Sunday, July 25, 2010

Accommodationism: Intentionally Stupid or Just Clueless?

I am with PZ Meyers on reconciling religion and science. It's a doomed enterprise. For any believer, whether the most asinine creationist or the most well-meaning liberal, belief in the local deity is of the utmost importance. Between an atheist, a creationist, and well-meaning liberal Christian, the differences between the atheist and well-intentioned liberal Christian will be more significant and so much more profound than the differences between the most clueless liberal and most asinine creationist.

To the extent that the belief in the local deity matters, meaningful reconciliation between science and religion recedes into the distance. There will always be some sect or another that teaches that some element of science and medicine is wrong. Whether it's evangelicals and creationism, or Jehovah's Witnesses and blood transfusions. Or some other foolishness in the name of an eternal fount of goodness, wisdom, and justice.

Considered in this way, it's hardly surprising that liberal Christians shush atheists and complain about those mean old atheists. Again, it's hardly surprising in this god awful triangle that the atheist is the odd man out.

For clarity's sake, an atheist is someone who doesn't know when to stop asking questions, and a believer is someone who says "this far, and no further!" about when to stop asking questions.

The above means that atheists are for Christians, and other believers, the quintessential Other. They expect us to conform to their strictures, their sense of propriety. If, as I have argued elsewhere in this blog, reason, rationality, and questioning are the sine qua non of an individual's autonomy and self-determination, then when to cease questioning is also a matter of individual discretion, that is to say an essential part of adulthood.

This leads to a paradox: the atheist who would makes believers uncomfortable with ceaseless inquiries would seem to violate the autonomy of believers, just as believers who berate atheists for their ceaseless inquiries seemingly violate the self-determination of atheists.

If this were a matter of opinion without consequences set against opinion without consequence, then the paradox would become an impasse. Superficially considered, the situation might seem dire. Believers themselves, provide an exit. Believers are always insistent upon the truth of their superstitions and the supreme value of their "truths." To the extent that an ever deeper understanding is sought, the more likely cherished beliefs will be made uncertain. The search for deeper understanding of received truths always grows out of hitherto dormant ambiguities and conundrums.

Christians and other believers betray themselves when inquiries are expected to jibe with already known "truths." Failure to produce the expected and pre-arranged results results in violence: sometimes physical, and sometimes less so but no less traumatic -- loss of employment, ostracism, and the like. In other words, Christians and other believers value conformity above all else.

Conformity nurtures violence. Violence nurtures conformity. Fear, anxiety, and dread are the one true trinity. The passion with which an opinion and a belief is a tepid justification for violence and supression of dissent. But I digress...

Are our opinions consequence-free? If so, then whether I believe X or I believe Y is a matter of personal preference, akin to preferring the color blue to mauve, or French cuisine to Italian. De gustibus non est disputandum.

If, on the other hand, beliefs and opinions are quantifications and compressions of experience (some first-hand, some not), then any belief, no matter how cherished, will be incomplete, and because of its incompleteness it will also contain error. By error, I mean simply that reliance upon a belief will sometimes result in unexpected and even unpleasant results. Expectations of what will happen mean that opinions and believes are not simply matters of taste and are fraught with consequences. Further, every person harbors error in his heart of hearts. So much for the arrogance of atheists.

* * *

From the atheists point of view, the atheist is perhaps closer to the most asinine creationist than the most well-intentioned liberal Christian. The atheist and the asinine creationist agree that beliefs and opinions matter, albeit for very different reasons and in very different ways.

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