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Monday, January 19, 2015

Religious Beliefs Don't Pass Scientific Muster: But That Recognition Goes Both Ways

I agree with those who argue faithful convictions that are not scientifically warranted should not be taught in science classrooms or form the basis of public policy seeking accountable harm-reduction outcomes. I daresay a majority of the people who share my conviction on this score are actually people of some sort of faith or other, even if it also seems obviously true that the vast majority of people who disagree with me are religious fundamentalists.

It actually matters that while science education and public policy should be warranted by scientific criteria, it is also true that faithful beliefs that aren't about facilitating prediction or control but finding one's way to personal legibility, sublimity, or hope, say, need not be warranted by scientific criteria and that their failure to do so actually is not grounds for refuting them, once and for all.

Consistency neither recommends faith -- or any particular faith among the many competing faiths on offer -- nor provides a ground for rejecting faith out of hand. There are other grounds, taste, tradition, vicissitudes of history or personal experience that may do so for some (full disclosure: me included), but they seem to me mostly rather personal.

Certainly I disapprove faith communities that re-write politics in the image of imperial moralizing or science in the image of subcultural signaling -- but I disapprove science advocacy that would reduce aesthetic judgment, moral community, or political reconciliation to its terms for mostly the same reasons.

I'm an atheist -- that is to say I've been a-theist, without god(s), and cheerfully so, for more than thirty years by now -- but the force of my experiences of aesthetic sublimity and of my faith in democratic progress toward equity-in-diversity readily connects me with many who are religious. Again, I'm a atheist, but when atheist advocacy demands scientism or denigrates multiculture or provides a vehicle for racist, sexist or plutocratic reaction I honestly can't say that I feel the remotest connection to those who claim to champion an atheism I share.

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