Suffering the Slingerland Arrows

Bust of François-Marie Arouet (1694-1778), a French philosophe better known by the nom de plume Voltaire. I have just listened to Edward Slingerland's talk at Beyond Belief: Enlightenment 2.0. Although the talk was interesting, I think that several of Slingerland's arrows missed the target.

I think that it is practically useless but also politically inept to refer to the Enlightenment, or its continuation, as being "religions".

Calling any pro-science, pro-rationalist, often implicitly anti-supernaturalist belief system a "religion" broadens the definition of religion so much as to render it meaningless. As historian Margaret Jacobs points out in the ensuing discussion, the Enlightenment was totally without ritual and calling it a religion "does not help very much".

Second, I continue to be astonished at the political naϊveté of some of the speakers at both Beyond Belief conferences. (Of course, my saying this reflects the fact that I consider theistic distortions to be the enemy of enlightenment rationality.) Dubbing the Enlightenment a religion will not make its message any more palatable to religious dogmatists, but could provide more ammunition for their fallacious arguments that dismiss all opposing viewpoints as "merely another religion."

Although it is quite clear that Roger Bingham sought to promote discussion by inviting speakers from different, sometimes wildly different, viewpoints, it strikes me as nonconstructive to risk handing weapons to the forces of irrationality that are arraigned against science and reason. Scientists have too long ignored the pseudoscientific and anti-science polemics of creationists, or have remained polite about religion in general. The reality is that many theists view science with disdain while they simultaneously attempt to subvert science to their own purposes. Pandering to religionist sensibilities by inviting speakers who dub the Enlightenment a religion hardly seems productive.

Slingerland tossed out a statement to the effect that it has been established – as though this question is settled for once and for all – that free will is purely an illusion. I have given this matter some thought, and I have decided, for once and for all, that the accusation fits some primitive aspects of brain function, but that it does not describe higher brain function. This means that I am both a determinist and a compatibilist. I'll post again on the topic of free will when I have more time.

atheism, Enlightenment, philosophy, religion, science

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