Religion, Liberalism

A Genuinely Liberal Approach to Religion in Politics

I’m honored to have the lead essay on Cato Unbound this month. In the essay, I lay out what I take to be a genuinely liberal approach to religion in politics, one that is neither fully libertarian, conservative or secular progress. Some excerpts:

The role of religion in politics is to preserve religious liberty against an overreaching state and encourage religious contributions to the ratification of laws that promote justice and the common good. Religion belongs in politics primarily as defense, rather than offense, restricting state power rather than extending it.

And:

The classical liberal approach to religion and politics, then, avoids both overt and covert establishmentarianism. It bars efforts to give a particular religion, or even religion generally, a hallowed place in the law, while simultaneously resisting efforts to remove religion from the public square. Given its focus on restricting unjustified coercion, my approach does not make an idol of politics and does not insist that shared public deliberation is the sine qua non of a free, democratic society.

Read it all.

I have great commentators: Michael Shermer, Patrick Deneen and Maggie Garrett.

Published on:
Author: Kevin Vallier
  • Jameson Graber

    That was a good article. The two applications really got the point across.

    One part I didn’t really understand was your comment on Intelligent Design. In most cases the controversy isn’t over whether to teach ID in place of Darwinism, but rather whether it’s acceptable to explain both. The latter approach has been blasted just as much as the former, because ID is not science. But is the fact that it’s not science–or that it’s not accepted by the scientific community–really the end of the matter, according to your scheme? Is it a violation of a child’s rights to explain other points of view in a science classroom?

    Too many intellectuals just chant the litany of condemnation against ID without really thinking about the political issues at play in education. Schools are an inherently coercive environment, and deciding how children will be educated is never ideologically neutral. Thus course content is in the center of an endless political tug of war. So I think any comments on the issue need to be sensitive, rather than summarily dismissive of one side or another. Unfortunately, this describes a tiny minority of the rhetoric I hear.

    • Kevin Vallier

      I talk about ID a lot in Chapter 6 of my book. My view is that it can be taught in public schools, but not as science. It should instead by taught as philosophy in an optional “origins” class, but we’d do better just to have school vouchers and let schools do whatever they want.

      • smh

        Let the schools do whatever they want. Let’s ignore the fact that our citizens are lagging further and further behind the rest of the world in math and science knowledge. Who cares that 30% of students entering college are not prepared and need to do remedial work? Equality and freedom is letting whatever crazy idea get equal time in the classroom, even if actual facts have to get pushed to the side in the process.

        “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”
        ― Isaac Asimov

        • adrianratnapala

          So your argument is that it is axiomatic that preventing schools from doing what they want makes them better?

          • smh

            No. I am saying if that our goal as a nation is to educate our children in a fashion that will give them the knowledge to be prepared for college and modern day jobs – we are failing. That’s a fact. If you want me to provide studies that confirm that assertion, I will gladly do so. I am also saying that ID is a waste of classroom time – to publicly fund teaching it by extension is a waste of money.

          • martinbrock

            But U.S. citizens lag further and further behind the rest of the world in math and science while schools may not waste classroom time with ID or otherwise do whatever they want.

          • smh

            So? Did I say ID was the reason the US lags? No, I did not.
            There is no single reason the US lags, but part of the problem is failure to invest in implementing new innovative teaching methods – which could possibly happen if people didn’t put so much effort into trying to get religion in the classroom.

          • martinbrock

            Maybe teaching some theory of Intelligent Design (however ridiculous you may consider it) alongside a theory of Evolution is an innovative teaching method. Maybe kids aren’t as easily brainwashed as you imagine. Maybe they’re commonly more like you, inquisitive and a little rebellious and liable to question what they’re taught. Maybe juxtaposing these theories would lead more kids to reject ID, as opposed to teaching only one of the theories in isolation. Maybe banning ID from the classroom cements faith in the idea more than discussing it openly would.

          • smh

            Maybe? So school curriculum should be based on maybes? Maybe we should teach about the existence ghosts and seances and Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster and the faked moon landing and 9/11 was an inside job… Where does it end? When does the nonsense become unacceptable? When it contradicts the beliefs of whom? Keep the crazy speculation in your own home, in your churches, on your websites.

          • martinbrock

            Schools can only be based on maybes, unless you have a direct line to The Truth somewhere.

            I don’t suppose that we should teach about anything. I suppose that you should teach what you think worth teaching while I teach what I think worth teaching.

          • smh

            The “truth” is what is giving you the ability to post your words thru a computer onto the internet. The “truth” is what gives you the ability to travel the earth in horseless carriages and airplanes. The “truth” is what puts cancer into remission and keeps people from dying of simple infections. The “truth” is what carries your waste away from your home and community keeping you sanitary and healthy.

          • martinbrock

            I write software enabling people to post words on the internet through a computer, so I’m familiar with these truths, and I’m also familiar with the countless maybes involved in coding the logic. You seem more certain than I am, but maybe that’s just an occupational hazard of mine.

            You may have the last word here.

          • smh

            Fascinating about you and your personal stuff, but maybes still doesn’t prepare students for calculus or organic chemistry.

          • Farstrider

            “Schools can only be based on maybes, unless you have a direct line to The Truth somewhere.”

            You mean science? (Yes, I’m baiting you. But we have a way of being pretty sure about things based on empirical evidence that we call science and we have a way of making things up without evidence that we call, in this case at least, ID. The former may not be perfect, but it is certainly better.)

          • martinbrock

            If you believe that science is a direct line to The Truth, you don’t understand science. Science cannot affirm the truth. It can only deny false generalizations and leave unfalsified generalizations subject to further scrutiny.

            Various formulations of “intelligent design” are unfalsifiable and thus unscientific, but so is string theory. Other formulations suggest a meaningful paradigm shift in theories of the development of living forms akin to the shift in theories of information processing that credible academics call “artificial intelligence”.

            A natural process can certainly be “intelligent” in the same sense in which “artificially intelligent” machines are “intelligent”. Even Daniel Dennett will tell you so. People like Michael Behe reject this sense of “intelligence” and suggest something more anthropomorphic in their notions of ID, but these people have no trademark on the word “intelligence” in this context.

            Even if Behe had this trademark, we don’t eliminate every unscientific theory from public school classrooms, not even from scientific classrooms, and I see no point in a statutory authority regulating curricula for this purpose. Politicians are not more devoted to scientific purity than science teachers.

          • Farstrider

            We’ve had this discussion before, Martin. What you mean by “intelligent design” is idiosyncratic – it is not what anyone else means by those words. The theory everyone else describes when they use those words is not science or anything even close. And I never said science was a direct line to Truth – I said it was the closest thing we have (probably the only thing we have) and it was infinitely better than making things up, which is ID.

          • martinbrock

            You bait me with the insinuation, that science is a direct line to the truth, by your own account.

            Whatever you think of Behe’s irreducible complexity, he’s not just making things up. If he’s simply constructing a “God of the gaps”, he does it thoughtfully. Paley’s Watchmaker is also a thoughtful argument, and there are reasons why so many people find it persuasive.

            In my way of thinking, these reasons involve common misconceptions about “intelligence” rather than misconceptions the development of living forms. A “mechanical” process, like Darwinian evolution, can account for the development of living forms, with no holy ghost in the machinery injecting supernatural intelligence, for the same reason that a mechanical process can account for the intelligence between your ears, with no Cartesian ghost in the machine.

            But if I call what occurs between my ears “intelligent” and imagine myself a “designer” of my own thoughts, why not assign a similar “personality” to the process occurring over a longer stretch of time within the biosphere? Why not an “intelligent” Gaia?

            You can call that idiosyncratic if you like. I call it a meeting of the minds with William Paley.

          • Farstrider

            Paley died 54 years before the publication of Origin of the Species. He can therefore offer no more insight on natural evolution than Charlemagne or the Mayans. And the watchmaker analogy fails because it assumes that the complexity seen in nature could not have arisen by accident and therefore must have a designer. Origin, and hundreds of years of biology, paleontology, etc., dispenses with this assumption.
            So, no. You cannot progress by imagining irreducible complexity – a thing for which there is no evidence, contra both Paley and Behe – and then imagine a supernatural solution to that imaginary problem.

          • martinbrock

            When Paley died is not relevant to my point and neither is his insight into natural selection. His observation of the similarity between living forms and artifacts is relevant. He does observe this similarity. He doesn’t simply imagine it. On the contrary, you simply wish it away with dismissive adjectives like “accidental”.

            As Dawkins often notes, “arise by accident” is a misconception of natural selection. Natural selection is an iterative process that accumulates information in a genome, not simply a series of accidents. What occurs between your ears is like what occurs within the biosphere as natural forms develop, and this similarity can account for Paley’s observation that living forms are more like products of human design than like “accidental” configurations of matter.

            That no supernatural solution is necessary is my point. I make this point explicitly, so I’m not sure how you miss it.

          • Farstrider

            ID is an explicit reference to supernatural design (unless you believe the designer are natural aliens). It is indefensible without an element of the supernatural — and a misguided understanding that the complexity cannot be explained by natural processes.

            I never said anything about accidents. I know full well evolution is iterative and not accidental. Only people who don’t understand evolution — usually creationists and IDers — make such a claim.

            Of course life appears designed. You’d have to be a fool to deny the appearance of design. Need I say at this point that appearances can be deceiving?

          • martinbrock

            I explicitly note that Behe imagines an anthropomorphic deity, so I’m clearly not confused on this point. Why do you think it bears repeating? When I say I want a “meeting of the minds” with Paley, I’m not saying either that I will accept every assumption he makes or that I expect him to accept every assumption I make.

            You say, “the watchmaker analogy fails because it assumes that the complexity seen in nature could not have arisen by accident and therefore must have a designer.” This statement seems to say something about accidents.

            Rather than “accidental”, we can understand evolutionary computation as inductive, in the sense of Mark Burgin’s Inductive Turing Machine, and we can understand information processing in a neural network, like a human brain, within the same theoretical framework, so I don’t think appearances are deceiving. That’s my point.

          • Farstrider

            Intelligent design means that there is an intelligence (an entity with a goal) and a design (the plan to reach that goal). All of these things are required: if no entity, no goal or no plan, there can be no ID. Similarly, nothing else is required.

            All of your rhetorical questions about what it means to be intelligent and what it means to design are now answered. We don’t need to do navel gazing to see if we can redefine these words to save ID somehow. Proponents of that “theory” certainly do not trouble themselves to do so. They apply these straightforward definitions. (So do creationists, essentially, which is unsurprising because they are the same thing.) So, why spend time playing with semantics in order to pretend ID is something other than a fraudulent attempt to smuggle creationism into public schools? If Paley was as smart as you say, I doubt he’d be interested in that kind of an exercise either, especially after he read Origin and became even slightly familiar with modern biology.

            People who think evolution is the product of accident do not understand the process. I think we agree on that.

          • martinbrock

            You have the last word here.

          • smh

            One more thing: All the countries that that perform better than us in education, DO NOT teach ID or creationism.

          • Pedro Silva

            Your argument is a “non sequitur”: countries that perform worse than US also DO NOT teach crationsim or ID. That is not an issue anywhere else (at least as far as non-Muslim countries are concerned).

          • Jason Brennan

            What percent of jobs in a modern economy require a good or even a basic understanding of evolution? .01%? .001%?

            You might respond that the point is to help them become good at scientific reasoning. But if we can do that, we can do that without teaching evolution. We can teach something else. That said, I’m no longer convinced schools can actually do much to help critical thinking.

          • smh

            Biological sciences like medicine and pharmaceutical research are very important parts of our economy and everyone’s lives. You cannot teach rudimentary biology without evolution. It is a fundamental concept. You want to pretend that the fossil record does not exist? No more trips to the Natural History Museum for the kiddies, it might elicit some awkward questions.

            You are not convinced based on what? Have you perused education science journals? Have you fully researched Common Core and read the research of the scientists and educators that developed it? Have you figured out why exactly the US lags or you just don’t care?

          • martinbrock

            One can certainly teach rudimentary biology without teaching evolution.

          • smh

            One can, but one shouldn’t.

            NABT POSITION STATEMENTS | PROFESSIONAL SOCIETIES | RESOURCES LINKS |
            BUYER’S GUIDE | COMPANY LISTINGS

            NABT Position Statement on Teaching Evolution

            The frequently-quoted declaration of Theodosius Dobzhansky (1973) that “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” accurately reflects the central, unifying role of evolution in the science of biology. As such, evolution provides the scientific framework that explains both the history of life and the continuing change in the populations of organisms in response to environmental challenges and other factors. Scientists who have carefully evaluated the evidence overwhelmingly support the conclusion that both the principle of evolution itself and its mechanisms best explain what has caused the variety of organisms alive now and in the past.

            The principle of biological evolution states that all living things have arisen from common ancestors. Some lineages diverge while others go extinct as a result of natural selection, mutation, genetic drift and other well-studied mechanisms. The patterns of similarity and diversity in extant and fossil organisms, combined with evidence and explanations provided by molecular biology, developmental biology, systematics, and geology provide extensive examples of and powerful support for evolution. Even as biologists continue to study and consider evolution, they agree that all living things share common ancestors and that the process of evolutionary change through time is driven by natural mechanisms.

            Evolutionary biology rests on the same scientific methodologies the rest of science uses, appealing only to natural events and processes to describe and explain phenomena in the natural world. Science teachers must reject calls to account for the diversity of life or describe the mechanisms of evolution by invoking non-naturalistic or supernatural notions, whether called “creation science,” “scientific creationism,” “intelligent design theory,” or similar designations. Ideas such as these are outside the scope of science and should not be presented as part of the science curriculum. These notions do not adhere to the shared scientific standards of evidence gathering and interpretation.

            Just as nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution, nothing in biology education makes sense without reference to and thorough coverage of the principle and mechanisms provided by the science of evolution. Therefore, teaching biology in an effective, detailed, and scientifically and pedagogically honest manner requires that evolution be a major theme throughout the life science curriculum both in classroom discussions and in laboratory investigations.

            Biological evolution must be presented in the same way that it is understood within the scientific community: as a well-accepted principle that provides the foundation to understanding the natural world. Evolution should not be misrepresented as ‘controversial,’ or in need of ‘critical analysis’ or special attention for any supposed ‘strength or weakness’ any more than other scientific ideas are. Biology educators at all levels must work to encourage the development of and support for standards, curricula, textbooks, and other instructional frameworks that prominently include evolution and its mechanisms and that refrain from confusing non-scientific with scientific explanations in science instruction.

            Adopted by the NABT Board of Directors, 2011. Revised 1997, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2011 (Original Statement 1995). Endorsed by: The Society for the Study of Evolution, 1998; The American Association of Physical Anthropologists, 1998.

          • martinbrock

            So now you’re the lord of shoulds and shouldn’ts. I’m reminded of all those years in Sunday School.

          • smh

            Um yeah. I am the lord of stuff. Teach topics based on what they actually consist of – that’s some crazy idea only zealot would come up with. And only the Pope would be pushy enough to suggest they study the bible a bit in a theology class.

          • Jason Brennan

            I must have missed the part where you answered my question about what percentage of jobs require understanding of evolutionary biology.

            You mention medicine. Most doctors have to take classes in biology before becoming doctors (and also have to take classes in physics, too!), but most doctors don’t use any knowledge from evolutionary biology in their day to day lives.

            FWIW: I’ve read a large amount of education psych, but mostly about college-level stuff. I haven’t paid any attention to the common core debate.

          • smh

            Since the vast majority of professionals in biology believe that evolution is an essential part of an education, EVERY FIELD that requires a biology class would, therefore, require an “understanding of evolutionary biology”.

            I don’t what the percentage of all jobs held are healthcare jobs, but I do know that…

            For the foreseeable future, “healthcare is going to be a great profession for career stability,” predicts Susan Salka, chief executive of AMN Healthcare, the nation’s largest healthcare staffing company. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that jobs in the field will grow by more than 20 percent from 2008 through 2018, twice the pace for overall U.S. job growth.

            We can have a workforce prepared for these jobs or we can ship people over here from other countries where they educate their populace.

            And, yes, premed students have to take physics. Are you suggesting that since they may not use the knowledge gleaned in a physics course in their day to day practice, they should not have to take it?

          • Jason Brennan

            Smh, your last paragraph shows a glimmer of understanding of what I’m getting at. Consider two senses of “requires knowledge of B”

            1. People who work in J use B day to day or frequently.
            2. People who work in J need at some point to demonstrate competence in B in order to get the job, but never use B day to day.

            1 is knowledge needed to do the job. 2 is knowledge needed to get the job, not because it’s useful for the job, but because acquiring that knowledge is a hoop one has to jump through.

            For most doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals, evolutionary biology is like college physics. They have to learn it along the way to get the job, but they don’t use it, ever. My surgeon brother-in-law, for instance, who publishes research, could forget evolutionary theory today and it wouldn’t make a difference.

            The overwhelming majority of what most people learn in college is useless in their jobs. Even for engineers, 90% of what they learn in college is useless.

          • smh

            “The principles of evolution are finding new applications in medicine, but little is known about the role of evolutionary biology in medical curric-
            ula. To determine which aspects of evolutionary biology are included in medical curricula and the factors that influence this, a questionnaire was
            sent to all deans at North American medical schools who are responsible for curricula. The questionnaire asked about content areas in the curricu-
            lum, their perceived importance, and the factors that influence the amount of coverage given to those areas. Forty-eight percent of the deans who
            responded considered evolutionary biology important knowledge for physicians. Only 32 percent of the respondents reported that their schools
            covered at least 8 of 16 core topics in evolutionary biology, and only 16 percent of the schools reported having any faculty with a PhD in evolution-
            ary biology. Lack of time in the curriculum and lack of faculty expertise are the main perceived impediments to increased teaching of evolution.
            We conclude that the role of evolutionary biology as a basic medical science should be carefully considered by a distinguished group of biologists
            and medical educators. In the meanwhile, undergraduate educators need to recognize that, for now at least, most future physicians must learn
            evolutionary biology as undergraduates if they are to learn it at all.”

            “As shown in table 1, more than half of the schools re-
            ported covering core topics involving basic genetics and
            pathogen evolution. Evolutionary explanations for vulnera-
            bility to disease were covered in 10 to 25 percent of schools,
            while fewer than 10 percent reported covering fundamental
            principles such as kin selection and the distinction between
            proximate and ultimate explanations.”

            http://www-personal.umich.edu/~nesse/Articles/Nesse-EvolBiolMedCurric-BioScience-2003.pdf

          • Farstrider

            Antibiotic resistant disease? Surgical disinfectant? Why we get the flu shot every year? Your brother-in-law could forget all of this?

          • Farstrider

            Well, preventing them from teaching outright falsehoods will certainly help.

    • martinbrock

      Much of economics, sociology and psychology, not to mention cosmology and particle physics, is not science either. Any reputable, theoretical physicist will tell you that string theory is not remotely falsifiable, yet it’s not banned from polite conversation in the academy. The Gaia hypothesis was once dismissed by “hard science” zealots like Dawkins, but many biologists not take seriously the idea of the biosphere as a cohesive organism with many interdependent, interacting parts and synergistic characteristics only comprehensible at a level of description above the level of atomistic properties of the parts.

      Cognitive psychologists also take seriously the idea that properties of an information processing system, like the consciousness of a human brain, could emerge from such complex interactions. This theory of emergent consciousness is not falsifiable, but scientists don’t dismiss it as simple superstition either.

      Here is Daniel Dennett on what could be called “intelligence” in the natural development of living forms.

      http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/06/-a-perfect-and-beautiful-machine-what-darwins-theory-of-evolution-reveals-about-artificial-intelligence/258829/

      Dennett suggests that “intelligence” need not imply “comprehension”. By “comprehension”, he presumably means “consciousness”, but he can only mean that a theory of intelligence is possible without an explicit account of consciousness, since no one has a very persuasive theory of consciousness as far as I know.

      Artificial Intelligence is a theory of the intelligence of computing machinery without an account of machine consciousness, and I suppose we’ll always be free to imagine intelligent machinery without consciousness, even if the machines ultimately resemble conscious beings as much as Mr. Data, just as one may be a solipsist now. It’s not clear to me how anyone can ever definitively establish, with only scientific methods, that solipsism is false.

      • smh

        I happen to be a particle physicist. An important point that you conveniently glossed over is the fact that there are experimental and theoretical particle physicists. They work very closely together to find ways to make the theories testable.

        • martinbrock

          I don’t know why you think I gloss over this fact or why it’s relevant to my point.

  • smh

    LOL way to ignore the fact that Hobby Lobby et al now that they won, are fighting against filling out the form informing the government of their objection so the government can provide alternative arrangements for their employees. Way to ignore abortion, personhood laws and the Hyde Amendment. Way to ignore all the legislation and rulings that have come before like United States v. Lee and Adams v. Commissioner.

    And how is this “legalization of gay marriage with extensive religious exemptions” supposed to work exactly?

    • Jason Brennan

      Smh, did you read his book?

      • smh

        No, I read the article.

        • Jason Brennan

          The article is just a precis for the book.

          You’re being kind of an asshole around here, so maybe you should calm it down and be a bit more charitable. Kevin will be nice to you. I won’t. I don’t abide assholes.

    • Kevin Vallier

      Since even your handle, not to mention your comments, is a sign of disrespect, I’m choosing not to engage your concerns.

      • smh

        I will edit my post if you like. What changes do you suggest?

      • atheist

        You may not like how the question is phrased here, but a very similar question has been politely posted throughout the thread that you have failed to address. Can the state use general tax dollars to fund abortions? Why or why not? If religious people should be granted exemptions from the taxes that pay for taxpayer funded abortions, should peace advocates be exempted from paying for the military? Should libertarians be granted exemptions from the taxes that pay for taxpayer funded anything?

        As we see it, either the state has the power to use the tax dollars of people to pay for policies they oppose or it does not. We cannot simply carve out an exception for Christianity but not other views. Kevin, do you have a response to this line of argument?

        • Kevin Vallier

          Actually, I have two papers on the matter, both unpublished. The first discusses how libertarian public reason ends up being once you allow for reasonable disagreement about justice. The second focuses on how political liberalism should treat market anarchists. I can share them with you if you’d like to email me privately.

          In short, the state can’t use money to fund abortion because the religious have a defeater for their funds being used in this way. I do think pacifists should be exempted and receive tax rebates. Also, I think comprehensive objectors to coercive orders like ancaps should be treated IN THEORY (NOT IN PRACTICE) like Native Americans – given a plot of land and the autonomy to live according to their own rules. I call this a “global exemption.” The vast majority of people, I think, care more about relating to one another under terms reasonably like our own that I don’t think they have defeaters for political order, even if they don’t always get what they want. But some libertarians are different.

          Good questions, though. I’ve thought about them a lot.

          • atheist

            You have basically conceded that in your “liberal” system if someone objects to how their tax dollars are being spent for any sincerely held belief then the taxpayer should get their money back. You do not address the case of anarchists because they are the reductio ad absurdum of your position: they don’t have to pay taxes as they see the state as inherently illegitimate. If you instead say, no I draw the line before anarchists then you must pick favorites. To exempt from taxation some but not others is to privilege those you exempt. On the one hand you have anarchy, on the other hand you have an illiberal state.

          • jdkolassa

            I would love to read these papers. I believe my email address is in my Facebook profile.

  • stevenjohnson2

    The full article says of something called the “secular progressive approach”:

    “This line of argument has two problems. First, it leads to the marginalization of sincere citizens of faith. Secular progressives imply that deeply religious citizens have less civic virtue than secular citizens and insist that they bear heavier political burdens. Second, privatization requires many religious citizens to violate their personal integrity. To be good progressive citizens, many religious people must subordinate their religious commitments to the secular democratic state, which many cannot do in good conscience.”

    It is not a heavier political burden to be expected to make rational arguments that do not depend upon personal revelation or the self-proclaimed moral superiority of the correct believer. It’s exactly the same burden placed on. The uncomfortable feeling that one can’t rationally defend one’s point of view is no justification for holding rationality to be an unfair burden.

    One part of civic virtue is making a good faith effort to persuade other citizens with rational argument. The deeply religious citizen who disdains this is not marginalized by their personal resentment of perceived implications. They’ve merely withdrawn from the debate. My observation is that this is often preferred precisely to avoid challenges to the faith. Pleading for limiting discourse so that it prevents any challenge to faith is a demand for religious privilege. The first problem is nonexistent.

    Obedience to just laws is part of good citizenship. Historically, good citizenship is even held to include obedience to all laws, regardless of their justice. The demand for religious privilege in exemptions is a questionable issue for any state. The terms “progressive” and “secular democratic” are irrelevant except to strawman the issue I think. Frankly, the lessons of previous history, such as the Ottoman millet system, do not inspire respect for the notion that this is truly a matter of liberty. Insofar as the second problem exists, it exists for all societies.

    Historically personal freedom correlates strongly with the political strength of religion. Trying to justify the expansion of religious privileges in the face of growing disbelief is a sharply reactionary step.

    • adrianratnapala

      What privileges your particular view of what counts as a rational argument?

      • smh

        The most winning rational arguments are like scientific hypotheses. They
        1) can be supported with data, evidence and statistics.
        2) are falsifiable.

        • Jason Brennan

          Support your statement with data, evidence, and statistics. Also, is your statement falsifiable?

          Popper was wrong about philosophy of science, you know.

          • Emotionalogic

            Popper might have been wrong, but Russell wasn’t. If you allow religious belief, you allow belief in anything, no matter how ridiculous. That may be desirable politically, but it’s very bad with regards to intellectual rigor.

          • martinbrock

            Who is right about philosophy of science?

      • stevenjohnson2

        Convergence toward agreement on matters of fact and on which arguments at least have merit.

        That’s a very lax standard but religion can’t meet it. Religion doesn’t agree on facts and it doesn’t agree on what counts as reasonable argument.

        That’s exactly why religion doesn’t belong in the public sphere and why it’s wrong to try to impose special privileges for religion on people.

        • Kevin Vallier

          So on the form of Rawlsianism I defend, and many secular people also defend, disagreement about the ultimate aims of life is fundamentally reasonable: sincere, rational, well-informed individuals can be religious or irreligious, and in virtue of their reasonableness, their views should count in politics, at least against the use of political violence. That’s the point of Rawls’s stress on reasonable pluralism.

          I understand that you want to deny that religious belief can be reasonable, but on this issue, I think you’re simply misinformed about the possibility of rational religious belief.

          • atheist

            Is it rational to believe something simply because the Bible tells you so? What about the Koran?

          • Emotionalogic

            Could you elaborate on “the possibility of rational religious belief”? Specifically, how do you distinguish what you see as “rational religious belief” (such as Christianity) from what you see as irrational belief? I cannot see how Christian views on Same-sex marriage and contraception are any more rational than any other arbitrary moral code. It seems you think Christians have a right to civil disobedience on religious grounds that “irrational” religious believers don’t. How do you make that distinction without violating the premise of treating all religions (including, presumably, less reputable ones like Scientology, the Church of Satan, or Paganism) equally?

          • Kevin Vallier

            It is hard to explain quickly, but on moral matters, I appeal to a kind of access internalism about epistemic justification, where people can be justified in holding different beliefs based on considerations they can make themselves aware of on reflection. In some cases, we have very little reason that we’re aware of to believe x, but we might entirely lack reason to disbelieve x. Imagine standard seemings. Many religious beliefs might be justified like that: we have some reason to believe it (testimony from respected figures) and no reason to disbelieve it (none of the counterarguments seem successful).

          • atheist

            The burden of proof rests with the believer:

            “Many orthodox people speak as though it were the business of sceptics to
            disprove received dogmas rather than of dogmatists to prove them. This
            is, of course, a mistake. If I were to suggest that between the Earth
            and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an
            elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided
            I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even
            by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that,
            since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on
            the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be
            talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were
            affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and
            instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in
            its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the
            doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or
            of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.” – Bertrand Russell.

            As noted by Emotionalogic, you are effectively distinguishing between communally respected and communally disrespected beliefs. For example, in the framework you describe Christianity would be a rational religious belief, but Mormonism would not (at least outside of Utah). Both of these sets of beliefs, however, have the same burden of proof. Both fail this burden spectacularly (though the Book of Mormon is a pretty spectacular play).

          • martinbrock

            I have no burden of proving anything to you. I may believe in the china teapot without giving a flip whether you join me in the belief. I don’t need cobelievers at all, but if I want cobelievers, I may seek them among people who are not you.

          • Emotionalogic

            I agree that people can justify holding a belief based on considerations of internal reflections, but only if they can form those considerations into some kind of logical argument, which must then hold up to intellectual scrutiny. The only part of your reply that seems to address the issue of what makes Christianity special is the reference to “testimony from respected figures”. That just doesn’t work for me. For one, it’s not a logical argument, it’s an argument from authority. For another, you seem to be taking it as a given that the testimony from respected figures points to Christianity, when most contemporary scientists, philosophers, and other intellectuals are non-believers. You yourself acknowledge that “the secular progressive approach reigns among intellectuals and theorists”.

          • stevenjohnson2

            I was raised in a Southern Baptist church. There was no wanting involved. Instead there was an emotional resistance to the the conclusion forced by the evidence, namely, religion rejects the final authority of reason. Yet even if internet telepathy allowed you to correctly assess my motives, that does not actually bear on the rationality of religious belief. Convergence on fact doesn’t just mean on the nature of the afterlife and such, but on the facts of nature and history. Yes, religion has a well-attested problem with rationality there!

            I don’t think you’ve correctly stated the problem either. A reasonable pluralism on the “ultimate aims of life” is irrelevant to the limited aims of political actions. Consider the two examples in the essay, gay marriage and the contraception “mandate.” The religious cannot demonstrate how gay marriage harms heterosexual marriages nor can it demonstrate a state interest in unregulated cohabitation at the cost of harms to the participants. Nor can the religious demonstrate a benefit to the birth of unwanted children even when it damages the health of the mother.

            Yet religion cannot appeal to “ultimate aims” in these cases. If you assert a need to preserve the sanctity of marriage (as if God couldn’t!) or the need for maximal reproduction, there is still not reasonable connection to (whose?) “ultimate aims” other than personal conviction. But if we stand only on the ground of personal convictions, one person’s is as good as another, barring the tacit assumption that some people really are holier than others.

            A moderate amount of pluralism is one thing, broad areas of agreement could at least suggest that there is a real coherence of goals and methods. But in religion, the question is whether there are any views that aren’t canceled by the diametric opposite. The very insistence that there is such a thing as rational religious belief is denied by some religious, and they cite proof texts. Of course, there is no agreement on what constitutes a proof text either! Similarly, the claim that the New Testament does not utter general teachings on slavery was strenuously denied by, among others, the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention.

            If we’re going to admit religious argumentation into politics, why should I not condemn you as perverting Scripture with your manmade dogma of abolitionism, aimed at desecrating marriage with miscegenation and overthrowing society with a suffrage mandate?

  • adrianratnapala

    But more importantly, I don’t want my non-Christian friends to be
    treated as second-class citizens on Christian grounds. I believe that
    Jesus taught that all human beings, no matter who they are, are both
    loved by God and made in His image, and so have a dignity that demands
    respect.

    Ok, but as a “theologically orthodox Christian” do you not also accept that — unless they convert — your non-Christian friends are eternally damned, regardless of the dignity and respect due to them on Earth? After all, God who loves them, want them converted before their fate is sealed.

    Aren’t you taking libertarianism recklessly far? Because even if a society with a genuinely liberal approach to religion is better than a mildly theistic one, that is still only a finite good and thus counts for nothing against the infinite good of saving even one single soul.

    • Kevin Vallier

      Two issues here:

      (1) on the doctrine of hell, a popular position among theologically orthodox Christian philosophers is hopeful universalism, the view that while some go to hell, none of their forever, as people can change and grow in the afterlife. I am tempted by that position, though I think it is technically possible for some to stay in hell forever, but it will require a mighty hard heart reinforced forever.

      (2) but even so, everyone who ends up separated from God (hell) will only be separated because they really, truly want to be. So in the end, God respects the autonomy of persons in a radical sense: He allows them to reject Him forever. So I figure we should follow a similar principle: persuasion without coercion. I have way, way more to say on this topic, but I hope this suffices.

      • adrianratnapala

        Interesting. (1) really surprises me and I a have a nasty (but uninformed) suspicion that these Christian philosophers are bending orthodoxy to conform with the rest of society. I thought the idea was that our life on Earth was our one-and-only chance, or more accurately that our life on Earth sufficiently demonstrates the nature of our eternal self.

        It admit that latter way of saying it is much more compatible with liberalism since it hints that coercion cannot save souls. But that argument works equally well against peaceful persuasion.

        (2) is much more in line with my prior beliefs about Christians. But it doesn’t really settle the point. What passes for coercion on Earth cannot really coerce the soul. Inquisitorial torture is coercion in so far as it extracts an earthly confession, but in terms of the choice between God and damnation it is merely sharp persuasion, or perhaps “framing of the issue”.

        I agree there is way more to say about this topic, but sadly BHL doesn’t seem like the right place.

        • Pedro Silva

          Most atheists (at least on the Internet) seem to have a caricatured idea of Heaven and Hell, which was sadly often pushed by churches in their popular preaching (though most often not on their high theology).
          John Henry Cardinal Newman had a very interesting insight on Heaven and Hell: “Heaven is Heaven only to the Holy”. Paraphrasing it, union with God is only perceived as good by those souls who have chosen God over other (lesser) goods. Those who have chosen lesser, non-eternal goods, instead of God perceive union with God as a torment, not because God wills it so, but because it is, for them, the absence of those goods they have decided to devote themselves to. http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/Interiorlife/iloo35.htm

          • TracyW

            Did you mean to write “perceive separation from God as a torment”? Because if it’s perceiving union with God as a torment, I can agree with you.
            As for picking non-eternal things as being more valuable than the Christian god, my understanding was that a core Catholic teaching is that we all get eternal life, so the people I pick over God, and all the works of the human mind, such as mathematics and poetry, are eternal.

          • Pedro Silva

            I did mean that “Those who have chosen lesser, non-eternal goods, instead of God perceive union with God as a torment”, as they would rather have something else (wealth, pleasure,power) instead.

          • TracyW

            Hmm, that doesn’t follow logically. To perceive union with God as a torment implies an actual dislike of God, not merely a preference for something else. If I’d prefer a raspberry ice-cream to a slice of apple pie that doesn’t mean that I’d perceive being given a slice of apple pie as a torment. What makes me perceive the notion of union with God as a torment is that many people say that God tortures anyone who doesn’t worship them. Union with God strikes me as actively bad, not merely something that’s less important than the people I love, or mathematics or poetry.

            Your theology of the afterlife, where only people who want union with God get that, and those of us who don’t want union get to pursue our own vision of the good life [afterlife/death?], does make union with God sound rather less tormenting. Though I still prefer other values over God.

          • Pedro Silva

            “. What makes me perceive the notion of union with God as a torment is
            that many people say that God tortures anyone who doesn’t worship them.”

            Why should you believe what those people tell you about the character of God?… As Immanuel Kant remarked :
            “. . . if God should really speak to man, man could still never know
            that it was God speaking. It is quite impossible for man to apprehend
            the infinite by his senses, distinguish it from sensible beings, and recognize it as such. But in some cases man can be sure that the voice he hears is not
            God’s; for if the voice commands him to do something contrary to the
            moral law, then no matter how majestic the apparition may be, and no
            matter how it may seem to surpass the whole of nature, he must consider
            it an illusion [….] We can use, as an example, the myth of the
            sacrifice that Abraham was going to make by butchering and burning his
            only son at God’s command (the poor child, without knowing it, even
            brought the wood for the fire). Abraham should have replied to this
            supposedly divine voice: “That I ought not kill my good son is quite
            certain. But that you, this apparition, are God — of that I am not
            certain, and never can be, not even if this voice rings down
            to me from (visible) heaven.””

            Of course there are reports on the Bible about awful commandments supposedly coming from God. People at all times interpret their own behavior/beliefs according to the surrounding culture, and what got written in the Bible reflect the author’s (sometimes flawed) understanding of the meaning of God’s actions. The sacrifice of Issac is one such story: as far as I can tell, Abraham simply assumed (from the contemporary sacrificial cults) that his God would also demand those cruel practices, but was rebuked by God at the final moment, rather than “having his faith tested by cruel means”.

          • TracyW

            Why should you believe what those people tell you about the character of God?.

            That’s the thought I had when I was about 12. However, that thought only came after a long process of believing what those people said, and realising that that adds up to a pretty horrifying picture. Consequently when someone starts talking about God my basic reaction is “ugh”.

          • adrianratnapala

            If you consider the view the God is (among other things) morality itself, then “union with God” will mean a full understanding and proper shame for your sins. A psychopath who on Earth was untroubled by his brutality will no longer have that shield and will thus be tormented. God has a remedy for this (forgiveness after genuine repentance) but our hypothetical psycho is so ashamed that he fears to seek it from God his judge, who, remember is morality itself.

          • TracyW

            And if I consider the view that God is (among other things) a right bastard, then “union with God” will mean being stuck with a right bastard for however long that union is. A Christian who on earth was untroubled by God’s brutality will no longer have that shield and will thus be tormented. Don’t know what the remedy for that one is.

          • adrianratnapala

            TracyW, I only meant Pedro’s point was coherent when he said people could experience hell through their own perceptions and action and not because of God’s animosity. Your version is also logically coherent.

            Neither is true, because there is no God.

          • TracyW

            If Pedro had said that, I would have agreed with him. There are plenty of ways of making your own life hellish.

            But Pedro didn’t say that. He made a much more bolder claim.

          • Pedro Silva

            I have an inkling that “the people you pick over God”, as well as the eternal works of human mind, will all be waiting for us close to Him, so that we will get the full package: all the ones we love, all the knowledge of the Good and Evil we have performed on each other, all the joy (and tears) of finally understanding why our loved ones once hurt us (or felt hurt by us), all the forgiveness that comes from overflowing love.
            I do doubt, however, that anyone would be able find happiness with “the people one has picked over the eternal Good”: if any one has saved a loved oned by torturing an innocent person, even the presence of all the loved ones would not be enough to assuage the horror of seeing oneself through the eyes of the slaughtered innocent.

            PS: I have strayed too far (I guess) from the scope of BHL, so I believe I should stop. Thanks for putting up with me: I have sincerely loved reading your perspective on these matters.

          • TracyW

            I have an inkling that “the people you pick over God”, as well as the eternal works of human mind, will all be waiting for us close to Him…

            Given how my grandmother lived her life, I have a hard time believing she’d be waiting anywhere for anyone.

            if any one has saved a loved one by torturing an innocent person, even the presence of all the loved ones would not be enough to assuage the horror of seeing oneself through the eyes of the slaughtered innocent

            Well that’s a new take on my Sunday School teachings about God sending Christ his son to die a torturous death to save the rest of us.

      • TracyW

        So, God tortures you until you give in and worship him as a god? I suppose this is better than the eternal torture after death interpretation, but it still sounds rather disrespectful of the autonomy of others.

        • martinbrock

          Eternal torture after death is not particularly Biblical. Lots of things you learned in Sunday School (or from people presuming to teach you Biblical theology) are not particularly Biblical. You can make a case for eternal torment as an interpretation of various references to Hell in the Christian canon, but this interpretation is neither unambiguous nor more persuasive than others to me. It’s not clear to me that most of the authors of these texts had eternal torment in mind, and though universalism seems to be a minority view among Christians, it has been around from the beginning.

          • TracyW

            That may be. But if “I will just torture you until you worship me” is respectful of the victim’s autonomy, surely “we will prosecute you and fine you until you pay for contraceptive cover” is also respectful of religious citizens’ autonomy. Indeed, more respectful, the US government is only coercing behaviour, not one’s innermost mind.

          • martinbrock

            Well, “you’ll suffer torment after death if you do X” is a fairy tale while “you’ll be locked in a cage if you do X” is an actual threat to lock someone in a cage that states routinely put into practice. This distinction seems very relevant to me. If I could stop people from murdering or raping other people with a fairy tale, I guess I’d prefer this method to locking people in cages or executing them.

          • TracyW

            Martinbrock – are you an atheist? Your first answer here made me think you were a Christian, but this answer seems to come from a very atheist viewpoint, and on re-reading your first answer you don’t say anything clearly indicating a Christian belief.

          • martinbrock

            I prefer “naturalistic pantheist” to “atheist”, but in the common vernacular, I’m an atheist. I don’t believe that traditional religion is the root of all evil or that conventionally religious people are morons and/or threats to common decency, and I have no sympathy with this sort of militant atheism. On the contrary, religious faith, of a sort, is and should be the organizing principle that largely replaces the state.

            Everyone has a religion of this sort, a set of normative standards by which they wish to the world around them to be organized. For many people, these norms are part and parcel of a larger system incorporating what I call “fairy tales”, but I really don’t mean this description to be derogatory. I have no problem with fairy tales. Stories of this sort are very important to the way people imagine their role in the world, and I have no fundamental problem with them.

            In my way of thinking, the normative standards by which people wish to live are subjective preferences, not universal Truths literally handed down by God on stone tablets; however, I don’t want to impose my way of thinking on others. I only want people to resist the urge to impose their standards outside of an association accepting their standards freely. The Amish come much closer to my idea of a free society than any authority centered in DC or even Manchester dictating the terms of marriage, gay, straight or otherwise, to millions or hundreds of millions of people.

            It’s not that I want everyone to be Amish. That’s not the freedom I have in mind at all. I don’t want to be Amish myself, but I want the Amish free to be Amish.

          • TracyW

            Thanks for explaining.

        • Pedro Silva

          No… The popular understanding of Hell as a torture chamber established by God does not agree with the theological concept, which has rather stressed the interpretation of hell as the absence of God. I do not think it surprising to find that deeply religious people who can think of no worse misery than being separated from God would describe Hell as a torture chamber (though one of a soul’s own making, rather than God-created).

          • TracyW

            If that’s the case, the odd thing is that many of these deeply religious people also tend to assume that all unbelievers will suffer in Hell in the afterlife.
            Although it seems pretty clear from your response to me above that you’re an exception theologically on this point.

          • Pedro Silva

            I do not think I am an exception: at least the Cathechism of the Catholic Church clearly states that separation from God is a state one may enter into only through one’s deliberate choice to remain separated. Of course I cannot speak about the beliefs of all of the other people you meet: I guess that the religious landscape in the US is quite different from what we hear preached in Catholic Churches in Portugal.

            One final clarification: by “deeply religious people who can think of no worse misery than being separated from God”, I do not mean to say:
            a) “those who believe in God/Bible,etc.” ,

            but rather

            b) “those who believe in God/Bible,etc. as the expression of the the eternal Good and find their joy in seeking union with the eternal Good”.

            Believing is not enough to be deeply religious: the Devil believes that God exists, but that hardly makes him religious 😉 There is even a parable in the Gospel contrasting those who rejoice in doing the Good, even though their words are full of defiance, from those who claim to obey God and then go their own way 🙂

          • martinbrock

            The Devil has His own religion.

          • TracyW

            the Cathechism of the Catholic Church clearly states that separation from God is a state one may enter into only through one’s deliberate choice to remain separated.

            This reminds me of a quote from Terry Pratchett’s fantasy novel Eric:

            “The gods of the Disc have never bothered much about judging the souls of the dead, and so people only go to hell if that’s where they believe, in their deepest heart, that they deserve to go. Which they won’t do if they don’t know about it. This explains why it is so important to shoot missionaries on sight.”

      • martinbrock

        A movie called The Rapture, with Mimi Rogers, makes this point clearly, though possibly not so as to reinforce your faith. The movie could offend all sorts of people, left, right and center, and I suppose I like it for this reason. The movie’s hell is not an endless sensation of burning, but it is separation from God, and it is a choice, even a rational choice, of the movie’s protagonist. It’s one of my favorites, definitely my favorite with Rogers, and I recommend it to sincere Christians and atheists alike, without expecting to make friends of either.

  • Gordon Barnes

    I’m curious how would you would address the following concern. Some members of some religious traditions indoctrinate their children so thoroughly and successfully that they are virtually incapable of becoming autonomous adults. They are psychologically incapable, or nearly so, of reflecting critically on the religious beliefs with which they were raised. When they become adults, they are free in the sense that no one any longer interferes with their actions, but how valuable is that to a person who has been rendered incapable of choosing for himself, in any significant sense, how to live? It seems to me that it isn’t very valuable at all. This seems to be one of those cases in which negative freedom without positive freedom, or autonomy, is practically worthless. Do you have any ideas about how you would address this issue?

    • Kevin Vallier

      Besides cults, what evidence do you have that a strong religious upbringing undermines autonomous adult choice in comparison with other activities? I’m not saying there isn’t any. I’ve just never seen any.

      • atheist

        The Bible allows slavery and genocide. The Koran encourages holy war. These are manifestly immoral works. Yet most people raised in Christianity or Islam continue to believe in the holy nature of these books when they grow up. What more evidence do you need that Sunday school undermines autonomous adult choice? It certainly impairs the development of critical thinking skills in children… http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2014/07/18/new-study-shows-that-children-exposed-to-religion-have-a-hard-time-distinguishing-fact-from-fiction/

        • Kevin Vallier

          That study is not convincing: http://prosblogion.ektopos.com/2014/07/24/do-children-with-a-religious-background-have-difficulties-distinguishing-fiction-from-reality/

          And the Bible stuff is much more complicated than you suppose. Neither the OT genocides nor the encouragement to obey your slave master until you can secure your freedom in the NT are general moral teachings.

          • martinbrock

            It’s fair to say that Paul doesn’t defend slavery when he tells Christian slaves to obey their masters. The context is clear enough. He’s telling them to seek their freedom by converting their masters to Christianity, in which no one is a slave, as opposed to what might be a suicidal attempt to escape the slavery by other means. Paul is an itinerant preacher in a nascent religious movement. He has no power to free slaves. What is he supposed to say? Rise up? Like Bush Sr. advised all those shia to rise up against Saddam Hussein before abandoning them like lambs to the slaughter? That would have been more holy?

            But those genocides in the OT are pretty clearly defended. Whether or not they’re general moral teachings, defending genocide in any context is more than I can swallow, so I figure that Moses was just the Hitler of his age, and that Hitler emulated Moses, only with his German volk as the chosen people, more than opposing him. In final analysis, it didn’t work out for the Germans either.

          • atheist

            Your answer is astounding for its lack of moral clarity. The absence of a “general moral teaching” in favor of genocide is an exceptionally low bar for having moral authority. The standard is not, “I only led a genocide that one time.” or “I only condoned genocide in very praticular circumstances.” It’s, “never and I will act to stop it” (or at the very least, “I have not nor will I ever participate in or advocate for a genocide”). Similarly, the general moral teaching on slavery should have been something like: “masters free your slaves, for if you do not they the right to kill you to obtain their freedom.” Slave owners used the passages of the Bible to justify slavery for a reason: because they had what you might call a rational religious belief if the Bible was to be taken seriously (many see something else in the great ink blot, I know, but this ambiguity is precisely the problem).

            Where is your moral outrage? Where is your moral clarity? I also note you have nothing to say on the Koran (an even more appalling moral text than the Bible).

            On the study, the link you provided makes several good points. This is the most convincing: “Given that the stories in study 2 were still closely analogous to Bible stories, I am not convinced that these events would strike children as unfamiliar. In order to establish that kids from religious households are more receptive to claims about impossible events, we would need to have widely divergent scenarios. At the onset of experiment 2, the
            authors report a study where they asked children to categorize 3 familiar characters (historical) and 3 characters that appear in stories (fictional stories). For each correct categorization, children received
            1 point. Interestingly, there was no difference between
            religious and secular children. Secular children had a mean score of 5.75, and religious children had a mean score of 5.88. Unfortunately, there are no further details about this study, but it does suggest that children from religious households are just as able as children from
            secular households to distinguish familiar fictional characters (e.g., Cinderella) from historical characters (e.g., George Washington).” I guess what I would say is, if we take this as the state of the world that religious children can distinguish truth from fiction when religious stories are not involved then we still have a problem, because many religious parents involve religion in everything. Now that’s not in the study, but it is in people growing up and keeping the religion of their parents despite the appallingly immoral holy books of these religions (not to mention the lack of evidence for the truth claims in those books).

          • Kevin Vallier

            Your sanctimonious tone is really starting to grate, so I’m choosing to end the conversation. If you like, we could carry on the discussion, kindly, through private channels.

          • atheist

            You took a position in a public forum, I would like an answer in a public forum. You have the privilege of being a philosophy professor, the least you can do is grant the rest of us a public articulation of your views. Your position was “the Bible stuff is much more complicated than you suppose.” (which I again note your answer ignores the moral failing of the Koran). My position was, no, the supposed complexity you point to is the problem. Not explicitly forbidding genocide is the problem. Not explicitly forbidding slavery is the problem. And the ambiguity on these questions in the Bible has come at the cost of enormous human suffering. In the face of this suffering, we should collectively be outraged that the Bible is upheld as the definitive moral teaching by so many. Thus the tone of outrage. So I’m sorry if you don’t like my tone, but I have just made a calm case for why my tone is appropriate and would appreciate a public response to my point (the actual point, not the point about the tone).

          • martinbrock

            Paul’s formulation does explicitly forbid slavery within Christianity (“neither slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, male nor female …”). When he advises Christians to obey their masters, he’s not describing a tenet of Christianity. He’s describing a feature of the world over which he has no control and with which Christians must cope somehow. He’s telling followers not to cope with their enslavement by resisting its violence with their own violence but to submit to it peacefully while remaining an example of the Christian way of living until Christianity engulfs masters and slaves alike, because a Christian master may not be a master in the worldly sense even if the worldly titles persist. Paul says these things explicitly in various letters.

            When Paul wrote, Christians were a tiny, unpopular group with no political power. Their prophet was a man recently executed for sedition, and they were no more popular within the Jewish community from which they emerged than among conventionally polytheistic Romans. We must understand everything they wrote in this historical context.

          • Farstrider

            Slavery has got to be the easiest moral question ever posed by or to any society anywhere. If the best defense you can muster on this point is that the Bible’s response is complex or ambiguous, I think you have to agree that is pretty weak tea.

          • martinbrock

            The Bible is a collection of works by hundreds of different people with widely divergent views writing over thousands of years, just so you know. If you confuse it with some authoritative exposition on the one, right way to think about slavery, that’s your problem, not mine.

          • Farstrider

            “If you confuse it with some authoritative exposition on the one, right way to think…”
            If the bible is not this, then what is it for? It has no purpose other than to tell people how to think. If it fails to do so, it is no different (and certainly no more useful) than any other mythology.

          • martinbrock

            The Bible is an ancient text that many people revere. It exists to be read and discussed. In my neck of the woods, it is more commonly read and discussed than other mythology.

      • Gordon Barnes

        Let’s begin with an extreme case, for the sake of the example, and then I’ll make one brief suggestion as to why I think it generalizes quite a bit. Consider the Amish. A child who is raised in an Amish community is isolated from the outside world, and taught only what is consistent with Amish doctrine. Moreover, and more importantly, everyone she knows, all of her family and friends, require that she remain Amish as an adult, or else be separated from them for the rest of her life. I don’t think that very many people in that situation can make an autonomous choice. What would you say about that case? Should the Amish have the right to deprive people of autonomy, or something very close to that? I think this is an important case precisely because it is test case for the value of negative freedom as opposed to positive freedom, because it looks like we have a real conflict here. And now here is why I think this generalizes, at least a bit. In order for anyone to leave a strict religious upbringing, they have to either cut ties, or at least strain relationships with family and friends. You might say that this is true of any upbringing, but the religious case is different, and the reason is in the nature of the case — what is perceived to be at stake is nothing less than eternal salvation, or something equivalent. Moreover, the kind of indoctrination that is often practiced makes it especially difficult to question later, because it sets up feelings of guilt, etc, that are hard to overcome. I could adduce empirical evidence for this, but I trust that you would agree in at least some cases, and the question is how we should treat those cases.

        • martinbrock

          People leave Amish communities routinely, so they clearly can make this autonomous choice. Pressure to conform to the standards of a community is hardly unique to the Amish. I’d rather be held in a community this way than through threats of coercive force.

          The Amish approach to social cohesion and conformity doesn’t see extreme to me at all. Civil forfeiture seems more extreme. Caging pot smokers seems much more extreme. If, rather than caging pot smokers, the opponents of pot smoking only isolated themselves from pot smokers, I suppose this measure would be far less extreme than the fascistic methods employed all around me in the “normal” world.

    • awp

      Raising children is essentially indoctrination. What percentage of secular (or really any) parents do you believe raise their children to question all the ways they chose to raise their children.

      • TracyW

        Well my parents managed it. Although arguably that was genetic.

  • martinbrock

    The theory you advance also cannot justify restricting marriage to only two persons or to persons who are not siblings or to Oedipus and his mother. It cannot justify restricting marriage at all while any organization extending benefits to “married” persons wants to extend these benefits to triples or cohabiting siblings, or any other domestic partnership, without changing the name of the relationships from “marriage” to something else.

    But if “marriage” describes any conceivable relationship, then it doesn’t describe any specific relationship, so your theory cannot justify marriage at all.

    • stevenjohnson2

      I’m not sure who “you” is, but just in case? It is precisely because marriage is a contractual relationship that it must be formed between peers who exchange equal benefits. No form of polygyny or polyandry can be an equal exchange of sexual services. (You might imagine it can be equitable but as I understand it issues of inequities are not favorably regarded at law. And when they are they are matters for jury deliberation in a suit.)

      So far as sibling marriage goes, societies have survived it fairly well. The institution however seems to be aimed at keeping property in the family. If you accept that the state can regulate inheritance of property, abolishing entail for instance, then you can accept that it forbids sibling marriage for much the same reasons. In parent/child marriages, there are issues of the ability to form consent. The same power to forbid marriages and other contracts to children seems to bear here.

      stevenjohnson2

      • martinbrock

        “You” is Kevin. I respond to “On the theory I advance, these arguments cannot justify restricting marriage …” in his article.

        No contract law requires peers to exchange equal benefits. Some consideration must be exchanged, but common law does not require (or permit) a judge to determine the relative value of goods exchanged.

        Marriage is not simply an exchange of sexual services. It may be a domestic partnership that does not involve an exchange of sexual services at all. My parents (who are elderly) no longer have sex, according to my father, but they’re still married, and they never imagined themselves marrying simply to have sex. They imagined themselves marrying to establish a domestic partnership and found a family with children. Founding a family with children involves having sex, but reducing the entire relationship to a contract for sex is absurd.

        Sex is something my parents did for a few minutes at a time a few times a week, at most, years ago. Raising children is something to which they devoted their entire lives, their fortunes and much of their mental and physical health, and they aren’t finished yet. They’ll finish when we bury them, and they’re well aware of this fact. I have three children of my own, and I’m sometimes painfully aware of the same fact, because I am my father’s son and will not be less of a man than he.

        I’m not judging the legitimacy of sibling marriage one way or another. I’m only noting that Kevin’s logic does not permit a state to forbid it. If siblings want to be domestic partners, have sex and declare themselves “married”, I honestly don’t care. It’s no business of mine.

        Oedipus was an adult when he married his mother.

        • stevenjohnson2

          Sorry to pipe up then. But since I wandered in, I must remind you that in a polygamous marriage, there is no “exchange of consideration” in regards to sexual services. The “relative value of goods exchanged” in a polygamist marriage would be the justification for the claiming that all the wives were receiving satisfactory services in exchange with the husband, rendering the inequality of the husband’s receipt of sexual service irrelevant. As you tell me, a judge is neither required nor permitted to decide the individual wives are receiving equal value. But in a monogamous marriage, regardless of whether the services were satsifactory, the partners are exchanging equally. There is more to a marriage than sex but this is the simplest aspect.

          There is the domestic partnership aspect to marriage, although I must say it’s seems really bizarre to separate children and sex. Further if marriage really is just a domestic partnership, the only reason for deny marriage to gays is to punish.

          • martinbrock

            Whether a woman in a polygamous marriage (and some women freely consent to these marriages) is sexually satisfied is her business. If she’s not, precisely what she is due from her husband if she wants a divorce for this reason is debatable, and I suppose judges debate the question where polygamy is recognized at all, but the debate doesn’t interest me. It seems ridiculous to me.

            If you marry only to have a partner in non-procreative sex, you’re simply foolish in my way of thinking, but people should have a right to the foolishness of their choice. I expect a divorce court to focus more on what part of a family estate the woman is due regardless of any sex or what she is due from the father of a child she’ll continue to raise after the divorce. Is the judge supposed to weigh the woman’s lack of a satisfying tennis partner in her husband too? Recreational sex is laughably overrated these days.

            I don’t separate children and sex. I say that sex is an infinitesimal part of having a child that need not occur at all in the case of adoption or artificial insemination.

            Marriage is traditionally limited to straight couples, because straight couples are potentially procreative. States punished gays by jailing them, which was indefensible in my way of thinking.

          • TracyW

            The main reason for the legal recognition of marriage by the state is the necessity of determining property rights when the marriage ends, as all do, by either death or divorce.

            We are seeing the ending of de facto relationships causing nasty legal tangles, and also people being left unexpectedly (to them) penniless because their ex-partner failed to make or update their will, or their ex-partner made promises when in love that they didn’t stick to once separated, or they made arrangements to address the situation of death but ignored the possibility of relationship breakdown.

            There are other various legal tools for dealing with relationships ending – such as wills, trusts, partnership agreements. However, drawing up ad-hoc contracts is expensive, and case law on a bunch of different ad-hoc contracts would take a massive time to build up. There is some merit in the legal system offering a standard form of contract for mutual affectionate relationships, with an existing set of case law. We can call this contract “marriage”. This is valuable in and of itself, even if no legal privileges attach.

            With this viewpoint, polygamous “marriage” is a very different contractual problem to ordinary marriage. For example, if two people are married and get divorced, obviously they are divorced. If three people are married, calling them A, B and C, and A wants a divorce from B, but not from C, what happens? Case law could presumably be developed, but it could not be a simple copy of existing case law extended to same-sex couples.

          • martinbrock

            Often, divorce didn’t exist at all legally. Determining property rights upon divorce could not have been the main reason for marriage in this historical context.

            Marriage for the most part has always involved the rights and duties of fatherhood, and women impose the institution upon men, as much as the reverse, for this reason. In nature, similar coupling occurs because females have the power to select their mates. Female birds are particularly powerful in this regard, because they can fly away, even leaving males alone in a nest to care for the common progeny, and the males do care for their progeny under these circumstances.

            Emperor penguins, having lost the power of flight, nonetheless continued along this evolutionary path until they became the most noble of all fathers and objects of reverent worship for men around the world. I like to think that Tux, the symbol of Linux, is emblematic of this admiration. I know that March of the Penguins is.

          • TracyW

            Death, however always did exist.

            And divorce has existed in English and American law for well over a century now, allowing for the building up of extensive case law.

          • martinbrock

            But wills cover the disposition of an estate at death. Marriage can also be a factor in a probate court, but family law does not principally govern this disposition.

            Of course, marriage evolves, and it’s not principally about children now. Nowadays, children are simply objects of an adversarial contest between their parents, and the state constructs this contest very deliberately for the benefit of its constituents, none of whom are children. The idea that states exist to protect children is almost as ridiculous as the idea that they exist to protect the poor from the rich.

          • TracyW

            Yes, I said that there other various legal tools for dealing with the end of a relationship by death or separation, such as wills, trusts, partnerships etc. That doesn’t change that there is some merit in the state offering a standard contract.

            And personally I do not regard my children as simply objects of an adversarial contest with my husband. Indeed, I don’t consider them as objects of an adversarial contest at all. In my opinion, anyone (parent or not) who resorts to using kids as a means of making an adult suffer is revealing both a nasty attitude and a distinct lack of imagination.

          • martinbrock

            Parents don’t reduce their children to objects of an adversarial contest. The state does.

      • TracyW

        It is precisely because marriage is a contractual relationship that it must be formed between peers who exchange equal benefits.

        Actually the main legal interest in marriage is assigning property rights when the marriage ends, which it eventually will, by death or divorce. There are various sets of rules around the world and from history on how to do this, but I can’t think of a single set that maps neatly onto Western marital practices. For example, Islam allows a woman divorcing to take away her dowry (very high level summary), but that doesn’t seem to match very well to Western economies where many assets are accumulated by the work of the marriage partners after the marriage is formed.

  • Guest

    I think the deep, centuries old affinity between classical
    liberalism and secularism makes it problematic to identify an approach
    explicitly contrasted with secularism as the “Classical Liberal Approach”
    problematic. But that’s just semantics. The real problem with the proposed
    approach is that it subtly relies on the privileged status of big-name
    Organized Religion as opposed to other, less reputable belief systems. Suppose,
    hypothetically, that I am a Scientologist with a deep-seated opposition to
    Pyschiatry and, as such, find it intolerable that my tax dollars go to a state
    which finances mental hospitals for the criminally insane, or suppose I have an
    objection to mental hospitals based on a private belief system than no-one else
    shares. Since these hospitals are a justified use of public funds even under
    minarchist assumptions (because they are part of the basic justice system), no
    reasonable person, including, presumably, Dr. Vallier, can endorse my
    objection. And, yet, Dr. Vallier claims it is “authoritarianism” for
    Christians to be compelled to pay for public services. Why the double standard?
    It can’t be that Dr. Vallier thinks mental hospitals are legitimate public
    services and contraception is not, at least for the purposes of this article,
    because if there are secular reasons to oppose the mandate, why do you need to
    invoke religious ones? At any rate, he raises no objection to “the Obama
    Administration paying for contraception for women who need it some other
    way”. I suspect he would reply that he stipulated that the objection would
    have to be reasonable, and the Christian objection to contraception is, while
    the Scientological objection (and the personal moral objection) is not. And that’s
    the rub. His argument relies on the assumption that some religious objections
    are more reasonable than others, which contradicts his premise that all
    religions should be treated equally. Dr. Vallier might claim that the
    “hundreds of years of intellectual tradition” justify the Christian
    objection. The problem with this response is two-fold. First, as an atheist, I
    disagree that objections on Christian grounds are reasonable because, as I see
    it, there is no truth in Christianity. Dr. Vallier would then doubtless refer
    to me to his article from this time last year, “Christian Belief is
    Reasonable, so Respect it”. At this point, I find it hard to see how Dr.
    Vallier could claim that he was making his argument on liberal grounds, rather
    than explicitly Christian ones that relied on the truth of Christianity.
    Second, it encourages collectivist thinking, which is the exact opposite of the
    “culture of liberty” he wants to promote. The message seems to be
    that if you have enough people who think the same as you on religion, and
    people have thought the same for long enough, and some of those people have the
    right intellectual credentials, then you get to claim “reasonable”
    religious objection, while people with more idiosyncratic views are out of luck.

  • Guest

    I think the deep, centuries old affinity between classical
    liberalism and secularism makes it problematic to identify an approach
    explicitly contrasted with secularism as the “Classical Liberal Approach”.
    But that’s just semantics. The real problem with the proposed approach is that
    it subtly relies on the privileged status of big-name Organized Religion as
    opposed to other, less reputable belief systems. Suppose, hypothetically, that
    I am a Scientologist with a deep-seated opposition to Pyschiatry and, as such,
    find it intolerable that my tax dollars go to a state which finances mental
    hospitals for the criminally insane, or suppose I object to mental hospitals
    based on a private belief system than no-one else shares. Since these hospitals
    are a justified public service even under minarchist assumptions (because they
    are part of the basic justice system), no reasonable person, including,
    presumably, Dr. Vallier, can endorse my objection. And, yet, Dr. Vallier claims
    it is “authoritarianism” for Christians to be compelled to pay for
    public services. Why the double standard? It can’t be that Dr. Vallier thinks
    mental hospitals are legitimate public services and contraception is not, at
    least for the purposes of his article, because if there are secular reasons to
    oppose the mandate, why do you need to invoke religious ones? At any rate, he
    raises no objection to “the Obama Administration paying for contraception
    for women who need it some other way”. I suspect he would reply that he
    stipulated that the objection would have to be reasonable, and the Christian
    objection to contraception is, while the Scientological objection (and the
    personal moral objection) is not. And that’s the rub. His argument relies on
    the assumption that some religious objections are more reasonable than others,
    which contradicts his premise that all religions should be treated equally. Dr.
    Vallier might claim that the “hundreds of years of intellectual tradition”
    justify the Christian objection. The problem with this response is two-fold.
    First, as an atheist, I disagree that objections on Christian grounds are
    reasonable because, as I see it, there is no truth in Christianity. Dr. Vallier
    would then doubtless refer to me to his article from this time last year,
    “Christian Belief is Reasonable, so Respect it”. At this point, I
    find it hard to see how Dr. Vallier could claim that he was making his argument
    on liberal grounds, rather than explicitly Christian ones that relied on the
    truth of Christianity. Second, it encourages collectivist thinking, which is
    the exact opposite of the “culture of liberty” he wants to promote.
    The message seems to be that if you have enough people who think the same as
    you on religion, and people have thought the same for long enough, and some of
    those people have the right intellectual credentials, then you get to claim
    “reasonable” religious objection, while people with more
    idiosyncratic views are out of luck.

  • Emotionalogic

    I think the deep, centuries old affinity between classical
    liberalism and secularism makes it problematic to identify an approach
    explicitly contrasted with secularism as the “Classical Liberal Approach”.
    But that’s just semantics. The real problem with the proposed approach is that
    it subtly relies on the privileged status of big-name Organized Religion as
    opposed to other, less reputable belief systems. Suppose, hypothetically, that
    I am a Scientologist with a deep-seated opposition to Pyschiatry and, as such,
    find it intolerable that my tax dollars go to a state which finances mental
    hospitals for the criminally insane, or suppose I object to mental hospitals
    based on a private belief system than no-one else shares. Since these hospitals
    are a justified public service even under minarchist assumptions (because they
    are part of the basic justice system), no reasonable person, including,
    presumably, Dr. Vallier, can endorse my objection. And, yet, Dr. Vallier claims
    it is “authoritarianism” for Christians to be compelled to pay for
    public services. Why the double standard? It can’t be that Dr. Vallier thinks
    mental hospitals are legitimate public services and contraception is not, at
    least for the purposes of his article, because if there are secular reasons to
    oppose the mandate, why do you need to invoke religious ones? At any rate, he
    raises no objection to “the Obama Administration paying for contraception
    for women who need it some other way”. I suspect he would reply that he
    stipulated that the objection would have to be reasonable, and the Christian
    objection to contraception is, while the Scientological objection (and the
    personal moral objection) is not. And that’s the rub. His argument relies on
    the assumption that some religious objections are more reasonable than others,
    which contradicts his premise that all religions should be treated equally. Dr.
    Vallier might claim that the “hundreds of years of intellectual tradition”
    justify the Christian objection. The problem with this response is two-fold.
    First, as an atheist, I disagree that objections on Christian grounds are
    reasonable because, as I see it, there is no truth in Christianity. Dr. Vallier
    would then doubtless refer to me to his article from this time last year,
    “Christian Belief is Reasonable, so Respect it”. At this point, I
    find it hard to see how Dr. Vallier could claim that he was making his argument
    on liberal grounds, rather than explicitly Christian ones that relied on the
    truth of Christianity. Second, it encourages collectivist thinking, which is
    the exact opposite of the “culture of liberty” he wants to promote.
    The message seems to be that if you have enough people who think the same as
    you on religion, and people have thought the same for long enough, and some of
    those people have the right intellectual credentials, then you get to claim
    “reasonable” religious objection, while people with more
    idiosyncratic views are out of luck.

    *Sorry about the double post. Moving from lurker to commenter for the first time here.

    • atheist

      “I suspect he would reply that he stipulated that the objection would
      have to be reasonable, and the Christian objection to contraception is, while the Scientological objection (and the personal moral objection) is not. And that’s the rub. His argument relies on the assumption that some religious objections are more reasonable than others, which contradicts his premise that all religions should be treated equally.” This is the crux of it. Either the state has the power to use the tax dollars of people to pay for policies they oppose or it does not. We cannot simply carve out an exception for Christianity but not other views. Kevin, do you have a response to this line of argument?

  • atheist

    I would like to hear more about the difference in public discourse between your conception of the “secular progressive” and “classical liberal” approach. Specifically, how does the classical liberal approach differ when dealing with a debate between an atheist who demands evidence and a believer who relies on faith. For example, “the believer says I have faith that my holy book is the word of god and my holy book tells me to do x. And the atheist says, that’s not actually evidence that x is a good idea. You need to form an hypothesis that is in principle falsifiable and present empirical evidence for that hypothesis or you are not even wrong. I don’t take citations to your holy book seriously because I see no evidence that it is true and a lot of evidence that it either condones or fails to clearly condemn misogyny, slavery, holy war, and/or genocide, i.e. it is clearly an immoral work.”

    I guess what I’m saying is I don’t see how you square a demand for evidence with respecting a claim from faith, particularly from religions like Judaism/Christianity/Islam with manifestly immoral holy books (though this point also holds when religious folks argue from faith rather than from evidence for something that is good for human well-being).

    I would also like to hear more about what the state can and cannot do in a classically liberal approach. Specifically, can the state use general tax dollars to fund abortions? Why or why not? If religious people can be granted exemptions from taxpayer funded abortions, can libertarians be granted exemptions from taxpayer funded anything?

    • martinbrock

      You need to form an hypothesis that is in principle falsifiable and present empirical evidence for that hypothesis or you are not even wrong.

      If I’m not right or even wrong, why do you care? Go ye and do likewise, whatever you want, only leave me in peace. If I don’t want to formulate a hypothesis and test it against whatever to weigh my choices and their consequences against other choices, what’s it to you?

      • atheist

        If you got out of the public square and stopped trying to set policy, I would not care. But the author places that under a secular progressive regime. The problem is that these type of arguments get made and get taken seriously when the gov’t is setting policy that very much affects me. I don’t see how the liberal approach can actually be all that different from the secular progressive approach, thus the questions posed to the author.

        • adrianratnapala

          Lefitsts should also get out of the public square and stop trying to set policy since they are also obviously irrational.

          • atheist

            Pick a policy and describe how the policy harms human well-being. I don’t have any problem with you making such an argument (and would probably agree with you on a lot of things) so long as you back that argument up with evidence. I am not simply picking the view that I do not like and saying those people should get out of the public square, I am saying if you lack evidence and expect your lack of evidence to be privileged, you are free to participate but prepare to be ignored and/or ridiculed. Communism is objectively bad, no need to create a libertarian religion that demands this point be taken on faith without evidence (just pick any communist country and point).

          • adrianratnapala

            The minimum wage increases unemployment.

          • atheist

            Agreed, but that’s not the point. The point is that your hypothesis is in principle falsifiable and that you could support it with empirical evidence (though it actually proves to be quite difficult to estimate causal effects of minimum wage laws and my agreed is based in large part on the vastly fewer assumptions required for the formal model where it causes unemployment than where it increases employment).

          • adrianratnapala

            In spite of their alleged falsifiability, claims about minimum wage and unemployment have been made for decades with neither side budging the other with empirical data.

            Frankly I don’t see what falsifiability has to do with this. Here are some more claims that are unfalsifiable and unprovable.

            * It is good to help the poor.

            * Freedom of association should be respected.

            * People should not be punished without cause.

            Should these ideas also not be allowed to influence public policy?

          • atheist

            If a claim is unfalsifiable in principle then we by definition cannot learn whether it is true or false. To claim an unfalsifiable hypothesis is true means that you believe something is true despite there being literally no possible piece of evidence that could change your mind even if you were indeed wrong. Thus, this is often referred to as being not even wrong.

            The statements you provide are all imprecisely defined truisms.They can all be formed into testable hypotheses (does welfare help the poor escape poverty, does freedom of association lead to economic growth, does the right to a trial improve the well being of the accused). But I take your statements to be less about what is and more about what ought to be. In short, these are moral not empirical claims.

            Sam Harris would tell you that science can answer these questions. I disagree and my sense is so do pretty much all philosophers (actual philosophers, please correct me if this impression is wrong. It is based on the sub-reddit on philosophy and the observation that if philosophers took this position they would laregely be out of a job). Science cannot tell you that you should care about the suffering of other human beings. This is a philosophical question about the basis of morality. I am not a philosopher and generally think that morality is socially constructed, so I am just going to cheat and socially construct it. Do you care about human well being? If you say yes I care, then we may not have the exact same definition of human well being, but we can start to turn all of your claims into more clearly defined empirical questions that science can answer. Ultimately, government policy is a social choice problem. Even if we cannot come to an agreement on what we should care about, science can help each of us make more informed choices given our preferences (note this claim applies even if you are a sociopath).

            And if you say no, I don’t care about human well being, I can say what the hell is wrong with you? Are you a sociopath? This social shaming admittedly has no philosophical basis (but thankfully I am pretty sure your answer is no even if you are a libertarian). I can, however, test whether this type of social shaming gets you to conform to the norms of a society.

          • atheist

            *your answer in no to the question “are you a sociopath?”, not “do you care about others well being?”

          • adrianratnapala

            Your “improved” questions are much less interesting or in need of answer than mine. Why care about the effectiveness of welfare if we don’t care about helping the poor? Why care about the well-being of the accused, is that why we have trials? Is economic growth the point of civil rights? Is it important at all?

            Normative stuff matters.

          • atheist

            “Your “improved” questions are much less interesting or in need of answer than mine.”

            On some level I agree, but your questions are fundamentally unanswerable questions. That is not to say the answers we give to these questions are unimportant, they are extremely important. However, if two people disagree there is no objective way to resolve the dispute.

        • martinbrock

          I’m not out on the public square trying to set public policy, but I care that you’re on the public square trying to set state policy, because I am subject to the state. I really don’t care what you teach your children. I only want you to teach them whatever you think they need to know, and I want you to leave me equally free.

          I don’t see how Kevin’s approach differs from the libertarian approach, which permits people to follow any rules they like within a free association. It’s not that anyone may do anything he likes under any circumstances. That view is not libertarian, because it subjects everyone to the coercive impositions of everyone else.

          In the libertarian view that I accept, any group of people may associate on any terms they all like, so people who like McDonalds may patronize McDonalds, and other people may patronize Wendy’s, and no one preferring Wendy’s need ever taste a Big Mac. Any sufficiently large group has a right to sufficient, natural resources for their productive employment, and no group may hold anyone against their will or hold more resources than they can productively employ. That’s also the communist view, before the rise of Marxism and the contradiction of “state Communism”.

          • atheist

            “I don’t see how Kevin’s approach differs from the libertarian approach.” Agreed, Kevin’s approach is clearly not a liberal approach. Kevin’s arguments and your definition of libertarianism essentially magic away the existence of a state into an anarchist utopia.

            My response would be, the problem with anarchy is that anyone can form a government. In an ideal world no one would be compelled to do anything they did not volunteer to do. But the reality is that absent a state there is violent coercion and that we would all have to privately provide deterrence against this coercion. This private deterrence is costly and inefficient. We have a collective interest in limiting violent coercion and empirical reality is that every prosperous and free place on the planet does this by creating and enforcing a state monopoly on violence. Obviously states abuse this power, but there is no magic place absent coercion. There are only imperfect societies that collectively enforce property rights by legitimating and constraining the government’s ability to coerce with elections.

          • martinbrock

            My wishful thinking is no more magical than yours.

            In the presence of a state, there is violent coercion, but I’m not an anarchist strictly speaking. If a community will not release any member wishing to exit at will, I favor compelling the community in this direction, so I presume a state prohibiting coercion.

          • atheist

            You are, of course, right about the wishful nature of trying to get states to follow empirical evidence. The distinction I would make is that is possible for empirical evidence to inform state policy and that existing states do this to a degree (albiet a very small amount, but states that enforce private property rights and maintain competitive market economies are arguable following the empirical evidence that these policies lead to more successful societies).

            In contrast, I would argue that it is impossible to construct a society absent coercion. You write: “If a community will not permit a member to exit at will, I favor
            compelling the community in this direction, so I presume a state
            prohibiting coercion.” Ok good, but my point is that the state you describe, however limited, is inherently coercive because it maintains a monopoly on violence (how else is it to enforce this rule?).

          • martinbrock

            States are not scientific, but that’s not the most significant problem with your theory. Expecting a state to develop its policies scientifically, by applying some utilitarian calculus to empirical measurements, is unrealistic, but the whole idea of a single policy developed by a monopoly authority serving “the collective interest” is also an impossibility. Every imposition of a single policy on millions of people with distinct, subjective preferences fails to optimize the interests of some people.

            The necessity of a single policy itself is the problem, but even if such an “aggregate utility maximizing” policy were possible, no central authority over millions of people could ever know enough to formulate it.

            I was Benthamite for years and once thought a lot like you. I still admire Bentham for many reasons, but I can no longer take his program seriously.

            Again, I’m not an anarchist and don’t imagine a society without coercion. I’m a minarchist and imagine an extremely limited state imposing only a right of individuals to associate freely. The state need not regulate individual behavior otherwise, because terms of association are the only regulations anyone needs, as long as individuals have a right to exit a community no longer satisfying their preferences and either to join a different community or to join with others outside of an established community to create a new community.

            I want a state imposing this associational fluidity and nothing else, but I recognize the fundamental difficult with the idea. This fluidity exists naturally on a frontier, but states abhor a frontier. They only want to absorb any frontier and subjugate it.

          • atheist

            From above:

            “Ultimately, government policy is a social choice problem. Even if we cannot come to an agreement on what we should care about, science can help each of us make more informed choices given our preferences (note this claim applies even if you are a sociopath).”

          • martinbrock

            Scientific methods might, to some extent, distinguish between bad statutory impositions and less bad impositions, but this fact does not imply that any statutory imposition is better than none, and it certainly doesn’t imply that a sociopath will use scientific methods to select the least bad alternative. A rational sociopath uses scientific methods to select the alternative most favorable to himself regardless of its effect on anyone else.

            But I don’t need to assume that statesmen are ill willed, and I don’t assume it. Statesmen act primarily in their interests, rather the interests of the people they rule, because they can’t possibly do anything else, because they can’t possibly know enough to rule otherwise. Understanding the scientific method does not conjure up the necessary data, and conjuring up the data is not possible, because the data are locked inside of hundreds of millions of heads, and it’s changing more rapidly than any central authority could possibly measure it, and no monolithic policy imposed on so many heads can possibly satisfy them all anyway.

          • atheist

            “This fact does not imply that any of the many possible statutory impositions is better than none.” Agreed, none or repeal is in the choice set.

            “it certainly doesn’t imply that a sociopath will use scientific methods to select the least bad alternative” Agreed, I only said that it could help an individual make a decision that maximizes their utility, not that they would do it (to whit basically every human on earth).

            “A rational sociopath uses scientific methods to select the alternative most favorable to himself regardless of its effect on anyone else.” Agreed. Which would mean he would be making choices that maximize his utility. That my utility curve is basically the exact opposite of his is immaterial.

          • martinbrock

            That my utility curve is basically the exact opposite of his is immaterial.

            Well, I’m the last to deny that people can ever benefit themselves by imposing their will forcibly upon others, so if that’s your point, we agree.

            I will deny that a ruler can benefit everyone else by imposing his will on them. I don’t only deny that a ruler will not. I deny that he possibly can. Einstein and Jesus (or pick your paragon of selfless virtue) rolled into one, with every, real measurement device at his disposal, couldn’t possibly do it.

          • atheist

            To be clear, if I thought the majority of society were sociopaths I would not be encouraging them to use the scientific method to better torture me. I would be violently resisting that government (as I assume you would be as well). My point is simply if we have more information about the state of the world we make better decisions (defined in terms of our individual preferences) and the scientific method is the best way to learn about the state of the world.

          • martinbrock

            The majority of society does not rule you, and we don’t make decisions. “We make decisions” is a category error.

  • Hektor

    > I’m honored to have the lead essay on Cato Unbound this month.

    Obviously, bashing Hoppe has paid off.
    Soon, you’ll be on the Koch payroll.

    Congrats to that.

  • The strength of what you call the “secular progressive” approach is that, within public discourse, all views are ranked more or less equally. Believers are uncomfortable with this approach because it demands more of them than a simple appeal to god. It is certainly anyone’s right to appeal to god to justify one’s position, but in a public sphere in which others don’t share your god you need better reasons for your position, or else you won’t be very persuasive to anyone else.

    Of course, if your religious group happens to be the majority, then a simple vote is sufficient to silent the non-believers who demand more of your views than an appeal to god. That’s what makes the inclusion of religion in politics inherently establishmentarian, especially when mixed with Christian proselytism. (“If we can just turn everyone into believers, then they’ll be SAVED!”) So the “secular progressive” approach is the only tenable one to follow here, in my opinion. This is the only approach that is equally fair to all people.

    I don’t personally know any libertarian who follows what you call the “libertarian” approach. All my libertarian friends favor the “secular progressive” position you outline. So I thought that was rather odd to re-cast what I understand to be a common libertarian position as a leftist position. But that’s a minor criticism since, after all, I did catch your drift.

    • adrianratnapala

      The more I think about it, the more this “Public Square” stuff seems irrelevant. The USA is pretty strict about defending free speech and so religious people and their opponents can all get their two-bob in the discourse.

      The real questions are about how far people are allowed to practice their own life-choices in spite of government restrictions. In their own ways, Hobby Lobby and the various gay marriage cases are both about that boundary.

  • Farstrider

    Religion should not be on par with other reasons to support/oppose laws because religion immunizes an advocate of a position from having to consider contrary argument, logic or evidence. In other words, it frustrates the political process, rather than advancing it.

    I’ll use Kevin’s gay marriage example. Opposition to gay marriage used to be based on the supposed damage to children it would cause, but this was a bad reason, because no evidence supports it. Opponents also used to argue that gay marriage was inconsistent with a supposed historical or traditional definition of marriage, but this argument also failed because the “traditional definition” was totally made up. Opponents also previously argued that homosexuality was unnatural, but evidence established that there are homosexuals in almost all kinds of animals. In each of these cases, argument, evidence and logic overcame objections, and as a result, you don’t hear these specious arguments so much anymore. More importantly, these arguments and evidence changed public opinion on gay marriage — and this, I would argue, is the point of public discourse.

    Compare Kevin, who opposes gay marriage because of his religion. He is not susceptible to logic, evidence or argument, because his opposition does not depend on such things. Rather, his belief comes from faith, which is the opposite of evidence. As a result, Kevin is not susceptible to civil discourse – religion is a trump card that allows him to hold certain beliefs without dealing with any criticism of those beliefs. This is a good strategy if you don’t like to have your biases challenged.

    And who really does? It’s uncomfortable. It might make you think. It might change your mind. You might have to admit you were wrong. Who wants any of that? After all, there is a reason why the Confederates resorted to citing scripture to support slavery: because all of their other arguments were meritless. So too here.

    • martinbrock

      Kevin does not oppose gay marriage. I’m an atheist, and I oppose gay marriage for reasons you simply ignore. Justin Raimondo, who is gay, also opposes gay marriage for reasons orthogonal to anything you presume here.

      • Farstrider

        None of which addresses my point, which is that people who profess political views on the basis of religion are insulating those views from rational argument, criticism and the possibility they might have to change their mind. In this regard, religion is a defeater to civil discourse, not a complement to it.

        • martinbrock

          “Kevin … opposes gay marriage because of his religion” is certainly a point you made.

          You generalize about “people who profess political views on the basis of religion”, but your generalization does not describe all religious people and does describe some people who are not conventionally religious.

          Plenty of religious people can distinguish assertions of faith from assertions susceptible to empirical falsification (what Gould calls ‘non-overlapping majesteria’), and some people who think themselves above faith routinely take for granted, and seek to impose through states, normative assertions that are not falsifiable.

          • Farstrider

            If it makes you happy, replace “Kevin” with “Mr. X” in my example. The identity of the advocate does not matter, what matters is how he advocates. I thought that was clear.

            I never intended to generalize all religious people. I merely made an observation about “people who profess political views on the basis of religion.” We seem to agree that this is not all religious people. Instead, people who are religious, but do not profess political views on the basis of that religion are not implicated by anything I’ve said. I also agree that many, perhaps the majority, of religious people can separate their private religious views from political discourse. I applaud them for doing so. NOMA is a good rule of thumb in political debate, and again, I support it.

            But you seem to not understand what Kevin is doing here. He is attempting to construct an argument against NOMA — that the magisteria of religion and civil discourse should overlap because religious reasons are as good as other reasons for holding political beliefs. He is wrong, and he needs to be told so in clear terms, because religion (indeed all dogma) is anathema to civil discourse. I have yet to hear you articulate an opposition to this point. Certainly, Kevin never has.

            As for basing a legal system exclusively on falsifiability, I never suggested anything like that, so this is a strawman. There are, of course, some political views that can be rebutted by evidence (or a lack thereof) – the suggestion that gay marriage hurts children, for example. When Mr. X’s evidentiary arguments lack merit, however, he simply recasts his argument as religion, which is impervious to both evidence and argument. In other words, he removes his political views from political debate. That’s a bad thing, is all I’m saying.

          • martinbrock

            You argue with “Mr. X” while accusing me of arguing with a straw man.

            Your characterization of people who profess political views on the basis of religion applies to practically all people professing political views rather than to all religious people. People generally have unfalsifiable views. Richard Dawkins has unfalsifiable views. Not everyone wants to impose unfalsifiable views through the state, but people most do, and Dawkins is certainly no exception, and you don’t seem exceptional either.

            I largely avoid this problem by resisting almost all impositions through the state, but I’m not an exception to your rule entirely, because I advocate a state imposing free association (a state prohibiting communities from holding members against their will or killing them systematically).

            My biggest problem with NOMA in a political context is that you apply it much too narrowly. You want to rule out imposing views that you deem “religious”, but these conventionally “religious” views don’t begin to exhaust unscientific views that people would impose. “Gay couples should receive statutory benefits of a marriage license because straight couples can receive these benefits” is not a scientific proposition. It’s a normative proposition with no more basis in science than “gay people should be stoned to death”.

            You don’t seem to care what Kevin is doing here. Your target is Mr. X.

            The limits of religion political discourse depend upon what we’re calling “political discourse”. I have no problem at all with people formulating community standards within their religious tradition. I only have a problem with the forcible inclusion of people in such a community. The Amish may rule out gay marriage if they prefer, and the Metropolitan Community Church may rule it in. A community of atheists may also rule out marriage with any traditional religious trappings. That’s all fine with me, and it’s what Kevin seems to advocate.

            You haven’t rebutted any suggestion that gay marriage harms children. You’ve only shifted the burden of proving the assertion to Mr. X, as though the absence of this proof is an argument for gay marriage. The absence of this proof is not an argument for anything.

            In my way of thinking, the burden of proving any merits of statutory benefits for licensed gay couples rests with the people advocating the statutes, not with the opponents. I don’t only oppose gay marriage. I also oppose straight marriage as currently constituted, because advocates of statutory benefits for licensed, romantic partners, either gay or straight, don’t meet this burden. Standard rights and obligations for parents of the same children seem more defensible to me, but I see no reason for any standardization, licensing or statutory benefits for romantic partnerships.

          • Farstrider

            You misunderstand again, and at this point, I can only conclude it is deliberate. My argument is not with Mr. X. My argument is with Kevin, because he suggests that Mr. X’s religiously motivated political views are just as politically valid as Mr. Y’s nonreligious political views. He is wrong. And you are wrong if you (still) do not understand that.

            You also seem to delight in twisting my argument into something it’s not in order to rebut it. (That is why what you are doing is making a strawman.) First, you claim I am making a generalization about all religious people. I am not, as I’ve said several times. Many religious people do not let their religion dictate their political views. What I am criticizing instead is the notion that religion is just as good a basis for political views as other bases. It’s not. For the reasons stated.

            Second, you claim that I require no irrational beliefs in politics. I am not doing that either. What I am instead saying is that irrational beliefs that cannot be rebutted by evidence and argument should not have a role in politics. Religious dogma falls into this category.

          • martinbrock

            I don’t say that you make a claim about all religious people. You make a claim about people professing political views but attribute the claim to religious people, if not all religious people, though your claim applies to people professing political views generally, including you, not only to religious people professing political views.

          • Farstrider

            Again, no. I am talking about only those people who profess political views based on dogma, unshakeable by evidence OR argument. Religious views are one type of dogma.

            I never said unscientific views have no role in politics. Again, I said dogmatic views (defined as views that cannot be shaken by evidence OR argument) have no role in politics.

            Equality under the law may not be scientific, but it is certainly not imposing a religion, either. It is a philosophical position, and can be (and is) undermined or supported by both evidence and argument.

          • martinbrock

            Gay marriage is not equality under the law, and it does impose a religious belief. Gay marriage is the product of a religious movement every bit as much as opposition to it. The movement has roots in the Metropolitan Community Church. The MCC’s founder, Troy Perry, performed the first gay marriage ceremonies in the U.S. in the 1960s, and his motivation was entirely religious. Despite being homosexual, Perry is a graduate of the extremely conservative Moody Bible Institute and never much changed his religious convictions after coming out and forming the MCC.

        • Les Kyle Nearhood

          I fail to see a distinction here. Any of the groups with power in our politics do the same thing. Conservatives, certainly progressives, Atheists as well, they all insulate themselves from rational argument by adhering to a philosophical schema, and preaching to the choir. You are naïve to believe differently.

          • Farstrider

            You must be unfamiliar with the change in support for gay marriage, to select just one obvious example.