Sunday, February 28, 2010

Swift Clod

I'm not saying Jonathan Swift had nothing going for him, but he could definitely be a clod:

I am of opinion, and dare be positive in it, that not one in an hundred of those who pretend to be freethinkers, are really so in their hearts. For there is one observation which I never knew to fail, and I desire you will examine it in the course of your life, that no gentleman of a liberal education, and regular in his morals, did ever profess himself a freethinker: where then are these kind of people to be found?
Clearly, Jonathan Swift didn't bother to use any of his satirist riches to purchase a time machine and travel to find that freethinkers are, in our day, reasonably common and abnormally upright.

Continuing his plaint against the atheists he could find, Swift averred that they
are not to be reformed by arguments offered to prove the truth of the Christian religion, because reasoning will never make a man correct an ill opinion, which by reasoning he never acquired
It's one thing to castigate atheists for playing the role of iniquitous frauds you've cast them in your own just-so stories -- past or present, that never seems to lose its charm among some, and who, past or present, genuinely cares? It's the last bit, where Swift announces that opinions not based on reason can't be uprooted by appeals to reason, that he goes interestingly wrong.

This claim, too, has survived to the present, and it plays on both sides of the theism-atheism divide. It's ridiculous. Opinions stubbornly held in the teeth of reasons -- facts, logic, evidence, valid inferences, and so on -- are wrong opinions, and the act of obstinately clinging to them is nothing to blithely accept. Views held contrary to reason should be seen as exactly that -- unreasonable. Such opinions should be called out as wrong and suitable for rejection or, at best, bracketed as an instance where reason is not the relevant standard, e.g., my cat is the cutest, your new hair style looks good, of course secretary's day is important, etc.

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