Saturday, March 10, 2007

Simple Division

At the end of the Lenin's Tomb post I cited in my last post, Lenin briefly informs us about an upcoming book called The Threat to Reason, by Daniel Hind, who is new to me. Lenin points to Hind's blog of the same name. He's only posted four times since launching the blog in November of last year, but what he's written so far has caught my interest. From his first post:
The book - and this blog - will look at the ways in which the ideas and prestige of the eighteenth century Enlightenment are used in contemporary political debate. In particular I want to show how attempts to define Enlightenment primarily as a conflict between reason and faith can function as a form of enchantment, and distract us from the work of understanding the world.
And from his second:
There has been a spate of books in recent years that have sought to set out a simple division between faith and reason in which faith is understood as being a commitment to Biblical (or Koranic) literalism and reason is a commitment to materialism and the values of the Enlightenment. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and The End of Faith by Sam Harris adopt this central organizing division.

We will have plenty of opportunities to examine this style of thought in the months ahead [...]. But right now I just want to ask whether if what Dawkins and Harris say is true - that fundamentalist religion poses a unique and autonomous threat to secular society, even to the survival of mankind - their response is a sensible one. (They are quite wrong of course, let's be clear about that, but like I say, we have plenty of time).
Of course, I've been trying to talk about some of these issues here, in my own stumbling way. I've been afraid that I might have painted myself in a corner--but I guess that's a good thing about blogs; I can start over if I want to. Anyway, I've disagreed with Dawkins and others about the "problem of religion"--even as an atheist, who agrees on what evolutionary science tells us about the likelihood of there being a God. (I am aware that I have already in effect repudiated my earlier linguistic argument against saying "I am an atheist". Holding myself to saying "atheistic" all the time, I quickly noticed, would make for some awkward writing. The point still holds, however, that my atheism does not define who I am, nor do I consider it terribly interesting.) Hind says in passing here what I've been wondering about but haven't gotten around to discussing: even if Dawkins and Harris and so on were right, their approach to the problem seems remarkably wrong-headed, even stupid.

I strongly suspect I'll be reading Hind's book when it appears. And of course, I'll be returning to this theme yet again here.


Andrew said...

As regards reason and its status as a foundation on which to build knowledge, if an awareness was to subordinate itself to pure reason all the way to its logical end, it would arrive with absolute nihilism, ie total scepticism about thought itself. Though of course, since the mind body entity is vastly more wise than the intellect, noone sees such intellectual idiocies through to their mad end. While simultaneously such artificial beings aren't clever enough to understand the implications of their thought. Artificial in the sense that they impose self-created concepts such as Reason upon life, demand that life conform to this self-created value, and are forced into endless contortions through denying all manner of real experiences that give the lie to their comical little materialism.

Dan Hind said...

hi, Richard,

Do drop me a line if you would like to discuss the issues in the book. I am keen to get the word out, as you can imagine; the book is being officially published in September and it would be good to kickstart some discussion about reason and religion before then.

Best wishes,

Dan Hind