Baggini’s “Heathen’s Progress” 10/21/11 – 11/7/11

I’ve been reflecting on Julian Baggini’s recent series in The Guardian, called Heathen’s Progress. Here are comments about some of his earlier postings:

October 21: Baggini cautions atheists against seeing science as “our savior.” It is not “the source of all the knowledge and wisdom we need to live,” and “The most egregious recent example of this is Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape, with its subtitle ‘How science can determine human values’.”

I haven’t read Landscape, but I don’t see how science can “determine” our ultimate core values. Even so, once we define these basic values, science can help us attain them. If you have read Harris’ book, what do you think? Does he justify his subtitle?

Many secular humanists in Western nations base their moral judgments on typical progressive/left-leaning political opinions. That’s OK with me, but let’s not forget to reflect on the basis of our moral commitments. Regardless of their political inclinations, few people seem to have thought much about how we ground our values.

October 28: Even though Julian is trying to cool down the overheated theist-atheist debates, he cautions against going to the opposite extreme, which he calls dogmatophobia, the fear of having any definite beliefs at all.

My favorite quote from this post: “Unfortunately, the middle ground in the God debate is occupied by too many people who screw up their eyes to create the illusion of a mist when the view is really clear.”

So Baggini warns us against both idolizing science and worshiping uncertainty.

November 7: Julian points out that even though we shouldn’t criticize a religion without understanding it, greater understanding does not automatically generate more accurate beliefs. I agree. I do not need to comprehend a particular religion as well as an adherent of that faith, in order to critique it. The devotee and I see from different angles. S/he can see things I cannot, and vice versa.

In this post Baggini once again prods both theists and atheists. Religion at its best, he suggests must “have a big fat mystery at its heart…. If there is a God, it must surely passeth all understanding.” Many of his fellow atheists will find that comment challenging.

And here’s his challenge to theists: “Too often I find that faith is mysterious only selectively. Believers … have a list of doctrines as long as your arm. It is only when the questions get tough that, suddenly, their God disappears in a puff of mystery. Ineffability becomes a kind of invisibility cloak, only worn when there is a need to get out of a bit of philosophical bother.”

Do check out Heathen’s Progress for yourself: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/series/heathens-progress.

Roger

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