Faith is a choice made without concern for the truth

Harriet Baber is a philosopher, and I say that with the most sneeringly disparaging tone I can muster. I don’t normally dislike philosophy, but there are a lot of philosophers I detest, and Baber exemplifies why. She has a remarkable article in The Guardian in which she says a series of astonishing things — which is often one of the good things philosophers do, surprising me with weird ideas that make me think. In this case, though, she makes some stupid pronouncements, doesn’t explain why she thinks she’s making a good argument, and then thoroughly undercuts her own credibility.

She starts by announcing that she’s a Christian who arrived at that idea via Pascal’s Wager. I know Pascal was a brilliant fellow, but his wager is bollocks — it’s built on the premise of the unreliability of reason and the deficiencies of evidence, reducing our choices to desperate gambles, where we make decisions only on the basis of the desirability of outcomes — a strategy, by the way, that makes casinos rich and gamblers paupers. Accepting Pascal’s Wager is admitting the defeat of reason, a very peculiar position for a philosopher.

But then Baber says something really bizarre, that actually does explain why she falls for the Wager. She declares that the truth is overrated.

People in any case overestimate the value of truth and underestimate the difficulty of arriving at it. There are a great many truths in which I have abolutely no interest – truths about the lifecycle of Ctenocephalides felis, (the common cat flea) or the extensive body of truths about the condition of my teeth that my dentist imposes on me. I see no reason why I should bother with these truths or make a point of believing them.

This is actually a consistent position with her appreciation of Pascal’s Wager, but she’s also sawing off the limb she’s standing on. Why should I care what she says when she admits the truth is unimportant to her? The title of her article is “My faith is an informed choice” (I’ve chosen to retitle her article more accurately for this post) — what does “informed” mean when you’ve confessed that truth is irrelevant and information is not to be bothered with? And what kind of scholar dismisses curiosity about the world with such casual contempt?

Although she did get me wondering about one thing, which is a virtue of fools: I wonder how much misery and death has been caused by dental disease in human history? I suspect that it has been a significant player, but I don’t have any sources of information on that — but there must be a forensic anthropologist or two out there who has some idea.

Oh, wait, sorry — curiosity, an interest in the evidence and the truth, and an expectation that truths about the condition of people’s teeth actually matter assumes that the truth actually does matter. Forgive me.

(The gang at Ophelia Benson’s place are also discussing this strange article.)