On absolute truth and those disrespectful accommodationists February 29, 2012Posted by Ginny in Religion, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: accommodationism, atheism, belief, liberal Christianity, new atheists, religion, respect, truth
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I could not have looked for a better way to sum up the difference between Gnu Atheists and fundamentalist theists on the one hand, and liberal ideologues of all stripes on the other, than this quote from Alain de Botton:
Probably the most boring question you can ask about religion is whether or not the whole thing is “true.”
De Botton is an atheist, but he thinks there’s a lot of useful and interesting stuff in religion, which he goes on to discuss. All well and good, and I agree with him that there is much about religion that’s “useful, interesting, and consoling,” — in fact I myself am still looking for ways to fill some of the holes that leaving religion has left in my life (no, none of them are god-shaped.) But through all the changes I’ve been through, there’s never been a point where I wouldn’t have been deeply offended by the claim that the question of religion’s truth or falsehood is “boring.”
De Botton’s position is very familiar to me. A lot of people, both religious and non-religious, have moved into a space of being fairly indifferent to the actual nature of the universe, and instead seeing religion as purely a social institution or personal mythology. Whatever works for you… all paths lead to God… I believe this, but you don’t have to… they’re all ways of saying the same thing: it doesn’t matter what’s actually true. This is compatible with a lot of religions, as well as with atheism or agnosticism, but it is absolutely incompatible with the monotheistic Abrahamic religions (and perhaps others that I’m less well familiar with.)
In a lot of ways the “I don’t care what’s true” stance is a big improvement, particularly in its social effects. But a key tenet of people who embrace it is not offending anybody, and what they fail to see is that that statement is profoundly offensive to those who do think truth matters. It’s worse than dissent, worse than disagreement: it’s invalidation. It’s saying “I reject the entire foundational concept of your belief. I think the things that are most important to you about your religion are irrelevant.”
A few days ago the story about Mormons baptizing deceased Jews got around, and my take on it was somewhat unusual. If I truly believed that a posthumous baptism was going to gain somebody an (optional) admittance to the eternal kingdom of God, I’d probably do it too! Being the compassionate literalist I am, I’d probably devote a major portion of my life to doing it — if I truly believed. That’s the gift of eternal life, people! Am I going to refrain from giving it just because somebody gets offended? To the extent that these baptisms are being done out of a sincere belief in their efficacy, and not for one of a host of other reasons religious rituals are practiced (I know nothing about the church politics around posthumous baptisms), I can’t fault them for doing these; from their viewpoint, it’s the absolute right and loving thing to do.
I pointed this out on facebook, and somebody responded, “But the people being baptized didn’t believe in the Mormon afterlife!” Which is colossally missing the point. The Mormons doing the baptisms do believe it (I assume, giving them all possible credit.) And under that belief, it doesn’t matter whether what afterlife the other person believed in: your belief is true, and you are helping them to eternal life despite their erroneous beliefs.
The happy, harmonious, multicultural view of religion whereby it’s all just social institution and personal mythology and nobody’s beliefs have a real impact on their life, death, and afterlife is completely ineffective in dealing with people who sincerely belief in the objective truth of their religion. I know; I used to be one. People who stood in that viewpoint appeared hopelessly naive and logically impaired to me. The statement “My religion is objectively true and has real-life consequences” cannot be effectively countered with “To each their own, whatever works for you.” The literalist believer will, at best, dismiss the religious pluralist with an annoyed shrug, and go on literally believing. As long as there are people who say “My religion is objectively true,” there will and should be non-believers who say, “No, it is objectively false,” and I think — have always thought — that those non-believers are giving the believers a hell of a lot more respect than any accommodationist.
New Atheists, Skepticism, and the Golden Rule December 17, 2009Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: culture war, new atheists, skepticism, the golden rule
The Golden Rule, with its various incarnations, permeates religious thought. And while it can be formulated in many ways, the most common way to express it essentially states that you should treat others as you would want to be treated. It emits an attempt at fairness in action, making sure that one does not make a double-standard by making exceptions for yourself that you don’t allow for others.
Fair enough. And while I think that the Golden Rule is best said when it attempts to treat others as they wish to be treated, due to the fact that what I want is not necessarily what others want, I think that this is often problematic because we do not know what others want. We could ask what people want, I suppose, but the practical application of this is insurmountable on a societal scale.
I think that the general idea is to act such that those actions create a world that is consistent with our desires, while keeping in mind the desires of others and their ideal worlds. Thus, as a general rule, to act in such a way that would be consistent with a desired world which is created by those types of actions is a good place to start. Figuring out an ideal world that we can all agree on is probably the biggest problem.
And so what do we, the new atheists, do? (And yes, I still dislike the term). Our criticisms are not always appreciated by other people, especially strongly religious ones. We try to speak out in order to be able to gain acceptance in culture, to stop theocratic intrusions into government policies, and to make sure that theology stays away from science so that we can continue the process of understanding unimpeded by silly mythology (i.e. creationism) and other superstitions.
But are new atheists following the Golden Rule? Should we follow the Golden Rule? Are faitheists and other critics of the new atheists following the Golden Rule?
Skepticism and Atheism
Not all atheists are skeptics, nor are all skeptics atheists. I agree with people such as Matt Dillahunty, that to be a skeptic should lead a person to be an atheist. Why? Because I don’t think there is any evidence to believe in any gods, and without evidence in such things, one has no cause for a belief in any gods. Thus to be skeptical concerning the question of gods, without sufficient evidence to believe in them, must lead to atheism as the only reasonable conclusion. As soon as there is evidence, then a skeptic has to address that evidence. But there is no good evidence that I know of, and I have been looking.
Skeptics, at least “real skeptics” (I’m being playful, not trying to drag in a “true Scotsman”), encourage criticism of all kinds of beliefs. Skeptics are all about the evidence, use of rationality to address that evidence, and accepting as true what the evidence points to.
As an implication of this, I think that skepticism would desire a world where open debate, conversation, and challenges to beliefs would be encouraged. A world where all of the data is explored, all sacred cows inspected, and people are encouraged to have a real desire to know what is true and not just what is preferable or easy. This is antithetical to faith, by definition, and is what the current public atheism is all about, at least concerning the questions of religion, gods, and faith. The criticisms of religion are ancient, in many cases. These ideas being promulgated is what is new, and religious people are not used to hearing these ideas.
Another, hopefully obvious, implication of being a skeptic is that a person should be open to have their own beliefs challenged. Thus, when the superlatively respected skeptic James Randi wrote this piece the other day about Global Warming, he was appropriately challenged by various people in the skeptical and atheist community. And while his point may be valid (or not), he is willing to accept the criticism and respond to them, rather than claim persecution as many Christians often do when criticized in the same way. I would think that Randi encourages the challenges in general, even if he may not have liked some of them specifically (As his follow-up seems to imply). The bottom line is that when skeptics make claims, hold beliefs, or sign on to something, they should be willing to accept criticism when it comes their way.
These implications are an essential part of a skeptical worldview. It is how we want to live, the kind of world we want to live in, and how we think one should act with other people.
Therefore, when the new atheists, insofar as they are also skeptics (and many of the leading atheist speakers and writers at least attempt skepticism), offer public criticism of religion, faith, etc, they are following the rule of treating others as they want to be treated. They are acting in such a way that is consistent with creating a desired world that the actions they make will create.
I want a world where people’s beliefs are challenged when such criticism is warranted. I want a world that is not simply based upon faith, but rather evidence, reason, and an attitude of curiosity. I want to help create an environment where skeptical inquiry is supported by people rather than blind (or at least partially obscured) faith. And I know that many of my fellow atheists share this desire, and so we are simply following what we think the right thing to do is, according to the very “Golden” rule that religions share.
So, if there is a problem with the actions of atheists these days, then the problem is with the rule itself, not with our actions.
But wait, didn’t I say that I liked the other formulation of the Golden Rule better?
I said, above, that I prefer the idea that one should treat others as they want to be treated, and not merely as how I want to be treated myself. I said that the issue was that I didn’t know how others wanted to be treated all of the time, creating a practical problem with implementing the idea, not a problem with the idea itself. I also stated that this will lead to inevitable conflicts of opinion about what kind of world we want to live in.
We know that many religious people tell atheists that they do not want us speaking out. They don’t want our billboards, our books, or in many cases they don’t even want us (to exist). Now, if they are willing to lay down their arms, then they might have a point. And many religious groups do not proselytize, advertise, or otherwise bother the public. But the simple fact is that religion is part of pur culture and public life, and so to demand that atheists keep quiet is a double standard, violating the very essence of the Golden Rule itself. We have as much of a right to speak publicly about our lack of beliefs (as well as whatever actual beliefs we hold in addition to that lack) as theists do. It does not even matter if the United States were a Christian nation (which it is not), because that would not take away our freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and freedom of opinion.
To simply capitulate to some religious people’s desires to not have us vocal, they further create a double standard when they don’t treat us as we want to be treated; to be allowed to speak publicly if we want to. The result is the collapse of the rule. They want to be left alone by us, we want to have a dialogue in the public square where they are, and both cannot be attained. Some compromise must be reached.
Atheists do not, and should not, disrupt private worship. Atheists do not, and should not, take god away from people’s lives, mostly because we could not possibly do so anyway. And despite the mythology by many in the religious community, we are not taking their god out of the public square or schools. We are only arguing and working towards government neutrality concerning religious ideas. The government should be secular (which is not the same as atheistic). Do what you want privately, just don’t expect the government or it employees to condone or lead those activities.
Religious groups should not tell atheists that they cannot advertise on billboards. They have a right to be offended. They should not claim that their faith is beyond criticism out of some misplaced desire for respect. They have to keep in mind that if they do bring their beliefs to the public square, they have to accept the criticism along with the conversions. If they want to recruit new members, they have to accept that potential new members might offer that very criticism. And if they want to write books, then they have to accept that we will write books as well.
And, of course, most do except these rules, even if they do so unhappily. That’s fine, because here we have the right to pursue happiness, not necessarily to be happy.
What I find fascinating is the idea that this criticism is itself is bad. The idea that we should not criticize is worthy of criticism itself; why is criticism bad? Isn’t the idea that criticism is bad a kind of criticism? What if I am offended by that opinion? What if my strong belief is that criticism is good, and the accomodationist or faitheist critic of my criticism is violating my rights and tastes? Perhaps they should shut up. No, I don’t believe that. They should, I think, re-examine their assumptions and reasoning, however.
I am doing unto others what I would want done unto me. The believers who want us to shut up are just protecting their beliefs from scrutiny. Those faitheists who say I should not criticize are not following this Golden Rule, violating it because they don’t want their own beliefs, the idea that people should not criticize certain things, to be criticized . They might see some hurt feelings if we keep this up while making them look bad, while hiding beneath our shadow, to the rest of our culture.
No. They are doing a good job of looking bad without our help.
Truthiness of religion December 9, 2009Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: art, creativity, criticism, Karen Armstrong, new atheists, religious iinstinct, scientific method, theology, truth
Many people are not used to hearing about atheism, challenges to faith, etc. It is new to them. They may know atheists, and likely do not know that those people are atheists, but they may know that they don’t attend a church or participate in any faith. Many people, atheists included (but don’t call them that!) prefer a reverential approach to their believing neighbors. They don’t bring it up because they don’t really care or they find it distasteful.
And so when they see us, the “new atheists,”TM they view our criticism and challenges as overly aggressive in our tone and approach. They view these aggressive tactics as hurting our cause in society by pushing people away rather than trying to be their friends. I don’t see evidence for this harm. I see theists becoming defensive because they are not used to the criticism. I see their coddled status being taken away, and they don’t like it.
Why shouldn’t we be critical? Religion does cause harm. Faith, belief without or in spite of evidence to the contrary, is largely responsible for the anti-intellectual and anti-scientific fervor that exists in various cultures, particularly our own American culture.
But those faitheists and accomodationists will continue to claim that religion is good in many ways and that we are being too harsh in denouncing religion wholesale. I agree. I think that there are aspects of religion and religious culture that are good. Religion can be good; it helps people in need, supplies hope, and it provides a basis for teaching morality. Or at least one kind of morality or another.
Yes, religion can do these things, but I see no reason why only religion of faith can do these things. A religion of faith? Why add that qualifier, you may ask. Well, first of all not all religious people necessarily have faith, depending on your definition of faith. Further, not all people that have faith necessarily have a religion. Religion is…well, religion is complicated. I will not try to define this term here, but I want to address it in a tangential way.
The Religious Instinct
There are sets of emotions, behaviors, and dispositions that tend towards ‘religious’ behavior. It can include rituals, music, states of mind, etc. But this is an expression of a more general psychological disposition that we all, or at least the vast majority of us, share. It is expressed through music, poetry, the fine arts, and perhaps even philosophy. It is an expression of those experiences internal to each of us that feels like it is coming from somewhere…else.
It is sublime, beautiful, and it has its own subtle rules and constraints that we can apprehend in rarer states of mind. When one is enthralled in an ecstatic moment, there is a kind of flowing of emotion, meaning, and beauty that seems to transcend us. It doesn’t actually transcend us, but it gives the sensation of transcendence.
As a writer, I know this well. There are time when, in writing, I find myself almost transported and feel as if the words are coming through me, as if I were but a conduit for some ideas. I understand the concept of inspiration. I know why people think that God works through them because I feel that experience myself.
So, why am I an atheist then?
Well, because when I’m in that state of mind, I’m being creative. I’m using natural tools of my brain to create, understand, and communicate. I am not being methodical, careful, nor remotely scientific. That is, I am not concerned with what is true in these moments, even if at some of these moments I may get the delusional idea that there is more truth there than in cold, rational, analysis.
Beauty is truth, and truth beauty?
There is a sense where the moments of beauty and poetry that overcome me seem to reveal a kind of truth. It feels as if the universe has opened up to me and given me a slice of something that my rational mind was unable to find. And sometimes, upon further reflection, I find that it may have found a bit of truth before unseen. But that is the important part of that; upon further reflection.
Because how many times have ideas or thoughts from inspiration turned out to be duds? Most of the time, some if the time? Always? I suppose it depends. But it is upon sober, rational reflection that we will find whether or not the moment of inspiration has given us gold. The reason is that there is a difference in approach. The moments of beauty, sublimity, and transcendence are the result of our brain doing what it does, not as it can be trained to do.
And I’m glad that this part of our minds exist because it is from these ecstasies and sublimities that we create. Not discover, elucidate, or comprehend, but create.
The aspects of our minds that find revelation, communicate with the spirits, or attain a slice of heaven are the same parts that write novels, create sculpture, and write poetry. In this mode of thought there is a freedom of form, expression, and a lack of criticism. Yes, that’s it; a lack of criticism!
Not that we can’t look at two creations and judge one or the other more or less beautiful (or at least argue about why we think one is more beautiful), but that one looked on its own not criticized in relation to the world, generally. It is not pointed at and said that the thing does not appear to be like anything else that is real. A sculpture of a dragon is not looked at and scolded for not representing a real animal. A poet is not criticized for not representing a real conversation or speech. A theologian is not criticized for not representing the universe as it really is. That’s not the point, right?
Well, if you talk to Karen Armstrong, you may get such a response. But the fact is that theologians, most of them anyway, do claim that they are describing reality. They are not merely creating, they claim. They are talking about not only truth, but Truth.
But where do these truths come from? Revelation, communion with a deity, book (which ultimately go back to revelation or some claimed historical event), etc. They come from the mind, and many of them from ancient minds not trained in the meticulous rational skills which would be necessary to analyze these experiences.
When theologians tackle these issues, whether today or the ancient theologians that dealt with these religious beliefs, they only apply rational thinking to keep the stories internally consistent while forgetting that the person who first experienced the idea was as fallible as you or I in determining truth from these internal experiences of ecstacy and transcendence.
If we want to discover what is real, we need to be meticulous. We need to check assumptions, use empirical methods, and try to devise a way to prove our idea wrong. And so long as we cannot prove it wrong and the evidence supports the idea, then we provisionally hold our hypothesis as true. The longer it withstands scrutiny, the more it becomes a theory. Not just some guess or inspiration, but an idea that stands up against attempts to knock it down. In other words, we need to use the scientific method.
Does this sound like what poets do? How about novelists? How about theologians? ‘Well, of course not,’ they will say. ‘These things are not subject to empirical study.’ Really? Why not? ‘Well, it takes away from the beauty; science cannot explain beauty.’
Perhaps not. Or perhaps it can. That is not what is at issue. What is at issue is that our minds are capable of different kinds of thought. Some of our mental capabilities provide for us this ‘religious instinct’ that we are all familiar with to some extent. But this instinct is part of our creativity, and is only tangentially helpful in a pursuit of truth. Our creative powers may, occasionally, provide us with insights into a new way of thinking about a problem, but once we have the idea we must switch to using our learned critical skills on to test the idea. We cannot just dream and create answers to real world problems, we have to criticize them.
Our creative powers which provide us with the transcendent experiences, sublime emotions, and inspiring ideas are a great tool for the creative process, but not for attaining truth. If we want to know what is real, we need to be critical, meticulous. and scientific.
Religion claims to have truth; it claims it knows something about what is real. By being critical of those claims and the methods by which those claims are attained, atheists (‘new’ or not) are not being disrespectful. Anyone who claims to have the truth and who subsequently calls criticism of their methods or conclusions disrespectful is either insecure about their position or does not understand how to think critically.
In many cases, it is both.
So yes, the parts of our mind that religion uses; the creative, transcendent, and sublime aspects of us that supply us with beauty, love, and all of those wonderful things are great. So, if that is all that religion is, then there is not much of an argument. That is, if the vague and meaningless God of theologians like Karen Armstrong is all that religion provides–a thing that need not even exist to be important–then religion is simply a nice story with which I can have little quarrel.
But if religion also deals with what is true, at least in the same use of ‘true’ as we mean when we say something is real, then criticism is warranted. I may find many aspects of religious practices to be beautiful, but I don’t think they are true. And that is what is at issue. If those artistic expressions that come from creative people–mythology, morality stories, and the like–are not intended to be literally true, then they are just stories we can enjoy on their own merit. But this is not the case. Christianity, Islam, etc are believed to be actually true and real, not just stories.
Anything that is proposed as the truth in society of culture is open for criticism. To actually step forward and do so is the responsibility of a citizen who cares about the truth, reality, etc. To postulate a story about the universe as true and then remove it from the realm of critical analysis, or to not at least try to validate it oneself while having faith in it is not strength nor reverent behavior, but weakness.
Allowing ourselves to be swallowed up by stories birthed in the ecstatic moments of artistic creativity and then to claim it to be true is not clear thinking. We need to train ourselves to be better thinkers and to accept criticism or to get used to feeling disrespected.
Respect is not warranted when art is presented as truth. The truth, as the Vorlons say, points to itself. It does not need us to create it.
Carl Sagan is not Satanic July 15, 2009Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: Carl Sagan, new atheists, Satanic
Or did I mean to type ‘Carl Satan is not Saganic’? Either way….
I was quite surprised when I was talking with a Christian relatively recently that told me that, within her experience of the Christian community, Carl Sagan was considered Satanic. She had been told that she was advised to avoid anything by Sagan because his ideas were dangerous.
I grew up watching Cosmos. I still think that it is a powerful piece of work that is important for our culture. Carl Sagan’s calm and smiling countenance evoked a peacefulness and love for nature and science that surely influenced many people. I can’t help but think that some of this influence settled onto the so-called “new atheists.” There are certainly some, like Richard Dawkins, who invoke Sagan’s memory and influence upon their life and work.
But Sagan is not a “new atheist” in any way, right? Of course not; he died too long ago for that to be the case. Or, perhaps he was just ahead of his time.
I don’t know what this term “new atheist” is supposed to refer to. There have always been outspoken people for reason, evidence, and skepticism about religious claims around. Epicurus might be the oldest such person, but certainly not the only critic who pre-dates the last several years.
And now as I think about it, perhaps the fact that some in the vast and differing Christian community think of Carl Sagan as Satanic were responding to a man who was ahead of his time. Perhaps Carl Sagan, in many ways, was the cultural antecedent to Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Chris Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, PZ Myers, etc. Perhaps, despite the fact that he was not precisely these personalities (as any of them is not another) he was the first of the new atheists. And this is why the Christian community, or at least part of it, remembers him as Satanic. I’m sure that many of those people think the same of people like me.
Perhaps I can offer this as some support for this view:
Purists will whine, I’m sure. Sure, Carl Sagan had a deferential side at times. His book, Contact (which is much better than the movie), surely plays fair with religious conviction, and is certainly no God Delusion or God is not Great in tone or content. Nonetheless his personal views were that claims of religion were problematic and dangerous for society. And while he kept an open mind–admitting that he doesn’t know–I don’t know many atheists who would not say the same thing.
All I will say is that those of us who are open about our criticism have been inspired by people such as Carl Sagan, and I hope that such cultural movements continue. And even if we cannot consider Carl Sagan a member of our ever so sacred inner sanctum of future prophets of atheism, in the end it really doesn’t matter because this whole “new atheist”/”old atheist”divide is really quite silly.
The Necessity of the New Atheists’ Methods April 14, 2009Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: new atheists
(As an aside, I checked Pharyngula and found that P.Z. Myers posted something similar around the same time I posted this)
One of the criticisms of the methods of people like myself–the so-called new atheists–is that we will cause a kind of backlash from believers and others who are sympathetic to the effect of criticism upon the religious and otherwise theistic worldviews. A fair criticism that I hear from appeasers quite often.
But rather than address the arguments of appeasers, I want to address the importance of being willing to accept challenges to personal views. It is this that makes justifiable the reasons for people to be squeamish about the efforts of people like myself. And while I hold no unjustified delusion that I will be able to change this aspect of human psychology in any significant way, I might at least have an affect on a few people. This is all I can hope for.
I believe in perpetual self-challenge. I think that it is important to keep a level of skepticism and lack of resoluteness in my own ideas, in the hope that they will not crystallize into a kind of creed or stubbornness of my own views. It is this idea, and I share it with many atheists, that makes the claim that atheism is a faith absurd.
Let me stop and address that issue for a moment. I will admit that there are some people that I know and who are atheists for whom the nonexistence of god becomes a point of certitude that I find epistemologically irresponsible. They, understandably, laugh at the mythical nature of religious ideologies, but they sometimes go further and conflate these mythologies with the larger question of whether any god might exist. To conflate specific gods with the general question, in my opinion, is a mistake that is made by many an atheist I have known.
And so the claim that atheism is merely another kind of faith, while absurd when fully analyzed, has a kernel of truth to it on the surface. Thus, I understand that many caricatures of religiosity are not fair in the same way that caricatures of the angry, petulant, and intolerant atheist is based upon some unsavory few who make themselves look foolish.
Let me be clear here. I recognize that religious people are not all unthinking, boorish, ignoramuses who are all making the world a bad place. I recognize the importance of religious traditions in people’s lives, and the positive effects it can have on people. I also recognize that the idea of god is one of great inspiration to people, and that in many cases the idea can be beneficial to some. I recognize these things, and still see room for criticism of these ideas.
Why? Because I actually care about the truth. I would prefer to have true beliefs, ones that can be supported by the best methods and evidence that we have available. I think that this value of mine is important, and I would like it to be shared by people, if possible.
But there are barriers between this ideal world and the one we live in. People are largely pragmatic and are not concerned with the truth so much. They are more concerned with, and I understand why, things like where their food is coming from, raising their children, and simply enjoying their lives. No time for silly questions about truth about religion or deities. Oh, but they believe in them whenever an arrogant person comes along and says that they are an atheist. And suddenly this nonchalance disappears from their lives when someone who actually has thought about this issue comes along and calls it mythology. Then they become defensive.
What? unfair caricature? Sure, but in some cases this is precisely what does happen. And while there are many other caricatures I could have brought out, the bottom line is that there are many people in the world that simply do not think about these things and yet still believe them quite strongly. And to ask them why is apparently some great crime.
The reasons are many, and I simply cannot address this whole issue here. Much of it has to do with the fact that these ideas are generally inculcated during childhood, and therefore they are associated with emotions and relationships of supreme meaning to people. We have to remember that religion is tied to many people’s personalities in ways taht will not be parsed easily. And ultimately it may not be possible to divorce the religion from the person, but we can at least provide a template for keeping their minds sharpened in order to loosen the particular beliefs in the hope of them not blindly passing on the associations to their own children. This is, ultimately, a plan for the future more than the present.
The first thing that we need to realize is that our minds will tend to reject information that does not fit into our worldview. It is actually difficult to understand the idea expressed from a worldview that differs from our own because the idea just does not seem to fit into the model of reality we have created. A few days ago I quoted Soren Kierkegaard as saying the following:
One must not let oneself be deceived by the word ‘deception.’ One can deceive a person for the truth’s sake, and (to recall old Socrates) one can deceive a person into the truth. Indeed, it is only by this means, i.e. by deceiving him, that it is possible to bring into the truth one who is in an illusion.
I think that this notion contains a fair amount of merit. What this means to me is that we need to prepare ourselves to be deceived, at least in the sense Kierkegaard means here, in order to allow ourselves the possibility that we are ourselves subject to some illusion. We need to keep a tentative level of certainty concerning our beliefs and accepted ideas, as they may be shown to be incomplete (if not completely wrong) in the future.
And this is one reason I respect the scientific method so much. It is a method that encourages people to disprove the hypotheses we generate. It is a method that has incorporated this perpetual self-challenge and has allowed us to accept theories as provisionally true because no better explanation has been presented.
And so one strategy should be to make sure that people understand what the scientific method is and how it works. One pervasive idea I run into is that the opinions of science and religion are on equal epistemological grounding. They believe that there really is a controversy between evolution and intelligent design. They don’t understand that these two ideas arose via opposing methods, and exactly what this implies.
How will you know what you believe is true is justifiable if you do not submit them to the criticism they may deserve? How strong is your ‘faith” if it goes unchallenged? And what kind of challenge is it if you only pursue the argument from the side which you already accept? I just love how, when challenged, creationists will appeal to Answers in Genesis( or creationism.org, ICR or some other similar source), but almost never have even heard of TalkOrigins or can even define evolution correctly .
And as the understanding of this method, it will give a new tool in understanding how we understand, and it will allow people not just to use the resulting technologies of science, but to understand how it works. We should, in terms of our own beliefs, become so inspired by this method. We should become the “new philosophers” (as Nietzsche called them) that are willing to experiment and test our views against the world and to allow ourselves to transcend humanity so that we may one day become better, the ubermenschen.
We cannot simply crawl along in the hope that progress with just happen. The change begins with our own willingness to challenge ourselves. For if everyone is challenging themselves, then nobody has to do it for you, right. Actually, I’m not even sure of that. I still think that there will always be a need for others to challenge us as we do have blind-spots where others can see. Even the most ardent and honest attempt to be self-challenging can be supplemented with help from others.
And since I want active challenging of my own views, I feel comfortable in challenging others myself. And the first thing I will try to challenge is the defensiveness that arises in being challenged. The question, of course, is how. I don’t know completely. I only know that it must be attempted if we actually care about the people and the world around us. And along the way, make sure to pay attention to what others say, as the challenging process is two-way. Any good teacher will tell you that they learn from their students
There are people out there that will always resist criticism. Perhaps nothing can be done for them. But for those that may be willing to hear, but who are not being challenged, we must press on. I will continue to encourage people to challenge their beliefs, their worldviews, and their culture. If you have a better way–a better hypothesis–for how to deal with rampant irrational and ignorant beliefs, then by all means get to work.
So, that being said, bring on the challenges.