Some conditionals

I haven’t written in a while, I know. It’s been a wild couple of weeks, unimaginably so—and they started the day after I posted my last entry, though unfortunately for the nosy, this is not a diary.

What I want to talk about with you today are faith and science.

I’ve read a few pieces by the prolific Boris Groys over the past few weeks, enough to be fairly convinced the man is a polymath. What a polymath is may be too difficult to explain in an entry of this length, but if you can picture that guy or that girl you know who is abnormally gifted at everything, wildly, possibly ingeniously intelligent, and overflowing with mana, you may be thinking of a polymath. For my philosophers and BIC friends, Nietzsche called them übermenschen, though his conceptualization held them to be sociopathic and they aren’t always. I’ll probably talk about this again later, at some point, but maybe not today.

Why is that relevant? Well, I’ve noticed human beings like to classify. If someone is wildly intelligent et al, there should be a good reason for it. The implications of the urge to classify are deeper than expected, enough that it makes us want to rationalize things outside the domain of science. That’s already well known, but why should it be possible to reconcile faith and science? They’re fundamentally different: we know science as the rational, faith as the emotional.

But oh, how very, very farther they do go in their differences.

Like all good writers should, I’ll start with what I know. My field is political sociology; I like to talk about power structures in human relationships more than any normal human being should. I get excited about talking about power structures. It’s strange, but so relevant: tomorrow is Election Day in the United States, the Constitutionally-mandated first Tuesday in November. The discoursal climax regarding which candidate will instigate more freedom in this country following his election probably passed in early October, but their messages remain: vote Romney for economic freedom! Or, How could you vote for someone who would deny my gay friends the right to get married next month? This is supposed to be the land of the free—for everyone! — Obama is enslaving our pocketbooks! Emancipation for all! — Romney is all about tax breaks for the wealthy—he doesn’t care about the rest of us! Vote freedom for the middle class!

I’ve paraphrased all of those arguments from actual statuses my Facebook friends have posted during election season. Every single one of them is true—partially. Every single one of them is missing the bigger picture, of course, but that’s neither here nor there.

Count the number of times the word “freedom” appears and maybe you’ll see what I’m getting at. While we don’t  (and may never) agree on what freedom actually is across political beliefs in this country, we do agree, at least, that freedom is what we want. We all agree on Freedom. How Western is that, good grief.

Freedom is so ambiguous, though. Freedom is what keeps a state religion out of public discourse and prayer out of public schools at the same time; in the name of avoiding imposition of a concept everyone may not agree on, we deny religious freedom to everyone. At least it’s equal treatment, but is it free? If we all believed in freedom as much as we say we do, we’d all be anarchists, so clearly there is another concept at work.

But that’s nothing new. You all knew that already—the other thing at work is the notion of equality, which itself acts as a check on freedom. That’s not exactly what Groys was getting at in his article, though. What Groys wanted to talk about, and what’s more important to me than freedom, really, is faith—the dichotomy between faith and science, and where it comes from.

In our country, which is supposed to be the land of the free, we’ve constrained freedom pretty severely in the name of equality; I can’t say if that’s right or wrong, I don’t think it’s either, but it has happened. Think about why, though. The Enlightenment brought us reason and tried to call it freedom from religion. It worked, and in rushed the era of science. So what else happened? Though the Western community declares that religion is just legalism, that science removes the burden of it, what faith, religion, and spirituality fundamentally represent are unconditional freedoms. The domain of faith is not constrained by reason; it is unconditional, I would argue more free. Science, on the other hand, is conditional and institutional. I can believe there is a spirit world or that there are autumn spirits living in the trees that make their leaves turn red and you wouldn’t be able to convince me otherwise, because the only way to undo a belief is to replace it with another one. On the other hand, if I thought the sun went around the Earth, you could show me a Copernican model of the solar system and make an argument to convince me otherwise.

Groys says it better than I could: the legitimacy of personal faith comes not from its power of persuasion but on the sovereign right of the individual to be committed to her faith. What that says is faith flourishes in areas where there is freedom. Because science is determined by established rules, it is authoritarian in nature. The rule of science is not the rule of freedom; quite the opposite, for one may not insist on a scientific opinion that exists beyond justification or it wouldn’t be scientific.  If someone were to flout his sovereign right to insist on a scientific opinion without being able to legitimate it by rational argument, he would be excluded from the scientific community.

I’m still borrowing from Groys when I say that our freedom is thus two-pronged: we’re freed from an overarching religious framework and constrained by the conditionality of science. In the Enlightenment West, in which the Western world is still very much enmeshed, religion is a matter of taste, functioning in much the same way as do art and design. Progress, then, is the constant destruction of the old and reconstruction of the new—but why do we need new revelation when somewhere inside the conscience even the most frigid of sociopaths possesses, we know what the good life really looks like?

Someday, I hope to have a conversation with Richard Dawkins, or someone like him who claims to find genuine joy and fulfilment from science. I don’t want to tell him he’s wrong, because I have no way of knowing that—but I’m genuinely interested in hearing him explain how he does it.

Now, as for all of you rationalists (at whom I promise I’m not poking any fun) who are wondering what this has to do with Spain, I’ll tell you: Spain, as I learned on Sunday, is not my trip. It’s only mine in the sense I’m the one going, but that’s a matter for my next entry. As for the matter at hand…this complex a revelation can’t really be explained in a single entry, so more will come on this as well. I eagerly await addressing you again, fellow traveller.

P.S. If anyone is interested, I drew primarily from section one. The rest is mostly about art, but it’s still brilliant.
http://www.e-flux.com/journal/religion-in-the-age-of-digital-reproduction/

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