31
Dec
09

The Treasure Box


From a Comment I Left at Jason Rosenhouse’s Evolution

In this post on science and religion, I left this comment because I think that something crucial is missing in the discussion:

If it is true that underlying the religion/science debate is political, we can also examine whether or not there is a economics component. For one thing, “truth” is a scarce resource and perhaps the scarcest of all. The idea that ethics and morals can only be derived from an absolutist basis, gives the moral absolutists the tightest control over access to such knowledge. They “know” and the rest of the world guesses, and because of this they wield such power to get the rest of us in line. In science, we see no absolutes anywhere in nature except as concepts. Even Absolute Zero is a concept that is physically unobtainable because of the nature of energy. It is approachable and physicists have come very close to it, but still can never come more than a nano-hair’s whisker from it.

Claims such as Robocop’s, that we need to have religion to guide moral choices are based on ceding access to that resource without accepting that they don’t actually have it, but they think about it a lot. So, if they think about it a lot they must be on to something. In reality, religions have an empty treasure box that they don’t want anyone to open, to see that it is empty. But they will hold up the treasure box as something of value in itself, a scarce resource, if you will.

They use it to approach societal issues, and use it is a hammer to threaten us with and in the case of educational policy in general and evolution, sex education, American history (as is happening in Texas right now,) and other fields of study demand that we look at the box if not into it or they will send the hammer down on the rest of us.

In science, even though individual scientists will state that there are absolute answers on questions of “truth” we realize that the absolutes are still relative and related to degrees of probability, but the probabilities that we are wrong on such answers such as the cosmology of the Big Bang and the fact of evolution, there is an invitation to open the treasure box and continually testing the different combinations to the lock. It may never be opened, but at least there are ways to try.

There is a completely different conceptual framework working in science compared to the one used in religion, and there is likely where the problem lies.

I realized after hitting submit and reviewing it at Jason’s blog, that there are some edits I need to make.

If it is true that underlying the religion/science debate is political, we can also examine whether or not there is a economics component. For one thing, “truth” is a scarce resource and perhaps the scarcest of all. The idea that ethics and morals can only be derived from an absolutist basis, gives the moral absolutists the tightest control over access to such knowledge. They “know” and the rest of the world guesses, and because of this they wield such power to get the rest of us in line. In science, we see no absolutes anywhere in nature except as concepts. Even Absolute Zero is a concept that is physically unobtainable because of the nature of energy. It is approachable and physicists have come very close to it, but still can never come more than a nano-hair’s whisker from it.

Claims such as Robocop’s,

(Since there is no dispositive (reliable) way to answer essentially every question of ethics, morals, politics, aesthetics, economics, justice, beauty, love, etc., it looks to me like you’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwatwer. Religion offers a framework for examining and answering these types of questions. Science provides a mechanism for evaluating certain data points which may factor into the examination of these kinds of questions, but offers no means for answering them.)

that we need to have religion to guide moral choices are based on ceding access to that resource without accepting that they don’t actually have it, but they think about it a lot. So, if they think about it a lot they must be on to something. In reality religions have an empty treasure box that they don’t want anyone to open, to see that it is empty. But they will hold up the treasure box as something of value in itself, a scarce resource, if you will.

They use it to approach societal issues, and use it is a hammer to threaten us with. In the case of educational policy in general and evolution, sex education, American history (as is happening in Texas right now,) and other fields of study they demand that we look at the box if not into it or they will send the hammer down on the rest of us.

In science, even though individual scientists will state that there are absolute answers on questions of “truth” we realize that the absolutes are still relative and related to degrees of probability, but the probabilities that we are wrong on such answers such as the cosmology of the Big Bang and the fact of evolution, there is an invitation to open the treasure box and continually testing the different combinations to the lock. It may never be opened, but at least there are ways to try.

There is a completely different conceptual framework working in science compared to the one used in religion, and there is likely where the problem lies.

Most of my guidance on the issue of religious truth as a scarce resource comes from Hector Avalos’ book Fighting Words.

Avalos concludes in Part IV, that religion is inherently prone to violence because religion is “predicated on the existence of unverifiable forces and/or beings. This means that disputes and claims are not easily settled by verifiable means, and violence is often the means to settle disputes and claims,” (347). The author then seeks to explore the ethics of religious violence. Moral relativism, an academic pejorative, is necessary, and self-interest is the ultimate arbiter of human morality and judgment. As such, religious violence is always immoral, because violence for unverifiable or non-existent resources is more immoral than violence for verifiable and existent resources. Avalos proposes ways in which inscripturation, sacred space, group privileging, and salvation can be minimized to lessen religious violence, but he ultimately concludes that eliminating religion from human life is the correct solution. With these conclusions in mind, Avalos ends his work by applying these principles to American foreign policy.

The scarce resource is access to the truth.  No matter how brightly gilded its exterior, an empty treasure box is an empty treasure box.  There is no Absolute Truth, but there are frameworks of understanding.

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