Doubt often is regarded as a weakness but is a needed feature of our pluralistic society.
Let me explain. A pluralistic society is one where there are groups with very different outlooks towards key issues, such as abortion and same sex unions.
In this mix, some aggressively express their absolutely certain convictions. Most of us want a civil society where people can interact peaceably.
Can we ever resolve the bitter differences? Not likely, but doubt can ease much of the tensions. This is the thesis of a remarkable 2009 book written by Peter Berger (American) and Anton Zijderveld (Dutch). Berger is a distinguished sociologist at Boston University while Zijderveld, with Doctorates in Sociology and Philosophy is a faculty member at Erasmus University in Rotterdam.
The title is: “In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic”, published by Harper One with ISBN 978-0-06-177816-2.
In the 19th century, European intellectuals expected that science, not religion would be used to construct a moral society. For science is based on empirical evidence and subject to being disproven (the technical term is falsification).
Has our culture become secular as some prominent U.S. media figures charge? Berger and Zijderveld make a convincing case that since WWII, there have great been surges of religious fervor across the world.
There are 400 million Pentecostals worldwide, spreading to many Protestant and some Catholic churches. There are 100,000 Evangelical missionaries in Latin American, Africa and part of Asia. Only western Europe and central Europe have secular societies.
When one considers human history, most people have lived in gatherings where common views about morality, lifestyles, justice, the role of the sexes prevailed. But with modern media and mass education, we are exposed to many different outlooks.
The German philosopher Gehlen divided our existence into the background (outlooks, routines done without thinking) and the foreground (where we must choose our actions, words, beliefs). Our modern world has enlarged our foreground relative to the background.
Modernity (what we experience living in our contemporary society) tend to spread relativization (many outlooks being viewed relative to each other).
The opposite of relativization is absolutism (that one outlook is supreme and the other ways of viewing our world and existence are worthless).
Sociological research has shown that modernity has led to increasing amounts of tolerance. But there is a price to be paid. This is cognitive dissonance where people are exposed to information that contradicts their previously held views.
For instance, if one is very negative towards a certain religion and a devout member of that faith is shown to have done much good, this can cause cognitive dissonance.
To avoid the displeasure of cognitive dissonance, one might question the motives of that person or that he/she is not really motivated by that faith but influenced by other faiths or a desire to be admired, etc.
In dealing with one’s religion, the authors cite the three positions: exclusivist, pluralistic and inclusivist.
An exclusivist regards his/her faith as the only true one, with other faiths being false. An inclusivist sees all faiths as having important qualities to be respected. A pluralist has a preference for one faith but is willing to accept bits of other faiths, while their central faith core is intact.
In considering why many are drawn to movements where little or no choice is allowed, the authors see a “liberation” where individuals are released from the burden of individual decisions.
In a totalitarian society, an individual is indoctrinated with absolutes, eliminating all anxiety resulting from thinking on one’s own. Some religious communities may be regarded in the same way.
There are many more concepts discussed in “In Praise of Doubt,” including post modernism, the characteristics of fundamental groups, “true believers,” the distinction between sincere doubt and cynicism, and Calvin’s theocracy.
SKY SIGHTS THIS WEEK: Tomorrow morning, the crescent moon will be near the brilliant planet Venus in the eastern dawn. This week, the planet Mars passes between the bright star Spica and the planet Saturn in the southwestern sky.
On Aug. 17, the moon swings from the morning to the evening side of the sun (New Moon). The Cumberland Astronomy Club will have a public telescope session at the Frostburg Recreational Center on Aug. 18 after 9 p.m.
Bob Doyle invites any readers comments and questions. E-mail him at email@example.com . He is available as a speaker on his column topics.
Doubt often is regarded as a weakness but is a needed feature of our pluralistic society.
- Bob Doyle - Astronomy
FSU Planetarium has new outreach program
Several years ago, the FSU planetarium acquired an iPad. Months later, we purchased an iPad projector with necessary cables. I purchased a number of astronomical apps this year for the iPad. So I’m interested in visiting schools in this county to teach the stars and planets to classes. The astronomical apps allow you to survey the current evening night sky and show the planets, bright stars and star groups. One of the apps shows the planets close up with wonderful surface detail (as if you were cruising by in a spaceship). The apps I’ll be using can be purchased from the iTunes app store for a few dollars.
It’s hotter here than in D.C. or Baltimore
At this time of the year, the weather is a frequent subject of conversation, particularly the temperatures. We are now in the “Dog Days,” usually the hottest days of the year. The term comes from our sun appearing to be near the “Dog Star” (Sirius) and the “Little Dog Star” (Procyon). In reality, the sun is now about 94.5 million miles away while Sirius is 8.6 light years away with Procyon at 11 light years distance. Sunlight takes only 507 seconds to reach us, while the two dog stars’ light takes about a decade to travel to our eyes. So our sun is in the same direction (but not distance) as these two bright winter evening stars.
Fronts, highs, lows determine weather
Weather news on television and internet focus on violent weather, extreme temperatures and flooding.
A long and winding road faces our food
Last week’s column dealt with organs you can do without, our DNA (molecular blueprint for our bodies) and hair. My reference is “Body: Discover What’s Beneath Your Skin,” a Miles Kelly Book, written by John Farndon and Nicki Lampon and published in 2010. This column will consider finger and toe nails, breathing and coughing, saliva, mucus and your food’s long and torturous journey. Most cities and mid sized towns have nail shops where you can have your finger nails and toe nails adorned. Nail painting can be traced back 5,000 years.
Here’s a look at what goes on inside you
In high school, my favorite science course was biology. I can remember Mr. Munley in his wheelchair. Our class went on a field trip to the University of Miami Medical School where we saw the cadavers used by the medical students.
Moon-watching easy when you know how
Long before the first writing (scratches on clay tablets) appeared, our early ancestors noticed that the moon went through a regular cycle of shapes in about 30 days.
Here’s how you can tell the stars, planets
How can one tell one star from another at night? It’s a matter of knowing the sky areas (constellations).
Smithsonian guide to stars is a good one
At a local book store, I yielded to temptation and bought “Stars and Planets,” a Smithsonian Nature Guide written by four authors. Dinwoodie, Gater, Sparrow and Stott. It’s another Dorling Kindersley product with ISBN 978-0-7566-9040-3 and a 2012 copyright. “Stars and Planets” is a trade size paperback that is beautifully illustrated with appealing diagrams. “Stars and Planets” begins with the biggest topic, the Universe. There is a striking visual showing the known universe on the hugest scale, a delicate lacework of superclusters of galaxies with large voids. It resembles a bubble bath!
Think a little more and be less frazzled
Last Sunday’s column dealt with using technology carefully in education. What about technology in everyday life? There is a marvelous book “The Thinking Life,” by P.M. Forni, of The Johns Hopkins University which addresses this issue as well as timeless suggestions for living by Greek and Roman thinkers. “The Thinking Life: How To Thrive in the Age of Distraction” was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2011 with ISBN 978-0-312-62571-9. Dr. Forni also wrote “Choosing Civility” and “The Civility Solution”.
Technology helps with learning, but take care
Since I have been involved in teaching, two different technologies have been applied to learning at the secondary and collegiate level. The first was video (from videocassettes to DVDs) where a student or class might watch a presentation of some historical event, or a set of scientific principles or even a simulated exploration of the human body.
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- FSU Planetarium has new outreach program