We recently concluded a 4-week preaching series at the Oasis on worldview entitled, “Get the Picture.” More or less, this was our first pass at one of the most dense, yet personally relevant subjects of our day, a subject that impacts everything from spending to evangelizing to TV watching. Two of the more provocative topics we covered were origins and ethics. So you can imagine my sense of intrigue when someone sent me an op-ed piece from Stanley Fish that was featured in the venerable N.Y. Times this week: “Citing Chapter and Verse: Which Scripture is the Right One?”
This past Sunday on the show “Up w/ Chris Hayes” (MSNBC) was the statistical correlation between deniers of global warming and religious believers. Participants included such luminaries as Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion,” and Steven Pinker, author of “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” a new book arguing that the world has gotten less violent as the tide of fundamentalist faith has receded and given way to the dictates of reason. It was no surprise that the panel’s default position, stated almost explicitly by Susan Jacoby, was that religion clouds the mind of those who, if they were only sufficiently educated, would arrive at the conclusion supported by the overwhelming preponderance of scientific evidence and reject the blind adherence to revealed or ecclesiastical authority that characterizes religious belief.
The self-congratulatory unanimity that presided over the discussion was challenged at one point by Hayes, who posed the following question: If you hold to the general skepticism that informs scientific inquiry — that is, if you refuse either to anoint a viewpoint in advance because it is widely held or to send viewpoints away because they are regarded as fanciful or preposterous — how do you respond to global-warming deniers or Holocaust deniers or creationists when they invoke the same principle of open inquiry to argue that they should be given a fair hearing and be represented in departments of history, biology and environmental science? What do you do, Hayes asked, when, in an act of jujitsu, the enemies of liberal, scientific skepticism wield it as a weapon against its adherents?
The author went on to ask this poignant question: with what conviction — basic orthodoxy — about where truth and illumination are to be found do you begin? Once that question is answered satisfactorily for you (by revelation, education or conversion), you cannot test the answer by bringing it before the bar of some independent arbiter, for your answer now is the arbiter (and measure) of everything that comes before you. Your answer delivers the world to you and delivers with it mechanisms for distinguishing good evidence from bad or beside-the-point evidence and good reasons from reasons that just don’t cut it.
What conviction “delivers the world” to you?