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Wolin enters the reason/faith fray

June 16th, 2009 · 2 Comments

Reason vs. Faith: the Battle Continues, an essay by Richard Wolin.
This discussion by Wolin is somewhat more helpful than the Fish/Eagleton postmod concession to the antisecularists (which is of course not an endorsement of all Wolin’s statements, & check out his Seduction of Unreason).
It is significant that he starts with Hegel (why not Kant or Rousseau?) who was the trickiest of the tricky on the subject, but who had a unique sensitivity to the dilemmas of modernity and tradition. However, again, I can hardly endorse Hegel’s views. That very profound philosophic generation beginning with Kant is now replaced with the degenerated version holding forth between Dawkins groupies promoting scientism and Bible Belt fundamentalists.
It might help to start over at that point and look at the way the issues were framed. Hegel, whatever our stance toward his thinking as a whole, was able to think he could reconcile Christianity and secularism, as a final voice in the Protestant Reformation, as it were. Yet he thought that religion was transcended in philosophy (by his definition) and had a stunningly exotic view or descant on the Enlightenment theme of Reason, well versed as he was in the whole gamut of challenges to Enlightenment Reason discourse.

There is a lot in Wolin’s essay, fit for more discussion, but I would note that he seems on the verge of postdarwinism, so why not burst asunder from the Darwin pretense.
Much of the responsibility for the confusion over secularism springs, not from religionists, but from the way it has been hijacked by such a narrow set of viewpoints on the secular side, the Darwin to Dawkins axis of natural selection metaphysics and lame-footed atheism unable to grasp the complexities of religion.
The generation from Kant to Hegel/Marx tackled the question of religion and secularism and created a set of frameworks that can help the current discussion. I cannot hope that conservative Christains will avail themselves of any of this (e.g. Platinga, thus, is the sophistical lifeboat for Christians against that ‘dratted’ Kant), but I can expect scientists to have the capacity to review the historical record of secularism, and be aware of the complexity of the issues at the dawn of modernity, at which point secularism became defined.
But as Wolin senses, a cadre that finds Dennett’s Breaking the Spell serious discourse on religion is, like fundamentalism, too far gone to deal with a situation that threatens to produce real chaos.
You can’t possibly hope to roll back secularism. If you try it the Thirty Years War begins anew, adding more years to that bloody conflict. That, in a way, is the protection of secularism. You can rant on religion all you please, but you likely don’t have the stomach to add more years to the original thirty, so, end of discussion.
And those who call themselves secularists tend to have lost the thread of their curious ‘ism’, which isn’t a genuflection toward scientific fundamentalism, but a multidimensional set of cultural chords that pose the question of both science and the evolution of freedom. It is the inability of the culture dominated by the degenerating culture of scientism that, in failing to really address what modernity is, has fed its own opposition, feeding the flames of religious reaction.
To be sure, the Weberian indictment of the ‘iron cage’, noted by Wolin, seems a terminal verdict on modernity by one of its greatests sociologists. But I think that Weber’s dire conclusion arose not in response to modernity, as such, but precisely to the generation sliding into Darwinian scientism, and the cadre-closure of scientific professionalism. That’s not the same as the culture of modernity, which is a robust totality with more potential in principle for, not religion, but religious understanding, than the in any case long lost fantasy world of medievalism, pined after by conservatives religionists, who would die of fright if their conservative fantasies were ever realized.
I hold no brief for conservatives plying the evolution debate in the schools, but, like it or not, the symbolism of their actions points to a failure of education.
The point should be understood by those who construct the education of scientists, who would not be condemned to life in the iron cage if their educational guides did not insist on it.

In 1802 Georg W.F. Hegel wrote an impassioned treatise on faith and reason, articulating the major philosophical conflict of the day. Among European intellectual circles, the Enlightenment credo, which celebrated the “sovereignty of reason,” had recently triumphed. From that standpoint, human intellect was a self-sufficient measure of the true, the just, and the good. The outlook’s real target, of course, was religion, which the philosophes viewed as the last redoubt of delusion and superstition. Theological claims, they held, could only lead mankind astray. Once the last ramparts of unreason were breached — our mental Bastilles, as it were — sovereign reason would take command and, presumably, human perfection would not be long in coming.

Tags: Philosophy · religion · Science · secularism

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 James // Jun 16, 2009 at 5:55 pm

    I think the main problem is that few people can trace the historical roots of their beliefs and end up undermining the very thing that they champion. Contemporary Darwinian secular humanists (self-styled as “freethinkers”) fail to see that the theory is a rather contrived attempt to extend the successes of the Newtonian framework to all of the aspects of reality (by the way, I find it curious that current proponents of scientism proclaim Darwin as the most original scientific thinker in history when NS is really Newton’s bastard child). Despite the huge upheavals in physics in the 20th century, these “secularists” are unwittingly trying to complete the project to make 19th century physics the defining standard of “secularism” (I’m guessing it is because relativity and QM aren’t easily understood and it is difficult to extract cultural narratives from them that can do battle with religious ideas).

    As you have pointed out, the wealth of resources produced by figures such as Kant to put science in its proper place and save scientists from themselves has either been forgotten or ignored because the powers that be want to maintain control of the public sphere. Ironically, Kant produced this discourse in an effort to save science.

  • 2 Darwiniana » More on Wolin and the faith/reason debates // Jun 16, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    […] Comment on Wolin post James said, June 16, 2009 at 5:55 pm · I think the main problem is that few people can trace the historical roots of their beliefs and end up undermining the very thing that they champion. Contemporary Darwinian secular humanists (self-styled as “freethinkers”) fail to see that the theory is a rather contrived attempt to extend the successes of the Newtonian framework to all of the aspects of reality (by the way, I find it curious that current proponents of scientism proclaim Darwin as the most original scientific thinker in history when NS is really Newton’s bastard child). Despite the huge upheavals in physics in the 20th century, these “secularists” are unwittingly trying to complete the project to make 19th century physics the defining standard of “secularism” (I’m guessing it is because relativity and QM aren’t easily understood and it is difficult to extract cultural narratives from them that can do battle with religious ideas). […]

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