This week I have been preoccupied with a rather useless FB debate (is there any other kind?), so apologies to the two people who read my boring blog.
In lieu of a well-edited entry, I thus offer the contents of the debate, since it relates. For a moment, I wondered whether it was ethical to post the content publicly, without the consent of my opponent. But I figure if said opponent ‘O’ was comfortable with the audience of my 300 friends whom he does not know, comfort should be the same with the five strangers who look at this.
It began when a Christian friend of my opponent (O) added me. O responded thusly:
O: OMG, christian networking….and it’s all my fault
Me: Why do you presume I am a Christian? It is entirely possible to think, as a secularist, that Dawkins has narcissistic personality disorder and makes embarrassingly weak arguments which appeal only to people who share his faith,and ignorance, and lack of curiousity. Much like fundamentalists in every religion.
O: antiantichristian = christian, no?
Certainly not, your super human, Dawkinsian logic should tell you that one does not necessitate the other.
For instance, I am also anti anti Islam; anti anti children; anti anti alcohol.
But this does not necessitate that I am a drunken, five-year-old Muslim.
O: Well, I’m not anti-christian either, just anti-institutionalized-religion-in-the-public-domain….and I personally happen to not believe in a deity.
Me: Yes, and I am sure, as is the case with me, your position on this matter comes from a careful study of civil society and institutional theories as they apply to social stability and the development of political systems in modern history. Because, being super rational, you would not assume your instincts were inherently valid, or merely informed by the fact that you believe there is no God and maybe read an article by a biologist who thinks religion is “evil”– By the way, is that like Satan “evil” or like Axis of Evil “evil”?
But seriously, I believe we should be able to organize and choose representatives in any way that does not infringe on the individual rights constitutionally guaranteed to us. And I do not believe it should be up to you or me or Dawkins to decide, based on our personal views, unsupported by any peer-reviewed, sustained research, who gets representation in the Habermasian public sphere, because I am not insane enough to presume that my beliefs are “right” for everyone else, or for society. That’s the stuff of authoritarianism. For better or worse, I agree that democracy and its attendant freedom to organize and lobby is the least bad of systems. That said, I’d still make a great dictator, if your country should ever have a vacancy…
O: Would you care to enlighten the undereducated rest of us about the conclusion of your “careful study of civil society and institutional theories as they apply to social stability and the development of political systems in modern history”?
I’m curious. A stable society is impossible without religious institutions trying to influence policy making maybe?
Btw, I would like to think that my years of scientific training have given me some ability to tell a good, sound (scientific) argument from the attempt of giving half-assed arguments the appearance of scientific merit.
Me: I’d be delighted to enlighten you. How many hours do you have?
First of all, your undereducated comment might be sarcastic, but if I were to claim my opinion on a physics theory–as articulated by a political scientist who hated physics–was just as valid as yours after years of study and two honors degree, you would probably have the same reaction. It is pure arrogance to think other academic disciplines are easier to grasp than your own.
So, to the point, civil society theorists from Norton to Putnam to Habermas tend to agree that a healthy civil society is requisite to a healthy democracy. The influence of religion in this context and that of political progress is both plural and complicated. For instance, if you take the (now moderate) Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt: they provide the best-organized and most powerful opposition to the authoritarian government available. Their popularity, most scholars agree, is due to the fact that they provide medical assistance and sustenance to the poorest, who are neglected by this government. In Jordan, it is said to have been participation in the government which moderated the same, formerly radical organization. Thus, that religious fundamentalists are somehow immune to, and can only seek to dominate, the political process does not bear out in all cases.
Liberation theology, similarly, has been key to organizing disenfranchised laborers to agitate for their rights in places like Haiti and Brazil. This trend of religion as an organizing force for social justice movements among otherwise disempowered people has numerous examples throughout history, from priest-led uprisings in 18th century Lebanon to the civil rights movement in America.
If we turn our attention to institutional theory, or even a text as popular and generally accessible as Sam Huntington’s Political Order in Changing Societies (pre Clash of Civ’s craziness), one sees that the formation and maintenance of successful, representative governments does not happen easily or overnight. If you believe, as many scholars do, that societies require stricter organizing principles before they become the freewheeling democratic utopias we enjoy today (ahem), then we indeed owe a civilizational debt to organized religion. History tends to home in on war and strife, but that is not the stuff of which most of history is actually composed. As far as who gets to influence policy making, you seem to make a false assumption here: First, that religion is one coherent voice. Religion is actually a diversity of voices with diametrically opposed positions on things like death penalty or gay marriage. But in any event, my question would be, what gives you the right to say who should be able to participate in the public sphere? In the so-called “marketplace of ideas” sanity and moderation occur BECAUSE many ideas are represented. Philosophies which concern themselves with the sacredness of life and the morality of say manipulating embryos to create, for instance, genetically enhanced children add an important element to these debates. And to have a say, they require organization and visibility. As a citizen, it is my job to decide whether the more esoteric concerns are relevant to me when I vote. What you are suggesting, when you suggest certain groups of individuals should be banned from the debate, is censorship. Furthermore, it stinks of condescension when you claim to know better than the public what they should hear. And it is profoundly arrogant if you actually believe it should be up to you because this happens to be what you think.
Also, there is nothing scientific about Dawkins’ position on religion. He uses words like “evil” and describes religion inaccurately, as a monolith. He cites as evidence the behavior of people he’s met (ad hominem). He makes claims which are as incendiary as they are untrue. He makes unfavorable comparisons between religion and utopias that exist in his mind rather than other, existent systems. Etc. The fact that you notice none of this is forgivable. It’s not your field. But the fact that you can’t accept that there is more to the story than a caveman like: “Religion stupid. Religion bad. Crusaaades” is just the sort of willful obstinacy evident in the religious fundamentalists you oppose.
I am happy to offer you a reading list from scholars whose work is researched, footnoted and peer-reviewed if you ever want more than the one-dimensional position of a zealot.
And it went on from there to another post which began this way:
(Me)…appreciates that someone is irritated by the lack of subject knowledge on display in Dawkins’ work:
“Such is Dawkins’s unruffled scientific impartiality that in a book of
almost four hundred pages, he can scarcely bring himself to concede
that a single human benefit has flowed from religious faith, a view
which is as a priori improbable as it is empirically false.”
Since when did ‘reason’ entail drawing grandiose conclusions about things we’ve sought not at all to understand? Scary.
O: Christians using arguments involving improbability and empirical falsehoods is kind of amusing…
Me: First, the author never claimed to be a Christian, presumptuous, and makes statements indicating otherwise. Second, imagining that people with religious beliefs cannot identify empirical falsehoods seems either arrogant or stupid. Would you include LeMaitre or Newton, for instance?
Third, Mr Dawkins himself makes claims for which there is no evidence and against which there is ample, factual evidence.
Here is one example of a claim he and Hitchens both have made, Dawkins more recently, which is clearly false:
This is actually worse than claims like virgin birth, which while more than likely a symbolic fantasy, is at least not demonstrably a lie meant to impugn something the author personally hates. It seems that religious people aren’t the only ones who want to believe things which cannot be proven…
O: God: “He is, rather, the condition of possibility of any entity whatsoever, including ourselves. He is the answer to why there is something rather than nothing. God and the universe do not add up to two, any more than my envy and my left foot constitute a pair of objects.”
At least now we know the gender of God…other than that this blabbering is completely useless….
Me: First, condition of possibility ‘blabbering’ comes from Kant, among others. He sort of talks about it in his Critique of Pure Reason. Second, use of words such as “Useless’ “Irrational” is funny–Research in neuroscience indicates that rationality is an illusion. Our thought processes are governed largely by emotional impulses, and without them, the resultant ‘rational’ mind becomes so flooded with contradictory information that it cannot make choices.
In the case of Dawkins, the abundance of information on the intellectual and institutional products of religion has been reduced to a sort of caveman-esque: Religion Baaaaad.
The irony of Dawkins is, his investigation of the ‘enemy’ religion is not rational, nor factually correct, nor even historically balanced. It’s just invective.
The fact that you have to pick an invocation of gender out of an essay indicates you are grasping at proverbial straws to find flaw in the counterargument. Why not, instead, offer us more weak analogies, ala AC Grayling? I don’t care if you hate religious belief, just don’t turn your distaste into some faux-superior ideology and expect the rest of us to nod along while you fantasize that you are one of these creatures of superior rationality, casting judgment on the thoughts and rights of others. Kind of like a god.
There you have it. My dick-ish side in all its public shame. Rather than editing anything for my blog, this is what I was doing this week. Shame on me. My New Year’s resolution was not to get into anymore dumb debates; clearly, I have failed at this.