Truth or otherwise
Something I wonder about – Jonathan Derbyshire commenting on something Chris Dillow said:
“I should stress here that my beef is not with religion as such. It’s about the role it should play in politics. In an egalitarian polity, in which people should be persuaded rationally of policies, religion should have no place – even if it is true. Religion might motivate political beliefs, but it shouldn’t, and needn’t, be the public justification for them.”
In other words, the truth or otherwise of religious beliefs is irrelevant to the question whether they should play a role in public deliberation. So the putatively religious roots of Gordon Brown’s egalitarianism oughtn’t to worry us so long as they play no role in his public justifications for it.
Is the truth or otherwise of religious beliefs really irrelevant to the question whether they should play a role in public deliberation? I’m not so sure. But it’s tricky – because what’s really relevant is not just whether or not the beliefs are true but whether or not we know they’re true (or not true), and whether we all know it, and how we know it and how confidently we know it. In other words, it’s a reliable knowledge issue again. It has to be. Why, in an egalitarian polity, in which people should be persuaded rationally of policies, should religion have no place? Because rational persuasion can get no foothold in the absence of reliable knowledge. What’s needed for rational persuasion is not just truth but also reliable knowledge of the truth. But both are needed – if we have reliable knowledge and what we reliably know is that the religious beliefs in question are not true, then surely that’s not irrelevant.