Sunday, November 02, 2008

A religious basis for secular doubt

In "The value of uncertainty" I quoted Feynman on the value of uncertainty—that it's a positive value to be willing to live without knowing anything for sure. This is something that would be difficult for most religious thinkers, especially naive religious thinkers, to accept. But it need not be incompatible with religion.

First of all, the uncertainty need only apply to the secular world. One need not insist on holding that uncertainty in faith is a good.

Secondly, one can point to biblical pronouncements that man should hold dominion over everything he sees and that he should be a good steward of the land. To be faithful to those pronouncements one should understand that over which one is expected to exercise wise stewardship. To achieve that understanding requires science. And to be successful at science (as Feynman says) requires that one welcome doubt and never insist that today's answer is necessarily the answer forever.

So there is a religious argument for secular doubt. It would be very beneficial for this country if that argument would be made by respected religious leaders. To the best of my knowledge it hasn't been. At best enlightened religious leaders have said that science is not incompatible with religion. But none of them (as far as I know) have argued that science—and therefore secular doubt—is a religious good.

1 comment:

Steve Smith said...

Russ -

I think many religious leaders have made peace with Science in approximately this fashion.

On the other hand, I think our specialized society does not require *anyone* to be responsible for much of *anything*, leaving each of us with a huge opportunity to hold totally unrealistic opinions about just about anything.

We must only be good (or maybe mediocre, or maybe downright weak) at what we do for our "living" (which often includes some form of a dole), and need not know or respond to much of anything else.

This is the minimum price for survival in our society. It is not a very high price, and it does not require much of us, and in general it does not obtain much from us.

So while religious leaders who truly want to fulfill their biblical imperatives might want to promote science in support of that, those who simply want to "lead", need not.

I don't see much practice in true "leadership" these days... but then maybe because we don't have much practice in "followership" either.

We ask nothing of our leaders except to pose on television and provide us with sound bites that we can mouth over and over (in praise or in derision).

This moment the last gang of crooks and losers has brought us to might actually demand more of us than that, if we haven't forgotten how to be good "followers" and in some cases "leaders" as well.

- Steve