Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Austin Dacey on the Open Society

Here's Austin Dacey in The Secular Conscience, defining what he means by "open society:"

In an open society, religion is private and free like this: it is none of the government's business. However, it does not follow that religious belief is private and free in the sense of being subjective or immune from scrutiny by others. Freedom from coercion does not entail freedom from reason. Text-based faiths are inherently open to the public, given the nature of language and the conversational process of forming canons of writings and interpretive rules.
It's little wonder that Sam Harris should blurb this book, as this idea of an open society and how it relates to "sacred" texts sounds identical to Harris's idea of conversational intolerance: believe what you want to believe without government interference, but be prepared to defend those beliefs against equal and equally-free people who may or may not share them. Merely saying "because my faith teaches so" or "this idea is sacred to me" should not excuse the claim from scrutiny, disagreement, rejection, ridicule, etc.

Dacey applies the same principle to the relationship between religious claims and scientific claims:
[R]eligionists can argue that their narratives are on par with scientific narratives. Or they can explain how and why they should be regarded in some nonempirical way. What they cannot do is go back to an era in which the significance of the religious narratives can remain implicit and unexplicated, an object of veneration rather than investigation.
When Dacey suggests "religionists can argue that their narratives are on par with scientific narratives," I infer an extra clause Dacey was too kind to include: "and good luck with that!"

Claims from faith are open to scrutiny in an open society. They deserve no privileged place; and nothing is served by pretending as though they do, certainly not the pursuit of truth.

No comments: