Red Carpet for Religion

Thursday, March 03, 2005

One of the things I was reminded of recently when I watched Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life was how Ayn Rand's grasp of even the most abstract concepts had an immediacy that was very rare in the least. In particular, I recall how she explained her emotional reaction to Immanuel Kant's attack upon the validity the conceptual faculty (which underlies the rest of his philosophy): it was as good as smashing everything she valued. We see this across the cultural landscape today, and the religionists are trying to cash in on the confusion.

A phenomenon I've blogged about off and on here for some time, and which the General at Benjo's Blog puts well in a title to a post is this: The [nihilistic] left is paving the road to theocracy. This is being done in a surprising number of ways. Yesterday, I discussed this from a purely political angle: the Democrats' attempts to woo hard-line religionists. Before that, I discussed how the morality of sacrifice, shared by nihilists and religionists alike, is threatening capitalism with renewed vigor. In both of these cases, the left shares something in common with the religionists. But the full extent of this symbiotic relationship cannot be appreciated without also noting how religion, with its claims to certainty, cashes in on the war against reason.

Other Objectivists have written about this before. For example, in "Walker Lindh: From Marin County to Mazar-I-Sharif," Clinton Beenfeldt discusses why John Walker Lindh "evolved" from a hippie to a Moslem fundamentalist.

The real answer is that "non-judgmentalism" and "religious values"--i.e. relativism and mysticism--are two sides of the same coin: both deny the possibility of objectivity. To concretize this, let's consider the issue in the realm of ethics.

Relativism holds that all values are equally good, which means that any value you choose is merely an expression of your arbitrary preference, not to be evaluated in any way. This is the point of view that the Walker family exemplified, with their nonjudgmental attitude towards Walker's early affinity for nasty rap music, his later conversion to radical Islam and his decision to move to Yemen, a hotbed of international terrorism. How does a relativist decide what to do? Since every theory of what to do is as good as any other, he just does what he feels like doing.

Mysticism holds that some values are absolutely good and others absolutely bad, but proceeds to defend its values by appeals to authority or revelations, both to be accepted on faith. This makes their values as arbitrary as the ones of the relativists, since they cannot be established by reference to facts.... How do you decide which faith to have, which revelations to follow and which authority to obey? In short, you feel it. ....

Subjectivism and mysticism share an arbitrary ethics. The "improvement" religion offers is that at least the convert gets to pretend he knows something. There are good and evil, after all. (And of course, there are good and evil, but these are not arbitrary concepts....)

Walker himself exemplified the mystic view, with his rebellion against the "freedom" of his upbringing, and his subsequent unquestioning acceptance of the precepts of the Koran, dictating every aspect of his life.

Today, reader Adrian Hester drew my attention to a very long, but superb article, Creationism, pluralism and the compromising of science , by Joe Kaplinsky, on how epistemological rot and multiculturalism are paving the way for creationism to be taught as a "scientific" theory on a par with evolution! Read all of it. It's very well done. Here are just a few highlights.

On how cultural relativism provides an opening for the advance of fundamentalism despite the weakness of the latter as a cultural force:

Liberals have often been at the forefront of questioning the authority of science. It is liberals who have argued that science education should respect cultural differences [emphasis mine] and that the curriculum should be immediately relevant to everyday life of students. Creationists have leapt at the opportunity presented by educational theories to put the knowledge of pupils on the same level as that as scientists, by putting forward the demand to 'teach the controversy'.

Christian fundamentalism is a small part of the problem. It is far weaker than many fear.

On how a weak theory like "intelligent design" came to be so strongly promoted:

It was in the wake of these repeated [legal] defeats that the new 'intelligent design' creationism emerged. It developed not out of new thinking in either science or theology, but primarily as a legal strategy to evade the constitutional bar on teaching of religion. It was launched by a book entitled Darwin on Trial, written by a law professor, Philip Johnson.

(This also brings up an inherent problem with public education as such.)

And this pseudoscience can take advantage of multiculturalism in the following way:

Intelligent design was shaped not by the social polarisation of the 1920s, but by multiculturalism. It no longer explicitly argued for the truth of the Christian world view but rather for intelligent design to be taught alongside evolution and for State neutrality between Christianity and evolution. Whatever their private beliefs, the public arguments of intelligent design advocates are based firmly on pluralism, [italics mine] not Christian revelation.


This relativistic approach to knowledge and truth is the outcome the culture wars that began in the 1960s and 1970s. It is sensitive to the risks associated with experimentation. It is fragmented, allowing everyone their own interpretation of truth. It labels people as members of groups, but on the basis of shared history rather than collective endeavour. The individual for whom it demands respect is intensely vulnerable, so that respect becomes interpreted as protection from offence or harassment. So while Christian fundamentalism can have a censorious impact on education, this does not reflect the strength of fundamentalism as such. It reflects the weakness of the secular, scientific belief system in our present culture.

This reminds me of a recent seminar I lead in which I scoffed at the "credentials" of the author of a paper. He had a master's degree in parapsychology. In a room full of scientists, I actually had to explain myself! And such is the state of affairs today. When the idea of objective truth is rejected almost as a matter of course, the proponent of scientific standards is put on the defensive while purveyors of such garbage as intelligent design get a free pass. Who looks more credible, especially when students haven't developed rigorous thinking skills?

Enough quoting. Go. Read it all. This is an excellent post-mortem on the teaching of science in America today. In fact, it should be required reading for anyone teaching science today.

-- CAV

No comments: