A Message To The Uber-Rationalist

Posted in Epistemology, Quickies, Self-Improvement, Skepticism, Thinking Critically on  | 2 minutes | 22 Comments →

I’ve noticed this thing where uber-rational people judge others as “irrational” based exclusively on whether or not the belief in question has **unassailable scientific evidence. When the uber-rationalist makes that move, they misapply a legitimate but isolated truth-criterion without consideration for the full context in which the “irrational” person holds their belief. I say “misapply” because I generally disfavor a myopic approach to reality and I believe truth is best demonstrated through multiple criteria.

Asteroids are perhaps my penultimate example. “Huge, flying rocks in space? That’s absurd!” the uber-rationalist pompously declared to the free-thinker of centuries past. “It’s more likely that you were just hallucinating when that little rock fell out of the sky and cut your head, and as far as that huge, round hole in the ground, you’re probably just seeing a pattern where none really exists.”

“Well…” the free-thinker replies with noticeable annoyance, perhaps at the subjective use of ostensibly mathematical terms. “I maintain that my position is rationally held. I saw what I saw and in my opinion, the only thing wrong with that huge, round hole in the ground is that it’s not big enough for you to bury your head.”

Despite it’s usefulness in making predictions and identifying false propositions, science necessarily plays catch-up with reality. If you are an uber-rationalist, you might want to remember this the next time you’re tempted to look down on others as “less rational” than thou.

** Existence debatable. An uber-rationalist can doubt anything.


  1. lackofcheese


    Clearly what you term an “uber-rationalist” in fact holds a rather irrational position.

  2. InsultsOverTruth


    I would never accuse someone of being less rational unless they believed something so stupifyingly ridiculous as, say, that two thousand years ago in the Middle East desert the invisible deity in the sky decided to trot around a patch of dirt for the purpose of allowing his own creation to hang him to a tree and savagely beat himself to death as a sadistic blood sacrifice for the “sins” that his creation inherited by some ignorant mammal who picked some fruit from a tree in a magic garden 6000 years ago.

    Of course, no sane person living in 2011 would actually believe in such asinine , Stone Age lunacy!!

    (Would they?)

  3. Daniel


    I so believe.

  4. InsultsOverTruth



    Then you “so is a moron”

  5. joseph


    So if we listen to the uber rationalist (in this case) we get: probably we are wrong.
    If we listened to supernauralists we got (not now, thank Gods): it’s a message from the gods, a warning etc.
    If we listened to scientists we got: don’t know yet, how about we start throwing some cannonballs off towers and think hard. We might get to a good answer after a whole bunch of half baked ones.

  6. cl



    No, that’s not what I was saying at all.

  7. cl



    IME, most who term themselves “rationalists” are really “uber-rationalists” as I describe, and that especially holds on the internet. Hell, we’ve even got one in this thread, and that with under five commenters!

  8. I think apologists and theologians guilty of the same exact brand of skepticism, except they wear the shoe on the other foot. Even top of the line philosophers like Plantinga do this all the time, and I don’t see you incessantly sniping at someone like him.

  9. Daniel



    Is it wise to ridicule those whom you think are your intellectual inferior. I think I should be more worthy of your pity than scorn. Needless to say, I think it would be a bit more accurate to call my beliefs “bronze-age” lunacy than “stone-age”.

    Perhaps you are able, with your high intelligence, put your arguments to me in a language simple enough for me to understand. You might yet help me out of my insane ravings. I await your arguments.

  10. cl


    Oh settle down. First off, I don’t “incessantly” snipe at anyone. I do make occasional swipes at subsets of people who share a common characteristic, and less-occasional swipes at specific people for specific reasons [one of which, by the way, has been William Lane Craig. I don’t read much Plantinga. Though definitely an advocate of getting the basics down pat, I try not to overcloud my mind with everything that’s been said before]. The rest of the time I’m devoted to quality of evidence / consistency of arguments, and you know it. So spare the flare.

    That said, this post was about people who judge those who hold certain ideas as “irrational” based solely on their perceived comport with “science evidence.” I watched the video you linked to, up to the 3:38 mark. What uber-rationalist offense do you allege Plantinga did? I’m guessing the “disease” remark and if that’s the case, no, that’s not anything like the uber-rationalist described in the OP.

  11. Daniel


    Thinking Emotions,

    I don’t take Plantinga to be advancing any sort of hyper-skepticism at all. I understand his defense of belief in God as properly basic as completely counter to skeptical methods. He argues that one is permitted to accept a properly basic belief unless there is good reason to think otherwise. He then argues for the proper-basicality of belief in God. Many criticize Plantinga’s brand of reformed epistemology for not being skeptical enough and allowing any far-out belief to be counted as properly basic, e.g. the Great Pumpkin. So if anything, Plantinga is uber-fideistic not uber-rationalistic.

  12. joseph


    I meant you have to balance open mindedness with some scepticism. We all get it wrong, but I don’t think anybody is truly an uber rationalist in all aspects of their lives, but neither is anybody an uber antisceptic (sorry for inflicting that on the english language).
    Acceptance of the supernatural (in the traditional definition) is somewhat unrestrained, and very open to, shall we say, politics.

  13. cl



    I meant you have to balance open mindedness with some scepticism.

    That’s irrelevant to the post, though. The point is that the uber-rationalist ironically ends up making irrational judgments because they’re so fixated on science that they misjudge everything according to whether or not it’s been replicated in the laboratory.

  14. joseph


    Oh sorry, point seemed to be that scepticism = close mindedness, my bad.

  15. cl


    The point was that uber-rationalism promotes irrationalism, by promoting a myopic consideration of whether or not a given belief is “irrational.” Do you agree or disagree?

  16. Crude


    The point is that the uber-rationalist ironically ends up making irrational judgments because they’re so fixated on science that they misjudge everything according to whether or not it’s been replicated in the laboratory.

    I wonder about this. I agree with you, but I actually think the “fixation on science” thing has a habit of being very selective, not to mention warped.

    The problem for me is that the sort of people you’re talking with are often labeled as subscribing to ‘scientism’, which in turn gets taken as ‘having an inordinate amount of faith in and respect of science’. I think that’s bull, in the same way yelling about how important reason is doesn’t make a person a respecter of reason. I think this history deserves vastly more remembrance than it currently gets.

  17. joseph


    I think that rationalists are definitely capable of being irrational, I am unclear whether that is a flaw of the system of rationalism or it’s human practicioner…
    In the same way as I am unclear that Christianity is to blame for the Inquisition (despite Dawkins).

  18. joseph


    Really appreciate that link, thanks Crude.

  19. cl,

    I’m sorry: incessantly sniping has a very emotionally charged connotation, and I didn’t mean this in a negative way at all. Something you focus on refuting is atheism/naturalism, no? Don’t take it personally.

    His response to the very first question irritates me (it’s certainly logically permissible, but that has little to do with why it bothers me). His response is almost equal to: “Well, everything body of mass we know of obeys gravity, but that doesn’t mean gravity is true.” Why is “a mind requires a brain” such a contentious statement? I’m not saying it isn’t, but I’m curious as to how it became one. A kind of mind that could live without a brain would be a radically different kind of mind from the type of mind we’re acquainted with… perhaps that’s the point Plantinga was trying to make with his extraterrestrial life analogy, but that’s not what I got from it. Likewise, a “rational creature” (whatever that is) that could survive without Earthly conditions would be radically different from us.

    I love his comment around 7:39 about how God may delight in having as “many different kinds of things as possible.” All sorts of floating intergalactic rocks that can careen into Earth at any moment… that’s nice! Great artistry, but poor pragmatics. It’s a shame He didn’t apparently delight in having lots of different kinds of rational beings, eh Plantinga? If you ask me, science accounts better for asteroids striking the Earth than religion ever could. Not that religion can’t account because it’s logically possible for it to, but science definitely seems to have the epistemic and explanatory advantage there.

    Oh, it’s also rational to assume that God loves us, is the four omni-‘s, and wants all to go to Heaven, but it’s not rational to infer His other motivations based on occurrences and actions.

    What do you mean that “science necessarily plays catch-up with reality?” If it means what I think it means, that science is careful to avoid mistakes and bias at the cost of progression, then I would argue that’s a good thing. Just because our understanding of existence and reality is constantly evolving and growing more complex doesn’t ever mean we’ll validate spiritual claims/explanations or come across the need for them; the best analogy I can offer here is the more complex something becomes through knowledge we’ve built up over the years, the more questions that can be raised about its reliability and veracity.

    After all, more elements = more assertions = more to be accepted or explained. God did it is simpler and lot easier to swallow, which is why theistic explanations may seem “more basic,” therefore more correct. This really just makes those arguments facile though, I think.


    There are lots of good reasons not to believe in Christianity. Anyone who fancies themselves as an intelligent Christian ought to know almost every single one of them — not stabbing at it, just saying. If I construct a building, guess who knows exactly where all the strategic weak points are? Me. This applies to every other belief as well.

    Also, Plantinga’s fideism may as well be a kind of philosophical skepticism.

  20. Hunt


    “Penultimate” means “second to last” not “very ultimate.”

  21. clamat


    “Penultimate” means “second to last” not “very ultimate.”

    I suspect cl meant to suggest that God is his ultimate example.

  22. Alrenous


    I learned something. Vox’s Nineveh/Hittite history is supposed to suggest that someone who doubts God is using the same flawed epistemology as the Hittite/meteorite doubters.

    Problem being that the scientists did come to believe in the Hittites and the meteorites. All you gotta do is wait.

    Other problem is that I’m using a different epistemology. Standard scientific epistemology’s flaw, as illustrated here, is obvious for any honest observer. And it is arrogance. They had to change their mind, and they could (should) have known they’d possibly have to in advance – but never admit to it.

    More importantly, being wrong doesn’t make you bad. It implies your beliefs are incorrect – that’s all. And if they work for you anyway, why should I care? Science apologists clearly care, but they can’t care for any honest reason.

    Only it would be nice if incorrect people didn’t often make the same mistake and pretend to care what I think.

    (Should be obvious but let me make sure: doesn’t apply to you. I’m implicitly inviting criticism. By symmetry, you’re welcome to uninvite me to your comment section.)

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