In a Chris Hedges talk that I recently listened to (on my iPod), Hedges made, in passing, a critique of the New Atheists that they frequently fail to make distinctions between:
- the rational
- the irrational
- the nonrational
In atheist terms, according to Hedges, anything not strictly rational tends to be set over into the irrational category. But Hedges suggests that a great deal of human experience belongs to the nonrational, and to fail to distinguish it from irrationality is to narrow (unnecessarily) what it means to be reasonable. Since Hedges was speaking in passing, he really didn’t detail the distinction he was making, but I would infer the following examples:
- Young earth creationism, belief that you are Julius Caesar, and the idea that bottled water is better for you than tap water are irrational ideas because they can be refuted with clear evidence or are logically or physically highly improbable (or even impossible)
- Belief in atheism or theism as such are nonrational because they are inferences about the world not really subject to the kinds of proof that would put them in the category of the irrational
- Preferences for particular lovers, pieces of art, and music are nonrational
I think these are the fairly easy cases. My question would be this: What about, say, belief in the Trinity? Is that irrational (because it is absent evidence or logically or physically improbable), or is it nonrational (because it is a preference for seeing the world not subject to the kinds of evidence that we normally associate with the rational).
I guess I’m questioning the value and coherence of Hedges’s distinctive categories. Or perhaps they need clearer fleshing out. Is it fair, for example, to call what Christians, Muslims, or UFO abductees believe beyond the normal evidence of the senses irrational? Or are they nonrational? What say you?
Note: In the event that you aren’t familiar with Hedges, he’s a former NY Times international correspondent, and one of my favorite nonfiction authors. Here is the beginning of one of his talks: