I recently finished Martin Gardner‘s “The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener”.
Gardner is a Fideist, which describes anyone who uses faith to come to certain truths. William James, John Dewey, Blaise Pascal, Soren Kierkegard, were considered to have some Fideist tendencies
I am of the opinion that there are two ways of interpreting the world around you: either through faith or through logic and reason. I am way on the side of the “logic and reason” part of the spectrum. I don’t believe in ghosts, angels, the Lost City of Atlantis, heaven or hell, or the vast majority of conspiracy theories.
The book was intriguing to me because I don’t use faith in my life, for anything except trustworthy mundane information that sane and reasonable people accept on faith. For example, I do not doubt the existence of the city of Paris, France even though I have never seen it. That I accept on faith.
So since this book was a description of the use of faith in life, I approached the book with some healthy skepticism.
All in all, for the most even-handed description of our existence in this universe, this is the book for you. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I can understand how it’s possible for reasonable people to take certain things on faith, or at least treat some of “the unknowable” with some healthy consideration or agnosticism.
Gardner does not give any credence to the God of Abraham or any man-made gods. He is a Fideist. He believes in God, but that this God does not really have any real interest in human affairs. God is simply out there, and there is wonder in considering the possibilities of the unknown. His writing is very matter-of-fact and states that we have to know that our understanding of the universe has limits, and therefore a healthy consideration of a world we cannot access is possible. And that this consideration should not turn you into a raving lunatic.
I’m talking to you, Fundamentalists.
I should point out that Fideists assign a high value to science and reason, but consider the possibilities. There are no faeries, no angels, no ghosts to a Fideist, because those things are supposed to be observable in the “natural world”. Fideists (or at least Gartner) go beyond that natural world and say that there may very well be a world beyond this one that we simply don’t know, or can’t know, and is at least worth considering.
What I got from the book is that I am more agnostic about the unknown than I thought. For example, I believe that when we die, man, that’s it. You rot and turn to dust. No Pearly Gates or fuckers playing harps on clouds. No “standing before God or Jesus [or enter deity of choice here] for your judgment”. That’s it, auf wiedersehen, good-bye, sayonara, it’s the end, close the book and all that.
I still hold true to that belief, but according to Fidesim, you can’t say that definitively. I still believe it, but I think a Fideist might say that life after death is “unlikely, but possible”.
I can respect that, provided one keeps a healthy sense of indifference to whatever one considers. One should not waste their time on fanciful hopes such as life after death.
Make this world a better place.
Next book: Lost Christianities by Bart Ehrman.