Friday, May 16, 2008

Perceived Arrogance

A common criticism often directed at my posts involves my supposed arrogance in elevating science and the scientific method above that of religion and spirituality. Many find it offensive for me to disrespect the personal and deeply held beliefs that they cherish so greatly. They feel that by choosing evidence, in contrast to personal belief, to formulate a philosophical perspective, I am limiting the possibilities around us. Apparently, just because there is no conclusive evidence to support various supernatural phenomenon, the fact that a distant possibility exists for their belief, I should choose to keep an open mind and accept any illogical and unsubstantiated view only because it happens to be unproven. This kind of limited thought is specifically the reason why I address these issues so often, and frequently fight with vigor for the allowance of reason and empirical evidence to dominate our thinking. It is possible for one to develop a well-rounded philosophy without having to divest their reasoning abilities into topics that have no factual basis in our world. Furthermore, as morality and ethics are not constrained and bound by religion, we should all have the freedom to recognize the importance that these beneficial human traits have outside of the dogmatic religious beliefs that have been indoctrinated into our minds. Once we recognize the importance of evidence, empirical thinking, and a strong foundation of data, we can be extremely successful in matters that are critical to our specie's and planet's survival. The future of our world is not connected in any way to the religious or spiritual beliefs of various people, but to the tireless work that we're willing to do improving both the environment and living conditions on this only planet that we've ever called home. No religion, no matter how tolerant, or coercive, has ever been able to usher in an age of progress and wisdom. In fact, progress was done in spite of the archaic and conservative notions that many religions display. As science has expanded our knowledge of the universe, the physical reality that religion allowed humanity to accept has become irrelevant. We now understand many of the mechanisms that are inherent in the processes that govern the laws of the universe, and subsequently our origins and behavior. We don't need religion anymore to give us physical models of the universe. Furthermore, as was mentioned before, we don't need religion to lead moral and ethical lives. The moral current that has evolved through our culture has done so, in spite of religion. We can pick and choose certain passages from various religious texts that appear relevant to the moral behavior of each generation, but cannot take the whole religious text as a moral code. In the Old Testament Bible for example, adultery was punishable by stoning the adulterer to death, and further, slavery, especially the indenture servitude of one's daughters was openly allowed and practiced. Few in this day and age would be willing to maintain many of the practices that were written and glorified in archaic times. So if morality, and physical descriptions are completely unnecessary products of religion in modern times, what other aspects might it provide humans? Well, as was covered in previous posts, comfort and ignorance may allow some people to maintain a rigid mentality when trying to break free of their indoctrinated bonds. Yet, should we be willing to maintain that some people need comfort and ignorance to survive properly in the world? Perhaps a select group of people really do need to lie to themselves, and allow themselves to be fooled into imaginary ideas involving voyeuristic beings claiming to be benevolent when in fact, their jealousy, guarded behavior, and limited rules of engagement constantly indicate their absurd nature.

As is typical, people will look at the harsh tone I have set towards religious views and maintain that I am still foolish and arrogant. They'll claim that not all religions are "bad" and that they do have their uses. Some apologists who are not religious themselves will further insist that these religious beliefs (or even the spiritual nonsense dominating the scene these days in the form of new-age ideas) are important for maintaining cultural continuity and a sense of self worth. Obviously, there may be some importance towards religious belief, but with the knowledge that we have accumulated in the last few centuries, few can deny the power of science over those religious myths.

As far as arrogance goes, I suppose that this stigma will remain with these posts as long as the tone remains as such. Yet, it's important to realize that every progressive thought is often met with arrogance when the masses have yet to embrace concepts that will eventually become widespread. There was a time in our not too distant past when many people believed slavery to be morally justifiable. A few however, dared to maintain that perhaps these African descendants were human beings after all. They did happen to bleed the same color, and although their external and cultural differences were obvious, they also laughed, cried, fought, worked, played and even died like any other human being. The brave individuals that first came forward to maintain this injustice were often harassed, attacked, and even killed for their beliefs. They were often looked upon as arrogant people of "enlightenment" who had read too many books and did not function in the "real world". Even closer to our current time, women were barred from voting because it was felt that they could not make a logical decision (often justified through Biblical passages -- the morality of their time). They viewed women as nothing more then child bearing and rearing cheap labor. It took generations of people, and countless individuals willing to stand up to their beliefs that women's votes also counted, before suffrage was declared universal. Looking at society now, many archaic beliefs will one day seem just as strange and unbelievable. Some of us, through determination, and perhaps a small masochistic streak, maintain our views in the face of so much opposition because we know them to be morally and ethically true. To summarize these views (which some deep ultra liberal, but will one day become the norm -- just as the most conservative view today is absolutely liberal and leftist compared to those 100 years ago), one must understand that there was no special creation involved in our evolution and present appearance on this planet. We ARE a cosmic accident, and although many have a difficult time accepting that, as religion's flame fades away, more and more minds will begin to understand the implications. If we are truly descended from Apes, and share a common biological bond with all the creatures of the Earth (as well as chemical and physical bond with the rest of the universe), then that means no human being is biologically more important than another. In essence, all human beings are an accident of the universe, and an accident of an evolutionary process that blindly moves in any arbitrary direction dictated by the selective pressures in the environment. No wonder this idea is so revolutionary and unsettling to many people. Their special status is suddenly questioned, and we become no different than any other entity in existence. Thinking along these lines often results in the mistaken impression that these views are extremist and no different than the fundamentalism of certain religions sects. However, these views are based on evidence, and if perpetuating the notion that evidence trumps everything else in explaining and understanding our universe, then perhaps an evidence extremist is not such a bad notion. Eventually, the tide will turn, and most people will come to realize the implications of our accidental nature. True arrogance results in our belief that we are superior to other entities such as ethnic groups, and even biological creatures. Our reasoning abilities however do give us a unique perspective on this planet. We have it within us to change this world, either for the better, or for the worse. Either we use our reasoning abilities to answer the mysteries of our universe, or we waste it on imaginary and supernatural phenomenon that exist only in the inventive minds of fearful, credulous individuals.

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