Are all theories of knowledge equal?  

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Adopting fashionable pomobabble, Trask argues that magical understandings of the universe are just as acceptable as scientific understandings, but that preferences for science and reason over “revelation,” emotionalism, whimsical impulse, and other “ways of knowing” is just so much prejudice. “Scientific epistemologies,” he writes, “legitimize the exclusion of those who do not understand truth exclusively through empirical verification.” Science is cruelly shoving magical theories away from the table, through its emphasis on such things as testability, or evidence, or replication of results and silly stuff like that. See, it’s just cultural imperialism to prefer a medical treatment that’s been subjected to rigorous double-blind field trials, instead of a witch doctor shaking his rattles and chanting.
That's from Timothy Sandefur's article at Positive Liberty about the equality of theories of knowledge as proposed by Stephen W. Trask. Trask claims that science is really another religion after all, and all religions should be treated the same in the science classroom.

Imagine what the world would be like if government really were required to accord equal respect to supernatural as well as scientific beliefs. As McRoberts and I point out in our article, this “would, if consistently followed, unravel every government undertaking. Suppose that a man has a patently absurd notion that his neighbor is reading his brain through highly sophisticated alien technology. Under current law, he cannot sue for a nuisance, because this is a frivolous and irrational claim. Some courts have taken judicial notice of the irrationality of certain pseudosciences, including phrenology and astrology. It is hard to imagine what would happen to tort law, or the law of evidence, if government were to seriously attempt to treat naturalistic and supernatural theories of the world as equally valid in every respect.” Supra at 45.

It would be madness to consider that there must be no experimentation or evidence within the structures of our government and that anything a person could think up would be equally as valid as something provable and tested by hundreds of scientists. It's a ridiculously transparent way to try to push religion within public institutions.

Fortunately for us all, there is nothing in the Constitution that requires the government to treat supernatural and secular notions as equal. The Constitution, in fact, clearly contemplates a government which is devoted to secular concerns and is free to choose policies on the basis of secular reasoning. Not only does it forbid any religious test or oath—a pretty secular concept—but in many places it allows and even requires government to act on secular reasons. A person may not be convicted of treason, for example, except on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act: in other words, a court may not rely on a person’s supernatural belief or dream visions or religious dogma, when deciding innocence or guilt under this clause. Congress can grant copyrights so as to “promote the progress of science and the useful arts,” even if their doing so is purely based on secular reasoning.


There is only one restriction on government’s preference of secularism over supernaturalism: it must not restrict individuals from freely exercising their religion if they wish. Otherwise, the government may subsidize and promote secular ideas—and it should be encouraged to do so, too, since those ideas are, in point of fact, far more likely to be true.

I'm really tired of the thought that everyone is just as right as anyone else so let's just accept their opinion and be respectful of their point of view regardless of how ridiculous it might be. Yes, taken as a whole people should be treated equally. But on an individual level I'm not going to have as much respect for a person who thinks the government conspired to cause 911 as the person who discovered the structure of DNA. One of these people has a more rigorous approach to finding evidence. I'm going to hold that person's opinion in a higher regard. I'll let you work out which one.

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