Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ronald Dworkin Seeks Common Ground for Religion

3/13/2013 – – In The New York Review of Books issue that arrived today, (April 4, 2013), there is an excerpt from a book by the late Ronald Dworkin that will be published later this year: Religion without God. In the excerpt, Dworkin argues for what he calls religious atheism, basically a commitment to objective values without the existence of a supernatural God.

In some ways, Dworkin is arguing for the kind of higher law secularism that was at the heart of my book, church, state, and the crisis in American secularism. Dworkin seems to be arguing that the commitment to objective values unites theists and many atheists. Of course, I have been seeking that kind of common ground for several years now.

I look forward to reading the book and I need to peruse the excerpt more closely. But there are two things about Dworkin’s argument that seem odd. First, it was Dworkin who, in 2006, pose the great divide between religion and non-religion. He asked whether we should be a religious society that tolerates nonbelief or a secular society that tolerates religion? There was nothing about him then that was seeking any sort of common ground.

Second, Dworkin relies heavily on David Hume’s distinction between fact and value. This distinction forces Dworkin to treat the existence of God as a fact, as opposed to a matter of value. But is God really like that? God would seem to be beyond the fact/value distinction, although Hume certainly agrees here with Dworkin.

In any event, Dworkin seems to be saying to theists and atheists, we disagree about God but can we not agree about the objectivity of values? Dworkin says faith in values is more important than beliefs about God. I’m not sure that anyone will agree about that.

I agree that most of us are religious. But I mean by that that belief in God and belief in values are similar beliefs. Dworkin is arguing that they are different. But then why is not the objectivity of value itself a fact?

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