Simpson - The Nature of Scientific and Religious Belief

Additional Information

Category Lecture
Speakers Simpson, Tom
Year 2014

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This talk addresses two objections to religious belief from Ned Hall, based on the claim that religious practices fail to show the epistemic virtues of those of natural science. First, individuals engaged in science adopt degrees of belief towards working hypotheses rather than supposing they possess knowledge, in contrast to religious believers. Second, scientific communities are governed by a norm that permits or welcomes heresy, whereas religious communities seek to maintain orthodoxy through organisational power. I accept Hall's characterisation of the contrast, but argue that this is no objection to religious belief, for it misconstrues its grounds. Revealed religions (such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam) invite belief on the basis of testimony, rather than rational inference. Acceptance of testimony may properly result in knowledge rather than a weighted credence, and an epistemic community that is responsible for sustaining a testimonial chain is properly concerned with accurate transmission of the original report.

DR TOM SIMPSON is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, and a Senior Research Fellow at Wadham College. He was educated at Cambridge (BA, MPhil, PhD), where he was also previously a Research Fellow at Sidney Sussex College. Between degrees he served as an officer with the Royal Marines Commandos. His research is focused on trust, both its theory and practical applications, including implications for religious epistemology. His work in applied ethics has been principally on the ethics of information and computing technologies, and of war.