Thursday, November 09, 2006

Neil Gillman Would Be So Proud

Back by popular demand, further fleshing of the Rooster debate. What happens when your myth dies? You get into existential arguments with personified farm animals. Stranger things have happened. (NB: the text has been condensed, in the interest of space.)

The Rooster: You said that science is just another form of religion. Now, setting aside the veracity of that claim

Harley: I said that science and religion are the same in their souls; that's very different. Science is NOT a religion, but it attempts the same things as religion claims to attempt, to answer the same questions. It just does it better, and with testing, and null hypotheses, and statistics

The Rooster: Now, why do you find relativism preferable to the alternatives?

Harley: As opposed to universalism?

The Rooster: Objectivism (not Ayn Rand), but you get the idea

Harley: Because what's true for me is not true for you, scientifically. We have different associative networks. Different synaptic connections, we perceive colors and tastes differently, if we [danced], we'd experience the moment differently

The Rooster: That's not true. What's true is true. What you think is true and what I think is true are irrelevant

Harley: We understand words with different nuances. Since I cannot know that which is outside myself, but only though my own lens and I can only perceive truth through that lens, objective truth is beside the point. Just like God

The Rooster: But that turns into nihilism

Harley: I didn't say personal perspective was invalid or that you couldn't generalize from yourself or think that others are wrong

The Rooster: Then "Jews are inferior" is true for Hitler and there is nothing we can say

Harley: It is true for Hitler

The Rooster: BUT IT'S WRONG OBJECTIVELY

Harley: Just like FGM [Female Genital Mutilation] as representative of a cultural paradigm is true for some African nations and I won't argue that they are objectively wrong because I cannot make that argument. I can say it's subjectively wrong and I will do everything within my power to fight it.

The Rooster: Most claims can be tested. I recoil at most notions of "subjective truth." I'll concede that most of us, myself included, need notions of subjective truth to get by, but it's still a delusion

Harley: Just because you find it repulsive does not make it false. Subjective truth, by the way, is an oxymoron

The Rooster: And in the case of religion, a very destructive delusion. According to your own theory, just because I find it repulsive, makes it wrong "for me."

Harley: Your "truth" is the way you organize and understand the world

The Rooster: No, it's the way the world is organized.

Harley: No? There's some objective truth out there? And you're against religion? You’re basically arguing religion: religion is based on universal truth, discerning a universal truth a universal order. I'm not denying that such a truth exists. I'm just saying it's hubris to argue that we can perceive it, the non-scientific truths. Here, I agree perfectly with Dawkins.

The Rooster: It's false. It's demonstrably false. Those who engage in it do a disservice to themselves and everyone around them. I agree about hubris. I don't claim to know any objective truth, but I try

Harley: We know scientifically proven things to be true, to a certain extent and that's the closest we can get to truth The rest of it is just figuring out how to live in the world.

The Rooster: I try to get to know it, I try to take an objective stance, I try really hard and religious people have GIVEN UP. It's the most flagrant intellectual laziness and dishonesty in the world, bar none

Harley: Religions have gotten buried under the weight of their own doctrine and forgotten that at the root of religion was the desire to uncover the secrets of how the universe works. I blame the ECF [Early Christian Fathers]

The Rooster: I blame God. But I don't think you're alternative - religion as a code of conduct, a way of perceiving and organizing the world, "couched" in universal truth - makes religion any better, any more valid, any less poisonous

Harley: You blame an entity in which you don't believe? You have a very rigid view about the boundaries and constraints of religion and culture. Culture, by definition, and religion, too, are meant to morph and change.

The Rooster: The very fact that religion is supposed to "morph" invalidates it as a universal truth; it renders it meaningless

Harley: Religion is not universal truth; it is a process by which people attempt to uncover and live their lives by universal truth; it's the same thing you're doing with your life right now.

The Rooster: That's a sign of tremendous weakness. a Big Book answers those questions for them. Even those who engage in it thoughtfully are still constrained by the canon. Throw out the canon; it’s worthless.

Harley: Rabbinic literature (and supposedly the Christian dogmatic process) is supposed to be living and breathing. Judaism started suffering when it became dogmatic of thinking instead of prescriptive of behavior

The Rooster: Just because religion used to be, or still is, inextricable with a cultural or a national identity doesn't make it any less absurd. I don't care if religion makes people feel better. If religion was gone and everyone felt worse, it would still be a good thing. I cannot get behind the idea that something based upon, or linked with, a terminally faulty canon can still be valid in any way. Even if there's more to religion than canon, there's still the canon. It's the deal breaker. Everything else is smoke and mirrors

Harley: Everything is smoke and mirrors period. Everything. That's my point: all religion, culture, government, philosophy is smoke and mirrors. Intangible, not provable, all socially constructed. That doesn't invalidate them, but it's true.

The Rooster: Yes, of course, but government makes no claims about anything in the great beyond. There is good government and bad government.

Harley: Well, that's not rhetorically true, but I get your point

The Rooster: Plus, government is necessary and religion is unnecessary

Harley: We need religion because of death

The Rooster: I am actually speechless


To Be Continued…

14 comments:

the BFG said...

Religion as a search for truth leads many to the same dastardly lack of conclusion as does science. The point Harley brilliantly raises at the end of the post does not agree with either Harley's previous comments or those made by the Rooster. Religion works when it serves as a way of life around which a community can gather at its best and worst times. When one encounters death, a religious person can turn to their community and beliefs and realize that they have been there the entire time, truth or not.
Perhaps the reason why the Rooster sees religion as the source of so much ill is that the religious fanatics who kill people can do so more quickly than the fanatics who comfort. In some Jewish traditions, it takes seven days of absolute mourning and a full year of devoted sadness to begin to be comforted when a loved one meets death, yet in all traditions, bar none, it takes mere moments to kill and die.
Be not mistaken, religious fanaticism is not inherently negative. A woman who breaks into tears on Yom Kippur out of hope, or the lack thereof, that humanity will survive one more year in God's eyes is no less fanatical then a group of people devoted to the deaths of those who feel differently.
Before religion there was death. During religion there is death.
After religion, there will be death.
Which of these three scenarios holds the most comfort for you?

Anonymous said...

"We need religion because of death"

This seems to be implied by the Torah itself. There seems to be a direct connection to the introduction of death to the world with the introduction of a moral consciousness, perhaps even consciousness itself. That otherwise, there would be less of a need for God, and less of a need for morality.

Not that she needs to be, but I think Harley is absolutely in line with classic Judaism.

Smeliana said...

When does Smelblog get the proper linkage it deserves for hooking the Rooster and Harley up in their intellectual cyber-tryst?

Smeliana said...

Also, this is super interesting and if I weren't working, I'd comment something fierce.

Good job, Harley, on fleshing this out. Rooster, honey, you sound a little clouded by anger. I think you're starting to make less sense.

Maybe if you just calmed down and accepted Jesus, you'd be more serene...

AnnieGetYour said...

Smel- you are already on our blogroll. What more do you want?

We, however, are not on yours.

Anonymous said...

Smel,

You're absolutely correct. I was clouded by anger. I am making less sense. Part of the problem is that this was a gchat conversation, and I wasn't responding thoughtfully and coherently to all of Harley's points. Another thing is that not all of my comments are supposed to be taken at face value; there is some irony in there that I would have omitted if I knew that the conversation was going to end up posted on this blog. However, my point remains the same. There are objective features of the world that we do have some access to. Harley thinks that because each individual's perception of the world varies, that there really is no such thing as objectivity when it comes to things like morality, culture, politics, and, yes, religion. However, like Hume, I believe that these disagreements arise mostly because of disagreements over facts rather than differences in perception. And, like Kant, I believe we can obtain objective knowledge about the world, so long as we do not apply the faculties of our reason beyond their proper domain, which is limited to perceptual experience. Now, morality both does and does not require a leap of faith. It does not in the sense that most of us are hard-wired to think in moral terms: to deny it would be like denying hunger, thirst and the like. It does in the sense that it is extremely difficult to come up with a purely rational basis for morality, and so behaving morally mostly consists of trusting our instincts. Because of this, any ethical system would have to accomodate what I call "non-rationalism," which I define as separate and apart from "irrationalism." Non-rationalism comprises the features of human experience that are intrinsic and yet are not "rational" in any strict sense, such as artistic, sexual, moral and emotional drives. My points, or my life's mission, is to show that an ideal ethical system should be one in which the non-rational aspects of our nature are permitted to manifest themselves in various ways, but that ultimately they should be constrained by rationalism (which is not the same as rationalization). This argument should not appear so novel to anyone who has read Plato's Republic. A major aspect of this moral system would be the complete rejection of irrationalism, which is the belief in things that are either demonstrably false or that strain credibility to an asymptotic limit. Atheism is not something I believe in merely to antagonize all the religious people around me. It is a moral choice, the correct moral choice, and a choice that EVERYONE ELSE SHOULD MAKE, no different than the choice not to kill, not to steal, not to lie, etc. This is why I believe that giving a child a religious upbringing is tantamount to bringing up a child as a racist or a sexist. You are instilling in that child beliefs that are irrational.

Ok, I have some actual work to do. I hope this makes some sense.

Peace out,
The Rooster

Anonymous said...

Addendum, in anticipation of Harley's pomo-speak: An atheist should live his or her life as an atheist, and not follow religious customs. Religious customs only serve to create an ideological safe-haven for the true believers.

P.S. This makes me a hypocrite. In the last 8 years I have stepped inside places of worship for weddings and funerals. If I stuck to my philosophical guns, I would refuse to enter them, on the grounds that any form of participation in the custom is a tacit approval. Places of worship have no place in a civilized society.

BabyTyrone said...

Rooster --

Though you believe that there is an objective truth, you acknowledge that anyone's understanding of the world is necessarily imperfect and incomplete. Can't you then acknowledge that the fact that you desire to impose your own definitions of rationality and which ideas "are either demonstrably false or...strain credibility to an asymptotic limit" on everyone else is itself gravely irrational? That it is, in fact, a fundamentalism just as thoroughgoing as the religious beliefs that you so disdain (and just as well-intentioned as most religious beliefs themselves are)?

You seem like a reasonable guy, but your comparison of parents who raise their children with religion to bigots is nothing more or less than bigotry against the religious (as is your postscript chastising yourself for tacitly approving of religious ritual). It is true that religion has been responsible for terrible things in the world, but so has atheism (See under: Communist China). Your animus towards anyone who practices religion, including those who do not commit or approve of atrocities, is not appreciably different than any other fundamentalist prejudice.

BabyTyrone said...

The Rooster --

With respect, I have to take issue with some of your comments here.

Although you believe that there is an objective truth, you acknowledge that anyone's understanding of the world is necessarily imperfect and incomplete. Can't you then acknowledge that your desire to impose your own definitions of rationality and which ideas "are either demonstrably false or...strain credibility to an asymptotic limit" on everyone else is itself gravely irrational? That it is, in fact, a fundamentalism just as thoroughgoing as the religious beliefs that you so disdain (and just as well-intentioned as most religious beliefs themselves are)?

You seem like a reasonable guy, and perhaps I am taking some of this out of a context I have not seen, but your comparison of parents who raise their children with religion to bigots is nothing more or less than bigotry against the religious (as is your postscript chastising yourself for tacitly approving of religious ritual). It is true that religion has been responsible for terrible things in the world, but so has atheism (See under: Communist China), and regardless, religion per se, or anyone who self-defines as religious, cannot be held to account for those actions. Your animus towards anyone who practices religion, including those who do not commit or approve of atrocities, is not appreciably different than any other fundamentalist prejudice.

BabyTyrone said...

Crap, sorry for the double post (hate my work computer)...please read the second one?

Anonymous said...

Mr. 'rone,

I'm not trying to IMPOSE anything. I'm a libertarian. I hate enforced morality.

I am not bigoted against religious people. I am biased against them. Prejudice is judging without knowing. I know what I am judging.

Communist China was not bad because of atheism. Communist China was bad because it was totalitarian and denied people their human rights. Religion is bad because of religion.

As for the accusations of being a "fundamentalist," I suspect you're committing a category mistake. How can you be a fundamentalist about not accepting ancient superstitions that have done nothing but harm to the world for millenia? The only way I could be a fundamentalist about these things is I thoight the state should force my way of thinking onto other people. But like I said, I'm a libertarian. I hate religion. HATE IT. But I would defend to the death your right to practice a religion, just as I would defend racist speech on 1st Amendment principles.

BabyTyrone said...

Mr. Rooster--

Not to be contrary, but you are contradicting yourself. Your politics may be libertarian but your beliefs are certainly not: "Atheism...is a moral choice, the correct moral choice, and a choice that EVERYONE ELSE SHOULD MAKE, no different than the choice not to kill, not to steal, not to lie, etc. This is why I believe that giving a child a religious upbringing is tantamount to bringing up a child as a racist or a sexist." I am not suggesting that you have the power or the desire to impose your 'rational' beliefs on others, but you have admitted here that you believe your beliefs to be better than theirs, and therefore the world would be a better place if everyone thought like you.

I was out of line calling you a fundamentalist; what I should have written was that your belief that atheism is correct and that religion is always destructive -- like the beliefs of any religion, or any perspective which understands itself as superior to all other ways of seeing the world -- is the same kind of thinking that lies at the root of all fundamentalisms. Any time one group of people starts to think that the major threat to the world is the religion/perspective/action/practice/existence of another group of people, you get the potential for fundamentalism of the worst kind. I cannot help but see a similar sense of religion in general as a major threat to the world in the way in which you write about your response to religion. Of course you have no intention of forcing your way of thinking on others, but recognize that your way of thinking is the same one that might be used by some to do just that.

To go back to your original debate with harley, to my mind (and I speak for myself here, not knowing harley or her opinions) this is the deep problem with believing that we might potentially have access to some universal truth. Once we believe something so wholeheartedly, we (or someone who believes the same as we) can fall too easily into the trap of imposing that truth on others whose truth is different than ours. Yes, historically, religion has been the worst offender in this sense, but it has not been the only one. The example of Red China was not meant to suggest that because they were atheists, they committed human rights atrocities. It was to show that religion does not have exclusive rights on atrocity, that there is a significant recent example of a group that committed offenses in the name of a philosophy that considered atheism one of its most important precepts.

This is not, of course, to imply that therefore all atheists are perpetrators, or even potential perpetrators, of human rights atrocities. I wholeheartedly apologize to you if I implied that you (or atheists in general) were somehow therefore implicated. I had no such intention.

But I do think you tread dangerously close to denying religious people the same deference. You feel bad about going to a religous wedding ceremony because of the atrocities committed in the name of religion? You believe that bringing up a child religious is tantamount to bringing him or her up racist? Whether this is called 'bias' or 'prejudice' is a quibble. You claim to be judging only religion, which you know is negative, but 'religion' without the
people who practice it is a meaningless category. You take religion in general, and by extension, all religious people, to task for the things that others do and have done in the name of religion -- and whatever name you want to call that, I still believe that it, like all kinds of prejudice, is wrong.

Anonymous said...

Babytyrone,

Good response, and reasonable, too. I never claimed religion is the root of all evil, just a helluva lot of evil. It is because I don't think anyone, myself included, has a monopoly on the truth that I am a libertarian and am wary of the imposition of a code of belief or conduct on others. But that doesn't mean I don't think I'm probably right in my beliefs about religion. I fail to see the contradiction.

Also, just because I despise religion does not mean I despise religious people. You'll get a kick out of this: My grandfather is an Episcopal priest, and I think he is one of the kindest, most moral men I have ever met. But I also think he subscribes to a ghastly, divisive and epistemologically backwards ideology called Christianity. Furthermore, he unwittingly provides philosophical immunity to people who aren't so moral and kind, namely murderous villains who bomb abortion clinics, Israeli coffee shops, and New York City skyscrapers. Current social mores dictate that we can criticize these individuals' actions, even their interpretation of their faith, but to address the root of the problem by stating the obvious - that their entire belief system is baseless and absurd - that's off limits! The existence of other harmful ideologies such as Communism does nothing to exculpate religion; that's like saying that Pol Pot wasn't that bad because Stalin was bad, too.

I don't walk around hating religious people. For the most part, I feel really bad for them. They've inherited this bogus system of beliefs (like racism) that became so ingrained in them that they accepted it into adulthood. And they will perpetuate this harm by feeding it to their children as well. That's why racist indoctrination makes for such a useful comparison.

Lastly, by subscribing to an irrational belief system, religious people open up the floodgates, as it were, to all different varieties of irrationalism. Consider the throngs of poverty stricken people all over the globe who, instead of mobilizing and speaking truth to power, take refuge in their faith with its promises of a better afterlife. In all likelihood, the people who are in power have kept the poor disenfrachised by manipulating them with frequent appeals to their faith (see the American South). These people are smoking cigarettes to prevent lung cancer! What could be more irrational than that?

There are scores of other examples of irrationality that I won't waste your time by reciting. The point I really want to convey, and I think might be missing from my previous comments, is that I have great respect for human dignity, and I think religion is an insult to that dignity.

-TR

Anonymous said...

P.S. I read your blog and you seem like a really interesting person. I also laughed at loud at the reference to Butler library. I spent many an all-nighter there when I was in college.

Are you a philosophy graduate student?