(Part one of two on the apologetics offered by missionaries outside the Reason Rally)
I was about an hour late to the Reason Rally because I couldn’t resist stopping to talk to the Christian evangelists who were ringing the rally. The conversations probably went on longer than was productive (I’m bad at taking my own advice about walking away from arguments), but I thought there were some interesting tactics on display.
The biggest surprise? I heard more pitches for radical skepticism from the proselytizers than the atheists. One of the first evangelicals I talked to asked me if I’d been to the Library of Congress, and then asked me what percent of those works I would estimate that I had read. “How can you be so sure there’s no God,” he asked, “when there’s so much you don’t know? Isn’t that arrogant?
I asked him how much of the Library of Congress I’d need to read to have opinions about gravity (despite my geekery, I sure don’t understand the theoretical physics that explain my experience). He seemed surprised by the question, and we talked for a little bit longer about whether the standard of knowledge for philosophy and/or metaphysics should be different than for empirical questions.
I ran into this argument from radical uncertainty more than once from the Christians at the Reason Rally. It leaves me wondering whether the Christians are offering incomplete arguments because they are theists. They don’t have to worry as much about follow-up because they think that God is going to be the one to exploit any seeds of doubt they sow.
I’m pretty skittish around this kind of argument. For one thing, the kind of skepticism they’re promoting seems a lot more likely to result in nihilism than anything else, so I suspect they are applying it to truth-propositions unevenly. For another, I have a weakness for coherence. There’s a real relief in adhering to a formalized, well-fleshed out system, and it can be tempting to join up with a flawed one (that you’ll fix later!) to avoid being left alone to build up a whole philosophy yourself. There has to be some additional impetus to submit to a tradition (whether religious or philosophical) beside ideological loneliness.