Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Monday, January 20, 2014

MLK on Critical Thinking and Progressive Technoscience

Alex Knapp draws our attention to King's exhortation to critical thought and celebration of the possibilities of equitably distributed technoscience:
In King’s sermon, ["A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart,"] he extols the need for a “tough mind,” which he says is defined by “incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgment.” The modern world, he said, has far too much “softmindedness” of ”unbelievable gullibility.” “Softmindedness often invades religion,” he said. “This is why religion has sometimes rejected new truth with a dogmatic passion.” ... In a number of speeches, sermons, and other works, he extolled the great progress of science and the potential of technology to make life richer for all people... “There may be a conflict between softminded religionists and toughminded scientists,” he said. “But not between science and religion. Their respective worlds are different and their methods are dissimilar... Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary.” For King... science was essential for religion to be a good thing. And vice versa. “Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism,” he said. “Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.” In his sermon entitled “Keep Moving From This Mountain,” King [went] further. “Through our scientific genius we made of the world a neighborhood, but we failed through moral commitment to make of it a brotherhood, and so we’ve ended up with guided missiles and misguided men,” he said. “And the great challenge is to move out of the mountain of practical materialism and move on to another and higher mountain which recognizes somehow that we must live by and toward the basic ends of life."
King's contrast of "moral nihilism" against "moral commitment" clarifies that the "religion" he recommends here is the larger moral and aesthetic work that suffuses a world of warranted fact with values and meanings, and that said it is easy for even a crusty atheist like me to affirm King's insistence on the complementarity of critical thinking and social justice (equity-in-diversity).

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