June 27, 2004

Sunday Sermon

from - smijer

When I saw the title of this editorial, my first reaction was, "not around here, it hasn't".

The power of faith enjoys a very high esteem in these parts ("power" is one of those value-laden words that project the image of faith as a dynamic and wonderful, well... "power". In fact, it is very powerful - when it comes to maintaining belief in spite of evidence. Apart from that, it is good for bolstering the image and career of church leaders, and little else).

Anyway, today's sermon is about being overly optimistic. Our editorialist reasons thus:


There is a well-established negative correlation between level of education and religiosity. As we progress as a society and become more educated, it is only natural that we will become less religious. It is not balance at work, it is evolution.

What the editorialist fails to notice is that this isn't some new trend. In fact it always has been that the less well educated are more prone to faith-based belief systems than those more well educated - and faithful cultures are not inclined to become less faithful as they become more educated. The United States is a prime example. If anything, the populace is more religious now than it has ever been before, despite being better educated. So what to make of the editorialists correlation between education and rationality? I haven't done a scientific study on it, but here is my hunch:

I think it has to do with the fact that the best educated in society are also the discoverers: the ones pushing the boundaries of human knowledge. They know first-hand the qualitative difference between things learned by discovery and things handed down from a previous generation that were not so much learned as invented. They have experienced discovery, and they have experienced the difference between an idea that is subject to confirmation through observation and one that cannot pass such a test.

To the average Joe, all knowledge comes handed down to us, and must be taken on something like faith: faith that our wizards - be they scientists, priests, or the prophets of ancient times - have or had something we do not. We don't have the first hand experience of seeing ideas tested and tried, and of only accepting and passing on the ones that stand up to the trials. We have experience of taking the ideas that have already been tested and tried (in the productive fields of science), or that have already been canonized (in the non-productive fields of religion), and accepting them on face value. Unless we put ourselves in the shoes of the discoverers (and of the charlatans) and see how human knowledge truly is advanced, we are doomed to repeat our history. To pretend that our unthinking path will take us to reason by a natural evolution is to misunderstand human nature.

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Posted by smijer at June 27, 2004 01:18 PM
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