False vs. Function
My previous post reflects an ongoing frustration I have with New Atheists and others. I was recently in a conversation with an old friend who had just discovered I was an atheist; he wondered why, then, I was still interested in religion. In addition, he asked why I wasn’t more interested in philosophy than religion. For instance, wouldn’t I find arguing against the proofs for the existence of gods more interesting than studying the Bible?
My response was that I find the New Atheist view of religion to be boring. They probably look at the Bible and think: “there are a lot of false propositions in here.” I see the Bible and think: “there’s a lot of really interesting propaganda in here.”
The New Atheists don’t have a theory of religion, they have a theory of truth—and the latter doesn’t necessarily shed light on the former. Asking whether something is true or false is a lot less interesting and enlightening than asking what sort of social function something has. Sure, I think ontological claims about supernatural beings are false, but that’s just that’s where we begin analysis, not end it. That’s where we ask: “if these things are false, why might somebody have said them?”
Some Muslims—not all—say that women should wear a burka because men’s libido’s are so strong they couldn’t help themselves. I think that’s obviously false, but saying it’s false doesn’t help us understand anything at all about the burka. We need a functionalist investigation, not an epistemic evaluation.
Let’s set aside “Is it true?” and replace it with “What does it do?