A little epistemic humility would go a long way

Jerry Coyne quoted Tom Clark the other day; I want to quote another passage from the same article, ‘Reality and Its Rivals: Putting Epistemology First’.

Of course, many non-empirically based convictions are relatively harmless as guides to behavior so long as they’re confined to our private lives. Beliefs in god, astrology, psychic powers, cosmic consciousness and so forth can be the epistemic equivalent of victimless crimes. But the presumption of such beliefs – that there are reliable alternatives to empiricism – isn’t so benign when carried into the public arena…To imagine that one’s worldview, whether religious or secular, is beyond disconfirmation helps to license an absolutism which brooks no dissent and countenances the demonization of those with different ideas…A little epistemic humility would go a long way toward reducing the ideological tribalism underlying the culture wars. (What’s ironic is that populist suspicion of bi-coastal know-it-alls gets it precisely backwards: empiricists are just those who realize they don’t know it all.

The whole article is an excellent antidote to all the muddle about naturalism and supernaturalism and methdological versus philosophical naturalism that’s been splashing around lately, ever since Chris Mooney got the urge to lecture Jerry Coyne on civility to theists. Enjoy.

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