A preist, a rabbi and a comedian walk into a bar…

A Biship, a Rabbi and a Comedian sit down in a Garage…

Dave Rubin might have had tremendous success getting medium- and high-profile intellectuals to come on and talk to him. But his great weakness is his eagerness to agree with his guests. He’s also primarily interested in politics and doesn’t have much of a background on religion. So when he brings on two religious thinkers he’s essentially given an invitation to allow them to talk about whatever they want without fear of being contradicted or fact checked.

The First Part

The leading ~20 minutes are rather silly, simply because Dave allows his guests to make a number of absurd religious and faith claims unchecked. (Minus one brief glimmer of light where David Wolpe says something intelligent about outrage culture.)

The Enlightenment

Once you get rid of the silly idea that at some point in human history a certain chosen people were given access to special information about how the universe works and how to live in it, all good ideas are simply human ideas and trying to argue over who thought of what first is an academic more than a practical discussion.

But when it comes to moral ideas, they tend not to develop as a slow, gradual climb, but more of a punctuated equilibrium where we have a set of ideas then something new pops up and radically changes the landscape. Think of the way that slavery went from being legal in every country to illegal in every country in about 200 years. Or how we went from homosexuality being illegal to same-sex marriage being a human right in many countries on the order of decades. You can quibble over the details but the Enlightenment was one such period of explosive moral growth.

But if you don’t admit that good ideas are human ideas, and the highest rates of literacy are in the priestly class, then you will basically give credit to most of your good ideas to religious people. (This idea returns later, rather sickeningly, when Bishop Barron tries to make the ridiculous claim that Christopher Hitchens’ desire for justice in the world is somehow evidence of god. Probably the dumbest thing that could have been said in this interview.)

But even the claim of “we got their first” doesn’t quite hold up. Religious moral frameworks are actually two parallel sets of moral frameworks. There’s the way you treat your neighbours — the in group — and how you treat the people in the out group. The first thing that god commanded after Moses came down the mountain with the ten commandments was genocide against another tribe. Christianity and Islam have a lake of fire to torture the billions who never accepted the truth claims of their particular religion. That’s why slavery persisted for so long. Religious teachings permit you to identify a group of people you’re not required to be nice to.

So if the Enlightenment closes those loopholes, that’s not an insignificant moral advance you can sweep under the rug.

Scientism

There’s really no nice way to say it. The charge of scientism is really a piece of political spin from people who are uncomfortable with the findings of science.

Good ideas for what’s true can come from anywhere. Einstein would daydream in the patent office about what it was like to ride along a beam of light and that informed his work on relativity. You can struggle with a problem and then wake up the next morning and have a fresh understanding without knowing where it came from. You can write a novel that deals with important aspects of the human condition without ever mentioning  them explicitly.

However, if you actually want to know if an idea you came up with is true, your only option is science. The scientific method is somewhat circularly defined as the best method/s we have for determining what’s true about the world and how it works. So anyone can have an idea any way they want, but no idea which is inconsistent with the findings of science can possibly be true. (And even if the scientists are wrong, the only way you’ll ever know it is by doing more and better science.)

So I always read scientism (or the scary phrase that often follows it other ways of knowing) with the subtext of, “We have some cherished beliefs and we really aren’t interested in finding out whether or not they’re true.”

Everyone had a Religion

This I disagree with, but I have another article in the queue which is focused on this issue that I’d like to get to in the next week or so.

The Second Part

Here Dave tries to create friction getting them to discuss things that they disagree about.

This the thing that always strikes me about public discussions with religious thinkers. Susan Blackmore uses the wonderful term memeplexes to refer to groups of ideas that fit well together and reinforce one another. So the ideas within Catholicism or within Judaism play nice with one another and don’t immediately produce contradictions. But when you bring two of those memeplexes side by side (in this case two people who do and don’t accept the divinity of Jesus) there isn’t really anything one can say to convince the other beyond, “That’s my faith.”

So when you put Jordan Peterson on the show with Rubin, he sounds reasonable because all he’s doing is letting out a steady stream of mutually compatible memes. When you sit Jordan down next to a Sam Harris, he starts to sound like an idiot because when you start applying pressure to individual ideas and try to line them up with reality, they just fall down.

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