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Multiculturalism, Dennis Prager, Keith Ellison, and Me:

I criticize Dennis Prager's Tuesday column in today's National Review Online. Here's the introduction:

The U.S. Constitution is a multiculturalist document. Not in all senses, of course: It tries to forge a common national culture as well as tolerating other cultures. But it is indeed multiculturalist in important ways. We shouldn't forget that when we're tempted to categorically condemn supposedly multiculturalist changes to our constitutional practices.

Consider what Dennis Prager — whose work I often much like -— wrote in his most recent column:

Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, has announced that he will not take his oath of office on the Bible, but on the bible of Islam, the Koran.

He should not be allowed to do so — not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.

First, it is an act of hubris that perfectly exemplifies multiculturalist activism — my culture trumps America's culture. What Ellison and his Muslim and leftist supporters are saying is that it is of no consequence what America holds as its holiest book; all that matters is what any individual holds to be his holiest book.

Forgive me, but America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison's favorite book is. Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress. In your personal life, we will fight for your right to prefer any other book. We will even fight for your right to publish cartoons mocking our Bible. But, Mr. Ellison, America, not you, decides on what book its public servants take their oath.

This argument both mistakes the purpose of the oath, and misunderstands the Constitution. In fact, it calls for the violation of some of the Constitution's multiculturalist provisions....

To read the rest, go here.

Thanks to my UCLA colleague Stephen Bainbridge, who alerted me to Prager's column and who has written more along these lines.

Ex-Fed (mail):
You were far gentler to Mr. Prager than he deserved on this one. But I guess the quality of mercy droppeth like gentle rain even on people who pontificate about what America requires without first familiarizing themselves with relevant provisions of the owner's manual.
11.29.2006 1:03pm
MS (mail):
Two jews fighting over a muslims right to not swear on the bible. I love this country.
11.29.2006 1:10pm
Sean M:
A very good article, Professor Volokh, but I suppose it is sort of like shooting fish in the proverbial barrel...
11.29.2006 1:10pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
What's the purpose of the oath? Would anyone trust him to be bound to an oath sworn on the Bible? By all means... give him the Koran!
11.29.2006 1:13pm
rbj:
Didn't Calvin Coolidge take the Presidential oath on a law book?

Well, according to this site it was Pierce.

And apparently Teddy Rex didn't use a Bible either (warning, wikipedia content)
11.29.2006 1:19pm
Scote (mail):
Prager's brain seems to shut down when religious issues are invoked. You can see more of his style over substance school of logic in this debate with Sam Harris:


I'm not so sure what's to like about Prager. His real or feigned ignorance of the Constitution is troubling as is his willingness to believe that only Christianity can save the world from disaster. And his arguments can sometimes sound good until you examine them and discover the are more rhetoric than fact.
11.29.2006 1:26pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Oh my gosh! Are atheists required to swear on a Bible? If so, what would forcing the godless to swear on a Bible mean to Christians and Jews?

(I pretty much know the range of meanings for atheists forced to lay their hands on the bible while swearing. It ranges from "Oh well, whatever.", to "I'm outraged!" )
11.29.2006 1:26pm
Christopher M (mail):
Prager's assertion that, where values are concerned, "America is interested in only one book, the Bible," seems way off base. Only about 80%, or maybe slightly less, of Americans even identify as Christian. (See here.) Are the other 20% -- a good sixty million people -- not Americans, or what?
11.29.2006 1:36pm
18 USC 1030 (mail):
First of all, as I remember it: you are not required to swear you may merely "affirm" the oath. Second, why would we force someone to, if they will swear the oath, swear that oath upon a book they don't believe in? Isn't the purpose of swearing it on the bible based on tradition? Wasn't the bible used from the start because Washington was a Christian? Didn't Washington swear it on the bible because one would think he wouldn't violate that which he swore on the book he believed in/ feared?

We should force him to swear it on the Koran because it is the only religious text that he'd feel he must follow.
11.29.2006 1:37pm
Henry679 (mail):
As often as NRO deserves abuse, they should also get kudos for publishing Eugene's piece. Prager is another one of those frequent embarrassments to what is left of conservatism. The Coulters and Pragers of the world do more harm to the Right than a billion dollars from George Soros.
11.29.2006 1:42pm
footballfan1:
Thank you. That was a very well reasoned piece. I enjoyed reading it.
11.29.2006 1:46pm
Drive By Comments:
"What's the purpose of the oath? Would anyone trust him to be bound to an oath sworn on the Bible? By all means... give him the Koran!"

I'm in total agreement on this one.

Question, though: As "The Great Satan," would our use of the Koran for so base a purpose as an oath of office be considered disrespectful by the not-so-balanced Islamic crowd (I'm assuming that normal Muslims would think it was great)? Our soldiers, after all, were supposed to wear gloves while handling the book.
11.29.2006 1:46pm
Antares79:
Is there any reason why you say "personal life" (note the quotes) at the close of your argument instead of private life (no quotes)? Private life seems the more common alternative to public life.
11.29.2006 1:50pm
Chumund:
That was a sober and interesting treatment of a completely nutty column by Prager.
11.29.2006 1:50pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
I affirm (in court -- haven't been elected to Congress yet.) I'm a somewhat religious believer, and I think I shouldn't swear to G-d because despite my present intentions I might not get it right and I don't want to lie to the Him (that's why I recite the Kol Nidre) nor to use His Name in vain. But mainly I affirm because I'm telling the truth, and I don't need an oath to make me tell the truth. I am already bound to tell the truth by the law, by my own moral code, and by my religious requirements.

(Someone explained the "or affirmation" bit as satisfying that line of reasoning for those whose creed felt that way back then; it works for me.)

In any case, Prager is very wrong here as the professors noted and don't need my agreement.
11.29.2006 2:00pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
By the way, bailiffs don't have a problem with my affirming, except they have then asked all the witnesses to affirm rather than give an oath, I suppose in an attempt to keep it a level playing field. (If the other witnesses hold to a code that it's OK to lie unless you've given an oath, then it's not a level playing field, but I've still got the law of perjury, and it's not a big deal.)
11.29.2006 2:05pm
KevinM:
The content of Prager's column is disturbing enough, but nobody has commented yet on the rhetoric. I mean, of course, the tone of barely restrained anger (and ostentatious self-congratulation) for tolerating religious minorities. But I also mean the reference to the Koran as Keith Ellison's "favorite book," as if it were Lord of the Rings or Catcher in the Rye. That is simply a sneer at the man's religion.
11.29.2006 2:08pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Antares79: The quotation marks might be something of a hint ....
11.29.2006 2:09pm
Scote (mail):
Prager's ridiculous outrage notwithstanding, I'm curious about the use of affirmations--not so much for oaths of office. It occurs to me that by electing to affirm too tell the truth rather than swear to tell the truth as a witness, jurors may be prejudiced against you. Can council ask to have all witness affirm instead of swear to eliminate this possible prejudice?
11.29.2006 2:25pm
Ricardo (mail):
As far as I can tell, the only references to Ellison swearing on the Koran are from journalists using a colorful turn of phrase ("the first American to take the oath of office with a hand on the Koran"), Muslim supporters in the Middle East, one enthusiastic Muslim campaign worker and outraged right-wingers. According to the New York Times, Ellison says he hasn't given much thought to what book he will swear on.

Overall, this is a fascinating exercise in group psychology. The mere suggestion made by third parties that an elected member of Congress might take the oath with a hand on the Koran has the extreme right whipped into quite a frenzy.
11.29.2006 2:31pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Any other examples of this "frenzy?" This is the first I've heard of it...
11.29.2006 2:36pm
Ken Arromdee:
Is the swearing-in the most controversial issue Ellison is involved in, or even in the top five most controversial issues? Or is it just the easiest one to refute?
11.29.2006 2:37pm
HLSbertarian (mail):

Overall, this is a fascinating exercise in group psychology. The mere suggestion made by third parties that an elected member of Congress might take the oath with a hand on the Koran has the extreme right whipped into quite a frenzy.


Yes, you're right, letting Prof. Volokh take him apart in the NRO. Quite the frenzy. Not all psychology is "group psychology."

Let's not make mountains out of Pragers.
11.29.2006 2:41pm
Cato:
What if your religious book upon which an oath is taken requires the oath taker to lie, at least in certain cases?

Certain pundits maintain that the Koran REQUIRES Muslims to lie to non-Muslims about their intentions, particularly the intention of imposing sharia law.
11.29.2006 2:47pm
Grant Gould (mail):
It's worth noting that there are even Christians who don't swear on the Bible -- certainly Jehovah's Witnesses, and probably others -- on the basis of Matthew 5:33-37, which is an injunction not to swear oaths.

Indeed, it has always struck me as odd that so many people swear on a book containing a fairly eloquent prohibition on oaths.
11.29.2006 2:50pm
Antares79:
Aha! You were quoting Pragers! I thought you would have used excerptation marks for that.
11.29.2006 3:01pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Indeed, it has always struck me as odd that so many people swear on a book containing a fairly eloquent prohibition on oaths.

Casuistry, of course -- if I swear on a book that tells me not to swear, then my oath isn't really binding!

This explains the conduct of a great many politicians, witnesses, etc.
11.29.2006 3:02pm
Gary McGath (www):
The standards of politeness and decorum on this forum prevent me from saying what I think of Prager.
11.29.2006 3:11pm
Just John:
This never-in-a-courtroom non-lawyer asks out of curiosity: Are there standard non-Christian oaths? I know about the one where you swear to tell the truth "so help you God", as that's in every courtroom TV show ever made; if a Muslim, atheist, etc. is about to testify, does the administrator of the oath have a second card to read from? Or do they just leave out the Bible and the s.h.y.G.?
11.29.2006 3:21pm
Spartacus (www):
Also note that, even among Christians, there are varied Bibles. The Catholic's Bible (often) includes the Apocrypha, the Protestant's does not. The Ethiopian Bible is especially long, the Samaritan, short. See http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/bible/canon2.stm
11.29.2006 3:37pm
Chumund:
Just John,

In real courtrooms and depositions, I've often seen the witness swear or affirm without the "s.h.y.G" and Bible as a matter of course (it would be something like, "Do you solemnly swear that the testimony that you are about to give will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?"), so no special non-Christian oath would be required. Incidentally, I assume this is a matter of local practice, and the applicable Federal Rule of Evidence (603) only says, "Before testifying, every witness shall be required to declare that the witness will testify truthfully, by oath or affirmation administered in a form calculated to awaken the witness' conscience and impress the witness' mind with the duty to do so."
11.29.2006 3:42pm
Toby:
TIme to go back to Angle-Saxon practice (at least for men. Not sure if women were allowed to makes oaths in court). You remember - place one hand in air and other on genitals, presumeably that which was held most dear ...(or was it an oath biding future generations?)
11.29.2006 3:42pm
CEB:
Just John (and Scote, this also addresses your concern)

The judge I clerk for has the witness raise his hand (no Bible), then says, "Do you swear or affirm, under penalty of perjury, that the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Grant Gould,

Great point--it brings to mind the people who make engraved images of tablets that say not to make engraved images.
11.29.2006 3:58pm
CEB:
Toby,

I'm pretty sure it goes back futher than that. If it's not a folk-etymology (I'm OED-less at the moment), that's exactly what the word "testfy" means.
11.29.2006 4:05pm
CEB:
"Testify," that is.
11.29.2006 4:14pm
Ricardo (mail):
My own view is that this is, indeed, a non-issue. My point will become clear if you put "Ellison koran oath Congress" into Google -- which is what I did after hearing about this issue from Prager for the first time. It is a case study on meme propagation in the fringe blogosphere. I didn't mean to imply that anyone of any significance besides Prager has blown this out of proportion -- only extremists.
11.29.2006 4:47pm
Gordo:
My evidence textbook from a few years back states that a person testifying in Court cannot be made to swear on the Bible or any other religious book, and in fact cannot be made to "swear" at all if he or she insists on not doing so. The Judge must determine if the testifier will tell the truth to the best of his or her ability on the stand, to the point where any conscious lie can be punished with a perjury conviction.
11.29.2006 5:02pm
Davebo (mail):
Wow, a Prager piece from Town Hall is pulverized by a Volokh piece in NRO.

See, there really are 3 levels of wingnuttery!
11.29.2006 5:45pm
Jens Fiederer (mail) (www):
My only criticism pretty much agrees with the "fish in a barrel" comment -- what you said was reasonable, it was well said, but it surprises me that it had to be said at all.
11.29.2006 6:00pm
Seamus (mail):
If it's not a folk-etymology (I'm OED-less at the moment), that's exactly what the word "testfy" means.

IIRC, it *is* folk etymology. Or perhaps, "reverse etymology" would be more correct. The Latin word "testis" (plural, "testes") means witness. That name was applied to a person's man-bits because they were considered to be "witness" testifying to his virility. At least that's the explanation that was in my Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary back when I was in high school.
11.29.2006 6:57pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
I wish Dennis Prager were as magnanimous to Muslims as another non-Christian American, Ben Franklin who helped build a Church in Philadelphia and stated Muslim's were equally entitled to preach in it as Christians:


Both house and ground were vested in trustees, expressly for the use of any preacher of any religious persuasion who might desire to say something to the people at Philadelphia; the design in building not being to accommodate any particular sect, but the inhabitants in general; so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.
11.29.2006 7:19pm
Michael B (mail):
While I disagree with Mr. Prager concerning the legal/practical intent of his effort, his concern, read differently and more simply as suasion directed to Ellison's constituencies and America in general is not at all without merit, very much to the contrary. The act of swearing in presumably has legal (upholding the Constitution) as well as symbolic significance and symbolism per se can be of great import, not at all insignificant in the mode of "mere symbolism".

Too, the Constitution's multicultural tenets and themes reflect a decidedly small "m" multiculturalism, not a large "M," post-modern Multiculturalism, for example in the mode of an EU-styled, institutionalized de facto and de jure, Multiculturalism. This too represents a warranted aspect of a viable and fully warranted suasion. Other issues as well involved, if still under the rubric of suasion, e.g., philosophical issues which have practical and potentially even legal import.

This is a misstep by Prager, but only in the sense that he ventures beyond suasion and is stipulating a practical proscription. Both for better and for worse, the people, we the people ..., have a right to the representatives we elect to office, and that will inevitably and irreducibly have practical import, including import as to the manner in which someone is sworn into office.
11.29.2006 7:30pm
plunge (mail):
Is your like for Prager why you basically give him a free pass on trying to tie Ellison and "leftists" with terrorists, or Godwinizing? I mean, the guy is writing for Townhall, which has published some of the most despicable and vile and deceptive articles I've ever read. And this, sadly, was one of them. Pity neither Volokh nor National Review can bring themselves to say so.
11.29.2006 8:01pm
Bob R (mail):
It is a pleasure to see an argument eviscerated so throughly and so politely - especially when it is not mine. My condolences to Mr. Prager. Time to bow and leave the field Dennis. You will be right again. You will be wrong again. Hope you don't have EV around when you are wrong.
11.29.2006 8:09pm
Gil (mail) (www):
The argument was fine, but my favorite part was:

"Nixon, also a Quaker, did swear, apparently on two Bibles. This didn't seem to help."
11.29.2006 9:04pm
pelican (mail):
very well written.

on an unrelated note: after taking a look at prager's website and finding innumerable posts slandering (to my mind) atheists as being categorically incapable of being "moral," i'm curious as to whether any of the folks here have read through Dawkins' most recent book, and if so, what they think about it.

To my mind, it contains some of the best written arguments against the ridiculous claims of Prager and others...

I, for one, am sick of the 'hands off' policy regarding religion and god - and this Prager ordeal is just one more episode that gets under my skin.

after all, weren't Jefferson and the founding fathers incredibly critical of Christianity and, on my construal of deism, basically atheists themselves?
11.29.2006 9:28pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

after all, weren't Jefferson and the founding fathers incredibly critical of Christianity and, on my construal of deism, basically atheists themselves?


No they weren't atheists. The key Founders were rationalists and skeptics who firmly believed in God. They were theists but not Christians, however.
11.29.2006 9:35pm
plunge (mail):
It's probably most accurate to describe the founders as "theistic rationalists." Their god was a little more personal than strict continental deism, but it also wasn't very much like one would recognize as specifically Christian, even though most acknowledged respected, and on and off practiced a universalist sort of Christianity. Most Christians today would, if they read some of the things the founders actually thought about Christianity to be pretty darn slanderous, but that's because they were skeptical and often pretty cynical dudes.

And what's truly ironic about the founders and all the attention they get from Christian Nationalists is that while they weren't atheists by any stretch of the imagination (by which I mean Christopher Hitchen's endlessly flexible imagination), the religious right of their day DID accuse them of being infidels and atheists.
11.29.2006 9:42pm
pelican (mail):
rationalists and skeptics who firmly believed in god.

like the kind of god that can read our thoughts, intervene in the world, speaks to people etc.?

check out this quote from Jefferson in a letter to Peter Carr (from Dawkins' book): "Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribual for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear."

even granting that the founders believed in god (as opposed to invoking the word god in the einsteinian sense to denote the wondrous complexity of the natural world, etc.), wouldn't it follow that they would be appalled at the current religiosity of most Americans? at Prager?
11.29.2006 9:49pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Pelican,

I suggest you check out the conversation on Hitchens, Dawkins, and Jefferson that took place on Positive Liberty and Dispatches From the Culture Wars. It takes a more nuanced middle ground examination of Jefferson's belief in God.

The Founders certainly would be appalled at Prager's policy idea which runs afoul of Article VI of the Constitution, which clause was truly a remarkable achievement in securing religious rights for its time.
11.29.2006 10:25pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

like the kind of god that can read our thoughts, intervene in the world, speaks to people etc.?


Yes. They did believe in a God who intervened in the man's affairs. However, their God was a "rationalistic" God who didn't seem to break the laws of nature or science that He created. Putting the two ideas together I'd describe their God as one who intervenes by manipulating probabilities, or playing dice with the universe.

Their God would, for instance, protect George Washington by having his coat shot full of bullets but Washington "miraculously" escaping harm, but wouldn't part the red sea or walk on water.
11.29.2006 10:32pm
pelican (mail):
Jon:

I checked out both positive liberty and dispatches - very enjoyable reading. i can't purport any real awareness of the scholarship in this area, suffice to say that the arguments there seem more attenuated than Dawkins, and that I tend to favor nuance over the polemical (read: Dawkins on the founding fathers) any day.

at bottom though, the only reason I brought up Jefferson and the fathers, beyond the relevance to the Prager issue, is that pointing to this country's origins as an entry point into a broader discussion about the significance of religion and the demonization of atheism that's more viable than a head on attack. I read this blog regularly, and it appears to me to a bit right-leaning, and to the naieve mind of a 1L that means that bringing up the constitution's founders is a way of insulating both the empirical and normative questions that arise around the "god hypothesis" as Dawkins calls it.

I'm certainly no scholar of American history, but I do think that a serious discussion/dissection of the role of religion in America today is long overdue - for me, it ranks right up there with global warming, poverty, terrorism etc. I can't discern much difference between different forms of fundamentalism - whether it's the lubavitchers, evangelicals, jihadis or any other group - and the prevalence of these groups scares the hell out of me. Prager IMHO is just one more cog in that wheel.

I would love to see a post on this site touching on these issues - Jon: as someone who appears to be in touch with some of these issues, does it look like Dawkins book is getting any traction? (I mention Dawkins only because it's recent and available - I'm sure (or hope, rather) that there are others out there)
11.30.2006 12:13am
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Glad you called this out. I would hate to think that it was only ridiculous liberal behavior that was mocked on this blog.

Jon Rowe,

What exactly does it mean for God not to violate the laws of nature? Does this require one to be a realist about laws of nature, i.e., that they exist over and above the regularity they describe? In other words aren't the laws of nature just whatever describes the set of events that actually happened. The founders should have been aware of these sort of issues as they had probably read their Hume so I suspect they must have meant something more subtle. Additionaly at the time I don't think the notion of randomness in physical laws was very popular but I could be mistaken.

Besides, as a practical matter there isn't really much difference. If there are enough random events you can make pretty much everything happen by manipulating random events. I mean there is some probability (according to QM) that the red sea just magically jumps to Jupiter for the next five minutes.

Michael B said:,


While I disagree with Mr. Prager concerning the legal/practical intent of his effort, his concern, read differently and more simply as suasion directed to Ellison's constituencies and America in general is not at all without merit, very much to the contrary.


Well except for the fact that he isn't being given special treatment at all. He's just being treated the exact same way anyone else would be in that situation, getting to use their own holy book. I suspect he is not the first either. I couldn't find it on Google but maybe someone else know what former congressman Dalip Saund swore his oath on?

I do share your concern that islam is treated with kid gloves and that it isn't acceptable to point out that the Koran is a bunch of gibberish that no one older than 10 should take seriously. I mean if you'd never heard of the Koran and someone showed it to you you'd think they were crazy for believing in that junk.

But it's the Christians who really get the special treatment. It's acceptable to ask whether or not islam is bad for the world, promotes violence or attack it's followers for every random verse in the Koran. At least acceptable enough to happen on network TV news. I mean try making the same points about Christianity. Imagine the outcry if a Muslim cleric got on national TV in the united states and gave the same sort of speech about christianity that we sometimes hear from the religious right about islam (speech in English of course).

I mean c'mon at least we show a little bit of critical thinking when it comes to islam. But when people claim that the new testament, a work that beats Elvis sightings look plausible, really describes what happened we have to treat them like they said something plausible. I mean if someone got on national TV and talked about how they had been abducted by UFOs, have psychic powers or can cast spells they are at least met with skepticism if not outright derision. Yet if we substitute UFOs for the more implausible claim of rising from the dead and replace the testimony of claimed eyewitnesses with a 2000 year old book of uncertain authorship written almost 100 years after the events it describes occurs we not only have to treat these people as if they are reasonable but find ourselves only barely resisting the most extreme elements of this group from pushing ID into our schools.

You tell me who is getting special treatment.

--
pelican,

As you might guess I'm not a big fan of the hands off policy about god either but unfortunately the more you attack religion the stronger it gets. People like to feel righteous in the face of persecution. Why do you think the religious right and the people on fox news spend so much time trying to dream up stories about the ACLU and the godless liberals marginalizing christianity. I'm not suggesting it is a deliberate scheme or anything but people look for evidence that lets them feel like the righteous underdog.
11.30.2006 6:51am
Allen (mail):
Unless I am mistaken, the typical member-elect of the House of Representatives will take his or her oath while standing up and not holding anything at all in their left hands. Unfortunately, this is the best photograph I was able to find of a House swearing-in ceremony.

Certainly there don't appear to be too many Bibles or Korans or Necronomicons or copies of The Celestine Prophecy in the members' left hands; this appears to be a complete non-issue.
11.30.2006 12:28pm
BobH (mail):
Leaving aside the merits of the piece -- which are considerable -- I am, as always, impressed by the lucidity of your writing. Thanks for the good example.
11.30.2006 12:31pm
Michael B (mail):
"The Founders certainly would be appalled at Prager's policy idea ..." Jon Rowe

Oh poop. While it's a daunting task, challenging someone with both certainty and The Founders on their side, it's highly doubtful very many among the founders would find it "appalling" since similar topics were part and parcel of various debates during that era. Perhaps you're confusing the founders with the soixante-huitards or the Chicago Seven, an all too common mistake. Though I open to being persuaded.

And exploring the faith and reason, or fides et ratio, dialectic is not something a Dawkins or a Sam Harris has evidenced much proficiency with, to put it in the kindest of terms. Though they do talk a good game when preaching to their own choir - as long as the choir members additionally refrain from questioning certain underlying philosophical premises, among other aspects of their dogmatically proscribed secularist faith as well.

In general the founders were variously theistic, and many were decidedly Christian, v. Michael Novak's On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding.

logicnazi, you might first exercise a more conscientious and probative doubt concerning your own philosophical faith and assumptions. Though that would require both more philosophical rigor and more conscientiousness, something you're not inclined to exercise as judged by the quality of your comment.
11.30.2006 1:09pm
plunge (mail):
Michael B, the fact that Dawkins and Harris don't treat the theology seriously is a point in their favor. Theologians rarely even make intelligible sense, much less cogent points that need refuting. All of the major arguments have either fatal flaws or basically require all sorts of pre-existing and unjustified beliefs before they start making sense. That would be perfectly acceptable if folks wouldn't claim that those arguments were valid and compelling for all, but that's exactly what you and others do seem to claim.
11.30.2006 1:34pm
pelican (mail):
Mike B:

dogmatically proscribed secularist faith? whoa.

as opposed to say, a dogmatically prescribed (not proscribed, i'm assuming) religious faith? It's quite obvious that you've never read a shred of the literature - the whole point is that it's not dogmatic and magical, on the contrary, evolution provides a rational and alternative (and extremely compelling) explanation for how intelligence and indeed morality (shock) can arise without the need for faith in anything.

but that's the problem. exercising philosophical rigor and conscientiousness would typically imply at least reading, if not addressing, the arguments made.

so, more directly: is evolution an "unquestioned philosophical assumption" in your view?
11.30.2006 3:20pm
Colin (mail):
Pelican, let's not bring this up. The last thing we need is a long screed about the tyranny of scientists. I promise you, it's more tedious than amusing.

But I do think that you should take Michael B. at his word. He sees people like Dawkins as advocates of a "secularist faith." He describes that faith as "dogmatically proscribed." Michael does, in fact, dogmatically proscribe "secularist faith," whatever that is, so it's a providential typo. A self-fulfilling error, if you will.
11.30.2006 3:40pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

While it's a daunting task, challenging someone with both certainty and The Founders on their side, it's highly doubtful very many among the founders would find it "appalling" since similar topics were part and parcel of various debates during that era.


Well it's true that some Founders probably supported religious tests, I can marshal quotations from the key Founders on this very issue showing that religious tests appalled them. Indeed, some Founders were so appalled by the positions of other Founders, that they prayed for their deaths. For instance, Patrick Henry's position on religion and government so appalled Jefferson that that prayed for his death in a letter to Madison.

But anyway, the Founders who were "appalled" by religious tests, THEIR VIEW made it into the US Constitution, Art. VI., cl. 3.

Re: The Founders' religion, the key Founders -- Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, and a few others -- were not Christians. In fact I have a review of the Novaks' "Washington's God" in this month's Liberty Magazine, on the stands now, where I argue their book doesn't show Washington was a Christian, that the evidence, on balance, points in the other direction. And Novak's categorizing Madison a "Christian" in "On Two Wings" is absurd. How anyone can call Madison a "Christian" in the orthodox sense after reading his TO FREDERICK BEASLEY on Nov. 20, 1825 is beyond me.
11.30.2006 3:44pm
Michael B (mail):
plunge,

Your miscomprehension is total. I was addressing philosophical issues, for example linking here, not theological issues per se. The fact you don't pick up on that is telling, is revealing of a certain philosophical myopia. Additionally your sweeping statements fail to address anything at all that can conceivably be described as "cogent," rather they are statements which presumably make you feel good, but they are the very antithesis of cogent. I'm not even sure they can be considered cogent when viewed from a purely solipcistic frame since what they evince are pure feeling and sentiment.

pelican,

No. I intended "proscription," since a good deal of what is intended with a secularist faith often has little positive content, beyond proscribing other perfectly valid philosophical positions other than, either implicitly or explicity, a pure materialism. Btw, I've read some of the literature, additionally I said nothing about evolution per se. For you as well, it's the philosophical issues being addressed, not theological. The fact I don't accept a pure materialist philosophical underpinning as the a priori fact is, in large measure, one of the primary issues you don't so much as evidence the least bit of awareness, and that's one reason, in turn, why the reference to dogmatism is perfectly applicable and highly germane.

In other words, in terms of conscientiousness and rigor, you might consider following your own advice before offering it to others.
11.30.2006 4:03pm
Michael B (mail):
Jon Rowe,

I'm not sure how many of the founders would have supported religious tests, I more simply indicated the subject per se would not have appalled them and I suspect most of them would have taken arguments, pro and con, more or less seriously. I might say, using language in something of a liberal fashion, that I'm appalled by your own appropriation of "certainty," your certitudes, and am similarly appalled by your equally facile appropriation of the founders and what they more specifically believed, but that would need to be understood contextually.

As to the other, will address it later.
11.30.2006 4:11pm
Michael B (mail):
And Colin,

Your sneering contempt is precisely and only that, no more. As you've evidenced in the past (e.g., here), once probative questions are asked of your own position, you demure and resort to snipes and ad hominem inferences. In sum, you too often evidence a foppish self-regard, little more, once probative questions are directed at your own positions.

Boo.
11.30.2006 4:36pm
Michael B (mail):
plunge and pelican,

I suggest you take Colin's advice.

Jon Rowe,

Briefly now, more later, on the remainder. Firstly, I'll suggest you may(?) be misinterpreting my own position, you may well be ascribing sentiments or beliefs to me that are not mine. Secondly, and despite my reference to Novak's volume, I don't pretend to positively know what "The Founders" or any individual founder believed. They largely lived and breathed their religious faith (whether specifically Christian, a form of deism, or other), as they also lived and breathed the Enlightenment values and corresponding philosophical positions of that era as well, and they did so in such a manner that they did not see any value, between the two, which was mutually exclusive at deeper philosophical levels. I.e., they were sophisticated, yes, and were not given to any type of simplistic fideism or faith. This, seemingly, is what you're attempting to categorically posit: that a specific Christian belief is tantamount to a simplistically conceived fideism and is also mutually exclusive of a "Theistic Rationalism". Perhaps, as you define the terms (i.e. to your own satisfaction), they are mutually exclusive (if so I'd need to understand how you do, in a positive sense, define the terms), though I would, and can, argue otherwise.

Btw, I notice you've already altered your language. Rather than appropriating "certainty" or "The Founders" with such ready facility, you're now using language which is more tentaive. E.g., when you state "I have a review of the Novaks' "Washington's God" in this month's Liberty Magazine, on the stands now, where I argue their book doesn't show Washington was a Christian, that the evidence, on balance, points in the other direction." (my emphases)

Hence now, rather than positing certainty, you are forwarding a certain argument which, on balance, supports your view. And, by contrast, the Novaks forward a set of arguments which, on balance, supports a different and in large part a contrary position. I'd suggest this dichotomy is reflective of my earlier statement, essentially that a theistic rationalism and Christianity are not in the least mutually exclusive, again, dependent upon how those terms are defined.

If you imagine they are mutually exclusive, once again, assumming you do in fact represent a more serious philosophical position in the first place, you'd need to define your use of the terms. Otherwise a more serious and substantial examination is rendered impossible and it would be better, from your vantage, if you more simply demured from a more probative discussion.

Regardless, I could certainly reference more material, in favor of a contra argument vis-a-vis your own position, in terms of supportive quotes, links, etc. I'm not "certain" in terms of absolute knowledge, but I can forward a substantial and probative argument as pertains to that contra position.
11.30.2006 6:07pm
Colin (mail):
I'm a little bit awed that a man who writes as if he's shaking his quill pen so hard his powdered wig is askew has accused me of foppishness. Wow. I'm also a little bit confused as to why you think that I resorted to "snipes and ad hominem inferences" in response to the last comment in a thread. No one responded to your comment, because you left it at three in the morning five days after the thread opened. As much as I enjoy your febrile rhetoric, I don't wait around for hours after I leave a comment to see if you've replied. If you'd like me to provide you with definitions or philosophical statements or whatever, feel free to email me.

As to this thread, your goofy definition of "secularist faith" doesn't fit the use of the word "proscribed." You may have meant "proscribing," rather than "proscribed." It would be awkward and stilted, which does seem to be your style. Or maybe it was just a typo. You can own up to them, it happens to all of us.
11.30.2006 6:11pm
Michael B (mail):
Btw, I'm reminded, listening presently to Mark Steyn on the radio, that even Oriana Fallaci (long known for her avowed and decided atheism) described herself toward the end of her life as a "Christian Atheist". This too, though in a somewhat different vein than the founders, reflects the seeming dichotomy between a religious or Christian faith and Enlightenment or secular values. I'd suggest however, if but in summary fashion, that rather than any dichotomy if rather reflects an aporetic quality, a philosophically interesting set of problems, and therein, much like the founders' various views, a sophisticated set of positiions, but decidedly not a dichotomy as conceived as a mutually exclusive set of values and philosophical positions.

As I've alluded now to Fallaci, the Enlightenment, etc., this comment on Fallaci's "La Rage et l'Orgueil" is, at least in part, germane.
11.30.2006 6:24pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Michael B.

Regarding Jefferson, Adams and Franklin, there is no debate regarding the central tenets of their creed; I am "certain" they believed in a theistic rationalism which, in its central specific tenets, conflicts with orthodox Christianity. Read my blog, where I document this in detail. You can debate, though, some of the finer details. For instance, while we knew that Jefferson thought reason superseded revelation and the Bible was errant, there is some debate as to whether he believed *any* revelation was legitimately given by God, which would make his creed closer to deism than Adams'. Adams too thought the Bible was errant and elevated reason over revelation, but he did believe some revelation was legitimate. Thus, they agreed on the central point: reason superseded revelation and the Bible was errant, but may have disagreed on the "finer" details of what revelation was legitimate, what was error.

Re Washington and Madison, because they were so reticent to discuss their personal beliefs, there is room for *some* doubt as to what they really believed. But, as I argue, the evidence points to their belief in the same system that Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin believed in, not orthodox Christianity.
11.30.2006 7:14pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
If you want understand the specifics of the theistic rationalism in which Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin (and likely Madison and Washington and some others) believed, (I detail this in my article, btw) they follow. The key whig founders:


1) believed in an intervening (active personal) God; but also 2) rejected the Trinity: he thought this doctrine, central to Christianity, was not consistent with reason; 3) elevated man's reason over biblical revelation; 4) thought the Bible was errant and that man's reason could expose the error; 5) denied eternal damnation; and 6) thought most if not all world religions contained the same Truth as Christianity and were thus valid ways to God.


If you want to argue that this belief system nonetheless is consistent with Christianity, go ahead. Jefferson and Adams called themselves "Christian," Adams specifically termed it "liberal unitarian Christianity." It is not, however, consistent with what is commonly termed "orthodox Christianity."
11.30.2006 7:58pm
ReaderY:
Keith Ellison is assuredly entitled to take his oath on a copy of the Koran if he wishes, and I thoroughly agree with others who find a claim that he cannot downright shocking. There may be a religion which has a sacred text which does not have a function even remotely similar to the Bible in deterring oath-breaking among believers, and if so it may possibly matter (and there may be religions in which something other than a text has this function), but Islam is most definitily sufficiently similar to Judaism and Christianity that the Koran plays a clearly analogous function. That is all that could possibly matter.

It is absolutely none of our business whether we agree with or like the contents of the sacred text or not. The Religious Test for Public Office clause makes the contents of the Koran or the Islamic religion simply none of our business so far as its utility for the function of being a guarantor of oaths is concerne. This is basic stuff. The Religious Test for Public Office clause is older than the First Amendment. Even Framers who wanted full-strength established churches were willing to recognize and accept that in our country, dissenters can't be kept from performing the full functions of Federal office just because some people don't like their scriptures. And oath-taking is one of those functions, mandated for federal office-holders by the Constitution.
11.30.2006 8:22pm
ReaderY:
My understanding was that the Constitution gives the right to swear or affirm, and because of this right we have to treat jurors like adults (at least on this one) and believe them capable of not worrying about it. Many people don't stand on ceremony these days, and almost everyone will simply follow whatever formula the judge or bailiff prefers, but my understanding is a person who wanted to would have a right to insist on either a full-strength oath with hand on the Bible, or affirmation, and we conldn't require people to change their preference just because we;re worried about what someone else does. It's a constitutional right, after all, written in the constittution.
11.30.2006 8:31pm
Michael B (mail):
Colin - "awed" or not and your appreciable writerly talents aside, together with what I continue to assume to be an Ivy League education, you're decidedly evasive when certain questions are invoked - and I wasn't referring solely to that single comment, you had demured from more serious responses prior to that point, both in the referenced thread and previously as well.

Too, the reason I used the phrase "ad hominem inferences" is because they have not been more direct or blunt ad hominem attacks, but they are decidedly evasive relative to the philosophical and other questions that have been invoked and their implication in fact carries an ad hominem quality or inference. (And if you're serious - though I'd hope it to be in a manner which is likely to shed more light than heat - feel free to email with your philosophical or any other positions, though again, I was not referring to that single comment.) On the one hand you want to turn up the heat when it suits your evasive or other purposes, on the other hand you don't like the kitchen as soon as it's uncomfortable from your own pov.

Too, you misunderstand the purposes of my rhetoric, which I admit to indulging in for a range of purposes, but will leave it at that. Finally, as you've merely mocked the notion of a dogmatically proscribed secularist faith, I'll ref. another link, which is more specifically directed at a form of fundamentalist atheism, but suffices nonetheless as one example of the former. (And this is tedious, but though I am more typically impressed with your education and writerly talents, I'll stick with "proscribed.")
11.30.2006 8:31pm
Michael B (mail):
Jon Rowe,

I will read some of your posts, at your blog. I can appreciate your position, though I would note, again, your language has taken on a more tentative cast, if that's the right term. For example we're now talking about orthodox Christian views. In sum, this too reflects the need to properly or contextually qualify/define our terms.

Too, the set of topics or subtopics we're inherently addressing are numerous: 1) my, your and the Founders views, religious and secular, 2) Enlightenment values and more formal philosophical positions, as conceived in the 18th century vs. as they are conceived, and variously updated, in our era, in the 21st century, 3) theistic rationalism, as conceived both then and now as well, 4) Christianity vs. orthodox Christianity and your and my and the founders views of what constitutes the differences between the two, 5) implied Constitutional issues per se vs. extra-Constitutional issues and themes, 6) our various and variously debateable interpretations of the Founders' beliefs in the context of their intellectual, social, cultural, political, etc. climate - vs. their actual private and public personas and deeply held beliefs, and how they felt those beliefs should be applied legally (Constitutionally and in terms of statutes) vs. how they should be applied only culturally, outside of the law. Those are only a few of the things which more immediately come to mind.

But again, I'll read some of your posts.
11.30.2006 8:50pm
Colin (mail):
Jon Rowe,

How did Jefferson and Adams discriminate between valid and invalid revelations? (I realize that I could probably find the answer in your article, but it's late and I'm about to retire. I hope you don't mind fielding the question.)
12.1.2006 1:15am
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

How did Jefferson and Adams discriminate between valid and invalid revelations?


Good question. They thought mans' reason could expose the error. Jefferson literally used a razor to cut out the "error" from the Bible and what was left is termed "the Jefferson Bible."

Adams praised Jefferson for this and told him "If I had Eyes and Nerves, I would go through both Testaments and mark all that I understand." In another letter, Adams elevates man's reason so far over revelation that he tells Jefferson had God Himself revealed the doctrine of the Trinity to Adams on Mt. Sinai with Moses, he still wouldn't have believed it because one is not three, three is not one period.

If your question is whether their methodology was sound, that's a topid for another discussion. From the perspective of an orthodox Christian, one might see an astounding arrogance in their beliefs -- that their reason is so keen, they have the ability to "spot" the error in the Bible and cut it out.
12.1.2006 10:03am
Michael B (mail):
Much of this reflects the highly exaggerated faith in reason, a hyper-rationalism, which attended the times, also reflective of the more exaggerated reactionary elements among anti-clerical interests. One hallmark of this virtually inexhaustible faith in Rationalism, writ large, was Auguste Comte's statement that the earth's elliptical orbit should be changed to a circular orbit, for climatic beneficial purposes. Such a sensibility essentially posits eschatological visions - preliminary to and different than Marx's - based upon the hyper-rationalism, positivistically conceived science, a mechanistically conceived physics, etc. of that era.

I.w., those espousing various secular faiths have learned to modify and adapt their beliefs, much as those espousing various religious faiths, orthodox and otherwise, have.
12.1.2006 3:40pm
Colin (mail):
Why do you say "exaggerated?" I can see why Comte's suggestion is absurd, but give the man some credit. He was merely speculating, and harmlessly at that. Surely, given adequate information and reflection, he wouldn't have pulled the trigger--and if he would have, he'd be in the far fringe of rationality, not a sound example of "faith in reason." Reason, after all, includes an appreciation of cause and effect, including the consequences of our actions. Do you feel that the founders relied too much on reason, or that they were merely reflections of the purported trend?
12.1.2006 4:44pm
jahwin (mail):
Would anyone really like to see him sworn in on a book in which he does not believe in? what Would his oath then represent? Besides the bible prohibits swearing. Wouldn't it mean more if he were to swear in on a book in which he bases his personal faith on? Has swearing in on the bible stopped previous congressman from committing unlawful acts? THINK.
12.1.2006 5:25pm
h (mail):
There's historical precedent for swearing on the Koran: at Old Bailey.

An article on the Old Bailey site mentions a 1765 trial where " prosecutor James Morgan, who was born in Bengal, was allowed to swear on the Koran". I'd give you the URL, but your comment thingie won't let me. Look at the article on black people.
12.1.2006 6:09pm
Michael B (mail):
h,

Of the Old Bailey, perhaps so, though this is the U.S. we're discussing, not Londonistan.

Colin,

I didn't besmirch Auguste Comte in general or personal terms, I referenced a specific suggestion of Comte's. Too, that idea was in fact reflective of the exaggerated faith Comte placed in Rationalism and science as he conceived those categories; Comte is often regarded as the initiator of a scientifically conceived positivism and progressivism, so no, it wasn't "merely" speculative, it was also indicative of Comte's, and others', broader beliefs and indeed, faith. By the end of Comte's century, the early part of the 19th century and no later than Mach, any scientifically conceived positivism was more or less dead.

Too, I positively value speculative genius, contextually conceived. E.g., Freud's was a particularly prominent speculative genius, even if many of his more definitive and positive conclusions/assertions have been variously found wanting or entirely eclipsed.

And if you don't understand why the term "exaggerated" is applicable, especially so as I additionally alluded to Marx's eschatological vision as conceived along his own rationalist conceptions, also referencing terms such as hyper-rationalism, positivistically conceived science and a mechanistically conceived physics, all of which are outdated, presently, then I'm not sure how we can communicate, given the subject matter, along lines which are mutually meaningful.

Perhaps unconsciously, but you are flim-flamming conceptions of "rationalism" without providing contextual clarifications - at one point using it in a contemporary, 21st century sense (or in its ideal sense), at another using it as construed in an 18th and early 19th century sense.
12.1.2006 7:06pm
Michael B (mail):
"By the end of Comte's century, the early part of the 19th century and no later than Mach, any scientifically conceived positivism was more or less dead."

should have read:

By the end of Comte's century (the 19th century), and no later than Mach, any scientifically conceived positivism was more or less dead.

(Perhaps an exaggeration, I certainly don't claim to be authoritative, but Avenarius was among the last positivist philosophical thinkers that I'm aware of and Mach, iirc, was considered among the first scientists to throw a mechanistically conceived physics into disrepute. And certainly no later than than relativity and subatomic or particle physics, early in the 20th century, any scientific positivism was a dead letter.)
12.1.2006 7:20pm
Colin (mail):
I didn't besmirch Auguste Comte in general or personal terms, I referenced a specific suggestion of Comte's.

I understand that. I simply don't see that such wild speculation on his part is very significant, or how it meaningfully connects to his "broader beliefs and indeed, faith." I don't dispute that it might be a valid microcosm of "Rationalism," but I don't see it, personally. How much can we really glean from a proposal that was utterly impossible, fairly goofy, and not very rational? It doesn't seem likely that Comte put very much thought into the effects of his proposal, and he certainly didn't have much astronomical data (by today's standards). Is it fair to tar the values of reason and rationality with unreasonable and irrational proposals? Please bear in mind that I'm only passingly familiar (at a Wikipedia level) with Comte's work. This example just doesn't seem to me to cast much light on the value of reason, rationality, the Enlightenment, or any other broad issues.

And if you don't understand why the term "exaggerated" is applicable, especially so as I additionally alluded to Marx's eschatological vision as conceived along his own rationalist conceptions, also referencing terms such as hyper-rationalism, positivistically conceived science and a mechanistically conceived physics, all of which are outdated, presently, then I'm not sure how we can communicate, given the subject matter, along lines which are mutually meaningful. Perhaps unconsciously, but you are flim-flamming conceptions of "rationalism" without providing contextual clarifications - at one point using it in a contemporary, 21st century sense (or in its ideal sense), at another using it as construed in an 18th and early 19th century sense.

I don't think that we are communicating very well. In the context of this discussion, I don't construe ideas (like Comte's suggestion) or thinkers (like Marx) that only represent themselves as rationalist to actually be so. I consider actual rationalism, again in the context of this discussion of the *application* of the founders' beliefs, to contain more than a facial (and farcical) application of reason. I realize that this is not a rigorous application of the term, but I didn't understand us to be discussing a particular context. I understood Jon Rowe's use of the term "rationalistic" to contrast the founders' personal faith with a dependence on revelation and mysticism, not as an identification of a specific "18th and early 19th century sense."

Would you not consider Dawkins to be a scientific positivist?

(As an aside, I don't think that one can "unconsciously" flim-flam. I think that flim-flamming, like bullshitting, snowing, and leg-pulling, requires specific intent.)
12.1.2006 7:46pm
Michael B (mail):
Colin,

Yes, we're not communicating vis-a-vis Comte; you don't seem to comprehend the implications of Comte's positivism within the intellectual and ideological tempers of the times and the fact I'm more simply referencing the elliptical/circular orbit idea to represent that more foundational set of conceptions, his general positivism, and the implications that stem from those conceptual/theoretical origins.

No, I don't consider Dawkins to be a scientific positivist first and foremost. I consider Dawkins, in the role we're here taking note of, to be an advocate and ideologue who decidedly disavows philosophical rigor, whether as a positivist or otherwise. By stark contrast, Avenarius was, in the 19th century, a rigorous, positivist thinker who transparently explicated his terms. Dawkins, in philosophical terms, is an ideologically motivated superfluity in this particular role; hence my earlier link, which helps exemplify that quality. (And yes, he can also be considered a scientist, in his other role, though his prominent role of PR man and promoter and ideologue can cloud the other role.)

(And in ad hoc adopting and qualifying the phrase "unconsciously flim-flamming," I'm simply suggesting I'm describing something without imputing or presuming anything as pertains to motive.)
12.1.2006 8:23pm
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
Ah, Prof. Volokh, maybe it would be time to re-examine the rest of Prager's corpus, seeing how you've run across this absurd, hysterical, bigoted, inaccurate screed?
12.1.2006 9:58pm
pelican (mail):
for the record: i'm not a materialist. i'm a post-modern pragmatist (for lack of a better description), and i think metaphysics one way or the other is a huge waste of time. fundamentally, i see evolution (and atheism) as more viable beliefs in light of the actual consequences holding those beliefs have. i do think that religious belief can be justified (albeit weakly), but the only plausible account i've come across for maintaining a belief in god is william james' (vis a vis the 'if you're being chased by a tiger and have to jump across a chasm, and believing that you can make will have the actual effect of making you jump farther, then it's justified to have that belief' - this is faith, in a nutshell: a completely unjustified and unjustifiable belief in something).

i think this post is out of control too - but only because for you folks to be talking about positivism (which, with the exception of maybe Badiou - though he has some pretty out there arguments, is dead on my account) is entirely irrelevant to the normative discussion of what the use-value of a belief in god is, as opposed to the use-value of reason (which supplies some pretty hefty arguments against a belief in god).

Mike B: you call Dawkins an 'ideologically motivated superfluity' - what counter-arguments do you propose then?

as you rightly pointed out, i never said anything about being beholden to some dogmatic materialism. if you're looking for the possibility of evolution supplying moral content though, you should check out the panda's thumb website for some pretty compelling arguments, or read some clifford geertz. the notion that without a belief in god you can't supply positive moral content is a ridiculous argument i'd like to hear you try and make.
12.2.2006 12:19am
pelican (mail):
for the record: i'm not a materialist. i'm a post-modern pragmatist (for lack of a better description), and i think metaphysics one way or the other is a huge waste of time. fundamentally, i see evolution (and atheism) as more viable beliefs in light of the actual consequences holding those beliefs have. i do think that religious belief can be justified (albeit weakly), but the only plausible account i've come across for maintaining a belief in god is william james' (vis a vis the 'if you're being chased by a tiger and have to jump across a chasm, and believing that you can make will have the actual effect of making you jump farther, then it's justified to have that belief' - this is faith, in a nutshell: a completely unjustified and unjustifiable belief in something).

i think this post is out of control too - but only because for you folks to be talking about positivism (which, with the exception of maybe Badiou - though he has some pretty out there arguments, is dead on my account) is entirely irrelevant to the normative discussion of what the use-value of a belief in god is, as opposed to the use-value of reason (which supplies some pretty hefty arguments against a belief in god).

Mike B: you call Dawkins an 'ideologically motivated superfluity' - what counter-arguments do you propose then?

as you rightly pointed out, i never said anything about being beholden to some dogmatic materialism. if you're looking for the possibility of evolution supplying moral content though, you should check out the panda's thumb website for some pretty compelling arguments, or read some clifford geertz. the notion that without a belief in god you can't supply positive moral content is a ridiculous argument i'd like to hear you try and make.
12.2.2006 12:23am
Michael B (mail):
pelican,

Confusing on various levels.

You are certainly free to believe, and/or think, metaphysics to be a waste of time, I have no problem with your private beliefs as long as they do not tread, directly or by implication, upon the beliefs and practices, the valid social/political freedoms, of others. On the other hand what you've forwarded is a statement of belief, not an explicated set of thoughts on the matter, unless you simply used the term "think" in a demotic and informal sense when you're actually simply intending to state your beliefs.

Beyond that we likely only have prospects for talking past one another as your underlying premises/assumptions are neither compelling nor are they cogently conveyed - beyond statements of belief. But again, I'm not interested in treading upon your privately held beliefs, I'm only interested in the social/political import of those beliefs.

For example you avow you're a post-modern pragmatist without the least bit of indication as to what that might mean to you, subjectively or objectively, in terms of social/political import for your own life and as it might impinge upon others' lives as well. I can intuitively guess what it might mean to some extent, but that would in fact require a largely intuitive assessment on my part. Further still, it seems, while you're stating you're not a materialist, that the practical implication is you're a materialist for most practical intents and purposes nonetheless since you little more than scoff at the notion others might entertain beliefs which you consider to be below contempt. Or perhaps you don't understand, or appreciate in a full sense, what the idea of a genuine and practically applied tolerance might imply in the social/political sphere. But I can't tell, since you don't explicate anything, you simply state your beliefs as such, as if to say your beliefs should be accorded immediate respect while others' beliefs, to the extent they stray from your own, are to be questioned.
12.2.2006 1:50am
Colin (mail):
Yes, we're not communicating vis-a-vis Comte; you don't seem to comprehend the implications of Comte's positivism within the intellectual and ideological tempers of the times and the fact I'm more simply referencing the elliptical/circular orbit idea to represent that more foundational set of conceptions, his general positivism, and the implications that stem from those conceptual/theoretical origins.

Your example is much too flimsy to bear so much weight. I realize that this thread is too constraining for you to adequately support your point, but "the implications of Comte's positivism within the intellectual and ideological tempers of the time" is a largely emply phrase. Nor does using Comte's proposal as a general representation communicate anything much. You've identified a particular example; if you want to tie it to a broader theme, or give it some significance, you'll have to do more than identify the point and the plane you want to connect. Some connective logic and exposition is necessary. How does his positing an idea that would never have been put into practice, even if he had the means and the opportunity, shed any light on the "implications" of his positivism? Idle speculation doesn't carry much significance.

No, I don't consider Dawkins to be a scientific positivist first and foremost. I consider Dawkins, in the role we're here taking note of, to be an advocate and ideologue who decidedly disavows philosophical rigor, whether as a positivist or otherwise.

That's a bold statement, and poorly supported. Your linked thread is skimpy on logic; I'm sorry, but citing to watchmaker arguments sets my eyes a-rolling. I'm not asserting that you're wrong, because I've never bothered to put much thought into whether Dawkins' arguments are sufficiently rigorous. But he certainly doesn't "disavow philosophical rigor." I think Dawkins has defined his terms sufficiently well, and I don't see where he's overstepped them.
12.2.2006 2:29am
Michael B (mail):
Colin, you evidence literally no grasp and no sense of proportion whatsoever in terms of what has been forwarded. One example only. In terms of Auguste Comte and what he represents vis-a-vis the relevant intellectual history, I'm not going to hold your hand, you can choose to inform yourself more fully or not, but the fact is Comte is not some obscure figure within the set of themes being invoked.

(And in terms of your "poorly supported" comment, that reflects an even more thoroughgoing lack of basic comprehension, a totalized cluelessness that utterly fails to grasp what was presented.)

Yet despite it all, you don't hesitate to reply with empty, deflecting scoffs: a vacuum of cluelessness and incurious self-regard forwarded as a proclamation of not-to-be-questioned superiority. And, all this performed as if in front of a mirror, you've managed to surpassingly convince yourself as well.
12.2.2006 3:51am
pelican (mail):
jesus michael B. i hope the irony of your comments isn't lost on you.
12.2.2006 8:48pm
Michael B (mail):
It's not in the least apparent you comprehend the irony which has played itself out herein. Too, you're seemingly unaccustomed to having your assertions and underlying assumptions more seriously challenged as you have failed to forward much that can rightly be thought of as cogent, either in a positive sense or as rebuttal. Your latest comment is doubly ironic and reflects further incomprehension still.

Ironies, and more, have been lost. On you.
12.3.2006 1:41pm