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Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Religious Belief, Make-believe and Science

I’ve written a short little book that is a re-writing of Rav Hirsch’s Nineteen Letters. The re-working tries to package the key ideas in modern language and reapply them to different historical circumstances. Here is an edited excerpt from the manuscript. It’s aimed for a lay audience, and tries to be accessible to young adults. But I’m interested to hear what readers of this blog think about this excerpt, in which I outline why the Nineteen Letters interests me as a philosopher. Rav Hirsch’s book is an argument for living an observant Jewish lifestyle that never once tries to argue that the theological or historical claims made by the religion are true. I find that interesting and strangely compelling, as I try to explain in what follows. The excerpt starts with some philosophical background ...

Philosophical background

In the course of our everyday lives, we are forced to make a large number of assumptions. Indeed, we habitually make all sorts of assumptions for all sorts of reasons. When I attend an ‘introduction to physics’ lecture, I assume that the teacher is teaching well established facts and not simply making things up! When I get into an aeroplane, I assume that the laws of aeronautics that have held planes up in the sky for the entire history of aviation will continue to operate, at least until I land safely on terra firma. I assume that other people exist and that I’m not just dreaming them up. These things I assume to be true. These assumptions are simply beliefs that I might not feel confident enough to call ‘knowledge’ when pressed by a sceptical philosopher; but I believe them, nevertheless, without any real reservation.