Reverse epistemology

Anthony Appiah notes in The Ethics of Identity p. 86:

Many accomodationists are also concerned that courts often fail to respect religious beliefs – fail to respect what [Stephen] Carter terms the ‘alternative epistemology’ of the church. What we haven’t understood, we’re told, is that religion demands an ‘epistemology of its own’ – that it is ‘really an alien way of knowing the world – alien, at least, in a political and legal culture in which reason supposedly rules.’

There is a note on page 301:

In this spirit, Carter advises that ‘[g]iven its starting point and its methodology, creationism is as rational an explanation as any other.’ It runs into trouble only because its starting point and methodology ‘reflect an essential axiom – literal inerrancy – that is not widely shared. In this sense, the wrongness of creationism becomes a matter of power: yes, it is wrong because proved wrong, but it is proved wrong only in a particular epistemological universe.’

Yes; the right one. And creationism isn’t ‘proved’ wrong – but then Carter is a lawyer, not a biologist or a philosopher, and lawyers do talk about proof.

[A]t the end of the day, Carter suggests, only might makes right: ‘We win because you lose. We have the power and you don’t. On such distinctions, all too often, is the modern notion of truth premised.’

Appiah wryly expresses doubt that fundamentalist will be grateful for Carter’s ‘stout defense of their rationality,’ because it sounds too dang much like that pesky relativism stuff.

One cannot take another person’s view seriously as a competitor for the truth about the one world we all share by allowing that it is proceeding by a different epistemology. For that puts aside the question whether it is a sound epistemology, a good way of getting at the truth.

Yeah. And it isn’t. Starting from literal inerrancy isn’t a good way of getting at the truth. It’s quite a bad way, as a matter of fact.

‘Alternative epistemology’ forsooth. Reformed, alternative, different – new, improved, diverse, multicultural, sympathetic, postcolonialist – give it up. Adjectival epistemology just isn’t the way to go.

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