July 13, 2011

Secularism To Become The Dominant Worldview? - Only By Merit and Pluralism

Here's an example of the resistance Humankind is encountering it its various individual and institutional efforts to bring about as pluralistic global morality:  "The Pluralist Game" by Francis J. Beckwith, Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies, Baylor University.  Beckwith seeks to tar the secular effort to achieve global moral pluralism as a concealed movement to eradicate religion and dominate all other worldviews:  "It (pro choice) was about eradicating one understanding of the good, the true, and the beautiful, and replacing it with another. It was, as we now know, the first of many steps in a hostile take-over, one that will not be complete until the Church and its people are entirely banished from public life."

Not a man or a worldview, which is widespread among believers in the U.S., secularists find easy to deal with.  When I've been asked what will secularists do in the future when all persuasive, civil efforts as bringing global moral pluralism fail because of intransigent supernaturalism, my only comment is, it will depend on the stakes at the time.  If it is an critical issue such as global enviormental preservation with human/global survival at stake, I suppose we'll have the choice of praying or applying science, or both.

Here's a current example of a secular, pluralistic intervention at the micro level:  "The Evolution of Binghamton, One Block at a Time" by Mark Oppenheimer, The New York Times, Books, August 31, 2011, a review of the book The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time by David Sloan Wilson (2011).  A micro, pluralistic approach to working for the emergence of a new global morality and civilization.  See also Can Darwinism Improve Binghamton? by Jerry A. Coyne, The New York Times, Sunday Book Review, September 11, 2011.

Binghamton, New York                                                                                     Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In addition to controlling Earth's energy and creating a more-evolved politics and economics Humankind must also come to a consensus on a global morality and civilization.  This consensus must be forged not only by politicians and economists and informed by secular science, it must also involve the broadest possible participation of Humankind.  Finding common ground among all nations and cultures on which to build a global morality and civilization and preserve the biosphere will, for now and the foreseeable future, require all our efforts, that of secularists and the religious.

The idea of "the broadest possible participation of Humankind" in forging a global morality is commonly discussed under the topic of "pluralism."  Pluralism, however, does not mean or imply "relativism" where all ideas are equal and all must be used to forge a global morality and civilization and solve biospheric problems.

For example, religion, especially theism, has not proven to be equal to science in terms of explanatory power and problem solving in the areas of global human relations and stewardship of the biosphere.  In fact, a good argument can be mounted that theism has in fact been the largest contributor to preventing the coming together of the world's peoples and the use of effective means for both conserving and effectively using the resources of Earth.  As we go forward and our human relations and biospheric challenges escalate in severity and urgency, "God's will" cannot be given equal footing with science and secular international law and conventions as we establish a global morality.  Nor can it have equal standing with the natural sciences in addressing the problems and needs of the planet.

A relativist might ask "Why not?"  In discussing the creationist vs. evolution "debate" Richard Dawkins notes that "when two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly half way between. It is possible for one side simply to be wrong."  Thus, until, if and when it is proven otherwise and accepted as a part of scientific truth, any belief in supernatural beings and forces and their direct influence on the Universe and Earth, though acknowledged and respected as important to some cultures and individuals, should not be allowed to control or otherwise determine decisions about global human relations and Earth stewardship.

Twentieth century British social and political theorist Isaiah Berlin addressed the idea of pluralism very comprehensively and elegantly.  An extract of his last essay where he wrote on the subject in the New York Book Review can be found here.  Berlin writes:

"The enemy of pluralism is monism -- the ancient belief that there is a single harmony of truths into which everything, if it is genuine, in the end must fit. The consequence of this belief (which is something different from, but akin to, what Karl Popper called essentialism -- to him the root of all evil) is that those who know should command those who do not. Those who know the answers to some of the great problems of mankind must be obeyed, for they alone know how society should be organized, how individual lives should be lived, how culture should be developed. This is the old Platonic belief in the philosopher-kings, who were entitled to give orders to others. There have always been thinkers who hold that if only scientists, or scientifically trained persons, could be put in charge of things, the world would be vastly improved. To this I have to say that no better excuse, or even reason, has ever been propounded for unlimited despotism on the part of an elite which robs the majority of its essential liberties."
I see no conflict between Berlin's insistence upon a respect for and acknowledgement of the values of all cultures on the one hand, and on the other the idea that a global morality can be forged from them.  Berlin is no relativist.  I also share his rejection of monism, a monolith of authority, whether it be religious or secular.  Such singular, absolute authorities on truth restrict human freedom in all its forms.  Most significantly they repress freedom of political expression and participation, and stop or control the pursuit and spread of knowledge, especially knowledge which does not support their truth.

I think a secular global morality and civilization, if we ever achieve one, must be based on the demonstrated merits of the provisional truths of scientific secularism; and must be arrived at, constantly challenged and, hopefully, sustained by the pluralistic participation of all Humankind.

A Secularist Manifesto, The Guardian, September 18, 2010

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