Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Varieties of Religious Expression

...manifest fabrications [of biblical scripture] should not be regarded as deliberate fraud, done with intent to deceive...they spring from a concept of the nature of documentary proof which is alien to us. Thus, an earnest scribe, believing wholeheartedly that the doctrine of the Trinity was true, thought it merely an accident or oversight that it was not made explicit in 1 John, and therefore saw it as his duty to remedy the matter. He was merely doing constructive work in the cause of truth!
--Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity

There is no doubt whatsoever that Gould’s humane and passionate writing in defense of racial equality will be looked upon by future anthropologists and historians as a beacon of rational positivism in an age in which genetic reductionism was showing alarming signs of resurgence—as indeed it still is, as race-stratified genome-wide association studies continue to dominate research on human variation. As Gould’s longtime friend, the anthropologist Richard Milner, told a correspondent from Discover magazine: “Whatever conclusions he reached, rightly or wrongly, he did with complete conviction and integrity. He was a tireless combatant against racism in any form, and if he was guilty of the kind of unconscious bias in science that he warned against, at least his bias was on the side of the angels."
--Ian Tattersall, Remembering Stephen Jay Gould

We assume that humanism will take the path of social and mental hygiene and discourage sentimental and unreal hopes and wishful thinking.
The Humanist Manifesto I, 1933

Oh assumption!

Johnson's "concept of the nature of documentary proof" above--which would better be described merely as faith--is no more alien to us now than it was to his "earnest scribes" of before. They knew the truth, and that all roads of inquiry would end there--in Christian revelation. Likewise the modern "rational positivist" knows his truth--all races are equal in all things--and likewise that no truth can contradict it. In the minds of both morality and materiality intersect at this higher truth, like two ropes tethered to to an anchor.

Conventional liberalism has gone from resembling religious faith to becoming one, and like all religious faiths it bases its logical defense on an appeal to consequences--that any evidence against the absolute equality of races is thereby false, contradicting as it does our moral injunction and fervent desire that all races must be equal. This article of faith has become so dominant, so ingrained, men of science routinely invoke a fallacy they learned to detect in grade-school, without recognizing it!

When they cite, with that stubborn insistence that hasn't abated through decades of contrary evidence, the "debunking" of the "scientific racism" of the past by such as Gould (debunking that needs no empirical basis according to Tattersall and Milner, but merely the approval of "the angels"), they are reciting their version of Revelation. The conceit is now dogma (fitting that SJ Gould himself proposed science and religion be treated as "separate magisteria"); secular materialism and those who march under its banner have their own unassailable "truth" beyond the reach of reason or evidence. And they are very much on the march.

The religious tendency, which is natural to man, was not killed off with God by the Enlightenment, it has merely adapted; to use a term Gould himself helpfully defined for us, its present manifestation can be usefully viewed as an exaptation:

 (1) A character, previously shaped by natural selection for a particular function (an adaptation), is coopted for a new use—cooptation. (2) A character whose origin cannot be ascribed to the direct action of natural selection (a nonaptation), is coopted for a current use—cooptation. 

 As I've written here before, belief in God (or gods, for that matter) distorts less our understanding of the world than does our new regnant faith, which demands an equally unyielding belief in a fantastic view of human nature and thus has immediate consequences for society and the individual in the here and now. The old faith created a fantasy of the supernatural; the new created a fantasy of the natural world.

The Tattersalls of the world may not be as deluded as I make them out to be here, but if they aren't they're then banking on none of it mattering in the end--that is, they're counting on truth itself being of no ultimate consequence, or at least something that can be defied, indeed must be defied, for the good of mankind.

Of course this is the charitable view--they may be more accurately viewed as mere cowards, unwilling to sacrifice their careers, their positions of respect, the esteem of their fellows, for truth and principle. And, curiously, this brings us back to a belief in God--and the attendant belief in His judgment in the afterlife; because if there's only the judgment of other men to fear, and death brings no accounting, why shouldn't a man abide the egalitarian lie and get by? Indeed, why not perpetuate the lie with as much skill as one can, as Gould did, and get by very well? Telling the truth is still a mug's game in the absence of God--maybe more than ever.


Anonymous said...

As Gould’s longtime friend, the anthropologist Richard Milner, told a correspondent from Discover magazine: “Whatever conclusions he reached, rightly or wrongly, he did with complete conviction and integrity.
Milner should be ashamed of himself. What difference does it make whether I proclaim 2+2 to be 4 or 5, as long as I have 'complete conviction'? Was Gould a scientist or priest?


Dennis Dale said...

A curious definition of "integrity" as well.