The Incoherence of the Radical Sceptic

Modern sceptics claim that those in the past who weren’t indoctrinated into sciences were ignoramuses because they believed in a God they couldn’t sense or prove. In fact, we, the modern generation are mired in complete ignorance to proffer such an argument. This blog will demonstrate why by meditating on the very nature of law.

1. Radical disbelief

Nowadays, more and more people scoff at the idea of a God, of an afterlife and are unable to understand the significance of scientific theories and discoveries like quantum theory or the Big Bang. This contempt is often carried over into politics and law; governments are called upon to suppress, as much as possible, ‘irrational’ and antiquated beliefs. The principle of the separation of church and state (where a religious organization can freely practise without imposing its will through public organs) is then distorted and the separation becomes a duel of church vs. state.

2. Syllogism

While arguments of the radical sceptic are expressed in different ways, a fairly clear line of thinking is followed – God or, alternatively, religious beliefs in general cannot be validated by scientific means. Therefore, humans should not base their lives on such abstractions. This is a generalization of empiricism; if I can’t sense it or infer it from measuring equipment, then it ain’t real.

Such an argument isn’t wholly illogical. If it was formulated as a syllogism it would go as follows:

Anything beyond scientific validation is not real.

God can’t be scientifically validated.

Therefore God is not real.

3. Consistency

Now presumably someone who was going to be completely consistent in their line of thinking would have to continue. They would need to form a complete ideology around the premise that anything which can’t be scientifically proven is unreal. Without discussing the truth, or lack thereof, of theological questions (which are obviously metaphysical) let us concentrate on this idea that something incapable of scientific evidence is an illegitimate basis for human existence. A good tool for examining this idea (which is definitely an error) is that of law.

4. Is and Ought

Law can be separated into parts. There is what ‘ought to be done’ and there  is what ‘is done.’ Take the right to life. Someone ought not to take another’s life. The ‘is done’ companion of such an ‘ought’ is that there has to be a parliament who passes a law, a judge who enforces the law, a penal system that carries out punishment, etc … Otherwise, the ‘ought’ remains a moral position.

However, an ‘ought’ is also a belief. There is a belief that someone possesses a  right to life, and there are a whole slew of other beliefs that a person ‘ought’ to have a fair trial, ‘ought’ to have evidence to prove their guilt, ‘ought’ to serve particular prison terms, etc … There is a whole world of beliefs that enter into what seems a self-evident truth.

5. The End of Ought

If we were to follow a radical sceptic line of thought, there simply would be no ‘ought.’ It would just be a game, so to speak. All that would matter would be the enforcing of arbitrary sentences and punishments, completely guaranteed by power. It would be an animal existence in the truest sense of the term but it is true to say that even animals observe some rules, or ‘oughts,’ in their communities. We simply couldn’t imagine what life would be like if people made no decision about what ‘ought to be’ and instead did whatever their emotions told them.

6. The Thesis of Error

The radical sceptic thesis is a complete and utter error and rests on an ignorance of the world that is baffling. Human existence shows us that things do not have to be scientifically proven to be tangible objects, or to be objects of scientific inquiry, to be believed from a rational, logical, or intellectual perspective. An right-to-life isn’t something tangible, a right to property likewise (if you’re a capitalist), a right to work (if you’re a communist), a right to be spoken to with respect, a duty to pay taxes, a duty to obey the sovereign, arbitrary ideas of what money is, justice, even I dare say, love. Who can prove from first principles using scientific measurements that we have a right to ‘love, liberty, and happiness?’

A thesis like that of the radical materialist would say that all of these are ‘unreal’ and must be disposed of. In all likelihood, only the wildest criminals would seriously countenance such a line of thought.

7. The Convention Argument

Our materialist may then say that all of these are useful conventions, good for the little people to believe in, but not for him/her, even if they themselves still obey restrictions out of fear of punishment. They are beliefs that have use and we sometimes hear atheists make the case for a ‘functional’ religion that preserves and guarantees order. Indeed he/she would not be wholly wrong in the sense that humans have to make decisions with the knowledge or perspective they have and therefore they institute conventions.

Where the radical sceptic would err would be in the dismissals of abstractions like the right-of-life, love, or indeed of religious beliefs that can’t be proven by scientific methods. To believe that someone has an inherent right-to-life is just a belief but it is not one that is stupid even if, as often happens with religion, someone is unable to articulate why they believe in the right-to-life. The same goes for belief in the Divine which can be articulated more fully by those trained in theology than by lay-people.

8. No Way Out of Belief

Humans require beliefs. There is no way around it and people who hold to beliefs have grasped a vital truth about life. Beliefs are treated as matters of faith by the religious unlike our radical sceptic who is hiding under the bedsheets, as it were, from the world and imagines to live a life where everything is ‘factual.’ Such a world could never exist.

Things do not need to be scientifically validated to be ‘real.’ Instead of denying religion, law, justice, order, art, language … indeed all of the things which make life worth living (and which sometimes cause us great pain) … it is better to enter into serious discussions about such realities.

It is no doubt easier for us to just ignore the truth that we live in a world of abstractions and beliefs and bury our heads in the sand as it were. Nonetheless, having beliefs is not a sign of stupidity or ignorance and earlier generations who were generally more religious were far more intelligent than us, at least to the degree that they didn’t demand scientific evidence for the vast world of human existence where beliefs dominate. They were mature unlike the current generation, many of whom will never reach maturity even if they reach pension age.

And what is maturity? Maturity is when you wake up and realize that if you are going to live a full life, you need to think about things that can’t be scientifically proven and handed to you on a plate. You need to journey towards God on a path of truth that is uncertain and that requires the courage of conviction.

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