Tag Archive: religion

Truth is above human authority

If only we look for it we can often find a true idea, worthy of being preserved, in a philosophical theory which must be rejected as false. Can we find an idea like this in one of the theories of the ultimate sources of our knowledge?

I believe we can; and I suggest that it is one of the two main ideas which underlie the doctrine that the source of all our knowledge is super-natural. The first of these ideas is false, I believe, while the second is true.

The first, the false idea, is that we must justify our knowledge, or our theories, by positive reasons, that is, by reasons capable of establishing them, or at least of making them highly probable; at any rate, by better reasons than that they have so far withstood criticism. This idea implies, I suggested, that we must appeal to some ultimate or authoritative source of true knowledge; which still leaves open the character of that authority–whether it is human, like observation or reason, or super-human (and therefore supernatural).

The second idea—whose vital importance has been stressed by Russell—is that no man’s authority can establish truth by decree; that we should submit to truth; that truth is above human authority.

Taken together these two ideas almost immediately yield the conclusion that the sources from which our knowledge derives must be super-human; a conclusion which tends to encourage self-righteousness and the use of force against those who refuse to see the divine truth.

Some who rightly reject this conclusion do not, unhappily, reject the first idea—the belief in the existence of ultimate sources of knowledge. Instead they reject the second idea—the thesis that truth is above human authority. They thereby endanger the idea of the objectivity of knowledge, and of common standards of criticism or rationality. [38-9]

God: the ultimate guarantee for man’s freedom?

For instance, it was one thing for a circumscribed group of intellectuals to discuss atheism, as had happened up to now, quite another to arrange for its popular diffusion and propaganda via a publishing campaign like that attempted without great success by adherents of the Radical Enlightenment. It was one thing for the different Christian denominations and the great revealed religions to be split by bloody and incomprehensible theological controversies. It was another matter entirely to posit point blank the idea of establishing a new universal and natural religion common to all the peoples in the world, a religion that was rational—devoid of dogmas, churches, hierarchies, and priests—and that would take hold first among the élites and then among the rest of the population. This implied the existence of a God who was very far away and frankly uninterested in human events, and whose sole function was that of granting the ultimate guarantee for man’s freedom and responsibility and none whatsoever for the authority of any Church. [xii]

Some people’s opinion of what is good or bad for other people

On questions of social morality, of duty to others, the opinion of the public, that is, of an overruling majority, though often wrong, is likely to be still oftener right; because on such questions they are only required to judge of their own interests; of the manner in which some mode of conduct, if allowed to be practised, would affect themselves. But the opinion of a similar majority, imposed as a law on the minority, on questions of self-regarding conduct, is quite as likely to be wrong as right; for in these cases public opinion means, at the best, some people’s opinion of what is good or bad for other people; while very often it does not even mean that; the public, with the most perfect indifference, passing over the pleasure or convenience of those whose conduct they censure, and considering only their own preference. There are many who consider as an injury to themselves any conduct which they have a distaste for, and resent it as an outrage to their feelings; as a religious bigot, when charged with disregarding the religious feelings of others, has been known to retort that they disregard his feelings, by persisting in their abominable worship or creed. But there is no parity between the feeling of a person for his own opinion, and the feeling of another who is offended at his holding it; no more than between the desire of a thief to take a purse, and the desire of the right owner to keep it. And a person’s taste is as much his own peculiar concern as his opinion or his purse. [107-8]

It’s not morality, it’s bigotry

It remains to be proved that society or any of its officers holds a commission from on high to avenge any supposed of­fence to Omnipotence, which is not also a wrong to our fellow-creatures. The notion that it is one man’s duty that an­other should be religious, was the foundation of all the religious persecutions ever perpetrated, and if admitted, would fully justify them. [ch. IV, 117]

No Christian morality

What little recognition the idea of obligation to the public obtains in modern morality, is derived from Greek and Roman sources, not from Christian; as, even in the morality of private life, whatever exists of magnanimity, high-mindedness, personal dignity, even the sense of honour, is derived from the purely human, not the religious part of our education, and never could have grown out of a standard of ethics in which the only worth, professedly recognised, is that of obedience. [ch. II, 64]

Teaching how, not what, to think

Dawkins: I think indoctrination means teaching in a way that is not critical. You’re not teaching children ‘this is the way to think, this is the way to evaluate evidence, be critical, look for what’s plausible, look for the evidence’. That’s the right way to teach. The wrong way to teach is indoctrination, which is ‘you should believe X, you must believe X, X is what our people have always believed, X is what’s written down in our holy book, therefore you must believe it’. That’s indoctrination.

Al-Khalili: Of course, you’re teaching people how to think, how to be critical about their world-view. Presumably, a lot of people can think about it and say, Yes, and I’ve come to the conclusion there is a god.

Dawkins: Yes, a lot do that, and good luck to them, that’s fine. At least they’ve thought about it. [23:55]

Different ways of knowing

In diesem Zusammenhang wird oft ein fundamentaler Unterschied zwischen Glauben und Wissen behauptet, von dem her solche methodischen Unterschiede legitimiert werden können. Im Bereich des Wissens, vor allem in dem der Wissenschaft, scheint die Vernunft, das rationale Denken, eine ganz andere Funktion zu haben als im Bereich des sogenannten Glaubens. Während im ersten Bereich eine kritische Vernunft am Platze ist, neigt man im zweiten eher dazu, sich für eine deutende, verstehende, hermeneutische Vernunft auszusprechen oder gar die hier adäquate Ver­fahrensweise von der der Vernunft überhaupt abzusetzen. Man entwickelt eine Zwei-Sphären-Theorie, die gewisse tradierte Anschauungen gegen bestimmte Arten der Kritik abschirmen und einen inselhaften Bereich unantastbarer Wahrheiten schaffen soll. In diesem Bereich ist man unter Umständen sogar bereit, die Logik außer Gefecht zu setzen, damit echte Widersprüche akzeptabel werden, allerdings meist ohne die Trag­weite eines solchen Unternehmens und seine Absurdität voll zu erkennen. Man ist zwar im sicheren Besitz der Wahrheit, hat aber dennoch eine gewisse Angst vor kritischer Prüfung und opfert daher oft lieber die elemen­tare Moral des Denkens als diesen angeblich sicheren Besitz. Auf diese Weise kann man dogmatischen Verfahrensweisen mitunter eine gewisse Anerkennung verschaffen, nicht ohne daß die Isolierung verschiedener Bereiche des Denkens und Handelns voneinander jene milde intellek­tuelle Schizophrenie fördert, die es gestattet, die konse­quente Anwendung kritischer Verfahrenweisen als Naivität zu belächeln.

The reserves of darkness, ignorance, and savagery

Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the twentieth century the tenth or the thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms. The Pope of Rome broadcasts over the radio about the miraculous transformation of water into wine. Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man’s genius wear amulets on their sweaters. What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance, and savagery!

The universality of reason

The whole of the above discussion assumes the universality of reason. The reach of science has inherent limitations; so does mathematics; so does every branch of philosophy. But if you believe that there are bounds on the domain in which reason is the proper arbiter of ideas, then you believe in unreason or the supernatural. [166]

Popper on faith

Faith, according to Popper, is not belief in a theory that we cannot prove. It is belief in a theory that we are not willing to question. [236]

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