Posts Tagged ‘ Religion ’

Veiled Threats?

Martha Nussbaum in The New York Times:

In Spain earlier this month, the Catalonian assembly narrowly rejected a proposed ban on the Muslim burqa in all public places — reversing a vote the week before in the country’s upper house of parliament supporting a ban. Similar proposals may soon become national law in France and Belgium.  Even the headscarf often causes trouble.  In France, girls may not wear it in school.  In Germany (as in parts of Belgium and the Netherlands) some regions forbid public school teachers to wear it on the job, although nuns and priests are permitted to teach in full habit.  What does political philosophy have to say about these developments?   As it turns out, a long philosophical and legal tradition has reflected about similar matters.

Let’s start with an assumption that is widely shared: that all human beings are equal bearers of human dignity.  It is widely agreed that government must treat that dignity with equal respect.   But what is it to treat people with equal respect in areas touching on religious belief and observance?

We now add a further premise: that the faculty with which people search for life’s ultimate meaning — frequently called “conscience” ─  is a very important part of people, closely related to their dignity.   And we add one further premise, which we might call the vulnerability premise: this faculty can be seriously damaged by bad worldly conditions.  It can be stopped from becoming active, and it can even be violated or damaged within.  (The first sort of damage, which the 17th-century American philosopher Roger Williams compared to imprisonment, happens when people are prevented from outward observances required by their beliefs.  The second sort, which Williams called “soul rape,” occurs when people are forced to affirm convictions that they may not hold, or to give assent to orthodoxies they don’t support.)

The vulnerability premise shows us that giving equal respect to conscience requires tailoring worldly conditions so as to protect both freedom of belief and freedom of expression and practice.  Thus the framers of the United States Constitution concluded that protecting equal rights of conscience requires “free exercise” for all on a basis of equality.  What does that really mean, and what limits might reasonably be placed upon religious activities in a pluralistic society?  The philosophical architects of our legal tradition could easily see that when peace and safety are at stake, or the equal rights of others, some reasonable limits might be imposed on what people do in the name of religion.  But they grasped after a deeper and more principled rationale for these limits and protections.

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Reluctance to Let Go

Sean Carroll in Cosmic Variance:

There’s a movement afoot to frame science/religion discussions in such a way that those of who believe that the two are incompatible are labeled as extremists who can be safely excluded from grownup discussions about the issue. It’s somewhat insulting — to be told that people like you are incapable of conducting thoughtful, productive conversations with others — and certainly blatantly false as an empirical matter — I’ve both participated in and witnessed numerous such conversations that were extremely substantive and well-received. It’s also a bit worrisome, since whether a certain view is “true” or “false” seems to take a back seat to whether it is “moderate” or “extreme.” But people are welcome to engage or not with whatever views they choose.

What troubles me is how much our cultural conversation is being impoverished by a reluctance to face up to reality. In many ways the situation is parallel to the discussion about global climate change. In the real world, our climate is being affected in dramatic ways by things that human beings are doing. We really need to be talking about serious approaches to this problem; there are many factors to be taken into consideration, and the right course of action is far from obvious. Instead, it’s impossible to broach the subject in a public forum without being forced to deal with people who simply refuse to accept the data, and cling desperately to the idea that the Earth’s atmosphere isn’t getting any warmer, or it’s just sunspots, or warmth is a good thing, or whatever. Of course, the real questions are being addressed by some people; but in the public domain the discussion is blatantly distorted by the necessity of dealing with the deniers. As a result, the interested but non-expert public receives a wildly inaccurate impression of what the real issues are.

Over the last four hundred or so years, human beings have achieved something truly amazing: we understand the basic rules governing the operation of the world around us. Everything we see in our everyday lives is simply a combination of three particles — protons, neutrons, and electrons — interacting through three forces — gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong nuclear force. That is it; there are no other forms of matter needed to describe what we see, and no other forces that affect how they interact in any noticeable way. And we know what those interactions are, and how they work. Of course there are plenty of things we don’t know — there are additional elementary particles, dark matter and dark energy, mysteries of quantum gravity, and so on. But none of those is relevant to our everyday lives (unless you happen to be a professional physicist). As far as our immediate world is concerned, we know what the rules are. A staggeringly impressive accomplishment, that somehow remains uncommunicated to the overwhelming majority of educated human beings.

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Science ends here

Nadeem F. Paracha in Dawn:

Ever since the late French physician, Maurice Bucaille — on a hefty payroll of the Saudi royal family in Riyadh — wrote Islam, Bible & Science (1976), many believe that ‘proving’ scientific truths from holy books has been the exclusive domain of Muslims. However, in spite of being impressed by the holy book’s ‘scientific wonders’, Bucaille remained a committed Christian.

Very few of my wide-eyed brethren know that long before Muslims, certain Hindu and Christian theologians had already laid claim to the practice of defining their respective holy books as metaphoric prophecies of scientifically proven phenomenon. They began doing so between the 18th and 19th centuries, whereas Muslims got into the act only in the 20th century.

Johannes Heinrich’s Scientific vindication of Christianity (1887) is one example, while Mohan Roy’s Vedic Physics: Scientific Origin of Hinduism (1999) is a good way of observing how this thought has evolved among followers of other faiths. It is interesting to note how a number of Muslim ‘scientists’ have laboured hard to come up with convoluted interpretations of certain scriptures. Ironically, their ancient counterparts, especially between the 8th and 13th centuries in Baghdad and Persia, had put all effort in trying to understand natural phenomena and the human body and mind through hardcore science and philosophy.

Those great men of Islamic antiquity weren’t over-reading into divine texts for scientific answers; instead, to them God’s command to reflect on nature and the world around them was enough to inspire them to become dedicated rational scientists and philosophers. They were celebrated not only by Muslims, but humanity at large for their scientific prowess.

But, alas, beginning around the early 1970s, with the collapse of a secular nationalist mindset in the Muslim world, and the rise in influence of totalitarian oil-rich puritanical monarchies, Muslim polities and mindset began to suspect science as a tool of western and communist social engineering and imperialism.

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