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.