Keep Your Instruments of Cohesion

The New Statesman provides a partial antidote.

One ally, Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association, is dismissive of the vogue for New Age thinking and the popularity of vaguely “spiritual” schools…Copson’s association has about 6,000 members, but it claims as kindred spirits, at the least, the many people of no religion who do not specifically identify themselves as humanists. These people need a voice, he argues, because of the continuing prevalence of the notion that religions have a superior morality. “Charles Clarke [the Home Secretary] gave a speech the other day saying that faith gives people values,” Copson says. “There’s an attempt to use faith as an instrument of cohesion. But other people are not valueless.” The philosopher A C Grayling, a supporter of the BHA, calls for “absolute clarity” in this area. “Very non-rigorous, very confused ideas [about belief] are a source of potential danger,” he says.

Exactly. There is indeed an attempt to use ‘faith’ or rather religion and religious belief as instruments of cohesion, and the attempt is riddled with very non-rigorous, confused ideas. For instance there is the obvious problem that ‘faith’ works against cohesion precisely to the extent that it works for it – it creates cohesion in one group and the opposite of cohesion between groups – in other words it creates sectarian hostility that might not be there if there weren’t so much insistence on cohesion of ‘faith communities’. For another instance there is the question whether it is either sensible or fair to attempt to create cohesion via fictions portrayed as truths.

The charge levelled at the New Godless is that, with their rigorous reasoning, testing and experimentation, they are making a religion out of the scientific method. “It’s an all-purpose, wild-card smear,” retorts Dennett. “It’s the last refuge of the sceptic. When someone puts forward a scientific theory that they really don’t like, they just try to discredit it as ‘scientism’. But when it comes to facts, and explanations of facts, science is the only game in town.”

Bishop of Oxford, please note. All other journalists who have used the word ‘scientism’ in the past week, please note.

Tested facts are the real ammunition of the New Godless…Raising unfounded doubts about those, says Copson, is “a failure to reason properly. The worst thing you can hear is, ‘Well, it’s my truth.'” Richard Dawkins, naturally, has little time for such viewpoints. “There’s this thing called being so open-minded your brains drop out,” he says.

My, what a scientistic thing to say. Shocking.

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