…I will not let go. I cannot agree with the Buddhist philosophy of non-attachment.
I wonder at the value of internal peace and tranquility. While I understand that many seek after such, what value is this in a world that will always require engagement? Where children are hungry and homeless. Where wars rage. Might not a feeling of discontent be a sign of an engaged life, where one recognizes that there is work to be done, work which can break hearts? Perhaps tranquility should not be the highest goal.
Honest disagreement, open to real discussion, can energize a relationship, even where there are stark differences. But that can only happen in the context of arguing for an open philosophy that recognizes difference as natural, fundamental (e.g. democratic pluralism). But when you argue for and from a position of closed philosophies, a position that doesn’t recognize the validity of difference (e.g. most religious belief, platonism), then disagreement is always destructive.
Asking whether one believes in God is a nonsensical, and ultimately, meaningless question. One would not ask “Do you believe in King?” God, like King, is a title, a political office. What matters is not belief in the existence of a being who claims the title, but rather, agreement with the political philosophy of any being who would assert power over us.
What is Post-Atheism?
I’ve coined the term Post-Atheist to convey moving beyond our current understanding of the title of god and our relationship to it. The common questions about god are nonsensical (do you believe) and impossible for finite beings to rationally consider (e.g. debating the attributes of god). Further, belief in a being is a simplistic calculation; more important is agreement with that being on fundamental governing principles.
Would the existence of an all-powerful creator automatically bestow a right to authoritarian rule? Of course not, just as my power to create a child does not bestow upon me a moral right to authoritarian rule.
Rather than our being defined by a best-guess at the existence of a powerful being (atheist, agnostic, believer), it is more important to define what is and is not acceptable behavior from any being who would seek our participation in their community.
Do you believe in God?
This question is nonsensical.
“God” is a title. Titles are descriptive appellations which convey rank, office, or status. For example, “king” is the title of a person holding a political office. A king may also have a personal name; e.g, King George.
Like king, god is a title. Defined generally as “the one supreme being, the creator and ruler of the universe,”1 the title of god conveys rank, office and status.
To match the ideals outlined in the U.S. Constitution, we must define and measure our values.
We have already defined our values. We do not yet measure outcomes.
Science is the only tool capable of abstracting human experience over populations, allowing us to know whether we are achieving our goals.
By choosing not to measure, we violate basic human rights and empower the strong over the weak, the majority over the minority. This threatens to make meaningless our chosen values.
Therefore, Science should be a human right.
Government and The Moral Landscape
Sam Harris recently published a controversial book titled The Moral Landscape, wherein he argues that science can answer moral questions:
Questions about value—about meaning, morality, and life’s larger purpose—are really questions about the well-being of conscious creatures. Values, therefore, translate into facts that can be scientifically understood.
Stephen Gould provides a common dissent:
Morality is a subject for philosophers, theologians, students of the humanities, indeed for all thinking people…The factual state of the world does not teach us how we, with our powers for good and evil, should alter or preserve it in the most ethical manner.
I side with Harris.
Most criticism of his position rests in a critique of Utilitarianism; an ethical position that holds the right course of action is the one that creates “the greatest good for the greatest number.”
Harris, by presenting his theory abstractly (“some science somewhere could do this”) and by responding to the abstract criticisms of his opponents, actually misses the strength of his argument when applied to practical use.
What else are we doing than safeguarding the well being of individuals when we form governments?
Harris’ theory can be grounded in Governance. U.S. Democracy, for example, is functionally utilitarian.
What else are we doing than safeguarding the well being of individuals when we form governments? In this light, arguments about whether we can define and measure moral positions are nonsense; we’ve been attempting to do so since the beginning of recorded history. We’ve just been doing it poorly.
If, as Harris’ opponents argue, this endeavor is impossible, then we should immediately dispense attempts to define communal values and form governments.