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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Religion Without God

Friend Pat just told me that Law and Ethics Professor Dworkin has just published (alas posthumously) a new book called Religion Without God an excerpt of which appears in the New York Review. Having read this I eagerly intend to read the book. It expresses beautifully much of what I have been trying to argue in my Ethics of Integrity including its relation to God.

There are a few things that I say differently. I adopt Dewey's distinction between religion and the religious. The "religious" of Dewey is pretty much the same as Dworkin's "religious attitude,"the experience of awe, mysterium tremendum, and a sense of faith, which is also a commitment, in beauty, goodness, and the infinity of knowledge (Deutsch) or truth. Religion for Dewey is the formulation of the religious experience or of the morality to which a child has been socialized--the expressions in stories, rules, rituals, beliefs of the gods.

Dworkin identifies having a religious attitude with having a religion so that Einstein can have a religion (be religious) without a god (be an atheist). I think both D & D would say that religion itself is fairly universal, either being a factor of ubiquitous culture or an expression of religious attitude.

Dwokin's main distinction is between fact and value. The existence of a god is a fact that can be explored by science. But science itself, as well as all human endeavors (including religion and theology?), rests on a transcendent value which is not objective and therefore not discoverable by science.

He rejects naturalism (nothing is real except that which can be studied by science) in all its forms. I don't think he means to accept supernaturalism as an objective religious world above the natural world; but he does accept the world of transcendent value beyond the facts of whether or not there is a god or other beliefs of a particular religion. That transcendent value is not a matter of science, but a matter of faith.

He quotes William James: religion adds to life an enchantment which is not rationally or logically deduced from anything else. That enchantment, says Dworkin, is "the discovery of the transcendental value in what seems otherwise transient and dead."

And here (as I have argued at length earlier) I differ with Dworkin. That enchantment, I say, is the discovery not of "transcendent value" but of the value of transcendence which is a dimension of our personal and communal human nature. I do not separate the world of facts from the world of values as he does following Hume. Dworkin says that values are as real as trees and stones and microbes and neurons and black holes. Yes, I agree, and they are "discoverable" through reflective, thoughtful living and experience. And they can be affirmed in our evolving and evolved human nature which is accessible through science.

For me, the distinction is between facts of science and what philosophers call the facticity of human existence, both of which are accessible through rational inquiry, none of which are absolute or unchanging for all time and space and community. And this is why I can assert universal truth and value and deny absolutes, how I can affirm a universal ethic among a multitude of moralities and religions. But this probably makes no sense to someone who has not followed my previous arguments for an Ethics of Integrity.

I really appreciate Dworkin's thoughtful work to show the unity of the good tough-minded atheists like Einstein and Dawkins with the good tender-minded theists like Christians, Jews, and Muslims in an ethic of good behavior. Indeed that is my intent as well. There are many belief systems with many or no gods and rituals but human nature can collaborate without a single belief system, but with common values that are based on the transcendent and universal dimension of human nature and existence which impels science, religion, art, economics, politics and all human endeavors.


Rollie Smith said...

From Pat Amer

1. I understand you use a different vocabulary than the one preferred by Dworkin. You like to make the distinction between "religion" and
"religious." Roger Haight makes the same distinction, but between "religious" and "spiritual," as do many authors. He thinks of "religions"
as organizations and institutions. I think part of what Dworkin is getting at in advocating the use of "religion" to describe the religious or spiritual is similar to the strongly-felt desire of the LGBT movement for the word "marriage." He is trying to make the case that in grasping the values of the moral imperative to live life well and the moral imperative to recognize with awe and gratitude the wonders of the universe, the Christian, the Jew, and the secular humanist stand on (or start with) the same ground, and that what responsively and rationally grows from this ground is properly
called "religion," whether organized or not.

2. I would choose a different vocabulary for "transcendent value" as you use it in your paragraph five. I think it should be called "quotidian value" or "anthropological value"; it precedes and grounds all belief. These values are arrived at by a kind of "anthropological faith," which forms the foundation for all scientific truths as well as for all value truths. It's not supernatural, even among Christians; it's anthropological. Thus science is not properly contrasted with faith; anthropological faith
underlies all science, as well as all value judgments and beliefs.

3. Yes, I am confused by your paragraph in which you make a distinction between facts of science and the facticity of human existence, and hold that
you can assert universal truth and value and deny absolutes. Unless what you mean is that you can find belief (or value) statements which are objectively true, but no statement can state the complete truth about anything because we never have the completeness of truth to be absolute
about it.

4. I think Dworkin makes a distinction between Einstein, whom he properly regards as having religion, and Dawkins, Hitchens, et al., whom he
thinks have rejected the religious worldview.

I think we will both be among the people who will buy Dworkin's new book as soon as it is published! I've copied Roger Haight because he and I have exchanged correspondence about Dworkin's article.

This is fun! Let's keep up the dialogue!


Rollie Smith said...

Yes, this is a fun discussion.

Let me start w your #4 first. I agree Dworkin is separating Einstein from Dawkins. I also think that professed atheists often "protest too much"; and I prefer Spong's "non-theist" to atheist as an antidote to such anti-divine militancy. However, the Dawkins and Hitchens are making a contribution by defending science against the god-of-the-gaps and the deus ex machina which, like "intelligent design," retards or substitutes for critical inquiry.

In #3, I am influenced again by Dewey, Rorty, and especially Merleau-Ponty and his successors in distinguishing the word spoken (parole parlée) and the speaking word (parole parlante)--consciousness self-transparent in the symbolic activity of dealing in the world and the symbols used to objectify and so know the world objectively. Those objectifying symbols by which we know things are part of an ever changing system and subject to never-ending inquiry--so no absolutes there. Statements of fact or value are forever subject to inquiry and transformation. The symbolic activity aware of itself with others in time and space is a structure that is universal to homo sapiens (homo cogitans, ridens, etc); but of course as soon as I reflect upon it (i.e. pull it into focus from the background), that structure too is subject to change and inquiry. Also no telling whether we will choose as a species to maintain that structure. So no absolutes there either.

(Also I am realizing that I have been happily stuck in 20th century philosophy of symbolic act (Langer, Cassirer, M-P, Tillich, Lonergan and Rahner, etc) and need to attend to the 21st century philosophy of information. Recently read Gleik "the Information" and have found David Deutsche and am beginning to play with Alan Badiou. But I don't know yet where I am going here.)

In #2, I like your terminology: transcendent or anthropological value grounding all belief systems and arrived to by faith. But I would add that the "grounding" of that value is in our quotidian direct experience of ourselves with others as temporal and spatial (body) transcending our objective experience in time and space. The transcending is the passing beyond or evolving or continual searching that is a dimension of our symbolic activity. Transcendence is a vertical dimension of our horizontal outward existence in the universe. It may intend the supernatural (e.g. Lonergan's "notion of God"), but is not -- as you say.

Back to #1. I agree and think that Dworkin is making a great contribution in showing how all we theists, atheists, non-theists or don't-care-ists can stand on the same moral ground. I had a brief dialogue with Paul Bloom after his Atlantic article on Is God an Accident? which I liked. But he defined religion as belief in a supernatural entity. I thought this a pretty minimalist and so erroneous definition of religion. He agreed. You do not need a god to be religious. Nor does believing in God make you religious. Nor does god-talk necessarily make you a supernaturalist or anti-science. You can espouse a humanist, postmodern culture without supernatural entities and still have a strong faith and a consistent ethic that is neither absolutist nor relativist by which you can criticize contemporary culture (including religion), economy (especially capitalism), and politics (yes western democracy) based on a universal principle both discovered and created by our collective and voluntary choice. At least that is my intention in my twilight years.