Saturday, November 25, 2006
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Separating the Wheat from the ChaffI highly recommend an old—though quite relevant—post by Will Wilkinson that examines the behavior of a class of people that I’ll call “unbelieving believers”.
Many of us believe that we believe because the social and psychological benefits of appearing to be a believer seem to us greater than the costs, and the most compelling way to appear a believer, but to avoid the behavioral costs of actual belief, is to earnestly but falsely believe that one believes.Wilkinson’s muse, however, was a paper by philosophy prof. Georges Rey entitled Meta-Atheism. Rey writes:
[my] concern here is not with what religious people do, but rather with the content of what many of them say they believe. The more seriously I think about it, the more bizarre I find it. I find myself thinking that, if this content were removed from the rich aesthetic and cultural traditions in which it is standardly presented, it would be regarded as, frankly, psychotic, rather like the delusions of paranoids who think that there are invisible psychological agents, with larger than life powers, with whom they enjoy some special "super-natural" communication. It seems to me so overwhelmingly obvious that there are no such beings in either case -as most introductory texts make plain, the usual arguments for the existence of God are patently fallacious- that I have come to entertain the idea that, actually, no reasonable person really does believe in God, despite what they may say or consciously "think" to themselves. For want of a better name, I call this view "meta-atheism." It says:Now, before you take offense, or self-congratulate (depending upon your particular view of theism), note that Rey added the following disclaimer:
Despite appearances, not many people -- particularly, not many adults who've been exposed to standard Western science -- seriously believe in God; most of those who sincerely claim to do so are self-deceived.
I used the word "psychotic" above. But please understand: I don't think that most religious people are psychotics nor even insincere. Rather, I think that many of them are engaged in a form of self-deception, a little like a wife who ignores the evidence of her husband's infidelity. This is an extension of the familiar observation that most religious stories involve patent wishful thinking.Not only do I not disagree, I’ve long argued that many (if not most) self-described “believers” are, in actuality, anything but. This likely stems from culture, pier pressure, fear or some combination thereof. This may sound odd coming from me, an unashamed Christian who, in an age of scientific enlightenment, had the audacity to suggest that atheism is irrational.
There’s no contradiction in my thinking, however; I’ve consistently taught my children to think independently, to not simply “take my word for it” where God is concerned. As it stands, all three of my kids are agnostic…and they know why. I will, however, take issue with (at least) one of Rey’s eight points...sort of:
(7) Belief is Not a Matter of Choice Religious belief, understood as faith, is supposed to be at least partly a matter of choice. But try to decide to seriously believe that there is an even number of stars, or that there are gigantic cats on distant planets. Imagine how puzzling it would be to if someone claimed merely to "have faith" about these things.Any worthwhile argument for theology in general, and faith in particular, is necessarily based upon the Bible (I readily acknowledge that the Bible’s veracity is questioned). That said, consider Hebrews 11:1 - ”Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. That is, faith is not merely assent, hope, mystical theory, etc.—faith is imparted, not “learned” knowledge. Choice (free will, determination, etc.) has absolutely nothing to do with faith.
Perhaps "religious faith" is a commitment merely to be prepared to consciously think and say certain things. Perhaps that's a kind of attenuated belief -or perhaps, again, it's exactly the phenomenon of self-deception!
Of course, I can’t empirically prove this, hence my parental posture. Nevertheless, marginalizing theism, and indeed theists, strikes me as an easy and, quite frankly, a self-serving exercise; it’s not exactly a black or white issue. Not all believers are self-deceived.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Blurring DistinctionsBrian Caplan has an interesting series of posts that deal with Analytical Egalitarianism (AE), which he characterizes as follows:
Proposition 1. All people are equally talented and have the same preferences.According to AE proponents, we ought to minimize, if not ignore, obvious inequalities among individuals in the name of “fairness” in the formulation of public policy…I guess. On the surface, this sounds great; but when it’s considered for more than a moment, it quickly dissolves.
Proposition 2. If people do have unequal talents or different preferences, these are ENTIRELY the result of environmental differences.
Proposition 3. If there are any innate/genetic differences between people, it's exceedingly dangerous for the world if anyone says so.
The policy implications of analytical egalitarianism are democratic, not libertarian. If all preferences count equally, and the majority wants to ban marijuana, what's an analytical egalitarian to say?
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Yep, I voted……for gridlock! That is, I realized that a Democrat-led House was a foregone conclusion; and here in New Jersey (a veritable suburb of Manhattan) the Dems are a lock. So, I held my nose and voted for the Republican Senatorial candidate, Tom Kean Jr., in the vain hope that the two houses of Congress would spend their time bickering with one another, instead of spending our money and/or finding creative ways to limit individual liberty; and that Bush might actually discover his “veto pen”. Alas, Kean fell short (as did several other GOP Senate hopefuls), so it’s now up to Bush to grow a pair and “just say no” to ever-increasing government. I won’t be holding my breath.
Now, as for the rest of my electoral options, I voted for the Libertarian Party across the board. Did I “throw away my vote” in so doing? Not at all! My message was loud-and-clear: if either of the two major parties wants my vote in the future, they had better start to think about, and vote for, libertarian (classical liberal) principles, which were the basis of America’s philosophical foundation.