Re: Islam, theology and politeness

From: Neal Blaikie (
Date: Fri Mar 16 2001 - 14:15:48 MST

Charlie Stross wrote:

> On Wed, Mar 14, 2001 at 03:21:20PM -0800, J. R. Molloy wrote:
> > First, I think people immature enough to truly believe in "technologies
> > that promise to make most of the roots of conflict magically go away"
> > don't belong in science or technology,
> Like it or not, that's the impression of the benefits of nanotechnology
> that goes over first via the press, especially in their most gee-whiz
> mode.
> And that's the impression that's going to go over to the teeming billions,
> because many of them don't have the rationalist education to absorb anything
> deeper. Science and technology *are* seen as magic by many people, even
> today.

Yes, but is it useful for those of us who know better to--deliberately or
inadvertently--perpetuate this irrational viewpoint? In my fantasies, in the
part of my mind that I use for rampant speculation, the image of having
technologies that seem like magic (even to me) is an intoxicating one. But if I
plan to broadcast these ideas out into the world it seems more prudent to
clearly label them as speculations, or write them up as fiction, unless they
can be shown to be real or at least forthcoming. The pie-in-the-sky meme is a
dangerous one whether it comes from religion or science.

> > The danger lies not in ignoring
> > belief systems, but rather in taking them seriously. As long as we can
> > still laugh at the absurdities of religion,
> You're staking out a very dangerous position here -- assuming that
> everybody shares your contempt for religious thinking. Most people
> don't. In fact, if they associate such attitudes with the new technologies,
> they'll reject the technologies, because their value system (however
> skewed you think it is) will lead them to conclude that those technologies
> are inimical.

It's taken me a long time to arrive at the same sad conclusion. When I was much
younger I railed against religious thinking with an almost religious fervor
(irony is often lost on the young). Even now, when I am confronted with what I
know to be an irrational belief, I can feel something twist up inside. However,
I have also had to accept that no amount of rationality or logical persuasion
will convince someone to believe or disbelieve something they don't want to.
Religious belief is not rational or logical, and it isn't intended to be.
People simply believe what they want to believe. Period. When someone decides
to not believe in something anymore, or to start believing in something they
haven't believed before, it is ultimately a personal decision. Sure, outside
influences can play a part, as can simple ignorance, but these aren't the
people to be concerned about.

Consequently, having a contemptuous view of religion is great for a personal
system of values (and is certainly warranted, IMHO), but when directed at
religious people it is abusive and ineffective. So what do we do about it? How
do we gain allies among religious thinkers? Well, first, don't insult them.
Tolerate their beliefs while making it clear that you don't share them (this is
called taking the high road). And I say what do we care what other people
believe as long as their beliefs aren't impacting us? (And if they are, we have
to work even harder to reach an accommodation.) And remember, there are plenty
of scientists and technologists who have religious beliefs. This could be a
place to start.

> Do you think you can manage to disentangle your own personal beliefs from
> your analysis of how people who don't share those beliefs might behave?

Beautifully put, Charlie. I could say "Amen," but the irony might be lost. ;-)


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