Alan Sokal on Faith

Physicist Alan Sokal, the famed skewer of postmodernism, in an article at Massimo Pigliucci’s Scientia Salon, gives faith a well deserved towel snap:

“Faith” is not in fact a rejection of reason, but simply a lazy acceptance of bad reasons. “Faith” is the pseudo-justification that some people trot out when they want to make claims without the necessary evidence.

And he gives an example (faith as circular reasoning/question begging):

Each religion makes scores of purportedly factual assertions about everything from the creation of the universe to the afterlife. But on what grounds can believers presume to know that these assertions are true? The reasons they give are various, but the ultimate justification for most religious people’s beliefs is a simple one: we believe what we believe because our holy scriptures say so. But how, then, do we know that our holy scriptures are factually accurate? Because the scriptures themselves say so. Theologians specialize in weaving elaborate webs of verbiage to avoid saying anything quite so bluntly, but this gem of circular reasoning really is the epistemological bottom line on which all “faith” is grounded. In the words of Pope John Paul II: “By the authority of his absolute transcendence, God who makes himself known is also the source of the credibility of what he reveals.” [17] It goes without saying that this begs the question of whether the texts at issue really were authored or inspired by God, and on what grounds one knows this.

Nicely, nicely put.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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6 Responses to Alan Sokal on Faith

  1. In fact the only that it can be known that the holy text is true is to have it corroborated by the deity directly which requires the deity to be self evident to all and obviates the need for the text as proof of anything. This, of course, says nothing about the goodness or morality of said deity, only its existence. The moral character of the deity is still up for discussion.

  2. syrbal-labrys says:

    ” simply a lazy acceptance of bad reasons.” Alrighty! Mental orgasms have now ensued!

  3. magnocrat says:

    Belief is important because it gives justice and sense to a world of chaos and darkness. Does it really matter if the dying believe they will be reunited with their loved ones in paradise? Who will dare unconvinced them ? Who would be so cruel to kick away their lifetimes support? Nature is oblivious to us and crushes or pleases us having no moral force behind her. In it all only man is moral, only man cares about the forgotten, so let him have his God and believe the universe cares about him.
    ‘Two things puzzle me: the starry sky above me and the moral law within me.’ KANT

    • Santi Tafarella says:


      You offer a fair observation. I myself am torn about what it means to give up on all hope of an afterlife–and what it means to point out that the idea of it is highly unlikely to be true. But people also should face reality, and try to deal with it directly. There’s a reason, however, that Oedipus famously plucked out his eyes.

  4. Pingback: Science | Episyllogism

  5. Without an oral culture to provide an oral context for the potential meaning of the said ‘passages’ they remain indeterminable?

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