Saturday, October 28, 2006

Socrates or Muhammad?

Lee Harris, one of my favorite thinkers, has published an article in the Weekly Standard devoted to the speech given by Pope Benedict XVI at Regensburg. You may recall this speech as the one that recounted the dialogue between the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and a Muslim Persian concerning Islam and Christianity. Given the discussion in the comments of the Dawkins post I think some of you will find this article interesting: Socrates or Muhammad? . It is dedicated to the memory of Oriana Fallaci.

h/t The ChicagoBoyz.


Rick Ballard said...

With a majority of the population having been thoroughly indoctrinated with moral relativism is debate even possible on the terms that Lee Harris proposes? It's a fine piece but I keep remembering Alan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind. It's been eighteen years since that book was published and nothing has changed except for the worse.

The arc of thought that Ms Fallaci experienced over her life is interesting but it is difficult to forget that she fully and uncritically embraced the left throughout most of her adult life. "Better late than never" applies but I wonder if her late conversion to reality can ever offset the damge which she did as a proponent of socialism.

That aside, when Harris notes that "Ratzinger is troubled that most educated people today appear to think that they know what they are talking about, even when they are talking about very difficult things, like reason and faith." he is referring to the hypothesis advanced by Bloom (among others) that the "faith based" indoctrination that has been occuring for fifty years has not provided the tools necessary for objective observation, let alone reason. It's no surprise that the NYT missed the point. It would be surprising if they knew the point existed.

truepeers said...

Nothing opens the mind like a struggle for survival in recognition of a crisis. Sooner or later the crisis will emerge that puts cultural and personal survival into question for many; we here are merely betting it already has arrived while many we decry wish yet to believe otherwise.

Socialism was a hypothesis which, when tested to a certain degree - the attempt to realize "communism" - was clearly disproved by history. No one serious on the left argues anymore that we can have some complete socialism; it is all a question of how much control of the marketplace, how much "redistribution", how much control/criminalization of war, is workable or desirable. Of course there is much fantasy in all of this; nevertheless in the ongoing reworking of the utopian desire, perhaps a new paradigm has emerged since Bloom. It may be a change for the worse, but that is perhaps only an expanded opportunity, if we have faith, to advance alternative paradigms which will be encouragements to a superior marriage of reason and faith. The very fact that a Pope would even suggest we do just this is surely a sign that the idea is not so implausible to some critical mass.

BTW, getting back to the previous discussion at the Dawkins post, am I right in thinking that Harris, in arguing that it is reasonable to be concerned about - while refusing the possibility of scientific mediation for - certain paradoxes around which the expansion or denial of human freedom historically turns, cannot explain why paradox, in general, shouldn't be the concern of a new scientific paradigm concerned with the paradoxical emergence of specific instances of linguistic and religious paradox?

truepeers said...

In other words science cannot mediate the specific choice/faith we must make, but why cannot science not unfold a paradigm (within which certain limited hypotheses can be realistically tested) in which this general problem - i.e. that it is must be reasonable to take the leap of faith - is made clear enough to a critical mass of people?

For example, Mark Steyn hypothesizes that secular societies cannot reproduce themselves, at least not nearly as easily as societies where religious faith is widespread. Is that not a hypothesis that can be well-tested by historical data? In this sense, perhaps science can prove - not beyond all doubt but beyond reasonable doubt - the need for faith, if not the specific faith we should adopt.