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A Solstice Season Win for Atheism


Well, it doesnít get any more blunt than this.  Why do Christians deserve to put up creches on public property and atheists have to shut up and support it with their taxes?

"There's a very militant atheist movement that's trying to drive out vestiges of the truth. They're trying to deny the truth that this nation is founded on Christian principles," Jameson said.

"These people, atheists, a number of them, like Mr. Vix, are bound and determined to drive away from any public place any manifestation that Americans are God-loving people," Jameson added. "This is not fair, this is not just."

 What happened is this.  Santa Monica allows private citizens and groups to put up holiday displays in a public park.  Because the residents of Santa Monica are equal before the law, the system for allocating the public space consists of a random drawing of applicantsí names.  This year, the random selection turned up a higher than usual number of atheists.  The atheists put nothing on the spaces in the park, or put up quotations from the founding fathers and quotations from Supreme Court cases on the separation of church and state.  Nothing that mocked or condemned religion (unlike this, which just strikes me as unnecessary). 

But, despite all logic to the contrary, a random drawing  is not a fair or just method of distributing this  public space.  A fair and just method would be to distribute it to those whose beliefs are true.  That statement speaks volumes about the religious mind.  It consists of a failure to grasp a fundamental feature of rationality.  The question of belief consists not only of what to believe, but also of why one believes it.  ďItís true because it just is,Ē doesnít count.  Neither does ďItís true because I need to believe it,Ē and nor does ďItís true because I was taught it as a child.Ē 

Itís important to understand what atheists say when they talk about truth. It is not necessarily to say there is no such thing as truth, though some atheists believe that.  It is not necessarily to say that truth, if it exists, is a matter of social convention, though some athieists believe that.  Many, like me, believe that there is truth in the world, and that it includes moral truth.   Moral realism is well explained here. Naturalistic moral realism says moral truth exists in nature by virtue of the natural features of human beings in their natural environment.  Our knowledge of it is approximate, for the same reason that the facts science produces are merely approximate.  We believe hypotheses that are falsifiable in principle, but that have not been falsified -- yet.  Newtonian physics was approximate, Einstein got it about right, superstring theory is closer.  None of them quite state the truth, because stating the truth is not how science works.  It's all approximation.  And naturalistic moral realism makes only the same modest claim.

Think about how modest the moral realist is, compared to the religious believer.  More important, isn't it clear that naturalistic moral realism is compatible with equality than religion is?  The citizen whose beliefs are tentative by nature and subject to disproof is not committed to precluding the consideration of other beliefs.  He thinks his beliefs are more defensible, but that all believers are entitled to defend their beliefs, however incompetently.

Then there's the claim that a fair and just method of distributing public space would be to give it exclusively to the group whose beliefs correspond to the underlying belief system of the government that controls public spaces. 

Except that there is no such underlying philosophy of government.  You canít jump from the fact that Christianity was the dominant belief system in the founding era to the conclusion that itís the underlying belief system of government.  The founding fathers could have created a Christian nation.  But they just didn't.  Where the US Constitution is concerned, itís not the separation clause that establishes this, itís Article Six, which bans religious tests for public office.  Itís almost impossible to imagine a clearer expression of the principle that government is not the province of religion.


Fri, December 23, 2011 | link

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