So, since introducing this series, I have identified five elements which might be considered my “dogma” – things that I cannot prove with reason and evidence from other, more basic principles.
Claims about reality:
R1. Induction. (What has come before can tell us something about what to expect next.)
R2. Other people exist.
R3. Non-just-nowism. (The world is not a trick designed to deceive us.)
V1. People matter.
V2. Truth matters.
Ultimately, I can only support these by saying, “I choose this.” I do not say this with apology or sheepishness: everyone has basic beliefs. In fact, I think most people share these specific basic beliefs, or some other set that includes them. (Please let me know if you or someone else actually rejects any of these, and why.)
I have also pointed out a few things that have been claimed as points of secular dogma, but are not:
a. How to reason.
b. The methods and conclusions of science (including materialism).
And finally, I have noted some common things that religious people add to the above list of basic beliefs in order to hold their more elaborate (and, I think, more vulnerable to refutation) worldviews:
i. God exists (and has various definite properties or traits).
ii. Sacred scriptures communicate important truths about reality.
iii. Inner feelings can directly reveal cosmic truths.
If you think I have missed some point of dogma that I hold, or misrepresented one of the ones listed above, please tell me about it. If you think I have overstated the case for religious dogmas, please let me know how I’ve misstepped.
But in the end, what is the point of this?
At one level it is simply a response to those who accuse atheists and other skeptics of having as much faith as the believers (or more). My contention, given the above, is that I (and most humanists and atheists) have fewer assumptions than religious people. We accept less on faith than they do – though I acknowledge that we must all accept some things “on faith”.
To which most of you will respond “Obviously!” … In my defense, though, I wrote all of this because it is clearly not obvious to an astonishing number of the (religiously) faithful. One example prominent in my mind is Lesslie Newbigin, the author of a book I am currently reading with a friend.
At another level, I think the current undertaking is valuable as an exercise in introspection. It is common for atheists and other skeptics to assert that others take things on faith, but we don’t. This is a simplification. One goal of skepticism – an important and valuable goal – is to take less on faith, but nobody can entirely escape the burden of basic assumptions. It is important to be aware of our assumptions – not only to help us guard against wrong or unnecessary elements in our basic beliefs, but also in order that we can respond with appropriate frankness and, yes, humility, when confronted by claims (accusations?) that we, too, use faith.
So: introspection, self-knowledge, humility, and an appropriate basis for responding to our neighbours. I think this was worth six not-too-long posts. Here are some questions I have for you:
- Do you agree that avoiding unnecessary assumptions is a worthwhile goal?
- When you examine your own beliefs, do you find similar assumptions to mine? More? Fewer? Different?
- I thought before starting this series that I’d come up with two or three basic assumptions, and I found five. Do you think I could (or should) pare my list down?
- Do you think I actually have more assumptions I haven’t acknowledged? Please let me know.