Tuesday, 25 December 2007

BB2: Enlightenment 2.0 Introduction

The Science Network's Beyond Belief Conferences
A couple of weeks ago The Science Network released online all of the unedited video from their second annual Beyond Belief conference - Enlightenment 2.0. The first conference, last year, Science, Religion and Survival , as an online phenomenon, was spectacularly successful with three million hits to the website and over half a million downloads of the lectures it contained. It triggered much analysis, review and comment in the blog world. I hope this conference is no different. It is very interesting how the focus has changed to this broader topic of the Enlightenment and is, I think, both a logical consequence and an opportune one. Indeed I think the focus chosen has a better emphasis - taking us away from the battleground that religion has and is trying to assert is where debate should occurring - to the more neutral territory of the debate over worldviews. To do this, one first has to get one's own house in order and there is, indeed, great unclarity over what the Enlightenment has achieved in three hundred years, what has worked and what has not and how to proceed from now. I hope and expect that this is what the speakers here will help unravel. First we may ask what was Enlightenment 1.0?

Enlightenment 1.0
Many writers and philosophers contributed to what become to be called the Enlightenment as a movement, one that still exists today - hence this conference... As a period it is agreed that it started in the 18th century, preceded and influenced by the work of 16th and 17th century luminaries such as Newton , Locke and Galileo. Key figures in the 18th century included: David Hume - the first modern philosopher to create fully naturalistic philosophy and with such writings critiquing religion and religious morality such as Of Miracles (1748), An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals (1751) and Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (1779); Adam Smith answering the problem of how the world of economics could work without the dictates of the aristocracy, monarchy, clergy and church in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776); Ephraim Chambers' Cyclopaedia: or, An Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (1728) the catalyst and inspiration for the landmark Encyclopédie (1751-1722) of Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d'Alembert; Thomas Pain with one of the founding texts of the Enlightenment Rights of Man (1791); the political philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau's many writings especially The Social Contract (1762); scientist, political theorist and politician Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) one of the founding fathers of one the first modern republics the U.S.A; and, of course, Voltaire (1694-1778) writer and defender of civil liberties -the right to a fair trial, the freedom of religion and denouncer of the ancien régime.

As a collective enterprise one of the underlying themes of this movement was drawing inspiration from science and scientists, who by succeeded by looking at see how the world really was and, at the same time, showed the gross inadequacy, failures and errors of the claims of the church in these same domains. They extended this across all domains providing alternatives for politics, ethics, commerce and society in general, that they argued were more likely to work and a better alternative than the traditional churches and monarchies. They replaced unquestioned authorities, final answers, sacred texts, truth by revelation, people as subjects, special rights and god-given hierarchies with philosophers, questions, encyclopedias, science, citizens, equality and liberty for all.

Whilst there was much social upheaval in the battle of the churches before the Enlightenment, not surprisingly there was still more over the clash between these traditional and "modern" ways of thinking and such social upheaval has not abated since right through to the beginnings of 21st century where we find ourselves now. In spite of the huge success of Enlightenment type thinking in walks of life, there is still today great resistance to these ideas and reactions against them wanting to return to more "traditional" and ancient ways of being, even as these arguments are made using the fruits of the success of the Enlightenment, of which the Internet could be claimed as one example. With the Enlightenment instilling the ideas of progress, self-criticism and self-correction it is reasonable to review what this has achieved and to ask what one can learn from the last 300 years. Do we need a Enlightenment 2.0 and if so what would it comprise?

Reviewing Enlightenment 2.0
This is the purpose of this conference of course. As a useful contribution to Enlightenment 2.0, I want to watch and review the whole series in this blog. This exercise should serve not just to educate me but also clarify my own thinking here. Now, if I am going to review this, it is preferable to have a position to review this from. I could just take a relevantly skeptical one and I hope others will certainly do that - we don't want any double standards here when it comes to views similar to our own! However I want to do more than that. I have indeed thought about this very topic and now is a good a time as any to state my case. I can only give a gloss on my argument in a single post here but hope to both expand and modify it, as I review this lecture series. The benefit is that it will serve both as a critical framework or foil from which I can see if the speakers at least recognize the questions I think are important and whether they give similar, equivalent or, hopefully better answers, as well as to show me aspects that I might have missed, been mistaken about or not sought enough emphasis on.

Enlightenment 2.0 - A new type of worldview
The first thing to note is that The Enlightenment is not just a different and argued for superior worldview to be compared, contrasted and evaluated against other, older and "traditional" worldviews but a new way of having a worldview. It is not so much a single worldview but a new type of worldview. This explains how Enlightenment thinkers can of course disagree with each other on key points but all still have an (but not the) Enlightenment worldview. Enlightenment 2.0 should make this an explicit theme: a meta-approach to worldviews. When looked at this way one can consider worldview types, without, at this stage, needing to look at and be distracted by the content of each worldview under examination.

What do we get if we do this? There are three aspects or dimensions when we look at worldview qua worldviews. The Enlightenment type of worldview prefers to assume less about the world rather than more, instead to find out more about the world by questioning it, that is by focusing on types of questions - methods - and, finally, to also question these methods themselves - allowing for them and their products to be reviewed, revised, replace and rejected and so for those methods and their products to earn their place on merit. By contrast classical worldviews tend to assume more rather than less about the world, focus more on asserting the way the world is - metaphysics - and to de-emphasize the means of testing these assertions and, finally, to focus on answers (not questions) and to protect key foundational answers from criticism and challenge, that is to defend their place dogmatically.

An exemplar of an Enlightenment type of worldview is science at its purest -untainted by political and commercial interests - and an exemplar of a classical type of worldview is the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. Of course this a skeleton outline of worldview types, with these exemplars being near extreme points in a spectrum of possible worldviews but sufficient for our purposes at hand. In particular we can use the simple classification of Enlightenment and classical (type of) worldviews in what follows

Enlightenment 2.0: The Pseudo-Enlightenment
You will note that we have not yet considered the content of assumptions and, most importantly, it does not automatically follow that all Enlightenment worldviews are atheistic or secular and that all classical worldviews are theistic and religious. Far from it. As an example of a theistic Enlightenment worldview consider Descartes' methodological doubt with his "proof" of god. Well the world did not turn out that way Descartes believed, but it as still an Enlightenment worldview and it could have - and this is what happens when worldviews are honestly tested against the world. Then consider certain religions such as Zen, Theravada Buddhism, some forms of Taoism and others, such as Advaita Vedanta. These are all far closer to Enlightenment type worldviews than classical worldviews. So again, it is not the case that Enlightenment worldviews cannot be religious, whether or not they include god (as, in fact, these religions do not). Bearing in mind that over the course of history a few billion people have held these or similar views it is also not the case the people have to use the psychological motivation to support dogmatism, let alone a deity. And we can also go the other way, it is not the case that all classical worldviews are theistic - if nothing else other non-theistic versions of Buddhism certainly exist far closer to this type of worldview too. So you can have religious classical worldviews without theism. And finally you can have atheistic and secular worldviews that are classical. The most obvious example would be communism but there are quite a few others! Fascism and Nazism are also often thought of in the same light but whilst it is highly dubious if any were actually atheistic, it is still significant that they do exist close to classical worldviews. Indeed what all these political ideologies have in common is not a disputed atheism (either in fact or in importance) but rather that they are based on an alternate primary idea - that either replaces god or, more likely, makes it subservient - such as a race or people, a nation or a class - all this whilst retaining much if not most of the persuasion, power and protection practices, suitably modified of course, of other classical worldviews namely that of most classical theistic religions - old and new!

Now we come to the nub of the argument, the reason I constructed this framework in the first place. We need to understand what has and has not worked over the last 300 odd years due to the Enlightenment project in order to review, revise, replace and reject various principles and applications in the light of empirical data. So we need a way of identifying if the subject under consideration is, in fact, the outcome of the Enlightenment. We have here a means of identifying projects, whether explicitly or implicitly proclaimed by its proponents, users or critics as part of the Enlightenment as actually being so or, if not, to classify them as part of the Pseudo-Enlightenment. Communism, Fascism and Nazism are obvious examples that, in this briefest of essays, I can only assert would be classified according to their actual worldviews as a part of the Pseudo-Enlightenment - if they are claimed as part of the Enlightenment at all, but, indeed, these all have been by, at least some, critics. More overtly Enlightenment claims can also be examined the same way, since any foundational values can be posited at the core of a classical worldview including Enlightenment values and this alone does not make it an Enlightenment project - if it does not instantiate an Enlightenment worldview (the third component of Enlightenment 2.0 we will examine next).

This method can be applied not only to religions and political movements but their various interactions on a local, nation and international level and also in other vertical domains including scientific, academic, commercial and economic institutions and so on. One can also examine the dynamics of a system and see how an instance of an Enlightenment worldview could change to a Pseudo-Enlightenment worldview and vice versa (The French Revolution and the following Terrors springs to mind).

Enlightenment 2.0: Empirical implementation and analysis
As already noted it is not sufficient to espouse Enlightenment type values, these like any others can be instantiated in a classical set of structures, organizations and institutions. We need to identify that the underlying means of instantiating these ideas are reflective of an Enlightenment worldview - the Enlightenment is not only a new type of worldview but a new way of structuring, organizing and instituting society. You need the type of worldview, the ideas and the empirical implementation. These three components together and making these explicit considerations is what I call Enlightenment 2.0. Given these three components. one can use the last 300 odd years worth of data and evaluate the successes and failures of Enlightenment projects - to see how the differing ideas have worked in practice, as to whether they have even been successfully implemented or only apparently so and, if so, how did they fare? One can examine and, hopefully explain, how and why Enlightenment projects were derailed - as in being mistakenly or deliberately implemented within a classical worldview - to learn from and guard against this occurring again. One can also learn when they were successfully implemented, were they in fact better than the alternatives and if not, why not.

[This introduction is an updated version of the original
Beyond Belief: Enlightenment 2.0 which has more detail and argument for the ideas expressed here]

The Plan
Well that is it for now. I have provided the briefest skeleton of my critical foil to apply to the speaker's topics in the Beyond Belief: Enlightenment 2.0 lecture series. There is much here to expand and clarify and I hope all the obvious and not so obvious issues will be touched upon by the various speakers and so give me the opportunity to explore them and fill in the details to this framework - or find something better. Certainly something like this is what I think needs to be proposed and discussed, amongst many other issues in this series of talks. We shall see.

As and when I review the talks I will post them separately and update this post in this section with links to each post. (I have also created a facebook group The Science Network to track all reviews and analysis of this series, if you are on facebook please join).

Update: All the reviews are in two parts, the first is my attempt at an objective report of the talk and the second part is my critical analysis of that talk. Please feel free to comment and critique both my report and my analysis as well as point any alternative reviews in the comments section.

The reviews
Talk 1, Session 1 of 2, First Day
BB2:Does the Enlightenment need an upgrade? Darrin McMahon
He focuses on the social tyranny associated, certainly by its critics, with the Enlightenment and concludes, without good reason, that it does not need an upgrade. He fails to show how we can identify such Pseudo-Enlightenment movements, falsely blamed by critics on the Enlightenment and so learn how to prevent them.

Talk 2, Session 1 of 2, First Day
BB2: The Enlightenment as a Populist Movement: Margaret Jacob
She focus on the growth of Enlightenment thinking as a populist movement from 1680s, with the England and Holland as fertile ground for writers and thinkers to vocalize and refine the popular feeling against the Catholic Church and for a "movement towards the light". Why is this not a populist movement anymore, is, unfortunately, a question she fails to tackle.

Talk 3, Session 1 of 2, First Day
BB2: Enlightenment 2.0 has a bug, it is still religion: Edward Slingerland
He argues that Enlightenment 2.0 has a bug -metaphysical non-factual values - and this makes it still a religion, albeit superior to others. He has a mistaken conception of the Enlightenment and one can do without metaphysical values and so his argument fails.

Talk 4, Session 1 of 2, First Day
BB2: Look at the Pre-Enlightenment - Are we re-inventing the wheel? : Donald Rutherford
He argues that the issues over having a this-worldly grounding for a meaningful life, are no different to those in the times of the Epicureans. The dichotomy between this-world and other-world beliefs grounding meaning is both a false and misleading one, since the real question is over harmful false beliefs - whether from this world or otherwise.

Talk 5, Session 1 of 2, First Day
BB2: Teach the four Rs, the fourth being religion! :Daniel Dennett
He is concerned that the emotional upset of teaching adults the truth about religion might be too dangerous and seeks away to avoid confronting this. His solution that we need to teach the facts and only the facts of all world religion to all our children, to defend against the future dangerous excesses of it, to teach the Four Rs, the fourth R being religion.

Talk 6, Session 1 of 2, First Day
BB2: Is the "New Atheism" a stealth religion? :David Sloan Wilson
Wilson develops the theme of stealth religion, where dogmatically holding onto naturalistic but false beliefs can provide an adaptional advantage, and ponders whether "New Atheism" is such a stealth religion. His dilemma is that he has not shown where a "stealth religion" has an adaptational advantage over the factual alternative, whether it applies to "New Atheism" or not.

Informal Discussions, Session 1 of 2, First Day
BB2: Informal Discussion Session 1, First Day
Discussing metaphysical postulates, sacred values, human rights, theory of mind, happiness and moral realism.

Talk 1 , Session 2 of 2, First day
BB2: Enlightenment 2.0 requires Morality 2.0 :Jonathan Haidt
Haidt argues for a 5-dimensional moral domain for Enlightenment/Morality 2.0 compared to the 2-dimensional - harm and fairness - moral domain of Enlightenment/Morality 1.0. He has highlighted a key feature that needs to be understood, particularly the current resistance to Enlightenment 2.0 but his constraining assumptions on religion prevent him developing the argument further.

Talk 2 , Session 2 of 2, First day
BB2:Trade creates trust to resolve tribalism:Michael Shermer
Shermer changes the subject from the so far dominating religion/morality themes and instead looks at how trade can help create trust between otherwise antagonistic tribes. He ends creating a rather Panglossion view of this issue, rather than focus on the problems that trade and free markets have brought and suggesting how they can be resolved.

Panel Discussion, First Day
BB2: Panel Day One - Part 1 of 2
Covering economics; rationality versus intuitionism; the engine of hypocrisy; existential security; New Atheists and science; and incompatible solutions.
BB2: Is Evolution the best way to understand religion - and which version do we use?: Panel Day One - Part 2 of 2
Covering incompatible Darwinian solutions; did god exist in the past; is "atom-world" versus "lattice-world" a false dichotomy?; New Atheists and science (again!) and is Natural Selection the best language to understand this problem?

Talk 3 , Session 2 of 2, First day
BB2: The Survival of the Richest?:Gregory Clark
The world broke out of the Malthusian Trap to get beyond equilibrium subsistence income only since 1800. Was this due to cultural or even genetic inheritance as a result of the survival of the richest? Is this an answer to the mistaken panacea of providing the right institutions for everyone. An interesting idea but it needs more research.