Tuesday, April 07, 2009

We are not "in a war of reason against faith"

So, there I was reading David Brooks' rather strange column, and all of a sudden I run into the following sentences:
The rise and now dominance of this emotional approach to morality is an epochal change. It challenges all sorts of traditions. It challenges the bookish way philosophy is conceived by most people. It challenges the Talmudic tradition, with its hyper-rational scrutiny of texts. It challenges the new atheists, who see themselves involved in a war of reason against faith and who have an unwarranted faith in the power of pure reason and in the purity of their own reasoning.
I got ticked off.
As an atheist, I have never felt that I was involved in a war of reason against faith. On the contrary, I am sick and tired of the "faith" people's attempts--on a regular basis--to push science and reason to the remotest possible corner. If at all there is a war, there is only one warring faction and that is the "believers".

Second, I do not see myself as having "unwarranted faith in the power of pure reason and in the purity of their own reasoning" .... oh, please .... I walk around with doubts all the time. I just plainly refuse to accept through "blind faith" ideas that religions and religious people want me to believe. Brooks does not seem to understand that in reason and science we always leave room for possibilities. As long as the evidence we have leads us to certain conclusions, well, we can't adopt a position that will contradict that data, can we? On the other hand, as Keynes remarked, when the facts change we correspondingly change our minds.

Heather Mac Donald has a similar point:
As for non-believers’ purported faith “in the purity of their own reasoning,” I have no idea what Brooks is talking about. The new atheists are not on an intellectual purity crusade; they see the whole of human thought as evidence of the richness of the human mind. They embrace the gorgeousness and grandeur of music, art, and literature as a source of meaning and wisdom.
She adds a lot more. I liked this:

With all respect to David Brooks, this claim strikes me as nonsensical. The new atheists are arguing not against the view that morality is innate, but that it is the product of formal religious teaching. It is the theistic and theocon worldview that is challenged by what Brooks calls the “evolutionary approach to morality,” not the skeptical one. It is the theocons who assert that unless society and individuals are immersed in purported Holy Books, anarchy and depredation will rule the world.

Skeptics respond that moral behavior is instinctual, that parents build on a child’s initial impulses of empathy and fairness and reinforce those impulses with habit and authority. Religious ethical codes are an epiphenomenon of our moral sense, not vice versa. The religionists say that morality is handed down from a deity above; secularists think that it, and indeed the very attributes of that deity himself, bubble up from below. Children raised without belief in divine revelation can be as faithful to a society’s values as those who think that the Ten Commandments (at least those not concerned with religious prostration) originated with God.

I think that Brooks should restrict himself to writing about politics and economics, and not wade into philosophy, reason, and faith.

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