End of the Enlightenment
New Scientist has a rather worrying article titled End of the Enlightenment, which has the tagline "Why is so much of the world bent on rejecting reason, tolerance and freedom of thought?". It discusses the relationship between religious fundamentalism and secularisation. Should we build our understanding of the world based on empirical evidence from experiments or should we base it on faith and the reading of scriptures? The worrying part about the article is that religious fundamentalism appears to be gaining in popularity, thus risking everything that has been gained during the age of Enlightenment.
These two approaches can be summarised as follows:
- The "Enlightenment" (or science) is an intellectual revolutiom that consists of asking questions about how the world works (i.e doing experiments), and based on that asking more questions, and so on. Gradually this accumulates to lead to a consistent understanding of the way the world works. This framework is open to revision in the light of new experimental observations.
- Religion offers a stable framework based on sources called "scriptures". The stability of religious fundamentalism creates a consistent framework within which people can live their lives in relation to the world. This framework is not open to revision, although in non-fundamentalist religions the scriptures are frequently reinterpreted in the light of unforseen circumstances.
The words "science" and "religion" frequently manifest themselves informally as follows :
- Science commonly makes an appearance as "know-how", which is the general common sense that is used by intelligent people who have not been exposed to science. This does not involve the study of science as practiced by professional scientists.
- Religion commonly makes an appearance as a "moral code", which is the general common sense that is used by intelligent people who have not been exposed to religion. This does not involve any fundamentalist reading of scriptures.
The above informal type of practitioner of science and/or religion is usually a well-adjusted individual who is pleasant to know.
Why should some people feel threatened (as the New Scientist article observes) by secularisation? In essence, the aim of science is only to provide a concise framework for inter-relating the meter readings that you get in different experiments. Despite pronouncements by various "scientific" luminaries, science does not make specific assertions about the way the world actually works. The most it can say is that things seem to behave this or that way, because we can't find any counter-examples that show otherwise. This doesn't sound very threatening to me.
Now back to the tagline "Why is so much of the world bent on rejecting reason, tolerance and freedom of thought?". I presume that it is because some people prefer the security of a stable religious framework to the ever changing face of a self-questioning scientific framework, and they wrongly think that the two frameworks are competing for the same territory so they must be in conflict.