Monday, July 27, 2009

Myers on the Inconsistency of Religion in the Public Square

On a recent rant, PZ Myers put more eloquently what I've been saying for years:

"Science and reason give us antibiotics, microwave ovens, sanitation, lasers, and rocketships to the moon. What has religion done for us lately? We have become accustomed to objective measures of success, where we can explicitly see that a particular strategy for decision-making and the generation of knowledge has concrete results. I'm sorry, but faith seems to produce mainly wrong answers, and in comparison, it flops badly.

Now, now, I can hear the defenders of religion begin to grumble, there's more to life than merely material products like microwave ovens — there's contentment and contemplation and a sort of subjective psychology of ritual and community and all that sort of thing. Sure. Fine. Then stick to it, and stop pretending that religion ought to be a determinant of public policy, that it can inform us about the nature of our existence, or that it provides a good guide to public morality. Get it out of our schools and courthouses and workplaces and governments, take it to your homes and your churches, and use it appropriately as your personal consoling mind-game. And stop pretending that it is universal and necessary, because there are a thousand different religions that all claim the same properties with wildly different details, and there are millions of us with no religion at all who get along just fine without your hallowed quirks."

For too long people have been allowed to make purely religious arguments in the public square, without having the same evidenciary demands made of them that is (or should be) made on every other point of view. Can you imagine if socialists, anarcho-capitalists, moneterists, gradualists, supply-siders, or the abstinence-only crowd were allowed to skip that whole "prove your theory" part of it? Yeah, you're right, some of those have been, and the results were Jim Dandy weren't they?

You say your religion is a personal thing, backed by faith and subjective experience that you don't expect to persuade others. You say it gives you great comfort in times of fear or stress. When backed into a corner, many of you will claim it doesn't matter whether it is true or not, it teaches good lessons. Fine - just keep it in your private lives, and out of your public ones, where it is important to be able to speak in terms that might persuade others, where personal comfort is not the agenda, and where it most certainly is true whether or not it is true, irrespective of what you think of the lessons we learn from it.

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