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What Cost Rationality? –– CFI Community & Student Leadership Conference, June 2007 ––. Taner Edis Truman State University Kirksville, Missouri www2.truman.edu/~edis. Enlightenment Rationalism. I defend Enlightenment Rationalism; a very science-chauvinist version.

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What cost rationality cfi community student leadership conference june 2007 l.jpg

What Cost Rationality?–– CFI Community & Student Leadership Conference, June 2007 ––

Taner Edis

Truman State University

Kirksville, Missouri


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Enlightenment Rationalism

  • I defend Enlightenment Rationalism; a very science-chauvinist version.

  • Today, emphasize mistakes, open questions, and costs.

What cost rationality?

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Knowledge and Nature




Detailed naturalistic picture of our world

Reality testing



What cost rationality?

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No revelation?

  • No faith-based short-circuiting of process.

  • Everything open to criticism, including scientific methods.

  • Revelation cannot constrain inquiry, but we may come to see a particular revelation as trustworthy after all. (Just happens not to be the case.)

What cost rationality?

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Not true that…

  • “The gods are immune to scientific criticism”or“if you invoke supernatural agents it is not science.”

  • Intelligent design cannot be ruled out of bounds. ID is wrong because it is a scientific failure.

What cost rationality?

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The role of philosophy?

  • Enlightenment rationalism prefers philosophy over religion.

  • No “proofs of God.”

  • But armchair analysis does not overrule supernaturalism. Agnosticism? Stalemate?

  • Defensive role + much of philosophy joins science.

What cost rationality?

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Detailed naturalistic picture of our world

Reality testing



Prevent short-circuiting




What cost rationality?

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Where’s the motivation?

  • Moral critiques: “supernaturalism socially harmful”; “faith leads to atrocities”; “Religion restricts human freedom.”

  • Extend naturalism beyond academia.

What cost rationality?

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  • Yes, modern, secular, liberal attitudes attractive to many––compared to organic, authority-based morals.

  • Still, Enlightenment rationalism is weakest in matters of identity and community. (Loyalty to skepticism?)

  • Unclear whether Enlightenment humanism is practical for human societies. Europe?

What cost rationality?

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Problems: Example 1

  • Modern, secular moral philosophy all very well, but too often

    • Tries to attain hard (~science) objectivity, to replace religious morality.

    • Disconnected from natural science.

    • Not emotionally compelling.

What cost rationality?

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Example 2

  • Neoclassical economics?

    • Too many aspects that seem faith-based, ideological.

    • Badly emulates physics: Disconnected from natural science.

    • Disconnected from ethics.

  • If problematic, then also a secular problem.

What cost rationality?

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Lack of success?

  • Cultural competitors of Enlightenment rationalism in stronger position:

    • Hard-core faith;

    • Soft-core, liberal faith + New Agery;

    • Unreflective secularity.

  • Even in intellectual life, comprehensive naturalism hardly dominant.

What cost rationality?

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The costs of reason

  • How to understand all this?

  • One major reason: We Enlightenment rationalists have underestimated or downplayed the costs of our style of rationality.

  • Naturalistic thinking is not natural for humans. Needs costly effort to overcome our natural cognitive tendencies.

What cost rationality?

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Science is hard

  • Scientific view of world requires extensive education and knowledge base.

  • Science continually goes against common sense!

    • World looks designed.

    • Quantum randomness, cosmology and time, etc.

What cost rationality?

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Social thinking is natural

  • Mythic thinking is natural. Rationalists want to drop intuitive ways of social legitimation and signaling trustworthiness.

  • In social life beyond science and philosophy, we have many interests other than achieving truth. These interests can conflict.

  • A quick-and-dirty approach that comes easily and works more often than not can be the most cost-effective. Religion?

What cost rationality?

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Islam, science, & secularism

  • Muslim lands scientific disaster areas.

  • Science and technology always imported, always with worries about also importing secular, impious culture.

  • Moral and religious concerns remain central.

What cost rationality?

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Islamic pseudoscience

  • Science enticing but dangerous. Need insulating layers of pseudoscience.

  • Science-in-Quran, creationism, Islamized social science, …

  • Revelation has to remain central.

What cost rationality?

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Social costs

  • Morality, political legitimacy all tied up with religion.

  • Too costly to challenge primacy of religion; even to set up “separate spheres” for secular and religious interests.

What cost rationality?

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Failure of secularism

  • In Muslim lands, secularism retains some elite allegiance, but imposed by force on a pious population.

  • Challenged by new religious elites, with working class allies. Cultural re-Islamization.

  • Democratic, populist anti-secularism

What cost rationality?

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Secularism delegitimized

  • Secularism:

    • Against communal religious liberty;

    • Alien cultural imposition;

    • Despotic, military-backed.

  • New social equilibrium: Not strict sharia, but much more Islam in public life.

  • Secularism has been too costly.

What cost rationality?

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Outlook: Intellectual scene

  • Enlightenment rationalism is healthy in intellectual institutions. Always challenged, but that is as it should be. Some concerns:

    • Parallel institutions linked to hard-core faith. Examples: intelligent design biology. Christian law schools that feed administration. Islamized “science.”

    • Direct influence of soft-core faith. Example: Templeton Foundation.

    • Reputation of popular critics of faith as having superficial view of religion. Partly correct. Example: Sam Harris on Islam––unscholarly nonsense.

What cost rationality?

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Outlook: Public arena

  • Not persuasive. Secularization: falling away from organized religion, relativism. Europeans not turning into Enlightenment rationalists.

  • Little analysis on how we might structure our social lives so as to reduce costs of rationality.

  • Need to be more persuasive? Global effects of civilization, global threats (environment, nuclear war––not “terrorism”). In the long term, it may be more costly to be held back by religious constraints on our moral imagination.

What cost rationality?

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Books, books!

What cost rationality?

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Thanks for listening!

  • Any questions?




What cost rationality?