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This Much I Know

Entry 1224, on 2010-09-20 at 20:54:35 (Rating 3, Comments)

British philosopher, AC Grayling, recently contributed to a Guardian article called "This much I know" where he commented on some of his philosophy on life. I generally like his thoughts, especially relating to religion, so I thought I might comment on some of them here.

Here's his first comment: The democracy of blogging and tweeting is absolutely terrific in one way. It is also the most effective producer of rubbish and insult and falsehood we have yet invented.

Whether this is literally true or nor is hardly relevant. The point is that the internet in general provides a great way for both good and bad information to be distributed. But there's nothing very original about that idea so I do wonder what the purpose of the comment really was.

Here's another: I am putting together a secular bible. My Genesis is when the apple falls on Newton's head.

That quite appeals. I have mentioned on several occasion that I would like to see a non-superstitious "religion" started which is based on science and facts instead of myths and institutionalised mind control. On the other hand, most atheists and skeptics aren't religious because they don't follow a fixed set of beliefs so perhaps the idea is unworkable and maybe that's a good thing.

This one was rather good: I would imagine Jesus was a kind of Jewish reformer. If you were looking for an equivalent to the figure you dimly perceive through the gospels it would probably be a Richard Dawkins.

I won't get into a debate about whether Jesus existed or not, or whether, if he did exist, how close the real person was to the portrayal in the Bible. If Jesus did exist and if what he believed bears any resemblance at all to what the Bible says then, yes, he was a radical in many ways. This is somewhat ironic when viewed from the perspective of conservative Christians. I'm sure Jesus would have found them quite repulsive!

This is interesting: I'm a vegetarian, but I wear leather shoes. Some people say that's a contradiction; I say I'm doing my best.

I interpret this as a comment on moral issues in general. I assume the comment on vegetarianism in relation to wearing leather is a general reference to "doing the right thing" and how most people are inconsistent in their morals. But that doesn't detract from the effort in doing the right thing in the first place. Attempting to be perfect and failing is better than not even trying. Note that I reserve comment on whether being a vegetarian is more moral than eating meat.

Heres another good one: When I was 14 a chaplain at school gave me a reading list. I read everything and I went back to him with a question: how can you really believe in this stuff?

I think everyone should have good cause to reject religious texts as ridiculous. Many adults have been so brainwashed by society that they just accept religion (at least the dominant religion in their society) even if they would see it as absurd if they really analysed it. That's why children often see it for what it is when adults won't.

Many would agree with this: Christian churches and Muslim groups have no more right to have their say than women's institutes or trades unions. The government has actively encouraged faith-based education, and therefore given a megaphone to religious voices and fundamentalists.

It does seem to me that religious groups are given extra privileges beyond what other, non-religious groups get. This includes tax exemptions, freedom from criticism, and other obvious and more subtle benefits. Few people would say that religious groups should be banned (actually some would but usually those people are from religious groups themselves who want every group except theirs banned) but it is time they had equal status to other self-interested groups.

Then there's this: I have enough faith in statistics to know there must be conscious life on other planets.

That certainly seems to make sense and I have commented on the subject in this blog before. The puzzling thing is why have we not found signs of life already. But I do have to say that we don't know enough of the relevant parameters to really have faith in the stats so perhaps we have no real right to expect to have found life.

This is great: Science is the outcome of being prepared to live without certainty and therefore a mark of maturity. It embraces doubt and loose ends.

Both atheists and believers often see religious people as lacking maturity and being like children. The difference is that believers (especially Christians) see it as a positive thing where non-believers see it as a reason to despise those who are too weak to seek the truth. Either way believers are like children. I recently commented that it's one reason they are so difficult to debate with. I noted that debating with religious people is like debating with children, they can't argue at the same level as you, when they lose the debate they don't even realise it, and you gain little satisfaction from having beaten them anyway!

I like this too: Life is all about relationships. By all means sit cross-legged on top of a mountain occasionally. But don't do it for very long.

I guess the meaning here is open to interpretation but I see it as both an acceptance and criticism of "alternative beliefs". Sitting on top of a mountain is supposed to be a way to get closer to god, or nature, or the spirits, or whatever alternative belief you have chosen. Sure, there's no harm in having those sorts of beliefs but don't take them too seriously: don't sit on that mountain too long.

Finally: Every professor of philosophy needs a nine-year-old daughter. Mine has a habit of saying, "Daddy, that is a very silly idea." She is always right.

Obviously this isn't literally true but maybe he's saying that we all need to look at things in a simplistic way with all assumptions and complexity stripped away. A naive person's perspective is often quite revealing in finding flaws in the greatest ideas.

So overall I think these things are very perceptive. Of course, his worldview does significantly parallel mine so I guess that was almost inevitable. Maybe I really need to look at a "this much I know" article from someone with a different perspective than mine.


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