Who Moderates
Public Knowledge?
Clarles Hunsinger

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Charles Hunsinger"
Subject: Re: Comment/question
Date: Sunday, November 07, 1999 3:56 PM

Positive Atheism is a proactive ethic, in addition to being a philosophy.

Our reasoning is as follows: If organized atheism exists mainly to counter the claims of theists (otherwise, atheism is simply normalcy, lacking any additional theistic faith), then atheism is calling theism a form of falsehood.

To criticize theism as a form of falsehood implies that we have a respect truthfulness.

To be self-consistent, we must advocate and practice truthfulness in all our affairs. Gora said, "The insistence on truthfulness does not disturb the freedom of the individual. An atheist is free to say or to do what he likes, provided he does what he says and says what he does." He also recommended that atheists keep no secrets, in an effort to maintain self-consistency.

Though not a complete ethic, we these are the most important ethics inherent in atheism. We call the ethical elements of this outlook "Positive Atheism," after the book by the same name, written by Gora of India.

This ethic is based upon some elements of Gandhi's method of satyagraha, which is developed in Gora's book An Atheist with Gandhi.

However, our organization falls short of advocating Gora's other socio-political positions, many of which, to us, resemble socialism. Gora worked in India during the middle of the twentieth century, and we are in a different part or the world and exist during different times.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Charles Hunsinger"
Subject: Re: comments/questions
Date: Tuesday, November 09, 1999 9:02 PM

The only point is that inherent to the atheistic position is the calling of another position falsehood. Thus, we should expect self-consistent atheists, therefore, to hold a respect for truthfulness. Positive Atheism's beef is more against atheists who use falsehood to propagate atheism than it is even with theism.
 

So, then, do we all go by your truth? adherence to reason?

Or, how do we arbitrate what is called truth, or, as you put it, "who's truth"?

And how do we establish "who's truth" once somebody has decided that this is the "who's truth" we all will go by?

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Charles Hunsinger"
Subject: Re: comments/questions
Date: Wednesday, November 10, 1999 4:14 PM

So, then, for purposes of public policy (such as what to teach in the public schools), how do we determine whose reason most closely matches what we should teach? How do we know who's reason, and how do we detect prejudice? How do we determine which "knowledge" to place into our data banks and which "facts" are truly factual and warrant being entered into the body of knowledge?

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Charles Hunsinger"
Subject: Re: comments/questions
Date: Thursday, November 11, 1999 4:52 PM

This is a clever dodge to my question. Public schools exist, and only a tiny minority believes the various arguments in favor of abolishing them, so they are not going to go away any time soon.

Again, how do we decide who's truth to teach as truth within the existing system of public education. What is the procedure within any system, existing or proposed?
 

So, then, how do we decide who are the ones who possess this talent and who are the ones that should be disqualified from the discussions and the decision-making processes? In other words, how do we decide whether your claim, that it is a matter of an expectation to reason, is the one upon which we will base our policy.
 

Again, what method do we use to decide that we will call creationism a belief and evolution a fact? How did evolution reach the status of "fact" and how was it decided that creationism was relegated to the status of "belief"? How do we administer this in the public discussion and the public decision-making processes?

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Charles Hunsinger"
Subject: Re: Dotting i's and crossing t's
Date: Friday, November 12, 1999 2:55 PM

Guess again.

We try to act in truthfulness, which means not lying. We make no claim for an abstract "truth." If we use the word truth without qualification, this is what we mean. When we have qualified it to mean something other than "truthfulness," we have stated that this is not the abstraction that some take it to mean.

Again, by who's "objective" standards do we make our education policy? How do we determine what "objective" means and who is being "objective"? Am I free to call faith in the Bible "objective" in a public discussion? Am I free to claim that that is my "objective" experience, and that I reached my conclusions through reason? Am I free to agree with St. Thomas about religion being the result of reason?

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Charles Hunsinger"
Subject: Re: Dotting i's and crossing t's
Date: Friday, November 12, 1999 6:48 PM

Now you're doing the false dichotomy thing. This is not the only alternative to what you have been saying, and is certainly not what I have said.

I am taking your claims at face value and asking some tough questions. I do this because I think you might be way off base in what you say, and that there may be a much better approach that is more likely to produce long-term good for all involved. I would like to see if you can see this, because it is a hot topic in several discussions and writings floating around these parts.
 

I can see it now: Christian parents can teach that Noah got drunk and showed off his woody to his grandson; Muslim parents can teach that Allah ordered the swift execution of non-Muslims, etc. How would we even communicate? How can this be better than what we had before public educations standards began being developed -- much less afterwards?
 

What if I think I can substantiate my belief that Noah's Ark has been found on Mt. Ararat? What if I have photos given to me from a crew who went up there?

Who is going to moderate between you and I as to what truth (fact) is and is not?

That is my question: In a public arena, who moderates the discussion and who decides what is and is not "truth" to set the standard of what we know (knowledge)?

Or do we simply revert back to a nuclear warhead version of the tribal totem and call that progress?

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Charles Hunsinger"
Subject: Re: Dotting i's and crossing t's
Date: Saturday, November 13, 1999 2:12 PM

So, then, do we establish this person (or this office) as an authority to mediate our disputes and to decide what is truth and what is falsehood?

I don't see how this could possibly be an improvement over what we currently have: public inquiry into various claims wherein no claim to knowledge is above the public scrutiny, and anybody unwilling to allow their idea to undergo this public scrutiny and to abide by the results of that scrutiny forfeits the right to have their opinion respected by the rest of us. Also, if the opinion does not withstand this scrutiny, it is not respected.

You're going back to Plato in saying that some individual or office is inherently qualified to make these decisions for us. No. We are all qualified, because we are humans, to submit a claim to this process of worldwide public scrutiny. The body of publicly available knowledge is that which has (thus far) withstood the scrutiny given to it. No claim to truth is above this scrutiny and any claim to truth remains only as long as it continues to withstand this scrutiny -- and not a minute longer.

A knowledge of epistemology may help someone in their quest to overthrow a particular claim to knowledge (a claim that something is fact), but it can never successfully mediate the discussion when it is granted political authority which is not due to it.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Charles Hunsinger"
Subject: Re: Dotting i's and crossing t's
Date: Saturday, November 13, 1999 7:57 PM
 

No. It seems to be what you are suggesting, in lieu of the system we already have. That system seems to be working just fine. I am trying to point out the problems with suggested alternatives to the system of liberal scientific inquiry (as opposed to anyone's claim to using "reason").

Perhaps you have not thought this through. That is all I am suggesting.
 
 

I am suggesting one more component, in addition to what you say, which your statements here and before seem to reject: Liberal scientific inquiry is a public discussion. In it, nobody's claim to truth or "reason" is greater than or lesser than anybody else's. Everybody has equal access to the process. Anybody is qualified to debunk Einstein, but their arguments had better pass muster with the community at large. Einstein himself was an outsider, a patent clerk who was finishing his Masters, and his claim to fame was that he overthrew three important belief systems in a single year. Jocelyn Bell, who discovered the pulsar, was a graduate student when she made her discovery. Her discovery continues to influence modern astronomy and physics.

What both discovered are now part of mankind's body of knowledge. As such, both claims to knowledge are still open to dispute and to debunking, though neither claims have yet to be successfully debunked. They both stand as facts because they have withstood this public process of scrutiny.

Although humans are entitled to their opinions -- however absurd I may think those opinions may be -- humans do well to accept the results of this public process. Within this process there is no room for authorities, and nobody can force anybody to accept the results of this process. As far as public policy goes, though, we do well to abide by this process.

It is this public process that I uphold -- even at the expense of reason, if need be. To simply claim "reason" without bringing this process into play is to beg the question, "Whose reason?" Once we start going in that direction, we risk ending up with an Official Philosopher as advocated in Plato's "Republic."

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Charles Hunsinger"
Subject: Re: Dotting i's and crossing t's
Date: Saturday, November 13, 1999 10:10 PM

In this sense, all healthy humans (excluding the retarded and the insane) have this ability. Scientific inquiry presupposes this ability in all humans and precludes special abilities or privileges in any. It is the process of public debate which we accept, and the results of that process.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Charles Hunsinger"
Subject: Re: Dotting i's and crossing t's
Date: Tuesday, November 16, 1999 5:27 PM
 

Your arguments throughout this dialogue have advocated the notion that somebody (or some body) arbitrates what is and is not true ("truthfulness according to who?" -- Nov. 8).

But every attempt to pin down the "who" you are talking about was met with language such as "reason ... without prejudice" -- which does not exist and must ultimately be arbitrated if we want to use this knowledge or "truth" or "reason" to formulate public policy. It is this fallacy which I am attacking, a fallacy advocated by Plato and (comparatively) recently replaced by liberal scientific method, which holds every alleged "fact" up for discussion.

What was missing from your presentation (and what was even ridiculed, at one point) was the notion of a public discussion arbitrated by nobody in particular. My quarrel with you is not that I disagree with something you said as much as that something crucual was conspicuously absent from your presentation: the notion of the public discussion (which is science itself -- more so than any "truth" or process of "reason") available to everybody and arbitrated, ultimately, by nobody in particular.

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine

Graphic Rule

Graphic Rule

Material by Cliff Walker (including unsigned editorial commentary) is copyright ©1995-2006 by Cliff Walker. Each submission is copyrighted by its writer, who retains control of the work except that by submitting it to Positive Atheism, permission has been granted to use the material or an edited version: (1) on the Positive Atheism web site; (2) in Positive Atheism Magazine; (3) in subsequent works controlled by Cliff Walker or Positive Atheism Magazine (including published or posted compilations). Excerpts not exceeding 500 words are allowed provided the proper copyright notice is affixed. Other use requires permission; Positive Atheism will work to protect the rights of all who submit their writings to us.