Sunday, April 18, 2010

Finishing Up (Barring an unfortunate turn of events)

Michael Ruse felt very martyred at a November 2006 conference at the Salk Institute.
(The other Skeptical Inquirer article that inspired an effort at blogging.) Part of his problem is his belief that the objection to religion is "dogmatism, refusal to listen to others, a contempt for nonbelievers, a feeling that they alone have the truth..." Basically, anyone who doesn't meet his personal moral standards for intellectual discourse. Intellectual snobbery is not actually a moral principle. The problem with religion is that it's not true. Therefore believing in it requires asserting falsehoods as true. Often the biggest falsehood is that an act of will to repeatedly assert falsehoods as truth is belief. Turning the critique of religion into a critique of personalities ignores the social aspects of religion and questions of philosophical truth, in favor of self assertion.

There's worse: Ruse declared "I fully accept that many believers are good because of their beliefs." Rationally this includes Scientology, the Aetherians, astrologers, snake handlers, peyote cults, Santeria animal sacrifice etc. ad nauseam. Ruse of course is a professional philosopher. As such he was surely trained in logic. Now as I recall the contrapositive is equivalent to the proposition. Rephrasing, the proposition If p, then q) reads: "If some people believe in religion, then they will be morally good." The contrapositive (If not p, then not q) reads: " If some people do not believe in religion, then they will be morally bad." Ruse has formally justified religious bigotry as a moral principle. Counterposing his personal taste in morals so that he can pick and choose which religions are the good making ones avails nothing. The man is worse than a fool, he's a hypocrite. He merely wants to use science as a club against religions he doesn't like. Science rejects them all, because we know now they're all wrong.

As part of the assault on atheism, in behalf of said snobbery, Michael Shermer devised some principles he title "Rational Atheism." The first is that atheism, being against something, is a movement doomed to fail. Atheism is a doctrine, not a movement, however, so this spectacularly misses the point. Marxists and Objectivists are both atheists. They are not in the same movement! Besides, atheism is not just a self identification. The mass of nonbelievers, including those in the pulpit, almost certainly far outnumbers the believers.

The second principle holds that atheists should merely champion science and reason. Then he quotes Charles Darwin. This is astounding, since the religious attacks on evolution have successfully fought off the supposedly superior positive approach quite successfully, so that evolutionary teaching is still endangered, after over a century of positivity. The principle is really that failure is preferable to being socially gauche enough to argue religion.

The third is to blame atheists for the hostility of the religious. Since practically every atheist has suffered massive provocation, this merely proves Shermer, safely ensconced in his little social cocoon, enjoys sneering at the losers who haven't succeeded in finding their own.

The fourth is some tripe about not prejudging religious believers. Again, the religious did not need a moment's provocation. Their hostility is not a response. Any such implication is a vicious lie.

Last, promote freedom of belief and disbelief. This is political piety and wholly irrelevant.