Posts Tagged ‘faith’
Myself and myatheistlife are discussing the use of Pascal’s Wager. For those unfamiliar with the term:
Pascal maintains that we are incapable of knowing whether God exists or not, yet we must “wager” one way or the other. Reason cannot settle which way we should incline, but a consideration of the relevant outcomes supposedly can. Here is the first key passage:
“God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up… Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose… But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is… If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.
In essence the bet is believe. If you are worshiping the true god salvation is yours. If no god, you get nothing. But if god exists and you refuse the wager, oh the horror …
I recognised in a blog the use of Pascal’s wager, which I questioned:
With regards point 4), which is Pascal’s Wager, do we think a God that cares enough to examine our life after death would not see our faith as genuine but a desire for self preservation beyond the grave? Unless like an avid twitterer checking his follower count he does not care if sincerely following their tweets as long as you follow.
The response was that taking the wager would lead to genuine sincere faith with the right study and application in the spiritual community. Having used Pascal’s words above paraphrased I remarked:
A fake it till you make it ploy; a deception this time to get you back into the after life garden of Eden. This hardly makes the gamble on salvation better if the means justify the ends.
Dear Lord I deceived myself till the delusion was real for for me …
With thanks to Patheos for the cartoon strip.
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog
President Obama’s Christian faith, and his belief that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, has shaped what he’s done as president — from supporting economic development abroad to making health care more affordable for all Americans, ensuring our elderly can retire securely, and helping all of our children get a good education and a shot at success.
Taken from Obama’s campaign website I was hoping to watch
the video The President on Faith where the above quote is mentioned. However it is off line at the time of writing. Just in case there is any doubt that Obama is motivated by faith on employment policy or health care there is:
We could say this is a way to get religious people to vote. In the same way Dawkins is trying to get atheists (and indeed all of America) to vote for Obama. Pluralism means you try to appeal to voters in different ways, because what ticks boxes differs person to person, group to group.
For more see my previous blog here.
Think I have blogged this issue to death now. Obama is a devout Christian yet is also a secularist. But for more on Dawkins singling out Mormonism rather than Christianity as he did in The God Delusion you may want to check out this blog Richard Dawkins’ Blind Faith in Obama.
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog
Dawkins has slightly moved from what I reported earlier on here to saying that Obama is ‘vaguely “spiritual”‘
This however as I mentioned in the above cited blog is not borne out by the evidence. I think we can say that Obama is a Christian who is also a secularist. It does seem that Dawkins has difficulty saying that, so dismisses the thought that Obama is truly religious as a result.
A memory stirred to a blog in 2008 during the Democratic Primary. Sure enough, Obama’s campaign produced a pamphlet detailing his Christian credentials:
Even PZ Myers was unenthusiastic about campaigning for Obama because of his Christianity back then.
In 2008 Newsweek did a very in depth story on Obama’s spiritual journey Finding His Faith. So why is Dawkins saying what he is about Obama? Out of ignorance?
My fear is that secularism is being claimed as for atheists only – which I think plays into the religious fundamentalist’s and Christian Right’s hands. The meme that you cannot be religious and secularist has to be stopped. I am saddened that Dawkins cannot just leave it at what Obama stands for.
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog
Mentally it is a traumatic moment when you realise that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are not of god. While you may think your first thought is of freedom, to think for yourself and not be told what is right, and to celebrate life without constantly thinking of the pagan significance of symbols, your first reaction is one of abject horror that your belief is false. Because it felt so much like truth, and the mysteries of the world you understood.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the cage you were in felt comfortable. Your life was dedicated to Jehovah’s will to share the good news and save as many people as you could before Armageddon. Which was as real an event to me as tomorrow’s sunrise. When you step out of that cage you are seeing the world through new eyes. The framework by which you judged social interactions, based your daily routine is gone. You have to reinvent yourself. You have to understand the world anew.
The shock is that you find out who you are – rather than who you thought you were, a serf of god. I had been out of Secondary School since the first year learning at home (which is to say I read text books – home schooling sounds like I had teaching resources and a teacher) having prepared myself for a life of ministry work as a pioneer. Which is to say a missionary. Blown out of the water, with two years of secondary school left I realised that to have any opportunity in life I needed qualifications – I needed to go back to school. Back where I had been bullied as a Jehovah’s Witness.
Yet despite all this, the instincts you develop die hard. For example I still considered Christmas and birthdays incompatible with Christian teaching – and the Trinity and divinity of Jesus to be in error. The one good thing about that skepticism of other Christian teaching is that it stopped me and my mother joining the born again Christians or Mormons who were waiting in the wings to snap us up. I would wish to say we were wary of being fooled again, but the reality was we just wanted to come to terms with things for ourselves without someone trying to guide us to an answer. We wanted to figure it out for ourselves. In essence we believed in Jehovah, not the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
That helped me because the reason why we left was my inquiry into the past teachings of the Watchtower – designed to furnish me with answers on life the universe and everything, which instead revealed false prophets and changed doctrines. Now I was free to read books that were not published by the Watchtower Society, prevented because they would mislead you from the truth and also the time it took up reading Watchtower publications for meetings. As I have mentioned, I read Douglas Adams Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in secret because elders considered it inappropiate reading. It got me thinking how the earth came into being and how you would prove god was the cause.
Part of getting over the horror was to learn about the world, and to reason for myself rather than be told this is the truth and that doubt is wrong. Time is an important healer. Going back to school, and joining a tennis club meant that social interactions which had been limited to Jehovah’s Witnesses in the past became more natural. Especially when trying to save people was not going to be part of the conversation.
Taking part in the school play gave me an adrenaline rush I had only ever experienced giving a talk in the congregation – but I felt part of a community. It was possible to be in a social network, even with people with different backgrounds and beliefs to yourself. Hard as it may be to believe about adolescents, sinning and having a good time were not the only considerations of people my own age – people did volunteering, others were getting over dysfunctional families with a dignity and strength that I thought only the holy spirit and not human will could give.
Down to the bookshop, while studying at 6th Form, I decided that what I needed to know was why there was life in all its variety. I had been taught to be a creationist, that evolution was wrong and how Satan took people away from the truth. Now I had an opportunity to actually read a book on evolution by a scientist – and the only one I knew was Dawkins thanks to Adams. The store assistant suggested Richard Dawkins “Blind Watchmaker” – which was perfect because before the Jehovah Witnesses (we started studying when I was eight) I had been into computer programing on my old Spectrum, so the fact that Dawkins was running programmes to understand evolution fascinated me.
There was considerable anger about how I had been taught to observe the world, and a recognition that one reason for belief had been terror about what the world would do to me without god and the need for approval from the congregation. It would be fair to say that the congregation was my surrogate father, with my parents divorced, teaching me right and wrong and being my role model. This anger was the final thing that made me burn that bridge to nowhere which accepted the dogma without the faith in organised religion. It broke the tethers of affection that I had as a child.
Yet I wanted it to be true. So while being agnostic going into University, I still hankered for a benign all powerful being that may yet make the world a better place – I just did not see the evidence for such a being. Because whilst I now appreciated the human spirit, I still considered civilisation to have been a failure in the problems facing humanity. Reading Bertrand Russell helped with that. Education is a wonderful thing – while expectations may make us feel that the world is a miserable place that does not live up to them, when you consider where we have come from the human story is one of hope and resilience against the odds. Finally there was a sunset on the delusion of a god that could, but not yet.
Yes there are grave dangers and social problems, but that is nothing new. We are best placed to face them like never before. There is an alternative to a benevolent hand from another dimension saving us. We actually do not have a choice in this regard – which may just make us realise that science, technology, research and education are vital for human survival as they are for bettering ourselves and our way of life. Religion should not get in the way, either by diverting our attention or corrupting the education process.
Me and Douglas Adams (outline of life in the Jehovah’s Witnesses)
What was it like with the Jehovah’s Witnesses? (a week in the life of a Jehovah’s Witness)
Mothering Sunday – Mother’s Day (an example of how you deal with a celebration you cannot partake in)
Sam Harris said of the Koran after quoting numerous passages:
But there is no substitute for confronting the text itself. I cannot judge the quality of the Arabic; perhaps it is sublime. But the book’s contents are not. On almost every page, the Koran instructs observant Muslims to despise nonbelievers. On almost every page, it prepares the ground for religious conflict. Anyone who can read passages like those quoted above and still not see a link between Muslim faith and Muslim violence should probably consult a neurologist.
With many quotes from the Koran in the link above that make you think that, should you wish to commit violence in the name of Allah, you will find references for such actions that you do so on behalf of god. While there are Muslims that do not believe in using violence and are secularist – not less the Bangladeshi community in my town who fled fundamentalism – the question of how we take away the oxygen that make people feel the Koran is a book that orders Jihad rather than one of metaphor, poetry and a history of a people living in a superstitious supernatural world is one that needs answering without fearing to ask the question.
I still remember when Ayaan Hirsi Ali was receiving death threats at a conference in Washington DC that they did think about cancelling her talk, but she went ahead. I am so glad that we got to hear what she had to say.
The treading on egg shells when a teacher allows her class to name a teddy bear Mohammad faces a murderous mob, a journalist student suffering imprisonment and the threat of the death penalty for starting a debate on feminism and the Prophet, the drawing of cartoons and over the top reaction to when people say that Islam is wrong need challenging.
This can be done without concern for sensitivities or treating people like they need wrapping up in cotton wool for fear that they cannot cope with rational debate without strapping explosives to themselves in response to have the last word. We do not help moderate Muslims that keep their faith in the private sphere if we fear making such criticism or scrutinizing what the text and belief are of Islam. That forgets how Christianity developed to where it is now in the UK.
To this end we need more articles like that of Johann Hari, from The Independent which I re post below:
Johann Hari: We need to stop being such cowards about Islam
Thursday, 14 August 2008
This is a column condemning cowardice – including my own. It begins with the story of a novel you cannot read. The Jewel of Medina was written by a journalist called Sherry Jones. It recounts the life of Aisha, a girl who was married off at the age of six to a 50-year-old man called Mohamed ibn Abdallah. On her wedding day, Aisha was playing on a see-saw outside her home. Inside, she was being betrothed. The first she knew of it was when she was banned from playing out in the street with the other children. When she was nine, she was taken to live with her husband, now 53. He had sex with her. When she was 14, she was accused of adultery with a man closer to her own age. Not long after, Mohamed decreed that his wives must cover their faces and bodies, even though no other women in Arabia did.
You cannot read this story today – except in the Koran and the Hadith. The man Mohamed ibn Abdallah became known to Muslims as “the Prophet Mohamed”, so our ability to explore this story is stunted. The Jewel of Medina was bought by Random House and primed to be a best-seller – before a University of Texas teacher saw proofs and declared it “a national security issue”. Random House had visions of a re-run of the Rushdie or the Danish cartoons affairs. Sherry Jones’s publisher has pulped the book. It’s gone.
In Europe, we are finally abolishing the lingering blasphemy laws that hinder criticism of Christianity. But they are being succeeded by a new blasphemy law preventing criticism of Islam – enforced not by the state, but by jihadis. I seriously considered not writing this column, but the right to criticise religion is as precious – and hard-won – as the right to criticise government. We have to use it or lose it.
Some people will instantly ask: why bother criticising religion if it causes so much hassle? The answer is: look back at our history. How did Christianity lose its ability to terrorise people with phantasms of sin and Hell? How did it stop spreading shame about natural urges – pre-marital sex, masturbation or homosexuality? Because critics pored over the religion’s stories and found gaping holes of logic or morality in them. They asked questions. How could an angel inseminate a virgin? Why does the Old Testament God command his followers to commit genocide? How can a man survive inside a whale?
Reinterpretation and ridicule crow-barred Christianity open. Ask enough tough questions and faith is inevitably pushed farther and farther back into the misty realm of metaphor – where it is less likely to inspire people to kill and die for it. But doubtful Muslims, and the atheists who support them, are being prevented from following this path. They cannot ask: what does it reveal about Mohamed that he married a young girl, or that he massacred a village of Jews who refused to follow him? You don’t have to murder many Theo Van Goghs or pulp many Sherry Joneses to intimidate the rest. The greatest censorship is internal: it is in all the books that will never be written and all the films that will never be shot, because we are afraid.
We need to acknowledge the double-standard – and that it will cost Muslims in the end. Insulating a religion from criticism – surrounding it with an electric fence called “respect” – keeps it stunted at its most infantile and fundamentalist stage. The smart, questioning and instinctively moral Muslims – the majority – learn to be silent, or are shunned (at best). What would Christianity be like today if George Eliot, Mark Twain and Bertrand Russell had all been pulped? Take the most revolting rural Alabama church, and metastasise it.
Since Jones has brought it up, let us look at Mohamed’s marriage to Aisha as a model for how we can conduct this conversation. It is true those were different times, and it may have been normal for grown men to have sex with prepubescent girls. The sources are not clear on this point. But whatever culture you live in, having sex when your body is not physically developed can be an excruciatingly painful experience. Among Vikings, it was more normal than today to have your arm chopped off, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t agony. If anything, Jones’s book whitewashes this, suggesting that Mohamed’s “gentleness” meant Aisha enjoyed it.
The story of Aisha also prompts another fundamentalist-busting discussion. You cannot say that Mohamed’s decision to marry a young girl has to be judged by the standards of his time, and then demand that we follow his moral standards to the letter. Either we should follow his example literally, or we should critically evaluate it and choose for ourselves. Discussing this contradiction inevitably injects doubt – the mortal enemy of fanaticism (on The Independent’s Open House blog later today, I’ll be discussing how Aisha has become the central issue in a debate in Yemen about children and forced marriage).
So why do many people who cheer The Life Of Brian and Jerry Springer: The Opera turn into clucking Mary Whitehouses when it comes to Islam? If a book about Christ was being dumped because fanatics in Mississippi might object, we would be enraged. I feel this too. I am ashamed to say I would be more scathing if I was discussing Christianity. One reason is fear: the image of Theo Van Gogh lying on a pavement crying “Can’t we just talk about this?” Of course we rationalise it, by asking: does one joke, one column, one novel make much difference? No. But cumulatively? Absolutely.
The other reason is more honourable, if flawed. There is very real and rising prejudice against Muslims across the West. The BBC recently sent out identically-qualified CVs to hundreds of employers. Those with Muslim names were 50 per cent less likely to get interviews. Criticisms of Islamic texts are sometimes used to justify US or Israeli military atrocities. Some critics of Muslims – Geert Wilders or Martin Amis – moot mass human rights abuses here in Europe. So some secularists reason: I have plenty of criticisms of Judaism, but I wouldn’t choose to articulate them in Germany in 1933. Why try to question Islam now, when Muslims are being attacked by bigots?
But I live in the Muslim majority East End of London, and this isn’t Weimar Germany. Muslims are secure enough to deal with some tough questions. It is condescending to treat Muslims like excitable children who cannot cope with the probing, mocking treatment we hand out to Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism. It is perfectly consistent to protect Muslims from bigotry while challenging the bigotries and absurdities within their holy texts.
There is now a pincer movement trying to silence critical discussion of Islam. To one side, fanatics threaten to kill you; to the other, critics call you “Islamophobic”. But consistent atheism is not racism. On the contrary: it treats all people as mature adults who can cope with rational questions. When we pulp books out of fear of fundamentalism, we are decapitating the most precious freedom we have.
Many a time I read a blog – for example most recently one where a Christian mentions a relative that is a lesbian and how she and her partner go to a church of no religion. He argues that Christ died for us all – he knows this to be true – and that churches should be open to gay people, while saying that homosexuality is a sin and that a place open to all faiths is wrong. And that unbelievers are going to hell.
I see the box for replies and wonder if it is worth posting. Is it worth pointing out in his blog that he mentions those turning their back on Jesus’ sacrifice (including his relative) will be going to hell – even though the truth of sexuality is that it is not a choice.
That the writings of Paul have been used by the state for the suppression and brutalisation of people whose only crime was to love in a way that was despised by others in the name of faith. That what churches argue over about homosexuality is essentially the rights of others to live their lives in ways that the state has no right to interfere with, much less the church.
That his claims to faith and other faiths not being true is the same as the ones used by other faiths. There is no way on this basis that one is correct over another – no litmus test to what is true by means of faith. If it is all in the head of the believer what is true it is not only subjective but unverifiable. It does not allow the passing of judgments on others, nor give legitimacy to what is an opinion.
I think about posting, but instead decided to write this blog.
Feb 14th 2008 | THE HAGUE, ROME AND TORONTO
From The Economist print edition
The right of faiths to run their own affairs and regulate their adherents’ lives has recently become controversial—because of fear of Islam
AMONG family-law buffs, the case is seen as a key example of the messy ways in which religious and civil law can get entangled. It concerns an Italian couple who wed in a Catholic church in 1962. After 25 years of less-than-blissful union, she got a legal separation from a civil court, which told him to make monthly maintenance payments. But he had other ideas: he convinced an ecclesiastical court that their union had never been valid, because they were close blood relations.
After vain appeals to various civil and religious courts in Italy (to which she complained that she never got a chance to tell her story), she turned to the European Court of Human Rights, which in 2001 ruled in her favour and made a modest compensation award. The European judges in Strasbourg had no jurisdiction over church courts—but they did find that Italy’s civil judges failed to assess the religious courts’ work or note the deficiencies.
In every democratic and more-or-less secular country, similar questions arise about the precise extent to which religious sub-cultures should be allowed to live by their own rules and “laws”. One set of questions emerges when believers demand, and often get, an opt-out from the law of the land. Sikhs in British Columbia can ride motorcycles without helmets; some are campaigning for the right not to wear hard hats on building sites. Muslims and Jews slaughter animals in ways that others might consider cruel; Catholic doctors and nurses refuse to have anything to do with abortion or euthanasia.
Even in determinedly secular states like France and the United States, the political authorities often find that they are obliged, in various ways, to cope with the social reality of religious belief. America’s Amish community, fundamentalists who eschew technology, has generally managed to get around the law with respect to social security, child labour and education. In France, town halls serving large Muslim populations ignore secular principles as they get involved in the ritual slaughter of sheep.
Apart from exceptions to existing laws, another sort of problem arises when religious (and other) communities establish bodies that work very much like courts—and may be called courts—that enforce ancient rules that are often called laws.
All these questions, but especially the last of them, have been on the mind of Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Anglican leader caused a furore when he suggested, on February 7th, that some accommodation between British law and sharia, or the Muslim legal tradition, was inevitable and should perhaps be made official.
At first, there seems not to be any huge problem about the existence of institutions whose members freely choose to respect a set of norms—so long as participation really is voluntary, and the rules do not horrify the rest of society. (Intuitively, most Western societies accept the circumcision, on religious grounds, of baby boys, but they would not tolerate the genital mutilation of baby girls.) But in almost every democracy which aspires at the same time to be fair, secular and tolerant of religious diversity, it is getting harder to mark out and preserve the boundary.
Until recently, religions with deep local roots—like Anglicanism in Britain or Lutheranism in Scandinavia—could rely on well-honed survival instincts; clerics had developed a keen sense of how much “soft theocracy” society could accept, and when to beat a tactical retreat. Even the existence of court-like institutions, dealing in particular with marital and property issues, caused little fuss as long as everybody involved recognised the absolute primacy of the law of land. In Britain, for example, religious courts or beth din used by Orthodox Jews have been recognised by statute—and in 2002, divorce law was adjusted in a way that acknowledged the role of these bodies. (If a Jewish husband refuses to seek a religious divorce—thus denying his wife the chance to remarry in a synagogue—a civil judge can now delay the secular divorce.)
The Church of England uses ancient canon laws to govern the use of church property and its internal workings. But like the monarchy, it knows that the way to retain some vestigial authority is to give up most powers that could be controversial.
What has upset the old equilibrium, say law pundits in several countries, is the emergence all over the world of Muslim minorities who, regardless of what they actually want, are suspected by the rest of society of preparing to establish a “state within a state” in which the writ of secular legislation hardly runs at all. The very word sharia—which at its broadest can imply a sort of divine ideal about how society should be organised, but can also refer to specific forms of corporal and capital punishment—is now political dynamite.
That has rendered controversial some things that were once well accepted, like the existence of arbitration services which lighten the burden of the state by providing an alternative arena in which disputes can be settled. As Maurits Berger, a Dutch specialist on Islam and the law, points out, most English-speaking countries have a tradition of dealing with family law through arbitration—voluntary procedures to whose outcome the parties are bound. (Things are different in continental Europe, where the nearest equivalent is non-binding mediation services.)
The Canadian province of Ontario is the clearest case of an English-speaking place where fear of Islam made religious arbitration untenable. An uproar began in 2003 when Syed Mumtaz Ali, a retired Ontario lawyer, said he was setting up a sharia court to settle family law disputes for Muslims. Such arrangements were allowed by the province’s 1991 Arbitration Act and could carry the force of law.
The proposal caused an instant backlash, right across the religious and political spectrum; many Muslim groups were opposed too. Marion Boyd, a retired attorney-general, investigated the matter and initially recommended that the Arbitration Act should continue to allow disputes to be adjudicated by religious bodies—subject to stricter regulation by the state. But that turned out not to be good enough for Ontarians who were nervous of sharia. In September 2005 the province’s premier, Dalton McGuinty, decided to prohibit all settlement of family matters based on religious principles under the Arbitration Act. Religious arbitrators could still offer services in the settlement of disputes, but their rulings would not have legal effect or be enforceable by the courts. The province’s laws were duly changed.
The political background to these moves is no secret: a general wariness of Islam prompted not only by the September 2001 terrorist attacks, but also by NATO‘s war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, in which scores of Canadian soldiers have died. Moves to establish sharia tribunals, be they ever so voluntary, aroused “quite a lot of anti-Muslim feelings”, says Alia Hogben of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (which opposed the tribunals). “It allowed people to say, here they come, they are going to ask for more and more.” Apart from a general fear of theocracy, says Jeffrey Reitz, a professor at the University of Toronto, Canadians were nervous that “some of the progress that’s been made with gender equality might be lost if we begin to accommodate various group that have less concern…”
As anxiety over (real or imaginary) Muslim demands for sharia turns into a broader worry about theocracy and religious exceptionalism, many democracies are seeing bizarre multi-polar disputes between secularists, Christians, Muslims and other faiths.
In southern Europe, says Marco Ventura, a religious-law professor at the University of Siena, Catholics are now more worried about the perceived advance of Islam than about maintaining old entitlements for their faith. “Their dilemma is whether the rights which their faith enjoys can be justified when new ones, like Islam, are appearing in Europe.” Some of Italy’s Muslims, meanwhile, have been demanding “secularism” in the sense of diluting the Roman Catholic culture of the state, which is epitomised by crucifixes in court rooms, classrooms and hospitals. A Muslim convert, Adel Smith, has been fighting a long battle to get such symbols removed.
In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has dismayed secularists by stressing the country’s Catholic heritage in some recent speeches. But the late (Jewish-born) Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, was a staunch defender of the secular state as a bulwark against all forms of fundamentalism.
Defining the relationship between religion and the state was certainly easier when it could be assumed that religion’s hold over people’s lives and behaviour was in long-term decline. But with Islam on the rise, and many Christians—even those with the vaguest of personal beliefs—becoming more defensive of their cultural heritage, the line is getting harder and harder to draw. On that point at least, Archbishop Williams was quite correct.
The archbishop recently praised Richard Dawkins for increasing public understanding about the natural world, that allowed believers to be in awe of the natural world (though of course the Archbishop of Canterbury thanks god for creation). In this theology science helps with the understanding of the natural world, it’s theories verified explain the wonder of what god has accomplished.
In the view of god-of-the-gaps god created the world and what is more evolution is not the way he did it. Any evidence is either fraud committed by scientists or a trick of the evil one. It takes away the idea that god lends an active hand in nature and the world around us. Not only does intelligent design explain it all, but any question that cannot be answered by science is proof god did it, or if the answer is too complicated fingers in ear god did it personally.
Much was the reaction when my mother watched some of the Ken Miller lecture on Intelligent Design. So why is it that Ken Miller and the Archbishop do not find the theory of evolution a threat to their religious belief and way of life but others professing faith (like my mum) do?
In some ways Ken Miller spoke about it in his lecture. Basically the theory of evolution is seen as suggesting that we in common with other forms of life have a common ancestor. We are therefore not made in his direct image. From this theological problem is that because we are part of the animal kingdom than all manner of evils can be done, because we are no better than animals. So bring on the porn, rape the woman next door, steal from your boss and let Satan take possession of your soul.
This misses a very crucial point. Because the theory of evolution makes no moral claim on how we should live our lives. Rather game theory, tit for tat concept, the human cognitive ability to live by rules and empathises with others play their part. One reason we exist as a civilisation is that we are so capable of doing so – this has in terms of population benefited us.
Science is no way to base morals. Social Darwinism (nothing to do with Darwin) is to be confined to the trash bin of political ideology. When anyone suggests that we should have a public policy based on it shout them down with reason and humanity. As Dawkins points out we fight, outwit and go against what would benefit our genes all the time because it benefits us as people in terms of our goals – why on earth should we live our lives for them?
The other reason is that people are skeptical of experts. BSE, climate change, MMR, SARs, GM crops – confidence in science, let alone politicians, is shaken. People are questioning a materialistic culture in a world where most people barely survive. People question not only organised religion but anything just because it is an institution.
So into this vacuum come the alternative ideas – new age therapies, homeopathy. Supposed Gurus tell people to search themselves for the answers, and even the way to heal themselves. Most religious claiming people belong to no church – they are in touch with god because they feel the divine everywhere. I am convinced that this abstract concept is what the majority of religious people mean when they say they are religious but more detailed surveys would be illuminating on this point (see Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell” for a much more detailed suggestion on how to try and do that).
Gather all the empirical evidence you want. Explain science with enthusiasm about beauty, exhibiting the awe of understanding. For some belief in belief will never be broken down by mental appeal. Rather, it could only work by understanding why the person needs their belief. When that is based on fear (of people and other ways to live) and love (of other people and ways of thinking) - when you say evolution for some people you are not just questioning their god, but their whole system by which they survive in this world. It is rooted that some benevolent force will make things right now or in the future – it is a shred of hope held so tightly that to know how it is rooted by fear and love you would never get at it in a debate on ID and evolution.
In short those that think one day reason and facts will win over superstition and super naturalism need to really appreciate how people reflect on things. The way we think lends itself to a self centred ego placed in the central point of the universe. This feeling gives rise to spiritual explanations of how things are or could be for you. Religion survives down the eons because it piggy backs well in the way the mind thinks of itself.
On an intuitive level it seems to most people to make sense. Intuition has been seen as the way to overcome supposed expert opinion – you know best, come to your own conclusion, live your life. In some ways that has been part of the individualistic agenda as demonstrated in Thatcher’s Britain.
In short, it really has to be up to a person to be curious about what science has to offer. And prefer the higher knowledge questions of how rather than answering lower intuitive questions of why. Science answers the how very well. Why questions denote the self discovery aspect of what we deem the way we think (consciousness) – and religion jumps in there whether being the old guard or menu-a-la-carte of the modern age.
So does it really matter? Yes because science is our best hope of not only understanding the cosmos, the natural world and us, but also in improving our quality of life. A world where science is belittled and challenged by religion would signal a world of introspection, skepticism of everything accept how you feel. Where progress is not measured by who benefits but whether it offends sensibilities of some group that can veto it otherwise. This extends not just to science but to culture as well.
In this sense are the values of the enlightenment under threat. We are the in touch generation, the one that has access to so much information and yet is skeptical of so much that is credible. Yet where MMR scares are accepted as “medically proven” (they are unfounded), where homeopathy is seen as a credible medical practice (there is no proof it does anything physically changing). Where ideas about Princess Diana’s death by agents of the state take precedent over a drunk driver. When more people believe in horoscopes than any organised religion. Where writers and broadcasters are put to death or threatened for what they say.
It is in this society that we make our stand. If I am sounding pessimistic that is not my intention. This is climbing the mount improbable of thought. By slow careful steps it can be done. But to think this is one quick charge is a grave error in calculation. This is a war of attrition. One can only make the case – but the priority for me is that science education should not be subjected to religious belief, that children should not be branded by their parents religious beliefs, that religious education of all faiths and philosophy is more necessary in the modern age not less.
Above all is the recognition that life is precious and fleeting – that life is over too quickly for too many in this world. We must use our collective talents to get a grip on the problems of this world. Too often religion, ideology, nationalism, even the human ability of kinship get in the way of recognising that as humans we are descended from the same ancestor. These differences are few compared to the many similarities we have – yet we allow trivial things to divide us.
In the global world how will we respond to the challenges facing ourselves and the planet? Can we go beyond our selfish self preservation and do what benefits all? What will we look to for the answer – because whether we think it is faith or science (or even both) one thing I do agree with the Archbishop on in his sermon:
It starts with us embracing our common humanity.