’t do this. Consequently there has been some philosophical discussion and concern around speculative ideas or hypotheses like string theory (really hypotheses not theories) and the multiple universe ideas.

But, in some areas of philosophy and theology reality can safely be ignored. And here all sorts of weird and wonderful preconceived ideas can get justified  using a logic which basically boils down to mental gymnastics. I have always found debate with post modernists and theologians is a bit like jelly wrestling. Without reality to fall back on anything goes.

The philosopher of science Daniel Dennett gave an interesting talk, “The evolution of Confusion,” on theological justification at the Atheist Alliance International convention last month. Its based on his new project interviewing clergyman who secretly don’t believe anymore. Atheist clergymen are probably far more common than we might think. And all clergymen have problems in their profession which require theological arguments to resolve, or at least to patch up for the moment. This leads to a weird style of logic and argument – hence my feeling of jelly wrestling.

This is a fascinating talk. I understand the research will be published soon. Hopefully it will also be available in a popular format like a book.

Dan Dennett is the author of many excellent books, including “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon” and “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea“. He is also featured in the video “The Four Horsemen” along with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens.

‘The Evolution of Confusion’ by Dan Dennett, AAI 2009.
From ‘Dan Dennett talks about purposely-confusing theology and how it’s used. He also describes his new project interviewing clergyman who secretly don’t believe anymore, and introduces a new term: “Deepity.”‘


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10 responses to “Promoting confusion

  1. When you say “reality” above, you should really be saying “observations”. They’re not the same thing. Just saying.


  2. Certainly off topic, but hopefully interesting, is this serious challenge to the global warming hypothesis.

    Look forward to any comments on the article.


  3. Daniel – I guess one could build a long philosophical argument on this. But for those of us who do accept the existence of an objective reality – isn’t the observation what we use to check against reality? Often we can’t check until we get better observations (more precise, better technology, etc.).


  4. Pingback: Promoting confusion | Open Parachute

  5. Yes, it is a whole other discussion, and I didn’t want to change the post’s tack. Every obs has both error and truth; it is the best interpretation of reality possible.


  6. Thanks Ken, I enjoyed that talk from Dan Dennett.

    It also reminded me of a some of the discussion threads here on your blog, where people attempt to (re)define concepts to hide their beliefs from analysis or criticism. They are often using precisely the techniques that Dan Dennett exposes in the video.

    Introducing “transcendental” or “unknowable” areas into language is just a complete waste of time. These are just attempts to close the discussion, not at all attempts to communicate.


  7. Love the Armstrong quotes:

    God is the god behind god.

    God is not a being.

    Of course. Why didn’t I see it sooner? God is actually the second fiddle. And if Who is on first, then it must be What’s on second.


  8. Thank you Ken. Very good.


  9. Dennet is wonderful.
    I love how he talks about the seminary teaching their students stuff that did not get taught in Sunday School.
    Ah, how I wish “certain people” would watch this video.


  10. Pingback: Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance: The Metaphysics of Quality :: learnsigma

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