Friday, January 24, 2014

You Got Your Religion in my Humanism

This article (call it "Opening" http://www.strangenotions.com/the-opening-of-the-scientific-mind) is a comment on this article (call it "Closing" http://www.commentarymagazine.com/article/the-closing-of-the-scientific-mind). The "Opening" article was recently recommended to me by my cousin and facebook debating partner, Tom. For a wider audience, I here present my thoughts on both articles.


The "Closing" article expresses a Christian anti-science viewpoint. It creates a straw man by conflating the views of computationalists with all scientists of the mind, as if there was consensus in the scientific community around Ray Kurzweil's vision of the coming Singularity (which there isn't). It asserts a kinship between unlike categories (humanist and subjectivist/individualist): "A world that is intimidated by science and bored sick with cynical, empty 'postmodernism' desperately needs a new subjectivist, humanist, individualist worldview." It commits this category error more than once (connecting science and 'spiritual life'): "We need science and scholarship and art and spiritual life to be fully human."

Humanists can balance subjective and objective views of reality just fine without any help from theists, as the Werner article quoted below demonstrates. And we see what the author of the "Closing" article did there, attempting to put faith and religious beliefs on an equal footing with science and art, so that he can suggest that those who eschew a spiritual life are not "fully human." Later, he equates fads like Google glass ("computer glasses that superimpose messages on poor naked nature") with the Stockholm syndrome. With approaches like these, the author of "Closing of the Scientific Mind" fails to convince us that science is in need of spirituality (i.e. the kind perhaps represented by the religious authorities to which he appeals, namely the Judeo-Christian texts) in order to somehow become more "fully human." This is how Christian apologists attempt to give their ancient argument credibility by dressing it up in the language of science and secular humanism.

The author of the "Opening" article agrees, and extends that unconvincing argument. She asserts that materialism is to blame, that it has been "grafted onto science." This promotes the myth that science owes its existence and future to faith, which has been debunked many times (for example, herehere, and here, and in Richard Carrier's chapter "Christianity Was Not Responsible for Modern Science" in Loftus, The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails). It also ignores centuries of dark struggle during which Judeo-Christian authorities fought against the scientific revelations being produced within their own communities. When a community of science apart from belief was ultimately created, what Werner (quoted below) calls "the greatest democratic communal enterprise" exploded the amount of knowledge available to human beings, but again only while fighting the ever-dwindling influence of pseudoscience, faith, and myth constantly promoted from the religious world.

Philosophy is the latest tool to be grasped and wielded against science by religious apologists who must be desperate by now, watching their influence fade into inevitable extinction (see Pew Studies on the religiously unaffiliated). It seems as if religion, particularly the monotheistic, Abrahamic faiths, take to heart the adage "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em;" science broke free of religion, and so religion attempted to reattach science to itself by way of pseudoscience such as intelligent design and creationism. Science also distances itself from academic philosophy, inasmuch as it pursues metaphysical questions in parallel, and is gaining traction (see The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris, and Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making edited by Brockman); and while the two disciplines of philosophy and science seem content to pursue truth in parallel, religion (at least that represented by the "Opening" and "Closing" articles above) has latched onto philosophy, retroactively claimed credit for it, and now utilizes its tools and lexicon in its desperation to remain afloat in the modern debate between science and religion, between rationality and faith, between reason and belief.

The following article expresses an important humanist view (which I happen to share) on these topics of spirituality, subjective vs objective philosophical views, and science:http://thehumanist.org/january-february-2014/the-church-of-the-greater-solipsism.

This insight appears near the end of it:
"The word 'spirituality' does have deep, naturalistic meanings even for many humanists, but the word sells well to an American audience because it becomes a Rorschach test for everyone’s view of what is emotionally important to them. However, in the end it neither informs nor communicates, and most importantly, it skews religion toward a God of everlasting inwardness. Humanism, in contrast, honors individual conscience and inner evocative experience, but imbeds and tests those meanings and purposes in the greatest democratic communal enterprise: science. We know that our ability to delude ourselves must be checked by reason and open-minded critical thinking. We know that our own ability to delude ourselves requires that we listen to the voices of others in the spirit of free inquiry and courageously change our views when they are proven wrong. To look deeply means some might have to give up a giddy self-referentialism. Most Americans give in, either to theocratic control or listening exclusively to their inner voice, both of which are faith-based, ultimately lazy ways of thinking. Humanists, in contrast, seek progressive truth in union and solidarity with others. The path of humanism is a tougher one, but a truer one buoyed by the joy of joining hands with others in the ongoing search for truth and meaning."
To conclude this little blog post of mine touching on philosophy, I first point you to my other recent posts called Philosophy and Theology WAR! What Is It Good For? and "Atheists Don't Get God" Claims Arrogant Thomist, both of which discuss philosophy from slightly different angles. And then, to Richard Carrier, a PhD in the history of science, and his blog at freethoughtblogs.com, and specifically his recent presentation entitled "Is Philosophy Stupid?", especially the ancillary materials linked there.

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