Posts Tagged ‘Socialism’

Robert Owen: Utopian Socialist, Promoter of ‘Rational Religion’

May 12, 2013

The founder of British Socialism was the 19th century Welsh reformer, Robert Owen. The son of a saddler and ironworker who was also the local postmaster, Own moved from Newtown in Wales to take over the mill at New Lanark in Scotland. There he improved the conditions of his workers through paternal management. Unlike other contemporary businesses, he did not employ children under ten, and the children of his workers were educated in the factory school. Owen later went on to denounce the social division, inequality, poverty and crime which he believed had their roots in private property, and advocated instead a series of utopian communities based on co-operation and the sharing of produce. He initially enjoyed the support of many members of the clergy and ruling aristocracy, including dukes and archbishops. He alienated them through his religious scepticism. His lecture on the New Religion given at the Freemason’s Hall in 1830 is essentially an attack on revealed religion. He believed that the revealed religions of the world kept people in ignorance and so prevented them from improving themselves, as well as creating bitter hatreds that served only to divide humanity. He also campaigned against the idea of marriage for life, which he viewed as chaining unhappy couples together permanently and consequently creating vice and crime through broken families that could nevertheless not be dissolved.

The 19th century was an age of social and political upheaval, with groups like the Chartists emerging to demand the extension of the franchise to the working class. The Christian Chartists, who were particularly strong in Scotland, objected to co-operation with the Owenites as they disliked being associated with ‘Socialists and infidels’. In fact, Owen was a Deist, and then later a Spiritualist, and took many of his ideas from the 17th century Quaker, John Bellers, the Moravians, and the Shakers and Rappites in America. He was also a firm advocate of freedom of conscience. Law 12 in his 1840 Manifesto states

‘That all facts yet known to man indicate that there is an external or internal Cause of all existences, by the fact of their existence; that this all-pervading cause of motion and change in the universe, is that Incomprehensible Power, which the nations of the world have called God, Jehovah, Lord, etc., etc.; but that the facts are yet unknown to man which define what that power is.’

He believed that God created human nature at birth, but that the good qualities of humanity could be brought out if developed in accordance with natural, rational laws.

‘Human nature in each individual is created, with its organs, faculties, and propensities, of body and mind, at birth, but the incomprehensible Creating Power of the universe; all of which qualities and powers are necessary for the continuation of the species, and the growth, health, progress, excellence and happiness, of the individual and of society; and these results will always be attained when, in the progress of nature, men shall have acquired sufficient experience to cultivate these powers, physical and mental, in accordance with the natural laws of humanity.’

He was also radical in arguing for complete religious freedom. Law 8 of his Manifesto states that ‘everyone shall have equal and full liberty to express the dictates of his conscience on religious and all other subjects.’ Law 9 laid down that ‘No one shall have any other power than fair and friendly argument to control the opinions or belief of another.’ Law 10 stated that ‘No praise or blame, no merit or demerit, no reward or punishment, shall be awarded for any opinion or beliefs’. Finally, Law 11 stipulated that

‘But all, of every religion, shall have equal right to express their opinions respecting the great Incomprehensible Power which moves the atom and controls the universe; and to worship that power under any form or in any manner agreeable to their consciences – not interfering with others.’

In many ways, Owen’s views are a product of 18th century rationalism. After the Fall of Communism, few would argue that a completely socialised economy can be successfully run. Nevertheless, the success of New Lanark did show 19th century businessmen that working conditions could be improved and the working classes provided for while still making a healthy profit. It also differs from later radical socialism in that, unlike later Communism, it was not atheist and specifically provided for freedom of conscience. Indeed, Owen is interesting for making the belief in God an article of his Manifesto, even if he looked to science, rather than revelation for establishing the Lord’s nature.

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Answering Dr. Logic

January 12, 2009

Wakefield Tolbert, one of the many great regularly commentators on this blog, has asked the following question:

1) What is your take on the following from Doctor Logic, who asserts that religion is bad due to not being self corrective, and having only dogma as a backup. Now by his definition, fundamenalist paints a wide brush, being about all who seriously persue faith based Christianity:

“What Is Fundamentalism?

According to my definition, a fundamentalist is someone who prefers to take
knowledge from authority rather than from experience.

Creationists are the textbook case of fundamentalism. They’ll spare no effort to
discredit the science that falsifies literal biblical claims, but spend no effort
justifying their belief in the authority of the Bible. If they were as skeptical of
the Bible as they were of radiological dating, they would quickly denounce the Bible as a work of fiction.

Fundamentalism is not just another form of irrationality. It’s irrationality with
conviction. Fundamentalism has no corrective mechanism. How does the fundamentalist know that his authority is, well, authoritative? Apparently, not by experience. Without correction, we cannot claim commitment to the truth because we reject a priori any possibility that we could be wrong.

The Christian fundamentalist cannot complain that Osama bin Laden is using the wrong epistemology. bin Laden is using the very same epistemology as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Reason and experience are equally unimportant to all three of these clowns because each will carefully fold his experience to fit into his holy box.

The problem with every fundamentalism is that it results in unnecessary conflict. Instead of reaching consensus based on shared experience, the fundamentalist regards shared experience as either threatening or subservient to his unchangeable prior beliefs. “
_________________________________________

2) His insistence in some war between science and religion, relying mostly on
Richard Carrier and Andrew Dickson White. You’ve mentioned this before in some posts but did not directly address the claim that “superstition” resulted in the SUPPRESSION of budding science and/or science that had been around but stymied by the fall of Rome and the resultant takeover of E
urope by Christianity.

3) The associated of Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Pol Pot, and other with atheism is unfair, as opposed to Christiandom’s association with the horrors of the medieval purges, because what we have in the former is a personality cult–and not the proceedings and results of ideology per se.

IE–socialism turned into something more peaceful in other places in Europe,
apparently inidicating the ground some seeds fall on is more important than the seed of ideology themselves.

Moreover, in advanced western democracies, the cult of personality is tempered via the voting box, and religion is suppressed. Thus atheist (or tending that way) Sweden is very peaceful internally and in international relations, as is ofr the most part Britain and France and numerous others who long ago gave up blookthirst and imperialism and internal conflict.

The noted exception being the IRA–but that was a religious conflict, as DL points out, protostants agaisnt catholics raging over influence and terriroty. NO?

Thus, to sum up, Religion creates most internal strife and even most imperialist ambition.

Let’s critique Dr. Logic’s argument and its basic assumptions. Firstly, he states that

According to my definition, a fundamentalist is someone who prefers to take
knowledge from authority rather than from experience.

There’s immediately a problem of definition here. Dr. Logic has offered us his definition, but recognises that there others. This immediately raises the question of whether Dr. Logic’s definition is correct. Now one other definition is that fundamentalist movements are simply attempts to return to the original basis of a religion or ideology, which is felt to have been attacked or distorted by more recent developments. Now fundamentalists are usually considered to be individuals who stress the absolute, literal truth of a religious text, such as the Bible or Qu’ran, and for many people Creationists are the most obvious examples of fundamentalists because of their profound belief in a literal interpretation of Genesis.

However, Dr. Logic’s definition of fundamentalism also includes less literal forms of religious faith and denominations, such as Roman Catholics, who stress the authority of the church’s teaching as well as the Bible but who generally have an allegorical interpretation of Genesis. Indeed, Dr. Logic himself considers that Creationists are the classic example of fundamentalists: ‘Creationists are the textbook case of fundamentalism.’ However, there are major problems with his position.

Firstly, he contrasts authority with experience. Yet the authority of a religious text, such as those of the Bible, is based on experience, that of the presence and activity of God in human history. The Gospels, for example, are based on the experiences of the apostles and the first people to witness Christ’s ministry and teaching, while St. Paul’s own ministry and theology are based on his own, profound experience of Christ and the Gospel. Indeed, the list of witnesses St. Paul supplies in his epistles, and the names of particular individuals mentioned in the Gospels, are given to demonstrate the truth of the narratives as accounts of events witnessed and experienced by real people, who would vouch for their truth. Thus the authority of the Gospels and the New Testament epistles, for example, are based very much on personal experience, so that there is no basic division between authority and experience. Thus authority and experience are not necessarily contrasting and distinct.

Another problem is that Dr. Logic appears to have an empiricist attitude to knowledge. Something can only be considered true if it accessible to human experience, which he appears to identify with the scientific method. However, empiricism is no longer accepted by most scientists and philosophers of science because many of the objects and entities investigated by science are not accessible to human experience but are the products of human reason. For example, it is impossible to see a single electron. Scientists nevertheless are confident that electrons and other subatomic particles exist, because the scientific models that suggest their existence are the best explanation for the results of certain experiments and natural phenomena, such as electromagnetism, and have not been falsified. Thus in science, direct experience of an object or entity is not necessarily a criterion for its existence.

Another problem for Dr. Logic’s argument is that there appears to be an underlying assumption that the scientific method is the only true form of knowledge. Yet philosophers such as Mary Midgeley and Alvin Plantinga have pointed out that there are other forms of knowledge that are equally valid in providing true information of the world, apart from science. Indeed, there are areas in which the scientific method simply cannot be used to assess the truth of a particular claim or provide information. For example, it may be difficult or impossible to verify scientifically the existence of a historical individual, such as, for example, Julius Caesar. Nevertheless, the existence of authoritative written texts and biographies documenting his life and career make it certain that he existed.

Also, Dr. Logic seems to consider that a theory or model of reality is valid only if it can be altered and refined over time. Yet if a theory or model is fundamentally sound, such alterations don’t correct any flaws, but add to them. Moreover, there may be genuine limits on human knowledge and scientific investigation, where theories and scientific models effectively remain conjecture and their truth or otherwise cannot be demonstrated. In which case, their refinement and alteration also may not constitute correction, as these refinements in turn may also not make the theory closer to the truth.

Now let’s deal with Dr. Logic’s comments about fundamentalists:

They’ll spare no effort to discredit the science that falsifies literal biblical claims, but spend no effort justifying their belief in the authority of the Bible.’

This clearly isn’t true of many people of faith who could be described as fundamentalists, who do present arguments for the authority of the Bible and scripture based on philosophy and reason. The awesome J.P. Holding, for example, has a literal view of the Creation account in Genesis, yet his web site is devoted to demonstrating the historical truth and authority of scripture.

Now let’s deal with Dr. Logic’s comments that:

Fundamentalism is not just another form of irrationality. It’s irrationality with
conviction. Fundamentalism has no corrective mechanism. How does the fundamentalist know that his authority is, well, authoritative? Apparently, not by experience. Without correction, we cannot claim commitment to the truth because we reject a priori any possibility that we could be wrong.

There are a number of flaws with this argument. Firstly, there’s the statement that ‘Fundamentalism has no corrective mechanism’. This is problematic because fundamentalist movements consider they are correcting ideological trends that have no validity and are themselves a danger to the truth.

How does the fundamentalist know that his authority is, well, authoritative? Apparently, not by experience.

This assumes that Fundamentalists are fideists, and that they believe something is true solely through faith. But throughout history people of faith have attempted to use reason to demonstrate the truth of their beliefs, and this has included personal experience and observation of the world.

Without correction, we cannot claim commitment to the truth because we reject a priori any possibility that we could be wrong.

This statement is problematic because it assumes, in turn, that the fundamentalist must be wrong, and so could itself be seen as a rejection of the truth.

‘The Christian fundamentalist cannot complain that Osama bin Laden is using the wrong epistemology. bin Laden is using the very same epistemology as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Reason and experience are equally unimportant to all three of these clowns because each will carefully fold his experience to fit into his holy box.’

Again, this is questionable as it assumes that religious fundamentalists may not be able to support their ideas through reason. Furthermore, merely because religions are based on revelation does not mean that they are equally valid or invalid, as much philosophy of religion concerns the question of distinguishing whether a religious experience is true. Furthermore, even from within a particular religious tradition it is possible to criticise a particular fundamentalist interpretation of it. For example, Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda have targeted and murdered civilians and non-combatants, yet the Qu’ran expressly forbids this. Despite their Muslim fundamentalist views, therefore, al-Qaeda have directly acted against a literal interpretation of the Islamic law.

Furthermore, it could be argued that fundamentalists may well be acting according to experience when they adopt their fundamentalist views. Many Muslims in the Middle East turned to fundamentalism because the programmes of modernisation and westernisation adopted by their governments did not provide their societies with greater prosperity or freedom, and the rapid changes associated with these modernisation programmes created massive social problems and disruption. In this instance, modernisation had created problems, which, they believed, could only be solved through the creation of a fundamentalist state and the strict application of Sharia law.

The problem with every fundamentalism is that it results in unnecessary conflict. Instead of reaching consensus based on shared experience, the fundamentalist regards shared experience as either threatening or subservient to his unchangeable prior beliefs. “

Again, this is extremely problematic. Firstly, this seems to equate fundamentalism with violence and the attempt to impose a set of religious laws by force. While this is true of certain forms of militant fundamentalism, it may not be true of others. For example, many Christians are profoundly concerned at certain secular trends that they feel threaten the sanctity of human life, such as abortion and stem cell research. However, opposition to them in the West largely consists of the lobbying of politicians, and letters and articles in the press and other media to argue and explain their position in the hope of changing or influencing legislation in those areas, rather than use force and violence.

Instead of reaching consensus based on shared experience, the fundamentalist regards shared experience as either threatening or subservient to his unchangeable prior beliefs.

There are, again, profound problems with this statement. Firstly, it seems to regard shared experience as a criterion of the truth and morally binding, and that it is, indeed, possible to discover a common rationality. Yet the Enlightenment project ended in the 19th century because philosophers found it impossible to decide upon just such a shared rationality. Additionally, the fact that something is considered to be true by the majority does not mean that it actually is. In the ancient world, for example, infanticide was morally acceptable, but the vast majority of people in the West today, regardless of their particular religious views, regard this with horror and consider it objectively wrong. Thus, something like infanticide is still objectively wrong, even if it is, or has been, considered as morally acceptable by the majority.

Furthermore, merely because a particular moral view held by a majority of citizens does not have a basis in a religious doctrine or belief, does not necessarily make it rational or correct. Many philosophers consider the basic assumptions made by atheists to be similar to religious views in that they are not necessarily self-evidently true, but require explanation and support from another set of beliefs in their turn, which may similarly also not be self-evidently true, and so require support from other beliefs. In the case of Muslim fundamentalists, to them their view of reality makes more sense, and is more self-evidently true, than that of the contemporary, secular West. On the other, some religious beliefs may also be supported by rational argument, such as those offered by some religious groups against abortion, or at least, certain types of it. Furthermore, even if a fundamentalist or person of faith rejects the validity of a certain political decision, this does not necessarily mean that they will use force to overturn it. Again, in the west those who object to certain political decisions on moral grounds general do so through the democratic process and by attempting to change the attitude of the majority, rather than impose their view by force.

Now let’s deal with his claim

that “superstition” resulted in the SUPPRESSION of budding science and/or science that had been around but stymied by the fall of Rome and the resultant takeover of Europe by Christianity.

Now ancient societies were profoundly conservative and it is true that in ancient Rome science and technology were not developed or adopted, for reasons, which are unclear. Indeed, Roman authors like Pliny complained that there was less scientific research after the world had been united under the Roman Empire, than when Greece and the world was divided into separate states. Scholars have suggested a number of reasons why the Romans failed to make much progress scientifically, all of which have been criticised. One suggestion is that the availability of slave labour meant that mechanisation was not competitive in reducing the costs of production. Others have suggested that emperors deliberately rejected technology in favour of providing employment to the vast number of unemployed free citizens in ancient Rome as a way of creating both jobs and internal peace and security. There is a story that when one engineer presented one of the emperors with a design for a machine for raising pillars, the emperor rejected it as he had to provide work to feed the plebs, the Roman free poor. Some classicists reject this story, however, as legend. A

Another explanation for the failure of the ancient world to develop science is the aristocratic nature of the society and the low status of the teknon, or artisan. In the ancient world, philosophical speculation about the nature of reality was generally the province of the aristocratic elite, who looked down on manual work. Thus, while ancient engineers were capable of producing highly sophisticated machines, such as the Antikythera mechanism, which modelled the movements of the planets, the development of such devices may have been seen as below that of true, aristocratic philosophers and so they were not generally adopted or applied.

Also, the ancient philosophers generally worked from a process of logical deduction from first principles, rather than scientific induction, as they distrusted sense experience, which they felt could be deceptive. These are sociological and philosophical explanations for the lack of technological and scientific development in ancient Rome. In fact the British classicist E.R. Dodds, in his essay ‘The Ancient Concept of Progress’ notes that the concept of progress appears to have been only ever accepted by a large number of the public in the 5th century BC, and though throughout antiquity most of those who believed in progress tended to be scientists, after the 5th century all of the major philosophical schools either denied the existence of progress, or restricted it. Thus it could be considered that it was philosophy, rather than religion, that prevented the ancient world developing a concept of progress.

Now let’s examine his comment

3) The associated of Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Pol Pot, and other with atheism is unfair, as opposed to Christiandom’s association with the horrors of the medieval purges, because what we have in the former is a personality cult–and not the proceedings and results of ideology per se.

Firstly, the personal dictatorships of Stalin, Mao and Hitler were based on the view contained within Communist and Nazi ideology that contemporary, bourgeois democracy prevented societal or racial progress or development. Both Nazism and Communism developed personal dictatorships from an ideological rejection of individual freedom. In the case of Communism, it was felt that democracy was only a stage that humanity would pass through before it was replaced by socialism and then world Communism. Indeed, democracy was rejected by Communist leaders like Lenin, because it was felt to act against the interests of the working class as expressed and directed by the Communist party.

European Fascists similarly rejected democracy as it was felt to act against the true interests of the nation or race as a whole by allowing individuals to pursue their own interests rather than those of the nation. In Communism, Lenin in particular stressed the importance of a highly centralised, authoritarian party in order to enforce party unity and prevent the emergence of different factions, as had occurred with the Populists and Socialist Revolutionaries. Now it is true that one of the reasons for the emergence of these anti-democratic philosophies is the lack of democratic tradition in both Germany and Russia. However, this does not mean that the authoritarian regimes and the dictatorships that emerged in Russia and Germany did not claim an ideological basis. Also, the Communist regimes considered that they had discovered the objective, materialist basis of history and society, and that religious belief was a threat to the proper development of society according to the materialist dialectic process, and so had to be suppressed. While the dictatorships of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot were indeed personality cults, the violent rejection of democracy and attempted destruction of religion were based very much on Marxist ideology.

Regarding Christianity’s association with the horrors of medieval persecution, it’s true that Christians have committed horrific atrocities in the name of their religion. However, this does not mean that Christian belief necessarily requires and demands the use of force to enforce religious adherence, and throughout history there have been Christian groups that have strongly objected to the use of force by Christians.

Then there’s Dr. Logic’s comments:

IE–socialism turned into something more peaceful in other places in Europe,
apparently inidicating the ground some seeds fall on is more important than the seed of ideology themselves.

Moreover, in advanced western democracies, the cult of personality is tempered via the voting box, and religion is suppressed. Thus atheist (or tending that way) Sweden is very peaceful internally and in international relations, as is ofr the most part Britain and France and numerous others who long ago gave up blookthirst and imperialism and internal conflict.

Firstly, it is indeed true that the Nazi and Communist dictatorships arose in countries that had no tradition of democracy. However, it could be argued that Sweden has been successful in securing peace and prosperity because it’s form of Socialism is reformist, rather than Communist, and so gradually sought to replace capitalist society through the electoral process rather than through revolution. Lenin violently denounced reformism as he felt that reformist socialists were supporting bourgeois class interests rather than those of the working class. Furthermore, it could be argued that Sweden, and other European nations like England and France, have succeeded because it has retained many of the forms and values of Judeo-Christian society, rather than attempt to replace them outright, as was the case with the Communist and Nazi dictatorships.

As for the statement that religion creates war and imperialism, this is extremely problematic. Clearly religion has formed a component of imperial expansion, but in many cases this was secondary to secular, national, military and commercial interests. The European empires were founded largely through the desire to gain territory and commercial prosperity for the European imperial nations themselves as much as to promote Christianity. In the case of the British Empire, many Christians were firmly opposed to imperial expansion because of the consequent maltreatment and exploitation of the indigenous peoples. The Evangelical Anglicans and other Protestants in particular strongly believed that Britain also had a duty to the indigenous peoples in Britain’s colonies, and that they should be protected from abuse.

In the case of the sectarian violence between Roman Catholic and Protestant in Northern Ireland, this strongly influenced by conceptions of national identity and the history of British imperialism, rather than based purely on religion. Henry II, the king of England who first conquered Ireland in c. 1145, did so primarily in order to control one of his barons, Strongbow, who had already conquered part of Ireland for himself.

Thus religion does not necessarily lead to irrationality, conflict and violence, and Fundamentalism does not necessarily reject reason, experience and the peaceful democratic process.