I have been following the really amazing response to the bloggingheads debate between me and Eliezer Yudkowsky. So much of it is thoughtful on both sides that it is a joy to read and learn from. There is also, sometimes, a line of reasoning which I have encountered before which always makes me sad. In the science vs. religion debate there are those on both sides who simply don't want to hear any attempts to develop a different perspective on these two long-lived human endeavors. There is an enemy out there - strident myopic atheism or religious dogmatism - and they want it to stay.
Even after one acknowledges the pointlessness of the extremes these poles can take and begins to argue for an alternative, the combatants seek to bring the argument back to the original line of antagonism. It's as if there is more comfort in having that enemy present then in finding a new line of reasoning which allow those who reject the extremes to build a useful language for a very different kind of discussion. An atheist who finds value in the domains of human spiritual endeavor is therefore not atheist enough and becomes an enemy for one side of the antagonism.
This is not new. History is rife with historical antagonisms and combatants who carried their ageless grievances around with them like talismans. The enemy became their meaning, their reason for being. The enemy became cherished for who would the combatants be, what would they become, without their enemy? How different this is from the perspective articulated by someone like the Dali Lama who spoke from the depths of wisdom and compassion about "our friends, the enemy."
Polarities are easy to support and can provide a sense of order and place but they don't require much work. We can fight against intolerance, we stand up against dogma and prejudice, we can retain the integrity of our cherished values and still allow ourselves the courage to look anew. Our creativity is best served not by holding a view of the war between extremes but in imaging an alternative.
The Great Pant Rip Episode of 2012
4 years ago