Friday, June 27, 2014

Appealing to mystery




It is sometimes tempting to appeal to mystery to get oneself out of intellectual hot water. Suppose a scientist offers a science-based criticism of Mary’s paranormal beliefs. In response Mary might say something like this: ‘Ah, but this is beyond the ability of science and reason to decide. You, Dr Scientist, are guilty of scientism, of assuming science can answer every question.’ Mary might follow this response up with a quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet: ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy’. 
 
Of course, most scientists admit they can’t explain everything. There probably are questions science cannot answer. Mary attempts to protect her beliefs by placing them in this category of beliefs science can’t touch. She draws a veil across reality and says, ‘You scientists can apply your methods this far, but no further.’ Behind the veil Mary might place angels, psychic powers, fairies, dead relatives, and so on. She might also insist that, while such phenomena lie beyond the bounds of scientific investigation, there are special people – mediums, mystics, gurus, and so on – who can see, if only dimly, through the veil and so inform us about what lies beyond.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Religious Rights vs gay Rights


Religious Rights vs Gay Rights - a pre-publication verison of my chapter in the OUP volume Religious Freedom and Gay Rights.
 
The UK has seen a revolution in its moral and legal attitudes over the last couple of centuries, particularly with regard to discrimination.
One of the earliest beneficiaries of changes to the law to protect minorities from unfair discrimination was the Roman Catholic community. The Catholic Relief act in 1829 aimed to protect Roman Catholics from such discrimination. Legislation to protect Jews was soon to follow. Today, our freedom to hold and espouse, or reject and criticise, different religious beliefs, is protected by law.
Our moral attitudes towards women, black people and gay people have also shifted dramatically, and this too has been reflected in the law. Gone are the days when women could be refused employment or the vote because they are women. Gone are the days when hotel owners could put up signs saying “No blacks”. Gone, too, are the days when men having sex with men in private risked imprisonment.
Today, most of us subscribe to the principle that the State and the law ought to treat all citizens equally. They should not discriminate between citizens or groups of citizens, granting privileges to, or penalizing, one group but not another, unless there is some difference that justifies that difference in treatment.