Tuesday, November 14

More on atheism and modernism

I've gotten two comments, one here and one from Jaq on his weblog asking what I meant by 'Modernism is dead'.

Philosophically speaking, Modernism includes the belief that we can know many important things. It was part of the whole Enlightenment project.

Think about Descartes: Cogito ergo sum. 'I think, therefore I am.' He was trying to establish a foundation of knowledge. But many people have said he should have said Dubito ergo sum. 'I doubt, therefore I am.' I think that's a pretty convincing criticism. Sure, Descartes has a good point about knowledge. And I would accept it as something along the lines of 'We can't help but think that we know.'

That's what Hume said: 'There's no guarantee when I get up from this desk and go into the next room that the billiard table will still be there. But I can't help but believe that it will.'

Kant, to name one other Enlightenment epistemologist, wrote much that was useful. I'd phrase one part as 'Our minds are prewired (categories, types, etc.) to give us knowledge from sensory data.' You can't 'prove' it, but it's interesting.

See, as far as I'm concerned, it all ends up being basically an academic exercise within the parameters set by Modernism, and they're probably not even the right parameters. Modernism probably asks the wrong questions and goes about asking them the wrong way, and then answering them the wrong way.

And one of the big things to come out of Modernism is Science and the Scientific Method and (what I would call) Scientism. Science is good. The Scientific Method is great. But if you get sucked in to thinking Science is the only way to determine 'Knowledge', I call that Scientism, and it's already been eviscerated. In fact, the death of Modernism is sowed in the seeds of Modernism itself. The Subject is important. That's where Descartes started. And when you get started with subjectivism the logical result is solipsism and complete relativism. Nietzsche and Kierkegaard knew this before the modern prophets of PostModernism, like Sartre and Camus and later Foucault and Derrida.

Everybody in the Liberal Arts and the Humanities knows that Modernism is dead. They know that we need to talk about 'knowledge', if we're going to talk about it at all, in different terms.

But somehow some of these Scientism-ists, like the New Atheists, never got the memo. They keep pushing their knowledge agenda evangelistically. In many ways we'd really get the best outcome if we'd just ignore them. Unfortunately, the world is not populated with Philosopher Kings like me and you, fair reader ;-) So people get sucked into this debate.

Now fair is fair. I can critique the church on Modernism all day long. Happy to do it. Did you know that the conservative (Fundamentalist and Evangelical) and liberal wings of the Church in the 20th Century in America were both Modernist? They had the same goal: knowledge - justified true belief. For the Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, they needed to base it on the Bible. Liberals went the Scientism route and carved out much of orthodoxy. Much of it was a stupid (not to mention non-Biblical) debate the whole time.

So what do we get today? Vestigial Modernists of the Scientism-ist and Fundamentalist variety arguing a last century debate about evolution and creation, and the public getting sucked in. Yuck.

What do I want? Not that everyone should be conversant in philosophy. Just a little respect (me, Aretha, and Erasure ;-). There are lots of Xians who dis science and scientists and I'm sorry. It stinks. And, obviously, there are many atheists who dis Xians. It's these fundamentalists, of the Xian and Scientism-ist variety who we need to ignore. Let them stay in their weltschmerz ghettos. We need civility on both sides. We believe differently. You can't prove your beliefs to me. I can't prove my beliefs to you. Let's tolerate each other a little bit.

(I hope it doesn't derail you when I say this entails at least presenting some of the criticisms of evolutionary thought in public schools.)

(This is not a systematic or comprehensive treatment. I'm not doing much more than dashing this thing off at this point. If you want to debate it, great. Chances are I'll accept your queries or suggestions. No need to gird your loins for battle.)

So, what do you say? Can we respect each other, at a minimum? Can we stop the stupid, old debate and reframe a different discussion?

For further reading, check the Wikipedia articles on Modernism and Postmodernism.

(And, say, glancing over them, I'd say I did pretty well off of the top of my head ;-)
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