Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New Atheism and Accomodationism in conversation, Pt 3

My friend continued:

You may actually be right regarding the New Atheists, but I tend to assume that they follow a conservative party line with respect to issues other than religion e.g. they tend not to question capitalism and perhaps may tend to moral conservatism? If this is true (I need to do some more research) it puts the lie to the claim of being free thinkers because their views would seem to be determined by their socio-cultural identity.

I also suspect that as scientifically minded individuals they may have an odor of "techno-triumphalism"- an almost religious faith that science will save us (which I personally doubt).

As far as the Abrahamic religions go, you are right that those pesky bits in the bible seem to be co-opted by the more right wing religious folk particularly US Pentecostal churches (and apparently Mormons too). I do know at least one Christian family who are strongly environmentally minded but they are possibly an exception...

I do wonder to what extent intelligent and scientifically minded people get hung-up on the details e.g. God said X, you believe in God, thus your behaviour can be explained by passage X.

There is a hell of a lot of material in the Bible that can be latched on to (as you know) which could be used to put an environmentalist case or indeed many other cases.... most societies, including our own, the Communist countries, even Hindu India have tended to decimate their environments in the last 100 years - is religious justification just icing on the top of a corporate and profit-driven cake?

As an environmentally concerned person it is hard to know if the good fight is at the level of "God does not exist therefore stop justifying your pollution". Politicians have many other justifications such as jobs, competition, trade, "is not a scientific fact" etc. etc.

Also worth noting that apparently the connection between Republicanism and religion is fairly recent and that in the sixties and earlier there was a more of connection between Democrats and the religious (maybe picking up on the "help the poor” stuff rather than the “dominion" bit- if there needs to be a rational explanation for the political allegience at all)

All in all I guess that I tend towards a fairly nihilistic view of humanity's short term future and suspect that fighting religion, while well intentioned, is not likely to make enough change to address more fundamental crises such as the ones I mentioned - and I also worry that religion will become more powerful and ugly when things do go wrong.... damn those Doomer blogs....

Finally a bit of a thought experiment: if we could come up with a "religion" that encouraged "golden rule" type thinking, included rituals and techniques including group pressure that actually got people to behave nicely and sustainably while believing in a benevolent God figure who just popped them on earth for seven decades or so to have a nice time and learn, and then scooped them up again when they died..... would you be for it if it really worked?

(We would be among the elite priest class who know that it is all a helpful fiction :))

...Erm, I think that thought experiment is fairly "Brave New World" now that I look at it.... hmmm

My response:

There are a variety of positions on the political spectrum represented amongst scientists. However the New Atheists are by and large a strongly left-wing, feminist group, and awareness of climate research means that acceptance of AGW is high.

As far as ‘techno-triumphalism’ goes, it's worth assessing what life would be like without these technologies. Higher food costs, existence of smallpox and polio in developed world, no recorded music… There is a basis for some pride in the achievements of our science and technology culture. This does not mean that scientists are complacent- our main information about AGW is scientific, they are the ones raising the alarm. It simply means that policy decisions should be made in light of scientific consensus, something that is hindered by irrational thought of any kind. (We should note that science differs from religion in that it is self-correcting- it does not rely upon dogma or doctrine but competing streams of scepticism).

I don’t see science or rationality as being hung up on details. I think that the world is made up of little details, and there is some objective good in people telling the truth, and trying to explain the details with reference to empirical data. I think that this is the reason I would reject the society outlined in your thought experiment. Kant would say this was using people as a means to an end rather than an end in themselves. I believe that by increasing the profile of rationality and science, by education, we increase social capital and improve a population’s ability to find optimal solutions for themselves.

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