Sunday, April 6, 2008

Excellent Reading on Religion, Science, Framing, Morals, Life, The Universe, & Everything

The framing fracas continues, as Matt Nisbet expresses admiration for the communicative efforts of Paul Kurtz -- at least it's not E.O. Wilson again -- and PZ Myers sees it for what it is, a thinly veiled attack on his candor about religion:

I am not Paul Kurtz. I am not Eugenie Scott. I am not Richard Dawkins. I am not your wonderful third grade teacher or the boy scout who helps little old ladies across the street, and I am not Jesus nor am I Satan. I'm me, and no one else, and I expect everyone else to be themselves. I am not practicing "identity politics", since the only identity I have is my individuality and if there's anything I want everyone to do it is to be able to be fierce and outspoken and say what they think. Or, as some of you obviously prefer, you can be as tepid and craven and milquetoastish as you want, and you can set your stars on being someone else and inoffensively following the crowd to your heart's content.
Along the way, Myers cites an excellent commentary on the issues at hand by Greg Laden and Russell Blackford; I quote from the latter:
We can argue for liberal tolerance, separation of church and state, and similar ideas, until we're blue in the face. But we also need at least some people to attack religion's moral pretensions more directly, and, since the morality may claim to be backed by revelation and authority, that can require attacks on the intellectual credibility of the religion itself.

I think it's healthy that modern societies continue to have a constant stream of high-powered people expressing scepticism about religion, and in many cases backing up their scepticism with arguments. I also think it's healthy when those arguments include arguments about the almost-inevitable tensions between religion and the findings of science.

This may not destroy religion, but that's not necessarily the aim. It can help create a social ethos in which there's widespread scepticism about religion's intellectual and moral authority. To me, that's healthy. It can also put pressure on religion(s) to adapt to social and intellectual change, and to mutate into something more benign. To me, that's also healthy.
From a distinct context, Ophelia Benson plays the part of one of those high-powered people expressing skepticism about religion, as she often does with great verve:
Believers have an answer ['God said so'] that is both quick and easy, and that's why it's such a crap answer. Quick and easy answers are worthless for such disagreements. They're worthless because they have no content. They're empty. Saying 'God said so' is exactly the same thing as saying nothing. It's like holding up a street sign rather than saying anything. Why shouldn't we execute gays for being gays? Why shouldn't we kill women for talking to an unrelated man? Because Galer Street. That tells you just as much as 'God said so.' Just saying a name doesn't tell us anything. All 'God said so' really means is 'it's what I think and "God" is like an official stamp on what I think' - which leaves us exactly where we started. 'God' is just the label people put on what they already think is good. They don't put that label on what they already think is bad. They don't punch 'God' into a good-bad computer they have so that they know which goes with what. They just take God to endorse what they think is right, and that absolves them from the work of testing what they think is right.
To borrow a term, amen. I'd love to have something insightful to add, but I appear to have mislaid my mental faculties, and it's all I can do to post what I have here, mop the drool from the keyboard, hit the 'publish post' button, and hope for a speedy return to full-blown sentience.

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