In the last post I discussed a spectrum of genres of existence. They went from a physical reality to a conceptual reality unbounded by sense data. I finished talking about the need for evidence when one is talking about the physical reality and existence, and so the appropriate follow up, so far as I see, is when one requires evidence and that all discussions, even the rational ones, eventually rest on values.
The point was the religious claim that God exists in the traditional sense, not the conceptual, but not in this reality. In fact, it’s difficult to pin people down on whether God permeates this universe or exists in a separate one. A cynic might claim that people alternate between whichever claim suits their needs. But that’s okay because the game those people are playing is Apologetics, and that plays by a different set of rules to playing a game of Seeking Truth. Ultimately, players of those two games value different goals and so abide to different rules. (How good they are at following those rules is a different question again.)
When a claim of the existence of something is made, the discussion should be an empirical one and not an ethical or rhetorical one. Existence (or, more accurately, our knowledge of it) should be governed by evidence and observation and reason, not emotion or ethics or word games; these are the difference between trying to hold views that are credible, and trying to make your view appear credible. This “should” is not written into the fabric of the universe; I am making a truth claim, not one about existence. The “should” in that sentence, instead, is a reference to the types of discussion that generate and lead to reliable claims. It is simply a matter of experience that restricting a conversation about something’s existence to rules that approximate to rationality, logic and evidence and avoid fallacies ― these are better at describing a physical reality we agree on; this is the discussion with a success rate on identifying and describing a shared and justified conception of reality.
But, you have to value that. If someone is playing the Apologetics game or something similar ― if they do not value identifying a justifiable and shared conception of reality ― then they are not playing a game with rules bound by rationality and evidence. A car salesman, for example, is not tasked with giving you an honest appraisal of a car, but with getting you to buy the car. Such a person will not be motivated to tell you the car’s safety rating or 0 – 60 time, but to sell you a rhetorical whirlwind of contrived self-image. That is the game they are playing, and why they don’t ― in that moment, at least ― value conversations that track reality more reliably.
This is why Sam Harris challenges us to think of what rational argument we might use to convince a person who doesn’t value rationality or what evidence we might present to convince a person who doesn’t value evidence. Despite the fact the game of trying to intellectually track reality is an objective game, valuing the game is a subjective preference.
And in the same way we don’t try and enforce basketball rules to the game of bowling, we really are wasting our time trying to have a rational conversation with someone who has demonstrated their preference for constructing a reality out of their preferences and wishes ― which anyone who willfully and continually engages in rhetoric, sophistry and fallacies has done. As incensed as you might be by someone constructing reality in this way, they simply not playing the same game.