Thursday, June 17, 2010

Undue mental and psychological burden for who follow a faith

Habermas on Religion in the Public Sphere January 04, 2007  Aimee Milburn Cooper
First, Habermas has become concerned that the suppression of religion in the public sphere has created an unacceptable inequality between citizens of the state:
The liberal state must not transform the requisite institutional separation of the religion and politics into an undue mental and psychological burden for those of its citizens who follow a faith. . . . [Citizens should not have to] split their identity into a public and private part the moment they participate in public discourses. They should therefore be allowed to express and justify their convictions in a religious language if they cannot find secular ‘translations’ for them.[10]
Though it is questionable that religious speech should be “allowed,” as opposed to recognized as a basic right, I appreciate that he recognizes the burden and seeks to rectify it.
Second, he reasons that religious citizens have a burden, as far as possible, of “translating” religious reasoning into terms their secular counterparts can understand, to facilitate communication; and the freedom, if they can’t “translate,” to speak freely and publicly in religious terms. He also reasons that secular citizens have in turn the responsibility to listen for possible “truth” in religious arguments:
This requirement of translation must be conceived as a cooperative task in which the non-religious citizens must likewise participate, if their religious fellow citizens are not to be encumbered with an asymmetrical burden. . . . Secular citizens must open their minds to the possible truth content of those presentations and enter dialogues from which religious reasons then might well emerge in the transformed guise of generally accessible arguments.[11]
Note that Habermas, the secular atheist, is acknowledging that religious reasoning may contain “possible truth” that secularity should be open to. This is a far cry from the view of religion as oppressive “superstition” in the original Enlightenment view.
Third, Habermas observes that particular worldviews and religious doctrines are inherent to the formation of the person and cannot simply be laid aside in the public square, but must be taken into account in any public discourse. The expectation that they be laid aside, which he identifies as dominant since the Reformation and Enlightenment, places undue burdens on religious citizens and creates “cognitive dissonances” that, if they penetrate deeply enough into the fabric of the community, can cause its disintegration into irreconcilable segments:
In the absence of the uniting body of a civic solidarity . . . citizens do not perceive themselves as free and equal participants in the shared practices of democratic opinion and will formation wherein they owe one another reasons [emphasis Habermas’] for their political statements and attitudes. This reciprocity of expectations among citizens is what distinguishes a community integrated by constitutional values from a community segmented along the dividing lines of competing world views.[12]
His view is based on the concept of the person as having both freedom and inherent dignity, which in the public sphere manifests as both the right to speak freely and be heard, and the duty to listen to and carefully consider the freely expressed views of other persons. He speaks of the danger to pluralistic civil society when “in the case of conflicts that cut deep, citizens need not adapt to or face one another as second persons” (emphasis Habermas’).[13]
He has developed this idea elsewhere in his theory of “communicative action.”[14] This theory is consistent with recent Catholic teaching on the person and society, beginning with the documents of Vatican II and expressed most recently in speeches and statements of Pope Benedict XVI, such as the Regensburg address,[15] which call for respectful, rational dialogue between persons and societies of differing religious and philosophical views.
Fourth, Habermas has come to believe that modern Liberalism is “intrinsically self-contradictory” because it represses and devalues the free speech of religious citizens, and demands of them “an effort to learn and adapt that secular citizens are spared having to make.”[16] He is highly critical of this prevailing secular prejudice against religion:
As long as secular citizens are convinced that religious traditions and religious communities are . . . archaic relics of pre-modern societies that continue to exist in the present, they will understand freedom of religion as the cultural version of the conservation of a species in danger of becoming extinct. From their viewpoint, religion no longer has any intrinsic justification to exist. . . . [Secular citizens] can obviously [not] be expected to take religious contributions to contentious political issues seriously and even to help to assess them for a substance that can possibly be expressed in a secular language and justified by secular arguments.
           . . . The admission of religious statements to the political public sphere only makes sense if all citizens can be expected not to deny from the outset any possible cognitive substance to these contributions. . . . [Yet] such an attitude presupposes a mentality that is anything but a matter of course in the secularized societies of the West.[17]
Fifth and last, he criticizes the way that reason itself is used in secular culture, calling it inadequate and a danger. He calls for a “self-critical assessment of the limits of secular reason;”[18] the “overcoming of . . . a narrow secularist consciousness”;[19]and asks “secular citizens . . . [to be] prepared to learn something from the contributions to public debates made by their religious counterparts.”[20] He states “the ethics of democratic citizenship assumes secular citizens exhibit a mentality that is no less demanding than the corresponding mentality of their religious counterparts,”[21] and so calls citizens to a much higher standard of reasoning:
The polarization of the world views in a community that splits into fundamentalist and secular camps [shows] that an insufficient number of citizens matches up to the yardstick of the public use of reason and thereby endanger political integration.[22]
In sum, Habermas is proposing no less than a “revised concept of citizenship”[23] that simultaneously restores freedom of religious speech and reasoning to the public squareand elevates the level of secular reasoning, with an equal duty of respect, listening, and reciprocity expected of all citizens. This is stunning in light of classical Enlightenment and Liberal thought on religion – and very hopeful, coming from such a prominent and respected secular atheist.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Kant, Gödel, & Rees

D'oh, we may never decode the universe - Times Online Jonathan Leake 42 COMMENTS Understanding vast cosmic events such as galactic collisions is one of science's greatest challenges, says Lord Rees

SOME of the greatest mysteries of the universe may never be resolved because they are beyond human comprehension, according to Lord Rees, president of the Royal Society.
Rees suggests that the inherent intellectual limitations of humanity mean we may never resolve questions such as the existence of parallel universes, the cause of the big bang, or the nature of our own consciousness.
He even compares humanity to fish, which swim through the oceans without any idea of the properties of the water in which they spend their lives.
“A ‘true’ fundamental theory of the universe may exist but could be just be too hard for human brains to grasp,” said Rees, who is also the astronomer royal.
Top of Form
Bottom of Form
“Just as a fish may be barely aware of the medium in which it lives and swims, so the microstructure of empty space could be far too complex for unaided human brains.”
Rees’s thesis could prove highly provocative to other scientists, especially those who have devoted their careers to understanding such mysteries.
He is well placed to understand the potential limitations of science. Besides heading Britain’s premier scientific organisation, he is also professor of cosmology at Cambridge University, where he is one of Britain’s most respected astrophysicists. He is currently delivering the annual BBC Reith lectures.
Rees’s warning, in a Sunday Times interview, is partly prompted by the failure of scientists working on the greatest problem of modern physics — to reconcile the forces that govern the behaviour of the cosmos, including planets and stars, with those that rule the so-called microworld of atoms and particles.
Rees points out how Albert Einstein was able to use mathematical theories developed in the early 19th century to build his 1915 theory of general relativity, describing how gravity controlled stars and planets.
Similarly, early 20th-century physicists such as Paul Dirac used “off-the-shelf” mathematical systems when devising quantum theory, which describes how nature works at a sub-atomic level.
The problem faced by their successors is that the two theories are deeply contradictory — and no one can find the mathematical tools needed to bring them together into a “unified theory”.
Rees points out that thousands of scientists have been working on this problem for several decades and are still nowhere near an answer.
“There are powerful reasons to suspect that space has a grainy structure but on a scale a trillion trillion times smaller than atoms. Solving how this might work is crucial for 21st-century science,” he said.
Rees believes the most promising idea is “string theory” which suggests that the particles that make up atoms are “woven from space itself”. Such particles, he suggests, could exist in 10 or 11 dimensions. Humans, by contrast, can experience only the three spatial dimensions plus time. He adds that there could even be other 3-D universes “embedded alongside ours”.
“In theory, there could be another entire universe less than a millimetre away from us, but we are oblivious to it because that millimetre is measured in a fourth spatial dimension and we are imprisoned in just three,” he said.
Such ideas sound extraordinary but Rees wonders if they can ever be proved. He suggests humanity may have reached the limits of comprehension.
“Some aspects of reality — a unified theory of physics or a full understanding of consciousness — might elude us simply because they’re beyond human brains, just as surely as Einstein’s ideas would baffle a chimpanzee,” he said.
Other scientists are more optimistic. Brian Cox, the BBC science presenter and physics professor who was awarded an OBE yesterday, said: “The idea that certain things are beyond us is quite a bleak one and history does show that we can eventually overcome the most difficult of problems.”
The mind boggles
The scientific mysteries that may be beyond us include
* Multiple dimensions — string theory suggests space has up to 11 dimensions, but mathematicians have struggled to prove this
* Consciousness — scientists suggest consciousness derives from chemical reactions in the brain but cannot explain how this might generate a sense of self
* Are we real? — Rees and other physicists have suggested the universe and humanity are part of a giant computer simulation as seen in the Matrix films
People not smart enough to understand universe: scientist Toronto Sun By QMI Agency A top British scientist says we may never know all the secrets of the universe because, quite simply, we're just not smart enough. ... Has the human brain reached its limit of understanding?‎ - Limitations of the human brain mean we may never understand the ...‎ - Daily Mail
This is the week of my annual lecture, which as regular readers know is on twenty first century enlightenment. Madeleine Bunting has kindly written a piece.