Other ways of evaluating truth claims

Josh Rosenau did a second post about ways of knowing and vampires and knowledge and a whole slew of other things – a very long, tangled, complicated post that still didn’t manage to clarify what he is trying to say, which is why I asked a couple of questions as soon as I’d read the post, but answer came there none. As Josh Slocum pointed out yesterday, trying to get clarification from Rosenau is very like trying to get clarification from Chris Mooney – hopelessly futile. This is especially ironice because he says ‘I think there’s some sort of progress underway in the comments to my original post.’ Well if he thinks that why doesn’t he help out a little more?

It’s hard to find a claim that’s clear enough to dispute – but here is one:

My view is that science has no monopoly on truth claims nor on knowledge, and that other ways of evaluating truth claims are not problematic so long as they are not imposed on others, and don’t interfere with anyone’s ability to pursue their own course.

Since he didn’t bother to limit that very sweeping claim, we might as well assume he really did mean that his view is that all other ways of evaluating truth claims are non-problematic under the stipulated conditions. If that is what he meant, he committed himself to saying that other ways of evaluating truth claims, no matter how ludicrous and incompetent, are okay in schools and universities, in factories and on construction sites, in journalism and scholarship, in hospitals and courtrooms, in government and business, in social life and conversation, in everyday practical problem-solving and grocery shopping. So the idea is that people just getting everything wildly wrong all over the place because they’re using other ways of evaluating truth claims is perfectly all right provided there’s no imposition or interference.

Well, I don’t actually think he does think that – I don’t for a second think he’s that batty. But that is what he said! And that’s the problem with this whole project of his – he seems to be incapable of pinning down his own meaning carefully enough that he can manage to avoid making batty claims. But that is exactly the problem you run into when you start trying to defend “other ways of knowing” – either you’re so vague that no one can figure out what you’re saying or you make claims that are simply ridiculous.

This is the risk the NCSE takes if it commits itself to claiming that religion and science are epistemically compatible. Either it has to talk meaningless fluff, which seems amateurish and humiliating, or it has to talk plain nonsense, which seems inimical to science education.

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