The Utter Silence of the Andalusian Refugee


Richard Marshall reviews Moshe Halbertal's Maimonides, in 3:AM Magazine:

Most philosophers are atheists, according to David Chalmers’ recent survey. Most philosophers of religion are not atheists according to the same survey. One might suppose that it is already being religious that draws an individual to study religion and this explains why this sub-set of philosophy is anomalous. But one might also expect that as the skeptical hypothesis is studied these individuals would fall into line with their other philosophical colleagues and eschew religious belief. Why don’t they? They may be stubborn or inept.

But an alternative might be that they notice that religions themselves don’t suppose they are answering any skeptical hypothesis (the enlightenment version or any other). Instead of being involved with a skeptical hypothesis they make an alternative metaphysical hypothesis. With this, they are making claims about fundamental reality, the reality that grounds even physics, the nature of mind, the creation of the world and so on. This is where Laurence Krauss, the eminent physicist and cosmologist, went so disastrously wrong in his discussion of nothingness. He mistook Heidegger’s question ‘why is there something rather than nothing?’ to be a scientific question rather than a metaphysical one. And much skepticism about religion makes the same kind of error when discussing religion. Religions make metaphysical claims about fundamental reality and skeptical arguments that treat them as alternative scientific arguments in the skeptical tradition misunderstand this. One of the consequences of accepting the metaphysical hypothesis of a religion is that it may be totally compatible with science and naturalism, both of which are usually presented as counterfactuals to religion by atheists.

If you doubt this then studying the Andalusian refugee Maimonides will be revealing and this terrific book by the philosopher Moshe Halbertal is a great place to begin. Maimonides is presented as a great religious thinker who thought science and reason the only route to knowledge, a man of action and passion and great intellect, who scorned anthropomorphic representations of fundamental metaphysical principles and similarly sneered at supernaturalism, miracles and spooky prophecy. Atheism based on a skeptical hypothesis gets little traction here.

More here.