January 9, 2007
The 100 Hours of Democratic SuperstitionBy Christopher Chantrill
How do you spell superstition? The professional atheists have been busy spelling it out lately, especially Richard Dawkins with The God Delusion and Sam Harris with The End of Faith. There is almost certainly no God, according to Dawkins.
The atheists worship a different God. For Dawkins, it seems to be the power of Darwin's theory of natural selection. For Sam Harris it seems to be the value of meditation and a rational ethics. And don't think you can talk them out it.
We can thank the atheists at least for this: They are magnificently applying the principle of "motivated skepticism" to the human God project.
Motivated skepticism? That's the concept from the paper "Motivated Skepticism in the Evaluation of Political Beliefs" by Charles S. Taber and Milton Lodge. (Hat tip to TCS Daily Arnold Kling.)
Taber and Lodge observe that we humans have lots of faith in our own ideas and plans but not in other peoples' ideas.
To understand the power of faith we have only to look at the 100 hour legislative marathon of the newly empowered House Democrats. They are intent upon passing an increase in the minimum wage. But the science is in on this, and it has been for over a century. The minimum wage puts low-skilled people out of work. Democrats are also intent upon adding new subsidies to college students. But the science is in on subsidies. And the science is also in on drug price controls.
Why do they do it? Faith, that's why. Blind faith in the power of government and their own good intentions.
When a faith has been utterly exploded by science, rational folks like you and me usually call it "superstition."
Human faith, like human science, is ethically neutral. We all agree that you can use science for good or ill. We can use the power of human faith for good and evil too.
The question of God is a mystery and according to Kant beyond proof or disproof. It's easy for professional thinkers to cavil over ultimate questions and levels of proof, but the rest of us need to make decisions--right now--about how to give our lives meaning. That is where gods and "belief systems" come in.
During a period of crisis this need becomes more urgent.
Many people have noticed that the world entered a period of extraordinary crisis about two centuries ago when a vast human migration began from the farm to the city. This extraordinary phenomenon is probably at its peak right now as 25 million Chinese reportedly leave the country for the city every year.
Many people have not noticed that wherever the crisis of urbanization occurs, the ordinary people create a movement of enthusiastic Christianity to cope with it. For the mechanics of the British Industrial Revolution it was the Methodism of the Wesley brothers and the injunction to work all you can, save all you can, and give all you can. Then, of course, the Methodist circuit-riders converted North America and the Irish Americans used Methodist revivalist techniques in building a mighty Catholic Church in the US.
That was just the warmup. A century ago, as The Economist recently discovered, African Americans got in on the action when William J. Seymour started a new church in 1906 in Los Angeles. The resulting Pentecostal community worldwide is now about 500 million souls, strongest in Latin America and Africa. Why is this? According to David Martin in Pentecostalism: The World Their Parish, Pentecostalism empowers women to free themselves from the Latin machista culture of the
is the key result of converting to Pentecostalism.
Naturally, we all respect the Darwinian faith of Richard Dawkins and value his motivated skepticism. And we are tolerant of the economic superstitions of our Democratic friends in Congress. But in judging the people who believe in God, we might follow Deng Xiaoping, who famously said:
As I have written elsewhere,
The Democrats' 100 hours of welfare-state ritual up on Capitol Hill isn't really intended to catch any mice. And that's a shame.