Peaceful Tectonics


Superstition Trumps the Law
January 27, 2007, 8:50 am
Filed under: Philosophy, Politics, Religion
Ok, so the British Parliament is debating whether or not the Catholic Church needs to bow down to state law which allows gay parents to adopt children.  In the UK gays have also been given the same rights as their straight counter parts in regards to marriages etc.  Anyway, this is a sticky subject, first of all because it seems that in one instance  the church should be allowed to practice freely without pressure from the government to conform.  That allowing and supporting gay adoption would be in violation of their religious beliefs and practices.  This seems logical enough, but on the other hand it also seems very discriminatory to allow an organization to target a group of individuals and deliberately refuse them access because of a trivial fact of nature.  In this article AC Grayling clearly expresses the later sentiment, claiming that churches are given no rights which allow them to impose themselves on government or the rule of law.  I also tend to agree, despite my belief that religious institutions should be allowed to practice freely, this is an entirely different matter.  Religions should not be given special preference and exemptions from the law that other groups might not enjoy.  This is just an erosion of the supremacy of democratic law.  Anyway, this article was interesting and touched on a debate I was having just the other day.  Too bad we are so far from this kind of a discussion in the United States.

A law unto themselves

AC Grayling
January 24, 2007 04:00 PM

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/ac_grayling/2007/01/prelates_for_prejudice.html

So the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have writtento Tony Blair in support of Cardinal Murphy-O’Conner’s request for an exemption for the Roman Catholic church on gay adoption. What does it really ask? It asks the prime minister to grant the Roman Catholic church’s wish to continue being prejudiced and discriminatory in attitude and practice against a section of society whom texts 2000 and more years old instruct them to regard as abominations.

Prejudice and discrimination are abominations. So are those who actively seek to maintain them.

What have we learned today in light of the Archbishops’ letter? That Tony Blair has been actively campaigning in cabinet to have an exemption granted to the Roman Catholic church (let us keep things in very sharp and very relevant perspective here, and remember what this organisation might equally well be called: viz. the Roman Paedophile Protection Agency) to be exempted from the law of the land so that it can continue its discriminatory prejudices.

In passing let us note that Mrs Blair, the prime minister’s Catholic wife, reputedly earns more than a million a year as a human rights barrister. Here lie ironies indeed. It would be interesting to know her stand on this issue, as one who does so well financially out of protecting human rights. In their pillow talk does she urge her husband to respect principles of equality before the law, and the human rights of all British citizens, in the face of attacks from narrow-minded bigots? Or does she think that personal choice of superstition trumps the law?

The churches are making common cause in seeking exemptions from the law of the land. Grant one, and soon there will be another, and another; the self-selected coteries of believers will be islands of the exempted, as once they were in our history – above the law, protected by the law in doing what others will be punished for doing, because these latter do not have the modern analogue of “benefit of clergy“.

Notice this very central and salient fact. Even we who most robustly oppose the effect of superstition on public policy in society, and (separately but relatedly) combat the intellectual corruptions of superstitions belief systems, do not wish to stop cardinals, archbishops or their flocks from believing what they like and getting together in dark buildings to mumble and genuflect and roll their eyes up to heaven. Indeed we would act to protect their rights in this respect if others threatened them with laws to prevent them doing it, or ordering them to believe something else, even as we shake our heads over them or laugh outright at them for the absurdity of what they do. But we cannot accept that they should impose their beliefs and choices on the rest of society, or be immune from the law, or be allowed to perpetuate discrimination and bigotry, or be allowed to derail the progress that the rest of society is making towards fair, open, decent, and kindly dispensations of acceptance and inclusion.

The current brouhaha is only accidentally about adoption. If it were genuinely about the disgusting view of the churchmen that gay people cannot be good parents the situation would be every bit as bad. Parenting is about love, support, nurturing, not about what sex the carer happens to be; it is a complex of social skills; parturition is biological, parenting is social, a fact the churchmen characteristically confuse because their antediluvian mindset cannot permit the distinction.

Make no mistake: the pious fig leaves of faith cover suppurating noisome sores of reaction and bigotry, as this campaign of Prelates for Prejudice shows. This is a test case for whether we as a society are going to allow ancient superstition to dictate terms, or whether we are going to have to re-learn the lessons of the secularism – against which the churches fought and fought, spilling the blood of millions: never forget how hard they fought to stop progress in these as in all other fields – which has got us as far (not far enough) as we have got today. The churches are emphatically at fault here, and if their fifth column in Downing Street wins them the day by subversion of the principle of the rule of law, it will mean that the old culture war will have to be fought all over again.



“..his crime was looking up the truth..”
January 13, 2007, 7:01 pm
Filed under: History, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Uncategorized
In an attempt to save his head, literally, Galileo changed the way we look at the world.  By the way,  this has nothing to do with the planets revolving around the god damn sun.  In this article Robert Crease informs us about Galileo’s arguments which allowed for the union of science and god. Good stuff.  He later warns us that “we must not succumb to the temptation of characterizing scientists as behaving, and seeking to behave, in a priest-like manner”.  I thought it was too interesting not to post.  word. 

The book of nature

Critical Point: December 2006

Galileo’s famous metaphor of the “book of nature”, which he used to defend the work of scientists from religious authorities, can be dangerous today, says Robert P Crease

In 1623 Galileo crafted a famous metaphor that is still often cited by scientists. Nature, he wrote, is a book written in “the language of mathematics”. If we cannot understand that language, we will be doomed to wander about as if “in a dark labyrinth”.

Hidden meaning
Hidden meaning

Like other metaphors, this one has two facets; it is insightful, but it may be misleading if taken literally. It captures our sense that nature’s truths are somehow imposed on us – that they are already imprinted in the world – and underlines the key role played by mathematics in expressing those truths.

But Galileo devised the metaphor for a specific purpose. Taken out of its historical context and placed in ours, the image can be dangerously deceptive.

The two books

The idea of a book of nature did not, however, originate with Galileo. For centuries it had been an accepted part of religious doctrine that the world contained two fundamental books. Nature, the first book, is full of signs that reveal a deeper meaning when interpreted according to scripture, the second book, which supplies the ultimate meaning or syntax of nature’s signs. Understanding involved reading the books together, going back and forth between what one finds in the world and what one reads in scripture. Indeed, reading the Bible was once considered part and parcel of studying nature, and not in any way anti-scientific.

During the Renaissance, however, scholars came to appreciate more keenly that the truths of nature were not always easy to discern. Rather, such truths were often cleverly encoded in nature and so required a special training to unlock. Meanwhile, the Protestant Reformation brought about changes in the understanding of texts, emphasizing the truths in them that were exact and self-contained rather than symbolic or allegorical.

Building on these scientific and religious changes, in 1623 Galileo decided to appropriate the “two books” metaphor for his own purposes to get him out of a jam. In fact, his troubles had begun a decade earlier, when one of his students was discussing Galileo’s work at the Pisan court, and a participant noted the apparent conflict between scripture and Galileo’s scientific claims, especially regarding the motion of the Earth. The authorities were also threatening to put De Revolutionibus, written by Galileo’s intellectual ally Copernicus, on the official index of forbidden books for similar reasons.

Worried for himself and for other scientists, Galileo wrote a letter to the Grand Duchess Christina about the connection between science and scripture. In that letter he appealed to the traditional image that God reveals himself to humanity in two books – nature and scripture. He suggested that both books express eternal truths and are compatible because they have the same author – God is saying the same thing in two different ways.

Galileo’s arguments seem to have convinced Christina, but not the authorities. In 1616 De Revolutionibus was put on the index, followed by Kepler’s textbook on Copernican astronomy in 1619, and Galileo himself came under attack. Partly in response he wrote The Assayer, which contains the famous passage that “the grand book of the universe…cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and to read the alphabet in which it is composed…the language of mathematics”. Those versed in mathematics and physics, in other words, can know aspects of God’s handiwork that others cannot.

Galileo chose his metaphor carefully, and its roots were deep in Western metaphysics and theology. First, it used the traditional idea that God revealed his power, glory and truth in the world. Second, it relied on the equally traditional notion that the Bible cannot go against clear demonstrations of logic or the senses. Finally, it appealed to the time-honoured analogy of nature as a book. Galileo was on solid theological ground.

In fact, Galileo had stood the old image on its head, even if he was not fully aware of what he had done. The image of the book of nature now implied something almost opposite to what it had before – that the signs of nature had their own self-contained meaning. To understand nature one did not need to rely on the Bible as an allegorical aid; studying nature was an independent activity best carried out by a separate, professional class of scholars. If anything, the book of nature now became the primary text – the blueprint, written in technical language – and scripture the user’s manual, written in popular language.

Galileo was suggesting that scientists were as authoritative as the clergy. As Peter Harrison remarks in his book The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science, “the book of nature and those natural philosophers who interpreted it…assumed part of the role previously played by the sacraments and the ordained priesthood”.

The critical point

But the image of the book of nature can haunt us today. One reason is that it implies the existence of an ultimate coherent truth – a complete text or “final theory”. While many scientists may believe this, it is ultimately only a belief, and it is far likelier that we will endlessly find more in nature as our concepts and technology continue to evolve. Furthermore, the image suggests that the “text” of the book of nature has a divine origin. The idea that the world was the oeuvre of a superhuman author was the precursor of the idea that it was the engineering project of an intelligent designer. This implication has led some contemporary sociologists of science to succumb to the temptation of characterizing scientists as behaving, and seeking to behave, in a priest-like manner.

The most important lesson to be found in Galileo’s image is the need to keep developing and revising the metaphors with which we speak about science.

About the author

Robert P Crease is chairman of the Department of Philosophy, State University of New York at Stony Brook and historian at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, e-mail rcrease@notes.cc.sunysb.edu



Discrimination? When will we see it?
January 13, 2007, 6:44 pm
Filed under: International Affairs, News, Religion, Uncategorized
Oh man, I am getting a little preachy with this topic, but it is only because I wish we were talking about these kinds of things in the US.  This is a short one.

Halting progress

AC Grayling

January 9, 2007 02:30 PM

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/ac_grayling/2007/01/an_obscentiy_against_human_rig.html

There is only one printable phrase apt enough for religious groups seeking exemption from the requirement not to discriminate against gay people, and that is that their actions constitute an obscenity against human rights.

To obscenity add hypocrisy. Among the various items of deliberate misinformation being spread by religious groups about the anti-discrimination regulations is one that says primary schools will be obliged to promote gay civil partnerships on an equal footing with marriage. (Well, why not? Human affections and the commitments and comforts they generate are a great good.) As it happens the regulations do no such thing. Yet the law requires all schools to subject children to a “daily act of worship”, aka stone-age superstition with a tendency at one of its extremes to end in suicide bombings. I look forward to the day we secularists rally outside parliament by torchlight against brainwashing children into the nonsense left over from the ignorance of humankind’s infancy. In a choice between promoting civil partnerships for gays and obliging children to sacrifice a goat to Zeus, I’d go for the former every time.

One of the points being made in the debate over the anti-discrimination regulations is that people who run cafes and B&Bs who do not wish to serve gay people (“because it makes them condone gay sex” contrary to the morality devised in the sixth century BC) will be forced to quit their jobs and do something else. Tough. If they do not wish to treat other human beings equally, let them indeed do something else. That is exactly what we would say if they refused to serve black people, women, or Jews. The discrimination is the same, the unacceptability of discrimination is the same, the contempt one feels for them is the same.

And on the subject of Jews: what a disgrace that the stone-agers outside parliament tonight will include a Jewish group. If anyone should be against discrimination of any kind, it is a Jew. Alongside the Jews murdered in Auschwitz were homosexuals, wearing a pink patch where the Jews wore a Star of David. The despairing implication of the fact that Jews are joining Christian and Muslims – the usual standard bearers of intolerance and reaction – in this campaign is that too many people learn too little, never connect the dots, and repeat the ghastly errors of the past, when under the thought-inhibiting influence of such toxins as religious belief.

I write the above in anger. This effort to halt the fight against the evil of discrimination is a step too far by the religious, so ready to squeal like pigs when it is they who feel they are being discriminated against. They are trying to roll back the gains in civil liberties and the creation of an open society, which it has taken us centuries to achieve, from the time that Torquemada was burning people at the stake for incorrect versions of Christianity. Let people believe in fairies if they wish to: I would fight as hard to protect the right of the benighted to the stupidest beliefs as to protect the right of gays to equal treatment in all respects; but the condition is that they do not impose those beliefs on others, or the antediluvian morality that goes with it. And that is the line in the sand.