Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Thought-provoking Debates

The Economist has an interesting debating series around some contentious issues. A recent one was, "Is religion a force for good?" Readers may also vote on the issue and the results are tallied.

Roger McShane, the moderator of the debate writes,

Voltaire once wrote, "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him." Leaving aside whether we actually did, can the same be said of religion? Most of the world's population professes religious feelings of some sort, and these beliefs in turn underpin many strong communities, happy individuals and tremendous acts of charity."

"Yet the world can be a very nasty place despite its preponderance of religious inhabitants. When faith curdles into dogmatism it often leads to arrogance, intolerance and violence. In other words, religion is a force for bad as well as good and there is no simple metric with which to measure its net effect."

Mark Oppenheimer argues for the affirmative with three points:

"...First, religion responds to a deep, satisfying human need for ritual...Second, religion often organises the human quests for ethics and meaning...Finally, religion is fun! As a philosopher might say, it generates utility..."

For the opposition Sam Harris writes, ".... There is no denying that religious faith sometimes moves people to act with extraordinary probity and compassion. In that sense, I must admit that religion is, on occasion, a force for good. The important question, however, is whether religion is ever the best force for good at our disposal. And I think the answer to this question is clearly “no”—because religion gives people bad reasons for being good where good reasons are available."

The debate encourages one to think about one's own beliefs and philosophy as one negotiates meaning and direction in the world.