Saturday, May 16, 2015

Philip Kitcher’s Life After Faith Attacks Transcendence

5/16/2015—Philip Kitcher should have written the book that transforms secularism. The book he did write, Life After Faith: The Case for Secular Humanism, does not appear to be that book.

I’m in the midst of it and having trouble finishing it because it’s sort of boring. As I expected from the book reviews, there is too much attacking religion. The book is supposed to be about life after faith, not about why people leave religious faith. The case against religion is not important and has certainly been done to death. (It’s not important because people don’t leave religious traditions because of arguments and, anyway, why should anyone try to get people to leave religious traditions?)

But I am struck by how Philip (I’m trying out first names in an attempt to promote human solidarity) defines the basic terms of the religion/secular divide. On page 6, in the setup, he writes that secularism (I hate the term secular humanism—the point is the truth of reality of which humans are just a part, not the whole thing) demands of religion a reply to only one question—“[t]he core of secularist doubt is skepticism about anything ‘transcendent.’”

Philip describes the transcendent as “something beyond the physical, organic, human world… .” Now, leaving aside human world—if Philip means materialism, why not just say so?--obviously, love and music are beyond the “physical, organic.” Or, maybe later in the book, Philip will explain how all of existence is rooted in the physical, which it is, but humans do not yet understand the connections. Think of the brain and consciousness.

But I don’t think Philip is going in that direction. He also writes a revealing additional description of transcendence in relation to Christian resurrection—“there was no abrogation of normal physical and organic processes.”

Well, OK. But a very different claim. Somewhere I have written—probably more than once—the world is all there is, but there is more to the world than meets the eye. If all it means to be secular is not to believe in things that violate scientific laws as we know them, a lot of religion remains quite safe. Wittgenstein (not using Ludwig) answered Philip years ago in two observations about early tribes—their religions told many stories, but not that enemies’ heads exploded during battles and when they carved weapons, they did so with exactness and not by myth. In other words, early man did not abrogate the laws of science. There remains a great big mysterious world of otherness out there without denying anything scientific.

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