Julian Baggini makes a point I’ve made elsewhere. (“Why quote it then?” I hear you ask. Well, he makes it rather better.)

The mark of a mature, psychologically healthy mind is indeed the ability to live with uncertainty and ambiguity, but only as much as there really is. Uncertainty is no virtue when the facts are clear, and ambiguity is mere obfuscation when more precise terms are applicable. Unfortunately, the middle ground in the God debate is occupied by too many people who screw up their eyes to create the illusion of a mist when the view is really clear. And this is not just wrong: it’s dangerous, because if we make too much of our inability to be certain, we make ourselves incapable of clear and unequivocal condemnation of just those extreme dogmatists whom agnostics and moderate but committed believers fear. The main problem with young-Earth creationists who assert that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, for instance, is not that they are certain, but that they are wrong. It’s the matter of the belief that is pernicious, not just the manner of its holding.

This is absolutely true. Agnosticism for its own sake is foolish on philosophical and tactical levels. Firstly, because, unless we’re to be so epistemologically pedantic that we’re speculating about being brains in jars, things can be known. Secondly, because if you’re unwilling to assert ideas you think are good, someone else will just promote their bad ones over your’s.

On the other hand, this still demands that your assertions are so well-grounded as to justify your confidence. What’s made critics of the “new atheists” so irritating is that they’ve whined about their arrogance as if the only problem is their tone. It isn’t. The problem is that they’re arrogant about claims that are, in fact, often wrong. This is a subject that calls for a bit of uncertainty. Via Edward Feser, the atheist philosopher Quentin Smith opines

Due to the typical attitude of the contemporary naturalist… the vast majority of naturalist philosophers have come to hold (since the late 1960s) an unjustified belief in naturalism. Their justifications have been defeated by arguments developed by theistic philosophers, and now naturalist philosophers, for the most part, live in darkness about the justification for naturalism. They may have a true belief in naturalism, but they have no knowledge that naturalism is true since they do not have an undefeated justification for their belief.  If naturalism is true, then their belief in naturalism is accidentally true.

I don’t know if that’s entirely fair, of course, but I’m confident in saying that it applies to scientists and journalists who dabble in philosophy.

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