It is extremely improbable that we have suddenly become better and smarter than our predecessors. In fact, what has happened is that we have lost the ability to understand functional social patterns other than markets and bureaucracies. The result is that the past appears irrational, our society is plagued by dysfunctions we cannot understand or deal with, and we treat our own blindness and stupidity as the triumph of virtue and enlightenment.
James Kalb — Against Inclusiveness
Living in America means that many believe unequivocally that the U.S. Constitutional democracy is the greatest form of government that has ever been. Except that it has been amended on 18 separate occasions. The most recent? 1992. Guess what? People from other countries like their own governmental systems too. There is no end to the flaws that can be found in any governmental system.
Even the Hebrew system of government, given by God himself, could not stand the test of time. It has been roundly criticized for not including the 13th and 19th Amendments.
Purity and Marriage
For many hundreds of years the notions that sex should only be between a husband and wife and that adultery was wrong were the widely held default beliefs. Now it is not hard to find viewpoints asserting the glories of a wide variety of extra-marital sexual expressions. Since the sexual revolution, it has become ever more hateful to assert the traditional Christian teachings on sexual purity and marriage. Jonah Goldberg writes:
We live in an age where we take the razor of reason to every little thing and strain to know the whys of it, as if knowing the why will empower the how. For example, we know that kids raised in stable, two-parent, religiously observant families will on average do better than kids who are not. This holds true despite differences in race, class, and religion…but too many people think that if we can just isolate the variables, we can take the good bits and discard the husks we don’t like. An even worse — and more prevalent — mindset is to not even bother with the why. If we can’t immediately grasp why [it]…is worthwhile, we tend to instantly dismiss it as outdated and old-fashioned.
He is exactly right. Modern Man in the quest for perfect enlightenment is willing to destroy anything standing in the way. The self-appointed saviors have decided that the old way has to go. They’ve even gone as far as declaring that “right-wing Christians are the biggest threat to traditional marriage”. For such as these, the evidence doesn’t matter.1 The old morality has been declared obsolete: it is self-evident.
Science seems to have killed God. Reports of his demise are everywhere. Churches are closing and religions are losing adherents by the thousands.2 We live in a golden era of science where God is no longer necessary, where science explains everything. But the metaphysical view that science is sufficient to explain everything cannot itself be explained by science. And yet it is frequently used, especially by atheists, to show that spirituality is outdated. Come on, it is Current Year! At OJB’s blog, Owen writes about the limitations of science:
There is no way to really prove that science can answer every question and there is no way to prove that it’s even the best way to answer any question, but there are two informal reasons why I think we should accept both of those ideas. First, science gets results: in all the years various philosophies have been applied to the world’s problems it is only since we used science that we have made significant progress.3 And second, it just makes sense.
After admitting the limitations of science, he goes on to ignore those limitations in favor of his personal judgment (see below) using non-scientific arguments (see below). The claim about solving world problems is the ‘triumph of virtue and enlightenment’ described by James Kalb. It is joyful arrogance. Notice how Bruce Charlton uses the same historical results-based argument to defend astrology:
Astrology was, after all, the original science – and acceptable to some of the greatest ever human minds – so our assumption (prior hypothesis) should *not* be to reject it utterly.
Both arguments use what happened in the selected period of time to defend their position. Neither claims are scientific. There is here a difference in metaphysical assumptions: one view asserts that science is, by definition, sufficient while the other does not. Only the scientific viewpoint claims to be the exclusive source of explanation. Despite the impassioned claims by science, it cannot be used to prove/explain itself or to disprove that which is not in its domain, including the spiritual. While specific religious doctrines may be in conflict with science, there is nothing inherent in spirituality that is incompatible with science. Bruce Charlton pursues this in detail:
You are making the same big fallacy that ‘explains’ the results of all non randomised studies as plagued by the placebo effect – when such studies made all the significant discoveries in medicine. The serious scientist takes into account his own self-deceptions – that is built into judgment; but nothing is better than human judgement…Statistics is not ever an explanation of anything – at best it is just a summary or condensation, assisting clarification, of what is going on – but the judgment is always a consequence of human decision (of course humans can build the judgment into statistics and then forget they have done so- as when a p value of > 0.05 is assumed to be ‘significant’).
I’ve noticed time and again that when discussing the supernatural with atheists: They reject any non-randomized study evidence into the discussion of the spiritual. Every instance of the supernatural is explained away as fraudulent, naturally caused, delusion, the placebo effect, or similar. And yet science is riddled with examples of scientific discoveries made, not with randomized studies, but through anecdotes and inspiration. Why were these scientific discoveries not simply discarded as completely invalid?
Human judgment is required to evaluate scientific claims, but is not itself scientific. Not only is it easy to overestimate current ability relative to historical viewpoints, but other potential sources of truth are frequently disregarded. Science likes to take a hypothesis and try to determine a pure “true” or “false” answer from that. Spirituality is gray. It might have elements of truth mixed in with false elements. But that isn’t to say that there are no additional truths to be found. It may not be as easy as science, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t valid. And it can help answer some of those questions that can’t be answered by science.
The Bible is evil because of course the Bible promotes rape, slavery, murder, lying, abortion, infanticide, and so forth. There could not possibly be an alternative.4
Modern Man is convinced that our predecessors were wrong in many things that really matter. Our predecessors got a lot wrong, but they got a lot right too. Of course we can and have improved on the mistakes of the past, but extreme hostility towards the past (or any current viewpoint that is not our own) is not justified.
Overconfidence in our abilities is a real problem. Some of this unintentional (e.g. the Dunning-Kruger Effect) and some of it is willful. It’s difficult to find the right answers. It requires time and effort. It also requires getting it wrong once in a while and being able to learn from that. The rampant intellectual dishonesty is not okay.
1 The study referenced in the article found that members of the Southern Baptist Church and non-churchgoers in the Bible Belt had much higher incidence of divorce than the rest of the population, mostly because of lack of education and low incomes. It falsely concluded from this that there must be an overall flaw in all conservative protestant theology that causes increased divorce rates. This is contradicted by numerous pieces of evidence, none of which was discussed in the articles referenced.
2 The decline of organized religion in the West is well-deserved. Christians have been criticized for doing everything the Bible instructs except the most important: love. “…we treat our own blindness and stupidity as the triumph of virtue and enlightenment” applies to the religious as well as the non-religious.
3 This is a straw man argument. Also, it is not even true.
4 This is sarcasm.