Thursday, September 23, 2004
The Question of God
PBS aired another great documentary this month. The Question of God examined the lives and writings of Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis, and featured a roundtable discussion among believers and non-believers.
Kudos to PBS for airing a program that encourages people to think for themselves.
At first, I was most interested in the roundtable discussion. I'm fascinated by the reasons people give for their belief.
Then, the life story of C.S. Lewis struck a chord. C.S. Lewis, J.R.R Tolkein and several other Oxford University intellectuals formed an informal group called the Inklings. The Inklings met during the 1930's and 1940's, a time when science, logical positivism and reductionism were on the rise. Dissatisfied with the scientific worldview, the Inklings set out to discredit the new philosophies of science. At least that is my perception.
So how does one discredit a philosophy that was founded upon reason and logic? With an appeal to emotion. The Inklings wrote stories and poetry that were designed to strengthen the emotional attachment to irrationality. For example, Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings was intended as a criticism of technological progress.
Most of all, I was struck by the parallels between the Inklings and the American political right. Both were forced to adopt a campaign based on emotion and deception because they had no alternative. There can be no reasonable support for what is intrinsically irrational.
Meanwhile, the proponents of enlightenment and reason are shocked and heartbroken to see people taken in by these appeals to emotion and thoughtlessness.
Should we do nothing and hope that scientific and technological progress will render emotional appeals moot?
Today, superstitious luddites fiercely oppose stem-cell and longevity research. They don't have reasons to support their positions, but then their appeals are not designed to stand up to tests of reason. However, once the technology is here, very few people will refuse a stem cell treatment for a terminal disease, or refuse a gene therapy that will give them an extra 1,000 years of life.
Then again, maybe we should do something to promote reason while we still can.
Can we find a way to encourage people to make decisions based on reason instead of animal passion? Or should we copy our opponents: treat people like sheep and fill their heads with nonsense that stirs their hearts?