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Reason: Fool's Gold for the Bright
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In the recently popular book, The Life of Pi, the narrator calls reason "fool's gold for the bright". That was good for a smile.

I've often heard it said that science is not a viable replacement for religion, because you can't apply the scientific method to inquiries morality and meaning. I suppose I'd agree with that, in the sense that science is generally more constrained and narrow in its inquiry, and employs a sort of rigor that is unattainable in less well-defined areas.

But I'm perfectly fine with saying that reason is the prime instrument for understanding morality and meaning. What are the other paths? Subjectivity and superstition? If we are concerned with finding the best moral code by which to live, and in determining the meaning in our lives, why not use a system that attempts to reduce and limit the bias, self-interest, and potential corruption and abuse that we all know humans are capable of?

Science is a good example of a community that attempts to determine the state of the natural world through particular methods, including a system of checks and balances through stringent peer review and repeatability. There is overlap between this kind of system and our political system, in which laws are debated and revised in a peer review system, and the branches of government have important checks on one another's power, limiting the influence of any particular individual at the expense of the group.

But traditionally you don't see that kind of dispersal and division of influence, or that degree of self-criticism, when it comes to religion. When there is such a shift, you see things like reformations, and liberalization of church doctrines. But those tend to happen every 500 years or so. You see a lot more introspection and analysis in university theology departments, but what goes on there is about as far removed from the everyday practice of religion as it gets. This is inherent in the system because religion is inherently top-down. You don't get any bigger authority than god. And traditionally the purveyors of religion were those (overwhelmingly) men who claimed to have a direct pipeline to god. If you wanted to understand god, you understood him through your local shaman, witch doctor, priest, rabbi, or cleric.

Christianity has undergone a liberalization and democratization of belief, thanks in large part to the printing press and a huge increase in literacy. But religions like Islam remain stuck in the thrall of the antiquated and autocratic versions.

In the modern era, can we really think that such systems are the best way to determine how and why we should live our lives? Should we really rely on hierarchical systems virtually absent of any kinds of checks against human bias? Or should we use our faculty of reason, and hash things out in the marketplace of ideas, from the bottom up, keeping one another in check along the way?


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