Some of you, particularly the owner of the blog who by now must be getting sick and tired of the whole affair, may have been following my “debate?”/”discussion?” with a commenter by the name of Saved Sinner over at OzAtheist. Indeed, I don’t quite know how to describe the “exchange” (and not even that term seems to suffice), given that my interlocutor’s contributions are limited to repeating religious mantras and abstractions ad infinitum, imploring me to read his holy book, evading my simple requests to properly substantiate his religious truth-claims (i.e. without the use of religious dogma), and crying foul when such evasions as well as the flaws in his reasoning are pointed out to him. Furthermore, I am accused by Saved Sinner of ignoring the evidence he says he has provided in support of his religious dogma, even though the “evidence” in question consists entirely of the aforementioned religious mantras and holy book, and so cannot reasonably be accepted as good evidence. And when this is pointed out to Saved Sinner, it falls on deaf ears as he insists, mantra-like, that he has presented the evidence.
I should know better, of course, and I admit that my continued participation in this non-dialogue is in part the product of a cheeky stubbornness. I don’t think anybody has learned anything of value from the experience, though it is to be hoped (however faintly) that SS might eventually wake up to the fact that his evangelical subroutine–“If I just repeat the same abstractions over and over and over and over again, I’ll win a soul for Jesus!”–is not as effective as he might think. In any case, what interests me about the exchange is that even though SS’s contributions are, for the most part, anything but rational, he clearly thinks he is being rational. And not only does he seem to believe that he is playing by the rules of rational dialogue, he cherishes the idea of rational dialogue itself (indeed, he says as much: “Yes I do believe……in rational dialogue”). He also accepts the idea that evidence ought to be given in support of a truth-claim, and even if the “evidence” he supplies is woefully inadequate, I doubt he thinks so. What are we to make of this?
Allow me to coin a neologism: ratiosimilitude. In fiction, verisimilitude (“seeming-true”) is achieved when “the characters and actions in a work conform to our sense of reality” to a high degree, and is generally associated with literary realism (though it can appear in other genres, such as SF and fantasy). Ratiosimilitude is that phenomenon in which it is incredibly important to us that our ideas seem reasonable to ourselves and others, regardless of how compatible with reason and reality those ideas actually are. And just as it becomes easier to suspend one’s disbelief when reading a book or viewing a film if it seems “true-to-life”, the degree of “seeming-reasonableness” of an idea, proposition, argument or piece of rhetoric might influence the degree of credulity with which it is met.
Moreover, just as it is possible to attend to a film or book critically and analytically, regardless of the degree to which it achieves verisimilitude, so it is equally possible to cut through the fog of ratiosimilitude and engage arguments and ideas with critical distance. (Indeed, in the critical-analytical mode both verisimilitude and ratiosimilitude themselves become objects of analysis.) The only difference, then, would be that whereas one can willingly suspend one’s disbelief in order to read or view fiction for pleasure (which is not to say that criticism/analysis can’t be pleasurable), I don’t think we ought to adopt the same approach in rational dialogue.
But I have strayed from what I wanted to observe, which was simply this: it is characteristic of our modernity that the incompatibility between faith and reason is becoming increasingly clear, and while it is still possible to “think six impossible things before breakfast,” as it were, and while there are many who continue to do so, it is getting harder to do so. Despite this trend, it is equally characteristic of the current era (it seems to me at least) that reasonableness is held in at least as high regard as faith, if not higher–moreover, where there is faith, there also is likely to be the desire for faith to seem-reasonable. Two symptoms of this phenomenon that spring immediately to mind: intelligent design and religious apologetics.
It’s just a hypothesis, and likely a bad one. What do you think?