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Critique of pure Reasoner

Essays and commentary related to topics in Tom Reasoner's "Truth and Beauty" blog

Saturday, November 20, 2004

More on freedom and secularism

MaxedOutMama exercises altogether too much modesty in her eloquent and insightful latest post, though her flattery of Lancelot and myself left me preening uncontrollably. She also comments on my previous post. The most important bit:

I'd argue, I think in agreement with Lancelot Finn, that by tossing out older belief systems it becomes necessary for secularist democracies to develop and impose by legislation another belief system. The US model has been more one of prohibiting acts rather than mandating beliefs, and thereby leaving the evolution of the concept of good to private churches and secular philosophers. The tension between people's varying beliefs has created a sort of official public-policy vacuum, and freedom has existed in that no-man's land.

On one hand I'd say that secularism consists of exactly the bracketing of belief systems that she describes, but it is also incontestable that the government can and does underwrite the activities of secular philosophers while the jurisprudence considers that the constitution prohibits the government from likewise funding of churches and their official exponents. Can I wriggle out of this formulation of the issue in which the status quo is obviously unfair without being tendentious? Perhaps.

One argument I can make is that no rule, legislated or judicially decreed, prohibits, say, philosophers of religion from holding professorships in secular universities. That holders of theistic viewpoints may suffer disadvantage at the hands of the largely independent administrations of those institutions remains a matter of real concern, but of a kind beyond the scope of this post.

Another is that, though funding of churches is prohibited while secular institutions advocating counter-doctrinal views may receive state funds with impunity, government-funded organizations are enjoined from targeting any given religious group for criticism or persecution*. Lest this seem like a distinction without a difference, note that even in a perfect world the public will as implemented by the government will invariably conflict with some religious doctrine or another. In the case of rules created to protect minorities, first-order analysis of any exercise thereof will conclude it to contravene the public will itself.

Is the above sufficient to claim that religions are not disadvantaged in any unnecessary way? I think it’s at least plausible, given my caveats.

In a side note that harkens back to a much earlier post serving as my coda to an earlier debate about Christ's moral technology, I must address the side issue MaxedOutMama raises with a parenthetical caveat:

unless, of course, society at the moment has itself embarked on a destructive course

Because my particular (secular) formulation of normative truth (including personal ethics, morality, political economy, and so on) suffers all the drawbacks of heuristic searches of problem spaces, my "answers" to normative questions tend toward the messy and inelegant. Simply put, though I believe there to be only one best answer, I also believe it to be a)computationally inaccessible to finite beings and b)usually in the theoretically impure middle somewhere. Doubtless some questions have simple global answers, but I suspect none of them are very interesting.

*With the usual exception of those sects whose central doctrines require their members to substantially break important laws. I don’t think anyone worries about the government’s persecution of the Manson "Family".


Blogger MaxedOutMama said...

Nato, those links to the earlier discussion were great, and I'm reading them and thinking about them. I would like to answer this post further, but it's going to take me some time to control my amusement. I'm not laughing at you, I'm laughing at the constant human error of speaking imprecisely and then building upon those imprecisions, especially the imprecisions of another.

I'm not accusing you of speaking imprecisely about your beliefs, but I am suggesting that you are making imprecise assumptions about another's belief system. In short, I think you misunderstand the nature of sin as it is stated in the Bible, and so this causes you to think that what is "sin" is some random dictate of a non-existent God, rather than a set of heuristically derived rules for safe living. There is a very good reason why Christians preserved the Old Testament along with the new.

Mind you, I do believe in God. But you don't, and so one type of knowledge I can speak of is not something I can convey to you. It would be irrational of you to accept my word for that, so I'll have to try another way that gives you points where you can test my statements, and be rather succinct about it. Not my forte. Maybe I'd better take a short prayerful interlude for inspiration before I magnify the imprecision.

I don't object at all to secular philosophy as long as it doesn't become a totalitarian secular philosophy suppressing non-secular philosophy. You can't have workable science with experimentational validation of theories, and you can't have a viable religious system in a vacuum either. I think the two reinforce each other, as long as neither is allowed to force the other into hiding or browbeat the other into silence.

7:51 PM  

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