Sunday, May 08, 2022

A failed polytheism bridge with atheism

 By Mathew Goldstein

An internet publication called LA Progressive recently published a moderately long article “Polytheism Versus Monotheism: Building Bridges Between Polytheism and Atheism” written by Bruce Lerro, an adjunct Professor of Psychology at Golden Gate University, Dominican University and Diablo Valley College in the San Francisco Bay Area. The article defends polytheism and criticizes monotheism and atheism. Mr. Lerro repeatedly cites, and appears to heavily borrow from, John Michael Greer and his book A World Full of Gods which likewise advocates for polytheism (I have not read that book). 

Unsurprisingly, I did not find his arguments for polytheism convincing. After all, this is an ontological question and such questions need to be addressed on a best overall fit with the available empirical evidence basis. Yet, as is often (but not always) the case on the theistic side, there was no meaningful engagement with what the overall available empirical evidence tells us about existence of deities.

He instead starts by observing that atheists often target monotheism, yet they fail to criticize the assumption underlying monotheism that “there must be some single reality”. He asserts that there is instead a “diversity of divine reality”. But where is the empirical evidence for a  “divine reality” of any type? Scientific progress is built on naturalistic methods and conclusions because those are the methods and conclusions that are successful. Supernatural methods and conclusions get us nowhere. Ipso facto, the empirical evidence that we have overwhelmingly favors ontological naturalism. And without supernaturalism, what remains to justify elevating divinity to a non-fictional status? It makes no difference if deity is single or plural, without supernaturalism there is no divinity and no deity.

Bruce Lerro then argues that polytheism is self-consistent because, unlike atheism and monotheism, it applies the same critical criteria to itself as it applies to atheism and monotheism. He basis this on what he calls “the reality of diversity” in contrast to a “there is one single truth” fallacy underlying both atheism and monotheism. This is post-modernist gobbledegook. The earth is oblate, the equatorial diameter is about 0.3% longer than the arctic pole diameter due in large part to the earth’s rotation around the arctic axis. A count of the number of ignorant or deluded people who, through history to the present day, mistakenly believed the earth has any other shape does not qualify as legitimate evidence that earth actually has a corresponding plurality of shapes. There is a single truth regarding the close to spherical shape of the earth. 

And there is likewise no reason to think that there is a diversity of truths regarding whether our universe operates within the material, mechanical, physical constraints of naturalism or without such constraints. Indeed, one of the essential differences between factual ontological truths and personal subjective truths is precisely that the former are singular while the latter are personal and therefore plural. This is a relevant distinction that the arguments for polytheism in this article conveniently implicitly denies. Theisms are ontological claims and therefore the former type of truth, not the latter type of truth. An example of the latter kind of truth is a preference for some styles of clothing or flavors of ice cream over others. Our universe may potentially operate with a combination of natural and supernatural components. But the mere possibility of such a mixed status, combined with many limited deities and other super-human or spiritual beings, does not elevate the possibility to the status of a fact.

Bruce Lerro then claims that liberal monotheists argue that the sacred experiences of people vary due to cultural differences that obscure the underlying common monotheistic core behind those experiences. He asserts that polytheists, in contrast, claim that different groups of people have different sacred experiences because “they have contacted different spiritual beings”. He fails to address the secular perspective that different groups of people have different “sacred” experiences because their sacred experiences are products of their religious beliefs. The experiences are different because the underlying beliefs are different with the beliefs preceding and shaping the experiences and the experiences then reinforcing the beliefs in a closed, self-referencing, circle.

A persistent and fatal flaw in these arguments for polytheism is that they jump from people’s beliefs and the consequences of those beliefs to ontological facts as if the mere fact that people have ontological beliefs establishes those beliefs to be non-fictional facts. That flaw is, in turn, a result of eschewing empirical evidence. Without anchoring the argument in empirical evidence, what remains to anchor the argument other than people’s beliefs? Never mind that humanity has a history of mistaking fictional entities for non-fictional entities. Never mind that deriving facts from people’s beliefs is an unreliable epistemology. We are supposed to ignore those highly relevant facts because they inconveniently undermine the arguments for theism. A primary goal of the article is to justify polytheism, but constraining ourselves to relying on empirical evidence does not get us to polytheism. Since good epistemology is an obstacle to realizing that goal its absence is no surprise. Arguments for theism are often formulated on a conclusion first basis. After reaching a conclusion the arguments to defend that conclusion are subsequently devised.

Bruce Lerro asserts that there are “a variety of sacred presences who actually exist.“ There are “gods of nature who provide sustenance” and “gods of community who provide peace and atmosphere for civilized life”. The boundary separating “gods from ancestors and spirits” can be difficult to determine. Under polytheism “gods are powerful but not omnipotent, smart but not omniscient.” There are also “lesser sacred presences” that “require attention, offerings, and persuasion, not worship.” 

This all sounds somewhat unhinged. Is Santa Claus one of these “lesser sacred presences”? Why should such sacred presences correspond only to those experienced by adults? From this polytheistic perspective, are children’s experiences equally valid?  If not then why are adults, unlike children, uniquely immune from at least sometimes also being impressionable, gullible, and mistaken with their beliefs? How can anyone reliably untangle fictional characters from those “who actually exist” with this circular and super-promiscuous, belief-influenced-personal-experiences-reveal-the-facts-about-how-the-universe-operates epistemology?

Bruce Lerro then claims that what gods ask of us is reverence and respect, not abject submission. He argues that polytheism is less tribalistic and more tolerant of a diversity of beliefs than monotheism. He claims the relationship between gods and humans is more reciprocal under polytheism than the “one way relationship” of monotheism. It is plausible that polytheisms may, to some extent, in some respects, have some advantages over monotheisms in terms of how they influence human behavior. The topic of influences on human behavior is details and contexts sensitive. There will very likely be tradeoffs, particularly given all of the pluralities of monotheistic and polytheistic beliefs. While people’s behaviors are obviously important, that is a different topic. We need to walk before we can dance. The available empirical evidence needs to favor polytheism first to justify walking as polytheists. Humanity would arguably be better off if our behavior was not dependent on made up ideologies rooted in an unstable and unreliable reliance on elevating fictional entities into actual facts, using highly dubious epistemology that on closer inspection lacks integrity.

Bruce Lerro’s sacred experience based arguments for polytheism appears to conflict with his rejection of monotheism. How does an accounting of the diversity of sacred experiences as a central justification for polytheism fit comfortably with simultaneously ignoring the significance of all of the monotheistic based sacred experiences? Isn’t the failure to recognize the factual, “actually exists”, “truth” derived from the sacred experiences of monotheists a double standard? He claims polytheism is self-consistent, but insofar as it devalues, to the point of rejecting, assigning an equal epistemological weight and merit to the experienced presence of monotheistic deities, it is epistemologically inconsistent.

Bruce Lerro says that the polytheistic gods “are not supernatural, but exist within a natural order, both shaping its manifestations and bound by some of its laws.” This sounds like a fly in the sky and swim in the lake at the same time type of assertion. There are such things as mutually exclusive dichotomies. A fly is ipso facto not a kangaroo. And an entity that is not fully bound by the laws of nature is therefore either partially supernatural or operating within laws of nature that are currently unknown to us. Which alternative is more likely depends on the technical details regarding the degree of incompatible with the current known laws of nature and the constraints imposed by naturalism for the phenomena at issue. The kind of double talk gymnastics we encounter here is all too common among advocates of theism, both the mono and poly varieties. If you value self-consistency (as we should) then it is atheism, not polytheism, that is the winner. Atheism relies on the same method for determining what is true and false about how the universe operates that everyone relies on every day when we wake up and go from the bedroom to the kitchen to make and eat breakfast: Best overall fit with the available empirical evidence.

Bruce Lerro then argues that “superstrings, bubble universes, folded dimensions – transcend ordinary matter and energy far more drastically than the average pagan god.” That is an apples and potatoes comparison. Much of science takes us to non-intuitive and counter-intuitive places, but it consistently remains within the constraints of naturalism. Defending supernaturalism requires more than confusing and undermining the distinction between supernaturalism and naturalism together with citing how counter-intuitive modern knowledge has become.

Bruce Lerro argues there are substantial differences between monotheism and polytheism. He claims there are no holy texts undergirding polytheism. He says that the polytheistic pantheon of superhuman, yet still limited, spiritual beings are literary creations, not theological creations. Polytheistic beliefs are the “result of extended processes of interaction between gods, rather than through a revealed religion.” He then claims that as a result of all of the substantial differences between polytheism and monotheism, the atheist arguments that are effective against monotheism, such as the argument from evil, are inapplicable to polytheism. 

For example, in a section titled “Epistemology: Strong vs weak miracles” Bruce Lerro delineates miracles that “violate the familiar patterns of nature” as “strong miracles”Whereas miracles that “follow natural pattens like a successful rain dance” are “weak miracles”. He claims that polytheists don’t believe in strong miracles and therefore escape atheist criticism against miracles because the atheist criticism focuses on strong miracles. However, atheists actually argue against both strong and weak miracles. Weak miracles are, by definition, inconsistent with the known laws of nature that have been empirically evidenced to be persistently universal. If it were otherwise then by definition the alleged events at issue would not qualify as miracles, and for that reason alone substantial skepticism is the proper response against all attempts to elevate the status of alleged miracles to facts absent hefty and firmly grounded supporting empirical evidence for the miracles.

There is far from sufficient evidence to justify belief in the real presence of actual deities, spirits, ancestors, or super-humans that are partially exempt from the laws of nature. If anything, the polytheist perspective that these deities, spirits, ancestors, etc. reside and interact with us here on earth renders even more damning the lack of supporting empirical evidence. The evidence we have instead favors the opposite conclusion. The conclusion favored on the available evidence is that all fully or partially supernatural entities, regardless of what they are named or how they are defined, are human created fantasies. We are prone to fantasies. From our weakly constrained imaginations humans have, over the millennia, invented thousands of spiritual beings and super-humans with a wide variety of supernatural powers, limited and unlimited, weak and strong. They are all no more than that, our fantasies. Endorsing all of them as factual except for the monotheistic variety is not progress.

Bruce Lerro, again citing Greer as usual, argues that progress is “a myth to be overcome.” Does he visit a dentist? Does he visit a doctor? Does he live in heated and air conditioned house with a refrigerator, plumbing and a toilet? Does he buy food from a grocery store? Does he travel multiple miles quickly in a vehicle driving on a road or tracks? Does he read and write? If there is no such thing as progress, why does he, and all other polytheists, not abandon all of those modern things?

In his conclusion, Bruce Lerro distinguishes “hard polytheists who believe in the ontological existence of goddesses and gods” from “soft polytheists who believe the deities are socio-historical structures which are the product of human societies.” He acknowledges the former are in direct conflict with atheists. Under his second definition most atheists are soft polytheists, yet most atheists reject applying the polytheist label to themselves, and most theists also reject applying the polytheist label to atheists. That is clearly not a standard definition of polytheist. It is a counter-productively confusing, overly broad, misuse of the polytheistic label that lacks integrity because it includes non theists.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Group Selection and Humanism: Does it Matter?

 by Bill Creasy

I self-published a book called “Making a Happy Society.” The book based on essays in WASHline and WASH blog, and there is an acknowledgement to WASH. Here is the link to on Amazon:

I recently gave a talk to the WASH-MDC chapter about some points that are in the book. Some points may look familiar to long time members. I spent a lot of time editing as my COVID project. I tried to give the book a unified message.

The book is about a kind of evolution called group selection. I think that a study of group selection gives a very different perspective on a lot of issues that are interesting to humanists. It is also gives a different perspective for solving problems. I already think it matters, but I’d like to hear whether you think it matters.

I tried to write it as if it is a view of society from earth orbit, to give a big picture perspective without a lot of detail. There are a lot of topics in the book that are covered fairly superficially.

One topic that received a lot of interest at the talk was a consideration of Richard Dawkins's view of group selection, first discussed in his book The Selfish Gene in Chapter 1. I didn't include a thorough discussion of Dawkins's points at the talk, so I'll write about it in more detail.

My book is about ideas from group selection. Group selection has had a controversial development and is still controversial in some circles. If you are like a lot of secular people, you found out about group selection from Dawkins’s book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins has a lot of respectability as one of the New Atheists and as a scientist and science popularizer.

The first chapter of his book is about why he thinks group selection is wrong, and why that was his motivation for writing the book. It’s an odd way to introduce a topic in a popular science book. Feel free to look at it for yourself if you don’t believe me.

I’m not going to argue with Dawkins about genetic evolution. But I have to disagree with some of his conclusions on group selection. Group selection does have a checkered background. Back in the 1960’s, there was a trend in biology to say that species evolved. Dawkins argued that species don’t evolve as a group but they are competing as individuals. Here is his description of group selection from Chapter 1:

A group, such as a species of a population within a species, whose individual members are prepared to sacrifice themselves for the welfare of the group, may be less likely to go extinct than a rival group whose individual members place their own selfish interests first. Therefore the world becomes populated mainly by groups consisting of self-sacrificing individuals.

But then he makes a categorical generalization that because species don’t evolve as groups, no groups can evolve, and as a result he concluded that only genes evolve. His refutation of group selection is as follows:

Even in the group of altruists, there will almost certainly be a dissenting minority who refuses to make any sacrifice. If there is just one selfish rebel, prepared to exploit the altruism of the rest, then he, by definition, is more likely than they are to survive and have children. Each of these children will tend to inherit his selfish traits....[I]t is very difficult to see what is to stop selfish individuals migrating in from neighbouring selfish groups.

With regard to group selection of species or in general, he wrote:

Does natural selection choose between species? If so, we might expect individual organisms to behave altruistically 'for the good of the species.' They might limit their birth rates to avoid overpopulation, or restrain their hunting behaviour to conserve the species' future stocks of prey. It was such widely disseminated misunderstandings of Darwinism that originally provoked me to write the book [The Selfish Gene].

From this point, he made a categorical rejection of all group selection. He continued:

The critical question is: Which level in the hierarchy of life will turn out to be the inevitably 'selfish' level, at which natural selection acts? The Selfish Species? The Selfish Group? The Selfish Organism? The Selfish Ecosystem? Most of these could be argued, and most have been uncritically assumed by one or another author, but all of them are wrong.

The strangest and funniest part of Dawkins's argument is his use of a fudge factor or a hedge, a common idea in science that is a often thrown into an argument when no one quite understands what is going on. It is used when someone wants to leave themselves an escape for when it is better understood. Dawkins's fudge factor is what he calls the “muddle”:

The muddle in human ethics over the level at which altruism is desirable—family, nation, race, species, or all living things—is mirrored by a parallel muddle in the biology over the level at which altruism is to be expected according to the theory of evolution.

In other words, he used the word “muddle” because he understood that behavior is complicated, and someone may analyze it in better detail to find that some altruism may be selected by evolution.

Meanwhile, since then, the idea of cultural evolution, a kind of group selection, is in common usage in social sciences. The Wikipedia entry on cultural evolution says,

Today, cultural evolution has become the basis for a growing field of scientific research in the social sciences, including anthropology, economics, psychology, and organizational studies.... In recent years, there has been a convergence of the cluster of related theories toward seeing cultural evolution as a unified discipline in its own right.

The word “evolve” has gotten very common usage to talk about changing ideas or cultures. It’s used for developing computer programs.

Evolutionary biologists study genetic evolution but seem to have lost out on other studies of evolutionary theory. Evolution seems to have split into two branches of biological and social, in spite of the advantages of having a unified picture. Some of the controversy is giving in the Wikipedia page on group selection that tends to favor Dawkins's point of view. Another spirited discussion of group selection was led by Steven Pinker on called “The False Allure of Group Selection.”

Dawkins’s work on genetic evolution is worthwhile from Chapter 2 on, so I don’t want to give the impression that I’m criticizing his work on biology. But his rejection of group selection is a problem, because he has a position of authority on the subject. Forty plus years after the first edition, he hasn’t changed the first chapter and he is still arguing against group selection. This is a particular problem because of his influence among secular people. It is also a problem because groups are such a central part of human social life, and we really need to pay attention to them.

Other biologists are working on group selection. David Sloan Wilson, professor at the University of Binghamton, NY, and (the late) E. O. Wilson, at Harvard, wrote popular books about group selection. David Sloan Wilson has been associated with the Templeton Foundation, which has a reputation for promoting religion. That hasn’t helped his credibility among atheists. But he has a website devoted to group evolution. So it is still a complicated situation.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve been reading about group selection. I started off taking Dawkins’s word for it. After a while, I changed my mind. I think that it can explain a lot of otherwise puzzling aspects of human nature and human social problems. These include political problems like the current culture wars. It gives an explanation about the question of how progress happens. I think it matters, but I’ll be interested in what people decide for themselves to answer the question in the title, “Does it Matter?”

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Arriving at ethics from opposing directions

By Mathew Goldstein

There is a non-theistic and a theistic approach to ethics. While the different approaches will sometimes reach the same destinations, they will sometimes arrive at opposing conclusions. We have different and opposing starting points for defining ethics. The different conclusions are an inevitable result of the opposite direction paths we take to reach our conclusions. I am not impartial here, I very much endorse the non-theistic perspective. 

Both the theistic and non-theistic approaches recognize that ethics needs to be anchored in our factual conclusions about how the universe functions. The sequencing of how we go about achieving this match are reversed. Theists start by prioritizing a fixed set of pre-specified ethical goals. Non-theists start by prioritizing the facts regarding how the universe functions.


The non-theistic approach to ethics takes epistemology seriously. Over the past several centuries humanity has built up, and continues to further build up, an increasingly comprehensive and detailed understanding of the how the universe functions. It is here, with our empirical and reason based conclusions about how the universe works, that we can have the most confidence in the validity, and therefore the objectivity, of our conclusions. Empiricism provides us with a practical success versus failure measure to filter out the falsehoods that far outnumber the facts. On this basis we reach the conclusion that our universe is entirely indifferent to our fate, that it functions within material, mechanical, physical constraints. Ethics is needed in our own collective self-interest to push back against this factual indifference so that the overall outcomes for humanity are better than they otherwise would be. Therefore ethics selectively operates against those facts that run against humanities enlightened self-interest at the same time it is grounded in the facts. Modern technology gives us increasing capabilities to act in ways that impacts our lives for better or worse. Therefore ethics continually becomes more important for the fate of humanity.

From a theistic perspective (as perceived from my non-theist perspective), we start with the ethics that are revealed to us by a deity. Therefore we must believe in the deity as a fact. To convince ourselves that the deity is a fact we rely on faith. Possessing faith in the fact of the deity is therefore itself a virtue. The deity monitors our compliance with our ethical obligations and ensures that the final outcomes for everyone are ultimately ethical. A conclusion that our universe is ultimately ethical with the help of a supernatural realm (despite superficial, here and now, appearances otherwise) is the foundation upon which ethics rests.

Theists are dismayed, or alarmed, by people who lack or reject the “faith fact” of deity because they assume that non-theism will result in our behavior being unreliable and untrustworthy. They claim that theistic ethics is uniquely objective because it is derived from divine command. Non-theists are dismayed, or alarmed, by the fictional grounded “ethics” of theists who are actually being unethical when their actions are evaluated against the empirically derived facts about how the universe functions. For us, objectivity and subjectivity are a continuum, in practice they are not one or the other absolutes because we ourselves are not all knowing and all present deities. Humanity is dependent on competent epistemology to obtain objectivity. Good epistemology is an initial ethical obligation since a non-fictional ethic more generally is dependent on getting the facts right and a fictional ethic is unreliable and untrustworthy. It is theistic ethics that suffers from being too subjective because it is more likely to attach itself to bad epistemology.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

What happens when families can choose ethics instead of religious education?

By Mathew Goldstein

In Germany all public schools were required to provide religious education. Families of children who were not baptized could opt out their children from the religious education classes with a free time alternative. There were two categories of classes, a Catholic class and a Protestant class. The content of this “education” (in quotes because there is a mutually exclusive conflict with the goal of a genuine education) was dogmatic, with teachers selected by the church for the purpose of teaching that church’s doctrine. High school students spent about 1000 hours in religious education class. Opt-outs were rare, but then became more common in urban areas. 

Starting in the 1970’s, eight of the eleven West German states transitioned to providing a secular ethics education alternative. The question is what demographic outcomes changed that arguably can be attributed to the partial replacement of religious education with secular ethics education? A recent study from the international platform of Ludwigs-Maximilians University’s Center for Economic Studies and the ifo Institute in Munich addresses this question. See “Can Schools Change Religious Attitudes? Evidence from German State Reforms of Compulsory Religious Education”. Their answer is yes, there were demographic changes that they claim correlate with the change in education policy. 

I do not doubt that the demographic changes they cite occurred around the same time, but I suspect the reduction in religious belief was a pre-existing trend that may have occurred anyway given that it was the increasing number of opt-outs that triggered this education policy change. This study, however, provides another of a growing collection of evidence based conclusions that ethical behavior is not dependent on religious belief as advocates for religious belief too often claim without providing adequately correlated supporting evidence. The number of people, the frequency of their commentary, the names and backgrounds of the people, who assert a conclusion, such as the assertion that religious belief is needed for ethics, does not replace or substitute for evidence when determining if the conclusion is true. And in any case the religious beliefs that are claimed to be needed for ethics are false so they are a rickety basis for grounding ethics.

Thursday, January 06, 2022

Consciousness maintains homeostasis

 By Mathew Goldstein

More on consciousness, this time from the viewpoint of neuroscientist Antonio Demasio, the author of a number of books for the general public, including a new book titled “Feeling & Knowing: Making Minds Conscious” that explores the origin and evolution of consciousness. Maintaining homeostasis is posited here as the primary reason for consciousness. Because both consciousness and homeostasis are biological functions this sounds more plausible (at least to me) than claiming the former is about countering entropy. Homeostasis is not synonymous with slowing down the overall universe context (non-biological) rate of entropy increase. Antonio Demasio answers five questions in an interview published by Science News.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Is SARS-CoV-2 a Wuhan lab modified virus?

 By Mathew Goldstein

The book Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19 by Alina Chen and Matt Ridley is currently highly rated on Amazon. I am not convinced obtaining a definitive answer to this question is as important as Michael Shermer and Matt Ridley claim in their discussion of the book. Yet it should be of concern that when virology labs collect potential pathogens for study, despite good intentions, there is a risk they will accidentally initiate a pandemic. If you are interested in this topic then Matt Ridley explains clearly, competently, and concisely in this interview why the possibilities that the SARS-CoV-2 virus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology after it was modified to more easily infect humans, or was spread by people traveling between the lab and the horseshoe bat caves in southern China or Laos to bring samples to the lab for testing, merits being taken seriously: Matt Ridley on the search for the origin of COVID-19.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Consciousness from life’s push against entropy

By Mathew Goldstein

Anil Seth is Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex. He was recently interviewed by Quanta Magazine. The interview has a link to his very good TED talk regarding what consciousness is about which has been viewed over 12 million times. The interview and the TED talk overlap, but to understand his argument it is better to consume both. The TED talk demonstrates that what we believe impacts what we perceive (and vice versa), with perception described as a useful “controlled hallucination”. He argues that consciousness arises from within life’s essential property of self-regulation in opposition to entropy and that as we identify the set of properties and mechanisms that underlie consciousness the “hard problem” of consciousness will dissolve much like the “hard problem” of life dissolved as the set of properties and mechanisms that underlie life were identified. 

A short, interesting article by him was published on August 2020 by the Institute of Ideas and Arts “Catching sight of your self”. He argues that our sense of self, our sense of free-will, etc. are perceptions like our perception of color. They are all “forms of experience” that “represent really-existing things or processes in ways that are useful to the organism.” He has a web site and a blog

Sunday, August 08, 2021

Are atheists a meaningfully distinct demographic group?

 By Mathew Goldstein

Is there a significant difference between the religiously unaffiliated or between agnostics and atheists? People who are skeptical that we have knowledge about a judgmental deity tend to live their lives much like atheists. Nevertheless, a December 2017 New Age beliefs Pew poll result indicates that there is at least one significant difference between self-described atheists on the one hand and self-described agnostics and other religiously unaffiliated “nones” on the other hand. Self identifying atheists as a religious belief related demographic are unique in their tendency to consistently reject New Age beliefs.

My guess is that atheists tend to be better grounded and more consistent in recognizing the significance of the distinction between properly justified beliefs and fictions than other people, including other “nones”. Being agnostic or unaffiliated suggests having a skeptical outlook, which is good, but skepticism by itself, while it is a requisite component for critical thinking, is not the same as critical thinking. Critical thinking recognizes, seeks out, and firmly adopts as dictates, conclusions which are best fit overall with the available empirical evidence, it is not compatible with a pluralistic, all beliefs have equal standing, perspective. Knowledge and ignorance are meaningfully and substantially different, it is a distinction that underlies competence versus incompetence. Not respecting that distinction can be as insidious as, or even more insidious than, getting the facts wrong

At the same time, individuals can be wrong about many things, including ontological or metaphysical supernaturalism, gods, and New Age beliefs and still do fine overall. There are also the questions of whether the goals of socially and psychological navigating life each day successfully conflicts with the goal of critical thinking about more distant concerns and, insofar as there is a conflict, why the latter should be deemed more important than the former. That is more of a personal issue, so the answer will be different for different people and can depend on the individual context and circumstances. It is unfortunate that we have this tendency to mix these different goals that we too often perceive as being in conflict and sacrifice the integrity of our identification of what is true about how our universe operates goal to our other goals.