Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Continuing Attack on/Engagement with Religion

4/26/2012—Not that there is anything wrong with attacking religion. I mean the title of this blog entry to be descriptive, not evaluative. There does seem to be a continuing attack by secularists against religion at the same time that other secularists are looking to religion to provide insights for secular life.

Because this semester is so hard for me, I get behind in my reading contemporary sources, such as the book review in the New York Times. So I had occasion this week to look through some recent ones. I was looking at the weeks of March 18 and March 25.

The book review of March 18 contained the engagement part. David Brooks reviewed Alain de Botton’s book, Religion for Atheists. I now have Alain’s book and I look forward to reading it. According to Brooks, Religion for Atheists begins with an indictment of secular society—it is “denuded of high spiritual aspiration and practical moral guidance.” (I wonder what Alain thinks of the work of someone like Michael Sandel: are his courses and books and tv programs practical moral guidance?).

The issue of March 25 interestingly presents Philip Kitcher, whom I have treated as one of the New Atheists, criticizing Alex Rosenberg’s book, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, which Leon Wieseltier picked as the worst book of 2011 in The New Republic. While Kitcher considers the award “misplaced,” he challenges the extreme scientism of Rosenberg’s book that seeks to debunk the “Big Questions, questions about morality, purpose and consciousness.” Science has either answered these questions or shown them to be pseudo-questions, asserts Rosenberg.

Next is a review of Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. Haidt’s message is that people are not guided by reason. Reason just supports positions we have already selected (or intuited or something). Conservatives in many ways capture these intuitions better than liberals do. But then Haidt also wants to reform society so that reason and intuition interact in healthier ways. We need to understand human nature better so that we can develop sympathetic debate rather than antagonisms.

There is an odd tone to this book, at least in the review. The assumption is that conservative positions are less reasoned. Is that so? William Saletan reviewed Haidt’s book. Saletan wrote the book Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War. But maybe conservatives “won” the abortion war—Roe is still the law and millions of abortions take place so is that war won?—if they did, because killing unborn children is wrong. And maybe it was science in the form of fetal imagery that changed the abortion debate.

Another example of scientism is Lawrence Krauss’ book, A Universe From Nothing: Why There is Something Rather Than Nothing. It turns out that this eternal question from metaphysics has been answered by science. There is something rather than nothing because of quantum vacuums that are unstable and produce everything there is. This is interesting but I’m not sure it is to the point. As David Albert writes, then why are there quantum vacuums rather than nothing?

Finally, one more challenge to the spiritual wasteland with which we began—a review of J.G. Ballard’s Kingdom Come—“J.G. Ballard’s final novel envisions the collapse of consumerist culture. This is the spiritual dead end that Alain is afraid of. Seems like a lot of buzzing around something similar, does it not?

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