Monday, February 06, 2006

Reason and Enlightenment: one more time with feeling

Sectarian violence is in the news again with the advent of the Danish cartoon series.

I have before expressed some opinions here about where religion comes from. I am persuaded by Pascal Boyer’s hypothesis that religion is the by-product of evolved mental processes we use for other purposes than religion. Because of this, religion will be around for a long time.

I have also said that it is useless for the atheist to argue her positions via normal logic and persuasive techniques. The religious will not be persuaded by this. In fact, it is far easier for the religious to persuade the atheist of the error of her position since the atheist is susceptible to the same unconscious mental processes as the religious.

I am far from an enemy and committed foe to religion. Even if religion is indirectly evolved it doesn’t clinch the case for atheism. But…and isn’t there always a but?

Sectarian violence has been responsible for some of the most heinous crimes in all history. The powers of rational reflection by those who belong to large organized hierarchical authoritarian religious groups cannot always be trusted.

If one takes the view of someone who is outside the fold, then one empathizes with her when she feels religious sects are not to be trusted to do the right thing at all times. To the religious who howl about that statement, I say history is not on your side. Prove me wrong in the future, but don’t try to cover your tracks stretching from the past into the present.

To those who say I am stereotyping, I say tough. You have earned it.

I have also in the past written about Kant’s essay What is Enlightenment? It is the essay where he says that reason should not be controlled by secular or clerical authority. Reason needs its own freedom and space in which to operate. Kant was a very religious man by the way.

I agree that the worship of Reason can take on some of the characteristics of religion both good and bad. Hume did not have it entirely wrong when he said that reason is the slave of the passions. Here comes another but.

Despite all the insights about the workings of the human mind since Hume’s and Kant’s time, I still say that reason, in some form, exists and that it is valuable. We have logical and persuasive argument. We have science with its successes. We still attempt to negotiate our way through the confusing thicket of conflicting sectarian beliefs and morals.

Kant had this possibly naïve idea that reason should not submit itself to authority be it secular or sectarian. When certain elements of humanity succeed in blowing up the world once and for all in the name of their sectarian and authoritarian beliefs, it won’t seem so naïve.


At 11:53 AM, Blogger -epm said...

Just a thought question:

Is it "enlightened" to presume there is nothing real beyond the bounds of our human capacity to quantify and measure?

At 10:43 PM, Blogger Lynn said...

I have always liked Kant's response to that. We can know the phenomenal, but as far as the noumenal, ultimate reality, we cannot say what it is except that it exists.

At 8:30 AM, Blogger -epm said...

"noumenal"... I like it when I have to use my dictionary. :)

At 10:00 AM, Blogger Lynn said...


I hope this doesn't escalate into a battle of one-upsmanship because I'll be in trouble. :)


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