I’m sick of crazy people lying about “secular thought” in major newspapers

Why have people got to go around continuously misstating and, well, lying about the implications and demands of a secular worldview? For example, take this sentence:

Once the world is … thought of as being “composed of atomic particles randomly colliding and . . . sometimes evolving into more and more complicated systems and entities including ourselves”

OK, completely aside from calling some of the most elegant and impressive discoveries of humankind (friggin’ fundamental laws of physics and evolution, ladies and gentlemen) “particles randomly colliding and sometimes evolving into complicated shit,” (The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse, Stephen “I Hate and Fear History” Smith) this description of secular thought ignores hundreds of years of secular thought. Which, don’t worry, Stanly Fish will continue to misrepresent and misunderstand for a good 1776 words, in the end arguing that there are no non-spiritual reasons for doing anything. And, no, I did not make that number up.

This fundamental misunderstanding of what “secular” means is important because the article is all ab out how we make public decisions: what appeals is it legitimate for a member of government to make? Fish starts off by saying that “policy decisions should be made on the basis of secular reasons,” which — given a minimally good definition of “secular” — I agree with. Policy decisions should be made based on the effects they will have on the world, not on of many imaginary deities. Unfortunately I edited that to make him look like less of an idiot, this is is a more complete version: “policy decisions should be made on the basis of secular reasons, reasons that, … do not reflect the commitments or agendas of any religion, morality or ideology“. (emphasis mine)

Allow me to provide you with a selection of the most popular ethical systems around today, the systems that most inform current American morality according to my incompetent analysis:

  • Utilitarian Ethics (do what makes the most people the most happy)
  • Respect Ethics (do unto others as though they deserve the best you can reasonably do. This is a mild reformulation of the golden rule, and based on the fact that you have probably never given a homeless person your credit card, the version of it that you actually follow. Usually called duty ethics.)
  • Fulfillment Ethics (do things because they will help you or others be the best people that you/they can be. Usually called Virtue ethics, because that’s what they called things back when Aristotle was writing.)

Know what those fundamental systems of morality all have in common? They are secular. Which is to say they do not depend on unjustified assumptions that threaten you with eternal torture for their basis. Oh, wait, that reminds me, I forgot one:

  • Ignoring all of the effects of my system, because I don’t care about how people live. (Usually called religion.)

That one does depend on unjustified assumptions about the fundamental nature of reality, assumptions which (often) conveniently involve your horrible pain for a literally meaningless amount of time.

Quickly take a look at those four systems, tell me if I have misunderstood any of them, recognize which ones you actually use to make decisions. And then think about how you don’t actually need to incorporate anything non-secular to reach those same decisions. Every worthwhile moral theory is secular. Seriously Stan, don’t be a jerk.

Oh no here he goes again:

While secular discourse, in the form of statistical analyses, controlled experiments and rational decision-trees, can yield banks of data that can then be subdivided and refined in more ways than we can count, it cannot tell us what that data means or what to do with it. No matter how much information you pile up and how sophisticated are the analytical operations you perform, you will never get one millimeter closer to the moment when you can move from the piled-up information to some lesson or imperative it points to; for it doesn’t point anywhere; it just sits there, inert and empty.

If he was going to be so technical about it I’d think he’d want to bound us a little tighter and say “nanometer” at least. He is so insanely incorrect I can think of about 7 things before I type the number “7″ to use to argue against him. Let me lay out for you a simple example of secular reasoning that I don’t care if anyone disagrees with, because they suck:

  1. Getting raped sucks big time.
  2. We should prevent people from raping other people.

OK? Stan and Steve, would you say that I have stayed within the bounds of the “truncated discursive resources available within the downsized domain of ‘public reason’”? And, if I haven’t, could you please explain you me why (2) requires me to appeal to some fundamental teleological aspect of the universe instead of just pointing out that we should keep things that suck from happening, if we can help it?

Oh, wait, you never address that.

Here’s some more gibberish, loosely related!

If [secular] reason has “deprived” the natural world of “its normative dimension” by conceiving of it as free-standing and tethered to nothing higher than or prior to itself, how, Smith asks, “could one squeeze moral values or judgments about justice . . . out of brute empirical facts?”

Well, because one of the empirical facts is getting raped sucks. That is a fairly well-acknowledged and -documented fact. There are a variety of other observations of the human condition that count as facts that allow us to make a wide variety of other well-formed and non-arbitrary arguments about how to behave.

No way that is not a sleight of hand.

Sweet. I expect my invitation to perform at the Magic Castle by the end of the week.

This is the cul de sac Enlightenment philosophy traps itself in when it renounces metaphysical foundations in favor of the “pure” investigation of “observable facts.” It must somehow bootstrap or engineer itself back up to meaning and the possibility of justified judgment, but it has deliberately jettisoned the resources that would enable it do so.

I wasn’t going to include that, but I really love the use of scare quotes around “observable facts.” And I felt like it was only fair to make him look like even more of an idiot, because the article really pissed me off.

He goes on for awhile with some other minor misunderstandings and lies about the definition of “secular,” as well as some truly interesting problems — what does freedom mean? to whom do we owe what? — unfortunately the only case that he makes against secular thought is that it seems to be incapable of observing humanity. Which is, you know, false.

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  • Sam Pollick

    actually its talking about a man using his own effort and not relying on the powers of god to deliver him something. thus wasting his time on something god specifically didnt assign him too.

    2Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.

    3For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.

    4They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

    theres the whole verse un biased for all who doubt the lunacy :]