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Austin Dacey - The Secular Conscience (merged)
Posted: 07 April 2008 07:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 46 ]
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I always liked Carl Sagan’s appreciation, summed up in the sub-title of “Demon-Haunted World”, of “Science as a Candle in the Dark”.

“Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us - then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.”

To Gato’s point above (about the odds against which the Enlightenment rationalists squeeked through with the notion of a secular state in the U.S. constitution) should be added the howling disproportion of forces against which the scientific materialist worldview ever gained as much ground as it did!  In light of the developments even over the few years since Sagan’s death, one must certainly part company with the social democratic school of Marxism, or vulgarized Darwinism, which presented, human progress as some inevitable and unstoppable force of history.

Sagan’s paragraph above is amazingly prescient about the whole current period. I can’t imagine a Sagan or a Stephen J. Gould (how sorely their voices are missed!) discussing skepticism and secularism, as Dacey does, as though the criminal U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan weren’t happening, let alone advocating tearing down the wall of separation.

Nothing is more foreign to a truly scientific approach, in my view, than the kind of effete intellectualism that ‘plays with concepts’ as if they had no relationship with the real world…

(A ps to Gato: Your posts are interesting, but they would be easier to read if you threw in the odd paragraph break!)

[ Edited: 07 April 2008 08:19 PM by Balak ]
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Posted: 07 April 2008 09:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 47 ]
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Balak - 07 April 2008 07:29 PM

  Nothing is more foreign to a truly scientific approach, in my view, than the kind of effete intellectualism that ‘plays with concepts’ as if they had no relationship with the real world…

(A ps to Gato: Your posts are interesting, but they would be easier to read if you threw in the odd paragraph break!)

Yes, that is exactly what I was thinking.  I think Dacey and Harris would try to argue that their ‘playing with concepts’ is not as abstract as religious arguments are, because they are empirically based arguments, but it still does seem to me like they’re playing a grand game of Rhetorical Risk, doesn’t it?  At the end of the day, they will allow any and all religious ethical concepts with non-empirical parameters to have a seat at the table.  It’s analogous to the scientists inviting all the ghost hunters, astrologers, flat-earthers, etc. to the table and expecting them to all give up.  It’s not realistic.  What will happen is, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” idea will go into play even more than it has already (remember Romney’s dreadful speech courting the Fundies?) and when the dark side of social Darwinism goes into play, all the theists get together to vote naturalism off of Survivor island… legally.  There’s too much bias against materialism to cede any moral victories- as Dacey himself said, they have appropriated it all, the language, etc.  Theists are stubborn folk.  Look at Madeline Neumann’s parents after she died… they STILL BELIEVE IN GOD AND THAT SHE DIED BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH FAITH!!!

Yeah, it seems to me that these hypotheses, when proposed in that kind of ‘effete intellectualism’ you mentioned, just don’t get the same support that they get when issues like the Dover trial are happening in real time with specific tangible results either.  We must be patient and chug along and work hard and fight for each bite.  Secularism is on the rise.  Someday, our stats might look like England and Europe, which are fantastic.  Focusing on those short burst real time events and their practical naturalistic benefits (e.g. medicine, agriculture, etc.) is something that we can all agree on in the short term anyway, without having to open the apologist’s box of rhetorical plutonium.  It’s not that their arguments are any good, it’s that the public is undereducated.

Sorry about the run-on paragraphs- I’m horrible with that…

[ Edited: 07 April 2008 09:53 PM by Gatogreensleeves ]
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Posted: 09 May 2008 05:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 48 ]
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Jackson - 25 March 2008 04:30 AM
Thomas Donnelly - 21 March 2008 05:46 PM

His new book is The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life.
http://www.pointofinquiry.org

Thanks for a great interview and an introduction to an interesting book.

Here is a 2006 article about Dacey exploring what atheists “believe in”
[NY Times Opinion piece 2/3/2006]

Here is the Neuhaus review D.J. refers to in the interview (a Catholic critique):
http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/?p=989

Here is Dacey’s thesis: “Secularists have the moral high ground, if they will only claim it, and in so doing break the religious monopoly on the language of ethics and values. . . . 

First Chapter of the book is on-line at richarddawkins.net:

http://richarddawkins.net/firstChapter,40

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Posted: 01 June 2008 05:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 49 ]
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In his superb new book, The Secular Conscience, my friend Austin Dacey writes: “This is the story of a good idea gone bad. The good idea is that matters of conscience – religion, ethics, and values – are to be left to individuals to decide, free from interference or coercion by government. The idea helped make possible the open, secular society. Here’s how it goes bad. Matters of conscience are up to us, so they can amount to no more than subjective preferences. As such, they cannot be critically discussed by others who do not share them. Conscience is personal, so politeness and civility forbid bringing it up in public. Call this the Privacy Fallacy. Conscience is free, so it must be liberated from shared objective standards of rightness and truth. Call this the Liberty Fallacy. The result of these misconceptions about privacy and freedom is a culture unwilling or unable to sustain a real public conversation about religion, ethics, and values. What culture can survive without that conversation?
(http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/1591026040/ref=sib_dp_pt#reader-link, emphasis added)

Like me, Prof. Dacey believes that an advanced culture cannot remain free and is not likely to thrive under those conditions. One interesting point (among many) about Dacey’s argument is that although the religious and political right have been arguing for an identifiable set of concrete values for as long as I can remember, they refuse to put certain aspects of their own orthodoxy on the table for discussion. “How dare you criticize, or even question, my belief in Jesus” or “How dare you question what the American flag represents or reciting a pledge of allegiance signifies?” A similar point could be made about many communities on the left.

Also like Prof. Dacey, I believe that the human person is what merits respect. For us, not discussing a point of disagreement is not respect. Respect is holding each of our fellows to the same standard to which we hold ourselves, and discussing disagreements openly, honestly and as intelligently as our abilities will allow. (Listen to the brief segment from Dr. Dacey’s interview under customer Len Nobs’ customer review at http://www.amazon.com/review/product/1591026040/ref=dp_top_cm_cr_acr_txt?_encoding=UTF8&showViewpoints=1).

More than a generation of right-wing talk show hosts and the progressive deterioration of the media into a delivery system for entertainment and other forms of instant gratification have further debased our ability as a nation and a people to function as a democracy. We have become a nation of people who worship our own immediate wants instead of the long-term common good, polarized by the rise of political parties and interest groups that have lined up on both sides and virtually unable to think clearly, let alone carry on a reasoned discussion about matters of common concern. This is a sure formula for the undoing of democracy and the decline of our culture. 

So I post here to open Dr. Dacey’s thesis for discussion. I invite all participants to seek out a balanced, reasoned and nuanced position, in keeping with Dr. Dacey’s thesis. I wonder whether we can.

I am posting this on another forum, and will be fascinated to see what course it takes there, as compared to here.

“If you’re living in a free society and you’re not offended at least once a day, there must be something wrong with you.” (Wendy Kaminer)

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Posted: 01 June 2008 07:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 50 ]
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The cultural freedom to choose a particular right or wrong action is based on the overall freedom set forth by the government. Humans, for the most part are dependent on others for their mere subsidence therefore must recognize common values for survival. The American democratic experiment is predicated and enforce by the acceptance of the Declaration of Independence “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” To say that this statement is impossible to prove and is dependant solely on the objective reality of the adherent destroys the culture in which it is held. So, who is the destroyer? If one allows for the fact that, the human exist in an actual plan of being and is dependant as a being on the existence of other like beings then there must be a common truth that allows each to be with another. If humans are simply just a random thing with no more purpose then to simply “be” then of course no truth can be known. Again, I ask who is destroying our culture, the one who allows for a truth to explain existence or the one who denies any and all truths.

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Posted: 01 June 2008 07:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 51 ]
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We’ve had a bit of a discussion of Dacey in the thread about his POI interview, and I’m afraid it turned largely into another debate about moral relativism, of which there are plenty here already. I haven’t gotten to Dacey’s book yet, so I’m not sure I have a real understanding of what he’s getting at, but based on the POI interview I get the impression that he supports a brand of moral realism, allowing the claim that moral standards can be objectively true, and giving a lot of weight to the “evidence” of our intuitions about moral questions in determining what is true and what is false. I’m as skeptical of a secular version of this as of a religious version. I never seem to here a clear and ogent explanation of where moral truths are located, if not in subjective human beliefs and desires, and I never here such an explanation of how a secular form of moral realism avoids all the pitfalls of the religious form-self-rigteousness, condemnation of other opinions, “evidence” that consists really just of cultural traditions or personal feelings, etc.

As for the specific points you’ve highlighted, I certainly don’t agree that cosncience is personal in the sense that it’s dictates shouldn’t be the subject of public debate. I think it’s appropriate to say waht you believe and why in a public setting. The problem for the secularist is that if the why doesn’t include a supernatural authority, it is considered irrelevant by most Americal voters, so I’m not sure how secularists benefit from allowing personal conscience, as opposed to reason and evidence, to be brought into public policy debates.

Anyway, I probably will try to avoid the temptation to participate in yet another debate about moral relativism. I’d be interested in the pragmatic specifics about how you and Dacey envision the invocation of conscience and morality in public policy debates working without compromising the freedom that you acknowledge separating religion and govewrnment has allowed.

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Posted: 01 June 2008 10:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 52 ]
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mckenzievmd - 01 June 2008 07:54 AM

Anyway, I probably will try to avoid the temptation to participate in yet another debate about moral relativism.

Good job, I think you pretty much proved his point.

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Posted: 01 June 2008 11:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 53 ]
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Brennen, you know I like you and agree with you on plenty of issues, but here I agree with Entity. I think your response both misses and proves the point. As a suggestion, think of it in practical and functional terms - what works is the final test for the soundness of theories, just as it is in science.

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Posted: 01 June 2008 11:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 54 ]
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I’m afraid I am missing the point since I don’t know what you and entity are talking about. My reluctance to engage in a prolonged debate about moral relativism is simply that I’ve written dozens of posts on the topic here which are available for others to read and I don’t feel like re-writing them all.
HERE and HERE are two threads in which I have explained my position at length and in detail.

If there are specific points you want to explore in more detail, I’m happy to do that. Otherwise, what point exactly have I missed or have I proven? I have to say that despite the kind caveat you open with, there is a certain patronizing tone to the remark , though I know you well enough to understand you did not intend to be provocative. But since you initiated the thread and put forward the theory for discussion, I’m inclined to think that you bear the burden of promoting and defending the position you seem to favor. I did include in my response a couple of opening for further discussion, in the form of gaps I have seen in Dacey’s and others’ arguments, so perhaps responding to that would be more productive in moving this discussion forward?

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Posted: 01 June 2008 11:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 55 ]
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mckenzievmd - 01 June 2008 07:54 AM

I haven’t gotten to Dacey’s book yet, so I’m not sure I have a real understanding of what he’s getting at,
...

There is a featured article by Dacey on the Secular Conscience   in the June/July issue of Free Inquiry (that particular article is not yet available online)
http://secularhumanism.org/index.php?page=index&section=fi

[ Edited: 01 June 2008 11:47 AM by Jackson ]
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Posted: 01 June 2008 11:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 56 ]
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Thanks, Jackson. It’s sitting in my briefcase now, so I’ll try to get to it ASAP.

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Posted: 01 June 2008 05:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 57 ]
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mckenzievmd - 01 June 2008 11:35 AM

I’m afraid I am missing the point…..

No Kidding.

mckenzievmd - 01 June 2008 11:35 AM

If there are specific points you want to explore in more detail, I’m happy to do that. Otherwise, what point exactly have I missed or have I proven? 

How about dialogue?

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Posted: 01 June 2008 05:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 58 ]
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Entity,

I don’t really see your snide tone as promoting dialogue. Did you read the part where I explained why I don’t want to re-write hundreds of words I’ve already written on the subject of this thread, and where I linked to the discussions so you can read those words if you’d like more detail about the position I alluded to in my first post? DO you actually want dialogue, or are you just fond of sarcasm for its own sake?

If you’d like to have a conversation, offering an opinion (other than that I’m an idiot who’s missing the point of the thread) or asking substantive questions is the usual way to go about it. I’m not seeing any effort on anyone else’s part here (Jackson excepted) to promote dialogue, and certainly your responses to me could not be better designed to shut down communication even if that were your intent.

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You cannot reason a person out of a position he did not reason himself into in the first place. 
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Posted: 01 June 2008 06:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 59 ]
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mckenzievmd - 01 June 2008 05:59 PM

If you’d like to have a conversation, offering an opinion (other than that I’m an idiot who’s missing the point of the thread) or asking substantive questions is the usual way to go about it. I’m not seeing any effort on anyone else’s part here (Jackson excepted) to promote dialogue, and certainly your responses to me could not be better designed to shut down communication even if that were your intent.

OK well said, You want to dismiss the subject because you have already been there so, don’t interject.
Humans exist, is this true or not?

[ Edited: 01 June 2008 06:19 PM by Entity ]
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Posted: 01 June 2008 06:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 60 ]
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mckenzievmd - 01 June 2008 11:53 AM

Thanks, Jackson. It’s sitting in my briefcase now, so I’ll try to get to it ASAP.

I listened to the podcast and my recollection has little to do with the ongoing discussion on the other thread or here. I’ll listen to it again—I also probably need to see if there is a copy of the book at the library.

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