Monday, 16 April 2012

Ideas Evolve

The Christianness of our past is constantly brought up as an argument in favour of our Christianness of our present. Here's a pretty recent article that does just that.

If you don't have time to read it, let me highlight what I think is the crux of the argument:

To acknowledge the religious heritage of the modern world is to say nothing about religious ''truth''. But while our age may be secular, it is, at the same time, still a deeply Christian one. If atheists feel they must rip up everything that came before them, they will destroy the very foundations of that secularism.
 Chris Berg has a good head on his shoulders, so it baffles me why he'd make a claim like that. The origins of an idea matter very little, especially in this context. The basis for the idea has completely changed. The entire notion of human rights has evolved, to divert to the parlance of Biology, and no longer requires 'foundations'. Ideas aren't like buildings. They're far more like a living organism.

I can't imagine, for example, the same logic being applied to meteorolgy. We no longer believe that performing a certain kind of dance can bring on rain, nor do we believe that human sacrifice will reap a good crop of food. That does not mean that, when faced with somebody who does believe those things, we have to put on a polite veneer and make meek noises about disagreement-with-no-hard-feelings. We might call them foolish for putting their faith in a dance-weather relationship, or at least use our outdoor voices when condeming their penchant for killing their fellow man. To call Twelver Shi'a Islam dangerous because it believes that the Twelfth Imam will return amongst nuclear fire is not to destroy the very foundations of algebra, a concept developed by an Islamic mathematician.

It doesn't matter where the ideas came from. We have a better basis for them now. We have evolved the concept beyond its original purpose and have very well-reasoned, well-accepted notions of why we ought to value them.

Heinrich Heine put it pretty neatly. a pitch-black night a blind man is the best guide; he knows the roads and paths better than a man who can see. When daylight comes, however, it is foolish to use blind, old men as guides.
Respect the origins of an idea by all means, but don't pretend that the originator deserves ownership of that idea in perpetuity. There's a large difference between knowing where ideas come from and dispensing with the baggage that brings.

No comments:

Post a Comment