Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Gap

I started this as a response to the comments on my last post but it go long and I have a goal of posting something each day during the holidays. Much more to say and think about. I have listened to 14 minutes of Harris here and find I agree with everything he says. Still need to listen to his debate with Hedges and need to find some of the more vitriolic stuff I've heard he has said. Must go to family xmas party, hence I'm sending out myy half-boiled ideas into the blogosphere.


Personally, Dr. W., your description of faith and doubt certainly reflects my life. I think I finally gave in to doubt because I was going crazy trying to hold both faith and doubt in my mind. Of course I still existed as a somewhat faithful Mormon for many years with much doubt. And I would consider many of my friends as "doubting" mormons though, certainly faith has the upperhand if you will.

But here, I think, we move away from Hedges' criticisms of the new atheists. Hedges' key point is that, as Lisa quotes, morality can both spring from faith or non-faith/doubt/science. Understanding/believing/using the scientific method doesn't guarantee moral outcomes. Partially this is true, must be true, because of the gap in what we actually know and understand. .

For me it's important to recognize that we as humans will employ different "ways of being" in order to work through/deal with this gap--the gap between what we know (can verify with the scientific method) and what we don't know OR what we don't know that we don't know. Humans will always need to humbly accept this gap.

But some of these new atheists give little credence to this gap. While I understand on a theoretical level that science can/could/maybe will slowly but surely fill in this gap in knowledge, there will always be a gap. Therefore we need a way of engaging this gap, speculating on this gap, comforting us because of this gap. For many this is religion which I can empathize with from this perspective even though it doesn't work for me. For many story and art help “fill” this gap, or at least contend with it.

To me postmodern theory does a lot of work with this gap but new atheists like Dawkins totally reject postmodernism as a critical vein of study--just a bunch of bullshit to Dawkins (see Postmodernism disrobed). That smacks me as pompous and dogmatic, a position that doesn’t respect the gap. Dawkins ends The God Delusion (I quite enjoyed the first half of this book) with “I am thrilled to be alive at a time when humanity is pushing against the limits of understanding. Even better, we may eventually discover that there are no limits.” Here I agree with Hedges that Dawkins ultimately tries to externalize what’s wrong with the world as religion. Once we get past that there are no limits. And my understanding is that Harris and Hitchens go way beyond Dawkins in this front—e.g. Harris’ support of torture and possible preemptive strike on the Muslim world.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) we will always be humans, we will always have gaps in our knowledge, we will always live in socially constructed narrative which will continue to impose limits.


Anonymous said...

Many have a problem with the paradigm of the "gap"

Lisa B. said...

Loving your posting goal!

Science doesn't need me to believe in it. It is a way of knowing which has both advantages and disadvantages. If people believe in science--essentially, put their faith in it as a privileged way of knowing, which is superior to other ways of knowing or understanding the world--why isn't that just religion by other means?

I don't discount science, not one bit, as a way of understanding the world. And I agree with many who've pointed to religion as positioning itself against science. Maybe it's because my dad was a physicist who is also at heart a man of faith--he never saw, and neither did I, the two things as having to be, needing to be, mutually exclusive.

Thanks for keeping this conversation going, Ron. I am enjoying it very much.

middlebrow said...

Interesting discussion, although when I clicked on the post title from my blog I was expecting a discussion of khakis or jeans or nifty sweaters with multicolored scarfs.

Dr Write said...

Good discussion, CI, and it illuminates many gray areas (for me) from you last post.
I also appreciate your goal of more posting and am enjoying it.

Counterintuitive said...

Will, look closer at what I'm saying. I'm not invoking the broken notion of god filling the gap of scientific understanding. God fills no gaps for me and I find all kinds of dangers with this paradigm.

When I say I empathize with those who use god to *deal* with the gap, I don't mean in a strict scientific way (god created the earth) but in an emotional way (please god help me understand why I can't stop eating OR help me love my child that is driving me insane OR help me understand what I really believe amongst this sea of words and ideas OR I thought I said this but you insist I said the opposite).

For me postmodern theories--the ones Dawkins dismisses--about language and subjectivity give me comfort. Strange to use term comfort and postmodernism in the same sentence but it's true. I find comfort in theories that help explain how language is always a motivated representation. And last I check scientists must use language to construct and then explain the results of their experiments. At times these new atheists seem to discuss science as if it were outside of normal human experience, floating above sneering down on the stupid masses--that's pure hubris and ultimately works against the very rigorous scientific approach these folks insist we must employ.

Middlebrow: that's all I get? A funny comment about jeans and sweaters? Come on! I want something from you on this.