East of the Border

José mentioned the resort to fuzzy and misleading analogies that sophisticated theists resort to. I’ve been thinking, and scribbling notes, about that for a day or two. It’s true. There are fuzzy misleading analogies that crop up over and over again. I’m short on time at the moment, so will just say a couple of things, and go on at more length tomorrow.

There is for instance another version of the ‘separate sphere’ argument. That ‘science’ (never explicitly defined, and always cited in such a way that it’s implicitly defined far too narrowly) is in one sphere and poetry, art, morality, meaning and similar (often including things like love) are in another, along with of course religion. But if one thinks about it, that’s an odd way to draw the map. I could just as easily draw a quite different map, or several different maps, with the borders in quite different places. With science and all other kinds of empirical inquiry in one sphere and perhaps art, poetry, meaning and religion in another. Or with empirical inquiry and secular activities such as art and poetry along with emotion in one, and religion and ‘meaning’ in another. Or with all the terms except religion on one side and religion all by itself on the other. It all depends on which criteria you use to decide who goes on which side, doesn’t it.

And that gets into the misleading analogy aspect. Poetry and literature are great favourites for this – but that is indeed a bad analogy. There is a reason fiction is called ‘fiction’ for instance. Because it’s fiction. Surely an enormously important difference between literature and religion is that literature does not claim to be true in the way that religion does. Nobody talks about having ‘faith’ in Anna Kareninina or Macbeth. Nobody reproaches presidential candidates for not mentioning Elizabeth Bennett or Don Quixote often enough. Nobody ends a campaign speech with ‘Hamlet bless you.’ It’s a very tendentious matter where that border should be drawn, as it so often is with borders. It’s a victory for the theist side if as many items as possible are included on their side – in short everything except laboratory science. But one could argue that none of the items really belong there – except possibly ‘meaning.’ I have some thoughts on that, but they’ll have to wait.

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