My Photo

Out Now!




Or Our First Book...

Blog powered by Typepad

« Without Further Ado... | Main | The Crowd as a Player (ihobo) »

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83452030269e2011279018bce28a4

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Science and the Sacred:

Comments

Welcome back!

It is a profoundly personal matter what each of us considers sacred, and it is inappropriate for the State or the scientific community to interfere in this freedom.

I agree with you, but believe this should be extended further - at present, this is asymmetric, which tends to get my back up as you know :-).

Where *is* it appropriate to interfere? For example, is it appropriate for an organised religion to interfere in this freedom? May parents interfere in their offspring's considerations?

Thanks for featuring my art again! You always manage to pick my favorite pieces.


You frame this opposition of beliefs in quite interesting terms. Isn't it almost a defining quality of the atheist belief system to deny that it is a belief?

Vitor: It's always a pleasure to use one of your pieces; I'm glad to have a resource I can turn to for these things from time to time!

"Isn't it almost a defining quality of the atheist belief system to deny that it is a belief?"

Well I think that's a tricky thing to claim - what does one include under "atheist" here? Theravada Buddhists are strictly "atheist" but they don't deny they have beliefs.

But perhaps you are talking about the "New Atheists", those atheists who bizarrely spend no time studying the history of non-belief and then behave as if they have discovered something new? I have no idea whether all the "New Atheists" deny atheism is a belief, although I don't doubt there are many who view themselves as rejecting beliefs, not having them.

I think the wider issue here is that many scientists don't view themselves as having beliefs in connection with science. There are many more people in this boat, I suspect, than in the "New Atheist" boat.

I'd be interested in the viewpoint of the atheists here at the Game on this matter.

Peter: glad to be back! As ever, you lead off with the tricky questions:

"Where *is* it appropriate to interfere? For example, is it appropriate for an organised religion to interfere in this freedom? May parents interfere in their offspring's considerations?"

I believe (in common with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) that parents have the right to raise their children how they like, provided nothing abusive is involved (with "abusive" being something that would always have to be judged by local cultural norms - this is the standard legal approach to these matters). So until adulthood, a parent can "interfere" in the freedom of the child.

Adulthood again has to be judged by cultural grounds - so for instance a Jewish boy becomes an adult at 13 and a girl at 12, with the Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies. Secular children have to wait until the law renders them adult. :p

So am I suggesting that a Jewish child must undergo these ceremonies before they can depart Judaism? I suppose I am - if they refuse to take the ceremony they can always wait until the law confirms their adulthood. :)

It's worth noting in passing here that I am taking seriously the suggestion that the voting age be lowered, and adulthood be confirmed at a younger age, say 16. (David Kelly touched upon this in Boston Legal at one point). Ivan Illich speaks very ill of the "infantalisation" of the youth that has come relatively recently to our societies. It's an interesting topic, but perhaps too tangential to dig into here.

As for your other question: "is it appropriate for an organised religion to interfere in this freedom?" How would this happen? Without a tangible example, I find it hard to bring anything useful to bear on this point.

Best wishes!

As for your other question: "is it appropriate for an organised religion to interfere in this freedom?" How would this happen?

It's probably a more common case, and is akin to any other situation where one organisation is attempting to change the beliefs of another. At one (very mild) end of the scale you have leaflets and bus advertising trying to change our beliefs (whether that "There's probably no god" or that we're eternally damned unless we believe). Somewhere in the middle we have the pairs of well-dressed believers knocking on the door on Sunday morning applying peer pressure to our beliefs. At the unpleasant end we have the cults that indulge in the more overt mind-alteration tactics, and (possibly more insidiously) the religions that lobby states for legislation, or even where the organised religion and the state cannot be distinguished.

So, to pull out a few bullet points:

1) Is it appropriate to advertise any religion (or, more generally, any belief system)?

2) Is it appropriate to apply peer pressure to an adult with the intention of changing their beliefs?

3) Is it appropriate to brainwash* an adult into different beliefs?

4) Is it appropriate for a state to be in existence that is associated with *any* belief system? Examples to consider: UK, France, USA, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, pre-invasion Afghanistan.**

* I accept this is a remarkably non-specific term as presently used.

** The use of three overtly Muslim states should not be taken to mean that I'm condemning Islam in any way; merely that these presently provide some interesting examples.

Interesting points, Peter. I'm having issues with your use of the word "appropriate". What do you mean? Appropriate to whom? I'm assuming you mean something like "conforming to the generally accepted laws of human rights"

Obviously as you go further from 1 through 4, it becomes "less appropriate". However, I think the only one that could really be considered "inappropriate" is number 4 -- religious states. The states themselves are violating human rights.
But, the fact is, these states exist, and there is not much we can do to change that ... Even if we could somehow go in and separate religion from state, would *that* be a violation of human rights?

I think numbers 1 through 3, though, are "appropriate", in the sense that, if in free countries, you legislated that people could not do these things, that in itself may be a violation of human rights.

It's just up to the individual to be responsible enough not to be swayed by "questionably appropriate" influences.

I'm using "appropriate" simply because Chris used it in his article.

Peter: That's great, blame me for deploying the term "appropriate". :D I believe you'll find I only used the term *inappropriate*, and that in connection with the State and the scientific community, and as Scott surmises I meant "violating previous human rights agreements". That was my standard.

Thanks for the bullet points, this really clarifies the discussion! Here are my thoughts.

"1) Is it appropriate to advertise any religion (or, more generally, any belief system)?"

Absolutely! What is advertising but free expression with the intent of affecting people's beliefs - particular, their belief about what they should spend their money on. :)

"2) Is it appropriate to apply peer pressure to an adult with the intention of changing their beliefs?"

What is advertising if not peer pressure (especially celebrity endorsement)?

Personally, I have no issue with door-to-door salesmen peddling religion but I take great task with door-to-door salesmen trying to pressure me into returning to British Gas as my energy provider. These leeches hit me 3-4 times each year - religious salespeople of all denominations hit me about 1-2 a year. And often I have good discussions with the religious salespeople.

I now tell anyone from British Gas that I feel harassed by them and there is no way I would ever consider returning to their company.

"3) Is it appropriate to brainwash* an adult into different beliefs?"

Okay, here I run up against what is meant by brainwashing, but let's take this lightly unless we run into a major argument. News services, particularly in the US, enter into a substantial programme of brainwashing. We have to allow that under free expression, but I might suggest it's far more destructive and detrimental on a far grander scale than cult brainwashing.

You can't protect other people from this kind of influence. I think we have to allow this unless a specific rights violation is implied.

"4) Is it appropriate for a state to be in existence that is associated with *any* belief system? Examples to consider: UK, France, USA, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, pre-invasion Afghanistan."

Here I must make a point: the notion of a State *is* a belief system, so the idea that a State could exist without association with a belief system is entirely bankrupt. "The State" is a belief which ties a geographic, ethnic or cultural "tribe" into an internationally recognised political entity. How would you remove Marxism/Communism from China, or Capitalism from the United States, and under what grounds could this even be attempted? It's my view that it's philosophical nonsense to suggest that States must be independent of belief systems.

Scott adds: "However, I think the only one that could really be considered "inappropriate" is number 4 -- religious states. The states themselves are violating human rights."

I must make two points here: firstly, having a religious State violates no rights agreement I know of. The UK is officially a religious State, although you wouldn't know it to talk to its citizens! :p

Secondly, Islamic states are *not* violating human rights agreements, even though things happen in some of these places which do transgress the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is because the Islamic states *never* agreed to these Human Rights agreements - they are not bound to them, and it is morally suspect for us to expect them to adhere to agreements they have not acceded to. If we want to enforce human rights agreements in Islamic states, we first have to convince them to sign up for them.

Plus, after the atrocious human rights abuses of the United States in recent years - which helped draw up the charter in the first place - it's hypocritical for North Atlantic countries to turn to the Islamic states and expect them to toe a line which the front-line political leader of the human rights movement has utterly abandoned.

Half the problem here is that the "Universal" Declaration of Human Rights was drawn up by a mostly Christian crowd. Lebanon was the only nation with Islam as a majority religion involved in the drafting, and its representative Charles Malik, and he was a Greek Orthodox Christian. It's no surprise, after the pasting that Islamic nations took in World War II, and their effectual side-lining in the drawing up of the rights declarations, that Muslim states don't respect these agreements.

Quite frankly, why should they?

I am horrified by many of the things that take place in the some (but by no means all) of the Islamic States, but the entire global political community has colluded in excluding these States from the world stage and I'm not at all surprised that as a result their legal systems feel a few centuries behind the times.

My wife and I are members of Amnesty International, and I support various movements in Islamic States to push for human rights (including a movement of women in Iran pushing for their rights) but we make a serious blunder when we expect nations to uphold agreements they weren't involved in drafting and never agreed to.

Serious diplomacy is required to address these issues - but while the United States executive office is practically required to suck up to Saudi Arabia it is very difficult for this problem to be addressed: some of the worst "abuses" (relative to our standards, at least) are in Saudi Arabia, but as a major oil producing ally, the US just won't take a stand. Realpolitik always wins out.

So there you have it - my view is that the Islamic States have every reason to exist, and we have no reason to expect them not to have a State religion. If we want them to uphold human rights agreements, we must first commit to negotiating with them for such agreements - and that may have to begin with Saudi Arabia.

Wow, what a really satisfying rant. Thank you both for provoking it! :)

Hear, hear, Chris!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment