More from Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit”

Here’s more from Harry Frankfurt’s essay, On Bullshit.

The contemporary proliferation of bullshit also has deeper sources, in various forms of skepticism which deny that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality and which therefore reject the possibility of knowing how things truly are. These “anti-realist” doctrines undermine confidence in the value of disinterested efforts to determine what is true and what is false, and even in the intelligibility of the notion of objective inquiry.

The young-Earth creationist does believe in objective reality. In that sense, he is not an “anti-realist.” However, he most certainly does not support “disinterested efforts to determine what is true and false.”

If you don’t believe me, try this thought-experiment. Suppose the Bible said nothing whatsoever about how the world began or about an Adam and Eve. Suppose its propositions were limited to how to love God and our neighbors. Does anyone seriously believe that a disinterested investigation of the facts as now known by science would conclude that the Earth was created roughly 6,000 years ago?

No, the epistemology of the creationist is what we heard from Henry Morris in the last post:

Scripture tells us what the right conclusion is. And if science, momentarily, doesn’t agree with it, then we have to keep working until we get the right answer. But I have no doubts as to what that answer will be. (Finding Darwin’s God, page 173.)

Claiming to know the answer ahead of time and then “working until we get it” is exactly the opposite of objective inquiry.

Thus, although the creationist may believe in objective reality, he has cut off all objective ways to find it. Rather, we are to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). This is not objectivity, but faith; not free inquiry, but willing subjugation.

In a downward spiral, this loss of confidence in our own ability to conduct impartial inquiry further degrades the quality of our arguments. Frankfurt continues,

One result of this loss of confidence has been a retreat from the discipline required by dedication to the ideal of correctness to a quite different sort of discipline, which is imposed by pursuit of the alternative ideal of sincerity.

He is talking about those who are “anti-realists,” for whom “sincerity” is all that matters, but it’s ironic how his idea also applies to creationists, who probably count anti-realists among their arch-opponents. Just substitute “faith” for “sincerity” and see how well the sentence fits:

One result of this loss of confidence has been a retreat from the discipline required by dedication to the ideal of correctness to a quite different sort of discipline, which is imposed by pursuit of the alternative ideal of faith.

Frankfurt’s “discipline required by dedication to the ideal of correctness” includes a willingness to reject whatever does not hold up to empirical and logical scrutiny and, above all, to refrain from slinging bullshit. Sadly, creationist leaders have staked out territory where this is difficult. As exemplified in recent posts, creationists are either out of their depth or dishonest when it comes to science. They are not even sincerely interested in adhering to the methodological discipline it requires. But they are leaders and people expect them to say something. Frankfurt again:

Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more excessive than his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic. This discrepancy is common in public life, where people are frequently impelled — whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others — to speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant.

Creationists’ dearest wish is that people would repent of their relativistic, anything-goes way of life. In pursuit of this noble goal, they have allowed themselves to indulge in an anything-goes way of doing science. They have staked their claim in an epistemologically nihilistic wasteland in which common-sense rules of evidence and argument are swept aside.

In November, I will participate in a forum in which believers will ask me why I left Christianity after 40 years in the faith. What got me started was the realization that some of the Christians I had admired most — conservative creationists — had apparently been spouting bullshit all that time. This made me doubt that they had been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. And if not them, then who? Maybe the Holy Spirit was not real at all! Creationists, if you want to prevent apostasy, take note.

2 responses to “More from Frankfurt’s “On Bullshit”

  1. Pingback: How to Assess a Website’s Reliability, Part 1 | Path of the Beagle

  2. Pingback: How to Assess a Website’s Trustworthiness, Part 1 | Path of the Beagle

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