Some of the luminaries of the "Secular Conservative" fold have started a new blog site. Predictably religion was dissed almost immediately and rather vehemently, I might add. Which is a bit of a surprise as the Right was always seen as the natural home of religion.
For what it's worth, I think the term Secular Conservative is an oxymoron. Clearly the majority of the important Dead White men, or Hindu's for that matter, believed in some sort of supernatural existence, even though they disagreed--sometimes violently--about the composition of "the other world". God and religion get bandied about quite a bit in conservative thought, and the link with the dead through tradition is a mainstay of the conservative mindset.
Edward Feser, wrote what I think is quite a definitive piece on what in the end, separates Left from Right; a view with which I agree with. You see, in the end its all about epistemology; what we consider is valid knowledge. The secularists seem to believe that Empiricism is all that matters, and what cannot be empirically verified does not really matter. From their point of view, non empirically derived propositions are certainly not something to build one's society on. Furthermore-- and it's quite disappointing that supposed intelligent people hold these views--religious conservatives are painted as sort of nut jobs, who believe any fairy story uncritically and as people who would subordinate any scientific fact to a religious belief.
Now it is true, that there are quite a few conservative religious nuts, but every movement has its idiot adherents. But serious conservatism has never dismissed rationality or empirical evidence, it has however been open to the acceptance of truths which cannot be empirically verified such as religious teachings. I think it was St Thomas who back in the thirteenth century, stated that where faith and science are in conflict, our understanding of faith is probably wrong and needs to be modified, as the truth is indivisible and the two cannot contradict each other. Please note, thirteenth Century people.
The question to ask then is it rational to believe in things which are empirically unprovable?
Consider the following: A blind man is told of the existence of the colour red. There is no way he can empirically "prove" the existence of the colour since he cannot see, but clearly the colour exists. What should he do? If he is a Secular Conservative, he will deny that the colour red exists since he cannot empirically verify it's existence. Empiricism would have lead him to a false conclusion. The only way our blind friend can believe in the colour red is through an act of faith. He can't experience the colour red, through he can believe in it from the testimony of others. Clearly in this instance his faith leads to a belief which is congruent with reality. Empiricism on the other hand leads to an absurd result. Faith has its problems as well. It's also possible through faith to believe in things which are non congruent with reality, to believe in fairy tales.
The key issue of any knowledge is it's congruence with reality. That is, how do beliefs square up with reality. Empiricism is pretty powerful but it does have its faults. It doesn't deal well with non repeatable events and it's limits are defined by the perceptual abilities of the observer.
We can't for instance, scientifically repeat a murder in order to determine who caused it. If our courts demanded empirical proof of guilt, we would never be able to convict anyone. But we can, through a combination of science and rationalism, come to some form of conclusion about the nature of the killer. Sometimes they confess, and more often than not we're right. The point here being that valid knowledge that is congruent with reality may be obtained through non empirical methods. Sticking to empiricism is a bit like deliberately trying to live life with your eyes closed while overcompensating with your hearing.
The next question to ask then: Is there "stuff" in the Universe which we cannot perceive? I mean, are we capable of perceiving all that is out there? Just like our blind man who cannot see the light, is there other matter in the universe which we cannot sense and therefore not subject to empirical verification? I don't just mean religious things, I mean things like forces, dark matter etc. Because if there are, empiricism is not going to help us understand the phenomena. More importantly if there are such "things", the strict claims of empiricism may lead us to the wrong conclusions. Certainly at the subatomic and intergalactic levels, weird stuff happens. No one's seen dark matter.
The secular rejection of the mode of traditional conservative thought, by necessity undercuts the foundations of conservatism itself. Morals can't be derived from scientific facts, and hence conservatism becomes a "lifestyle"preference based on the hedonistic predispositions of the secular conservative; should his pleasures change so should his conservatism. The Dead White Men that made up conservatism in the past, lived that way because they thought it was the Tao of life; it was the truth.
But back to our secular blind man. His empirical enquiries have not been able to demonstrate the phenomena of colour. So when offered corrective surgery to cure his blindness, he angrily chases us away, because his method has taught him that there is no light.
(Cross Posted at The Forvm)
Monday, December 08, 2008
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