No, I don’t read it just for the articles. But frequently Playboy does feature thoughtful articles on one of my favorite subjects, the relation of religion and science.
For example, the April 2006 issue had “Faith & Reason” by philosopher Michael Ruse. Several other writers threw in their two cents on the subject. My favorite was comedian Lewis Black, who offered up some pithy advice about how to handle intelligent design believers.
The concept of evolution doesn’t take away from the concept of God. You’d have to be out of your mind not to see through the bullshit. You can buy into both without a complete loss of rationality. I’m not going to change their mind. There is no reasoning with these people—because they don’t reason.
We have the facts in carbon dating and fossils. I have tried to be nice, but I am exhausted. Fossils, fossils, fossils. I win. They really exist, and they are not the devil’s handiwork. Facts are fucking facts.
Yes, they are. What I like about the Playboy philosophy is that it recognizes when a hand of facts needs to be laid on the table, and when it’s OK to keep it hidden.
In the private realm, the only fact you have to be concerned about is your own experience. Like to have sex with the opposite gender? That’s a fact. Like to have sex with your own gender? That’s a fact. The end. In my life I haven’t spent even one second trying to justify to myself or anyone else why I’m heterosexual. Homosexuals have a similar right to simply say, “This is who I am. End of story.”
Ditto with other private preferences, moral or otherwise. I prefer vanilla ice cream. You like chocolate. No problem. Each to his own. (However, every time my wife makes Brussels sprouts she asks if I want some and I say “No, I don’t like them.” She then says, “But they’re good for you.” I reply, “I still don’t like them; I’ll have a salad instead.” It’s our little ritual.)
Disturbingly often, though, religious types forget that their beliefs are just that: beliefs. They’re private preferences about how to look on the mysteries of life: whether God exists, what happens after death, why bad things happen to good people, and such.
Nobody has the answers to such questions. More precisely, nobody can prove that they have the answers. So for practical purposes, nobody has the answers. Similarly, I can’t explain why I like vanilla ice cream and can’t stand Brussels sprouts. I just do. So don’t try to tell me why I should feel otherwise, because there’s no “why” to tell.
Similarly, don’t claim that the theory of evolution is a fraud or stem cell research is morally wrong unless you have a better reason than “Because I say so.” Saying so doesn’t make it so. I learned that on my elementary school playground.
Evolution and stem cells are objective public realities, not subjective private preferences. You don’t need a reason to have sex with whatever consenting adult you choose to hook up with. But if you want to influence public policy or public education, you damn well better have a good reason to back up your stand.
Or shut up. Public discourse is for people willing to exchange viewpoints, not engage in one-way moral diatribes. Daniel Dennett puts it nicely in his book, “Breaking the Spell.” This is a lengthy quote, yet well worth reading.
I am urging, on the contrary, that anybody who professes that a particular moral conviction is not discussable, not debatable, not negotiable, simply because it is the word of God, or because the Bible says so, or because “that is what all Muslims [Hindus, Sikhs …] believe, and I am a Muslim [Hindu, Sikh …]” should be seen as making it impossible for the rest of us to take their views seriously, excusing themselves from the moral conversation, inadvertently acknowledging that their own views are not conscientiously maintained and deserve no further hearing.
The argument for this is straightforward. Suppose I have a friend, Fred, who is (in my carefully considered opinion) always right. If I tell you I’m against stem-cell research because “my friend Fred says it’s wrong and that’s all there is to it,” you will just look at me as if I was missing the point of the discussion.
This is supposed to be a consideration of reasons, and I have not given you a reason that I in good faith could expect you to appreciate. Suppose you believe that stem-cell research is wrong because that is what God has told you. Even if you are right—that is, even if God does indeed exist and has, personally, told you that stem-cell research is wrong—you cannot reasonably expect others who do not share your faith or experience to accept this as a reason.
You are being unreasonable in taking your stand. The fact that your faith is so strong that you cannot do otherwise just shows (if you really can’t) that you are disabled for moral persuasion, a sort of robotic slave to a meme that you are unable to evaluate. And if you reply that you can but you won’t consider reasons for and against your conviction (because it is God’s word, and it would be sacrilegious even to consider whether it might be in error), you avow your willful refusal to abide by the minimal conditions of rational discussion.
Either way, your declaration of your deeply held views are posturings that are out of place, part of the problem, not part of the solution, and we others will just have to work around you as best we can.
Reasons. Know when to hold them; know when to show them. In the game of private religion, you can keep them to yourself, if you have any at all. But if you want to play in the public square, you'd better be prepared to show your best stuff.
What an amazing and resilliant thing the human psyche is. It fascinates me what elaborate mechanisms we construct to allow us our conceits.
I totally agree, the insistence that others govern their lives by my beliefs is anathema. It's also horrifying to realize that most zealots assume their beliefs are superior and therefore somehow magically immune to this universal -nee catholic- acceptance of other forms of worship (even non-worship). We all have a personal cosmology. I admit some of my beliefs are illogical -- EVERY belief is by definition, ILLOGICAL. So all are valid in my opinion, since illogical thought cannot supercede itself.
To be clear: Religious belief should not determine anything. Not the use of stem cells. Nor malpractice insurance, unless we're going to extend that coverage to ANY person who is found guilty of negligence, even the local priest. Nor the right to assemble and worship, even if you think my beliefs are stupid!!
Most people agree that we should keep ideas about 'right' and 'wrong' away from public policy. Unfortunately it is that huge percentage that insist upon that teensy caveat "Except for MY twisted/illogical way of thinking and look how (insert superlative here) these people are who also tout this way of thinking are. Certainly we deserve an exception to the rule when it comes to..."
Its odd to me that the worst offenders of this sort of intellectual bigotry and imposition are the self-ists, agnostics and atheists. Reasonable people can agree that creed should be exempt from government -- UNTIL men and women who claim an exemption to these boundaries (that keep personal convictions from imposing on the rest of us) decide that their "truth" is sooo profound that they simply INSIST upon enlightening the rest of us. Fanatical belief in the absence of God is just as corrosive as fanatical belief in the presence of God.
Eventually the human race will come to the conclusion that we must agree to disagree or we will simply kill one another to extinction arguing about it.
I dare to hope one day everyone can respect each other's right in that regard. I consider it my duty as a person committed to doing 'the next right thing' that I must practice that respect no matter how bigoted the response. May it blossom and multiply.
Posted by: benandante | September 18, 2006 at 07:08 AM
benandante, I agree with you. Up to your comment about atheists and agnostics. Most of the people I know would be called "agnostics," because they don't subscribe to rigid religious beliefs and are willing to say "I don't know" when asked about God, life after death, and all that.
My experience is that agnostics and atheists are the most open-minded when it comes to discussing social and public policy issues. They base their opinions on observations of the world around us, not on hypotheses about an imaginary metaphysical world.
So I disagree that agnostics and atheists are as creed-bound as believers. The former believe in the world that we all experience, or nobody would stop at a red light. The latter believe in a world that is only experienced in their own minds.
Thus atheism and agnosticism unites people in the common bond of our shared humanity, while religion divides us into isolated cells of individual belief.
Posted by: Brian | September 18, 2006 at 10:16 AM
No seriously; the best you have to bring to the public square is Michael Ruse, Lewis Black and Playboy?
"Reason," related to "ration," from "ratio," is ultimately from the idea of counting. Similar to, but different from, the "measure/mother/matter" set of concepts. Look them up, it is fairly interesting.
So although we may like to insist that public policy and education should be established by reason and rationality, it is, in fact, not so.
And though we bewail that the irrational "should be seen as making it impossible for the rest of us to take their views seriously," it is unfortunately not so.
I don't think I can shout "facts" quite like Lewis Black shouts "fossils."
So now I have to admit that many of the concrete facts of my experience are based on irrationality: Rule of law, for instance, is sometimes capricious.
We want it different, but it is not different. So you say it is more healthy and genuine for me to rely strictly on my concrete experience, and I say I don't want to, and you say, but my way is not delusional and dangerous, and I say, the elves tell me otherwise. And that has become a ritual. Gay marriage/not; stem cell research/nay fellow; unilateral disarmament/forests for hamburgers.
It is a belief, and I think a false one, that reason and rational thought could become the only method of discourse that successfully changes our lives for the better.
Sometimes the elves know what they are talking about.
Posted by: Edward | September 18, 2006 at 11:16 AM
Brian, you said;
"So I disagree that agnostics and atheists are as creed-bound as believers. The former believe in the world that we all experience, or nobody would stop at a red light. The latter believe in a world that is only experienced in their own minds".
Brian I must disagree with your disagreement. I was a paid up subscriber to the UK National Secular society for over three years in my early twenties. The people I knew back then were anything but open minded or freethinkers (despite the society's journal called the freethinker).
Many would simply take the diametrically opposite ethical and moral stance to a religious pronouncement, just for the sake of being anti religious.
What led me away from the society is that it is a believing society, or to be more exact it believes in not believing. Or to be more exact it believes in some hybrid version of scientism meets materialism meets humanism. More and more belief and all of it as incapable of ultimate verification as the claims of religionists.
Despite what you say about the true experimental basis of true science, many of the scientifically inclined atheists I knew back then started with the non negotiable paradigm that any and all evidence for the supra/supernatural is utter delusion.
The only task remaining to science (for them) is to prove this to be the case. No question of lets investigate, see whats going on and modify hypotheses along the way.
No, simply a fixed and intransient belief structure that I eventually found as stifling as my Anglican upbringing.
Let me give you a run down of how such people view the world and in particular evidence for anomalous phenomena that have yet to be accounted for by most existing paradigms. It can basically be summed up as Absolute Truth for what they accept and Hoaxes and Hallucinations for what they don’t.
Theory of Evolution – Absolute Truth in every regard
Big bang theory – Absolute truth
Subjective mind comes from objective matter – Absolute Truth
Out of body experiences – Hallucinations
Near Death experiences – Hallucinations
UFO’s – Wow! Hoaxes and Hallucinations
Alien encounters – Double whammy again! Hoaxes and Hallucinations
Crop Circles – Hoaxes
Mystic experiences – Hallucinations
Psi and telepathy /remote viewing – Hallucinations and Hoaxes
Now not many people would say that the evolution and big bang theories are absolutely not true. What many would suggest however (without succumbing to Intelligent Design theory per se) is that there are grounds for accepting these theories couched within a framework of purposive, intelligent and conscious evolution. Some form of the Anthropic principle in other words and not just mindless fundamentalist reductionist metaphysics.
Hardly a scientific approach from many atheists I met and yet that was how these people viewed their world. It’s just another story we tell ourselves about how the world is and what we are doing here.
I ducked out of militant atheism because it is every bit as fundamentalist a faith as those religious ones you describe. I just wish we could see a bit more balance on this forum to reflect this reality, rather than seeing intractable belief structures as the province of religionists only!
Posted by: Nick | September 20, 2006 at 01:24 AM