Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Emperor's New Clothes

The fable of the emperor's new clothes has never made any sense to me. Supposedly this guy has these new clothes that nobody cans see. Somehow because he is an emperor nobody dares tell him the clothes don't exist. I can't understand how that is in any way plausible to anyone. So much so that by the time we get to the climax the story is too detached from any possible reality to have anything to say about anything.

Yet somehow modern culture loves this story. Why? Modern thinkers are like little children. They inherit a great western intellectual tradition. Yet they love to thumb their nose at centuries of serious scholarship without even trying to understand it. Saying, "The emperor has no clothes!" is just a great way to do that. It asserts a completely implausible stupidity on the part of everyone else. Somehow because there is an implausible fable to illustrate your implausible theory then you can get away with it.

Of course this line of reasoning has been used to write off religion quite frequently. I would say it is a mistake even if you are not inclined to believe in God. I tend to think the foundational teachings of Islam are false. Does that mean everything a Muslim writes can be ignored? Not at all. You assume people are not crazy. The Emperor story has the implicit assumption that everyone else is crazy. So crazy that they cannot even recognize a naked man when they see one.

So when you come to a modern skeptic and talk about God they don't consider in the plausibility factor the reality of so many people throughout history have believed in God. In fact, many would be more willing to accept the idea of God if you were the first one ever to advance such a notion. New ideas are inherently more plausible because ... well just because.

Now it occurs to me that this post could be turned around. I am saying modern skepticism has no clothes. So I don't want to assume all modern skeptics are just crazy. That would be committing the same fallacy I am accusing them of.

In modern times we are more aware of the many different ideas around religion and morality. We can see biases and unquestioned assumptions have led to some problems. So we try and question our own belief system more intensely. But there is a difference between questioning and expecting an answer and simply assuming nobody asks this question and just dismissing the whole thing.

There is an idea out there that people of faith don't ask questions. True faith, at least for Catholics, does not fear questions. If you really believe it is true then the questions should have answers. So assuming people only believe because they have never really asked the hard questions, that is one of those assumptions we should question.

The other assumption we should question is whether skepticism is the best approach. We need some way of arriving at truth. Is demanding rigorous proof of everything the right answer? Can you prove it is?

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