Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Religious Pluralism and Consistency

Enigmaman, over at Enigmania, has a very nice post up about the pragmatic need for inconsistency and motivates it with the question of religious pluralism.

We could take pluralism in the strong sense that Feyerabend, for example, does and think of it as holding mutually inconsistent views. Or we could think of it in the weaker sense of allowing that views other than those for which you deem yourself to have good reason to believe are still rational to hold. In other words, that both you and those you disagree with are all rational, even while you disagree. Enigmaman seems more interested in the former, while I've been interested in the latter.

It seems that underdetermination is the easiest path to pluralism, that given the evidence, either of these positions would be possible and could be explained by conflicting hypotheses. There is evidence for each, but not evidence that either is conclusively determined. Hence, those with hunches in one direction can't look askance at those who work in the other direction and pluralism is the best approach since we really don't know which way lays the truth.

The other route is fallibility. The evidence we are using could be wrong. It could be that our instruments are faulty or there is some other effect that makes our measurements useless unbeknownst to us at the time. This evidence is likely to be true, but could be false and this means that we can be intellectually tolerant of those who discount some particular data points as problematic for the purpose of hypothesizing in novel directions.

But in the case of religion, you generally don't have that sort of underdetermination or fallibility. Revealed truth is supposed to be absolute truth. Where then is the space for religious pluralism? Is it in the Quaker-type sense of overdeterminiation, that that God speaks through all and therefore all must be listened to? Is it underdetermination in the Jewish sense that all must be interpreted and there is no unique interpretation? Does religious pluralism mean a lack of certainty in one's religious views, a lack of depth in the religious belief, or a different kind of belief?