I am an average Frenchy. 64 old. Retired since 2 years. And I am a pure product of the French secularism. Here is a new little thought,which stems from my personal questioning and my internal conflicts about my positions with regard to French secularism. I guess it could be of some interest for Canadian people .
I reproach secularism for being « relativistic » by putting religions on a par with their denial. The freedom of conscience and the right of practice of religious cults receive the same level of protection! Under these conditions religious practices are protected, which has the potential to contradict (even oppose) all other civil rights. Some do not deny it! Intolerance, ignorance and stagnation are the result. In my opinion, this right of practice should be protected by name only to the extent that it is subject to full respect for the other rights (and duties) of our Republic (among other things to study in the secular school, because we can then build a representation of the world which is not dedicated to any God). On the other hand, as a pure rationalist, I consider rather that secularism must be used as a means to establish a complete secularization of society. And besides I will say that, intrinsically, it seems to me that it prepares this path of lucidity by giving the possibility to accept freely the logical reasoning, the knowledge resulting from the Scientific process and the thoughts of various Philosophers. The doubt that is thus made possible is the first step towards the freedom to choose one’s path. This is real freedom. So I see Secularism rather as a transcendental posture to any belief, that is to say, it must not adapt to one or the other but be beyond. It is clear to me that it should be the lever, the « ontological »winch which allows the being to free itself from the dogmas whatever they are to reach the truth and the Modernity.
For me, « The taste for truth does not prevent taking sides … » Moreover I think it is not legitimate, defensible, in a secularized, democratic society, to talk about religion without mentioning that there are more and more people who are atheists, who are agnostics. Who think that it is in humanism that one must seek the bases of living together, morality and ethics. Not in religions. It’s a commitment, it’s taking sides, using your free will. Moreover, I am not in favor of a nation that would encourage communitarianism. Finally « Laïcité is not the management of religious pluralism, it is on the contrary the concern for the universal and common values. » As Salman Rushdie said: « If you think that the world is flat and you believe it in all sincerity, that you go to a church where everyone thinks the same thing, well I claim the right to be able to say that you are a jerk. «
So, it’s a bit of a case of conscience: Asserting and defending the idea that it’s good to defend the freedom to believe whereas basically I consider this as an infantile and naive attitude, even immature, would not it? a form of intellectual dishonesty? That’s why I’m always a little embarrassed because I find it quite demagogic to claim as an Laique Atheist « everyone can believe or not believe » whereas my true purpose is to share rationality, logic and coherence, even the bottomless pit of cold knowledge. Through using reason and philosophy. And not through mysticism … Would not it be a form of taqiya … The inverted taqîya of the secular Atheist who says « Long life Laïcité » and who thinks deep inside himself « Down with the cap » ???
By cons, I think of course that the freedom to believe or worship is an individual freedom, so it is respectable. Moreover, sweeping religion under the rug can lead to racism, xenophobia and hateful reactions. The equation is not simple … But this does not prevent the Forces of Progress from sharing and spreading the knowledge (and not the beliefs) to which humanity has come by reason of reasoning, lucidity, perseverance and courage to make sure to explain why certain dogmas are naïve, even simply false and also freeing oneself of received ideas. But I remain rather laicist regarding the freedom left to a « church », an organization, to impose a religious point of view on « faithful » or « loyal », by addressing them like young children. Because it is not a freedom of individual thought, it is a freedom left to pressure groups to continue to deliberately restrain the freedom of conscience, the critical spirit, the individual understanding and take the ascendancy over citizens, in the name of a dogma – certainly you will say to me, it is cultural – but it can also be led for expansionist purposes when it is not for political ends. This can lead the religious fundamentalist intolerance that develops as a cancer, to furiously contradict the sharing of knowledge that could unveil this masquerade. For me it is wrong, especially in a country that prides itself on its « Enlightenment » and where every Citizen should be able to have a complete freedom to examine, question, criticize, question (finally, in any case, respecting each other). All dogmatism is a brake on the emancipation of consciences. Not only is it not based on any hard evidence, but it also blocks the critical mind, which is indispensable for comparing, weighing the true to the false, considering other perspectives. And the worst is that the more ignorant we are, the more stupid we are, and the more we believe in simplistic solutions! We must put an end to this vicious circle! I am among those who think that the secular Republic should fight more harshly against all forms of obscurantism that can induce a religion pushed to fundamentalism, especially by school, free, and at the same time compulsory for all children from 6 to 16 years old. Because if we ask for Rights, we also have Duties.
We are in a competition between beliefs and knowledge. But we cant tell everything, everything and its opposite, all points of view are not equal. We can not deconstruct the idea of truth, say that truth does not exist, that it is cultural, historical, ephemeral … However, we must be very careful because if we do not know how our knowledge has become knowledge then they will be treated as beliefs … Especially when scientific speech is discredited it is easy to assert that our knowledge is beliefs. Our knowledge from Science can not, however, in any case be assimilated to dogmatic certainties that can constitute an obstacle to the construction of an authentic secular society. Definitely no. For the good reason that in no case, it seems to me, Science can not be qualified as dogmatic certainties! Science has no dogma or certainty, because the scientific attitude is precisely the ability to question theories and subject them to experimentation to test their veracity. We must not compare knowledge and belief. But Laïcité might suggest that it is equivalent. I Disagree ! If there are scientific individuals who think they are high priests, or who have fads, or who make fixations, or who are autistic or downright psychologically affected, even if they are brilliant, they are above all Men, so imperfect. So, yes, there are dogmatic scientists even limit manipulators … But even if some say peremptorily even that their theory is defeated, this does not mean that the scientific truth is dogmatic. And, fortunately, the Scientific Community can not be dogmatic if it applies the scientific method and strictly respects it: A theory is refutable. It is true until proven otherwise and in general scientists comply with this principle. The rational attitude implies not only doubt but also the questioning of the subsequent scientific demonstration.
The criterion of the scientificity of a theory lies in the possibility of invalidating it, of refuting it or of testing it. Consequently no theory, even the most perfectly established in the scientific community, is immune to a possible subsequent refutation. We must therefore consider « all laws or theories as hypothetical or conjectural, that is, as suppositions. « . Which means that new theories are only better approximations than those that preceded them. Thus, we can only get closer to the truth. Science thus distinguishes itself from dogmatism as knowledge in progress, subject to experience and producing an actual knowledge but which can not be of the order of an illuminating metaphysical truth, leaving nothing unexplained, because each result raises new questions. Through science we discover more and more the extent of our ignorance as it progresses in understanding. Also, to say that science freezes scientific knowledge in absolute certainty, suggesting that the established scientific truth could be final is a naive and unscientific conception!
Yet, basically, do Religion and Science talk about such different things? I’m not so sure. Everyone speaks of the origin, but no one ever says it, neither Religions nor Science. If we take Genesis for example, it’s a beautiful story, but that describes almost nothing! It is very incomplete. It leaves me hungry. I want to ask questions of the one (or those) who wrote it … Because, even if we believe it, does God know what he does when he presses the button? And why does he press the button? This is not said! Does he have a project in mind? Does he know what will happen? Or is he surprised by what he discovers? What is his idea? This is not said! How is it happening concretely? It’s not said. Does he think about installing Physical Laws? It’s not said. Moreover, it is very anthropocentric, naive. For me it’s simplistic and especially incomplete: it is a narration that is not at all a story of « the origin »!
This being said, and this is a shame for me the rational, it must be admitted that it is the same for scientific discourses that always leave an « already there ». Not only can the scientific approach be « unfriendly » because it distances itself from our emotions, our « affect », but, moreover, scientists are still unable today to describe the Origin. I did not say the Big Bang, I say the Origin. The origin of everything. Why is there something rather than nothing … It’s not because I’m an unbeliever that it does not question me, quite the contrary! We know a lot of things in terms of physics, but we have no scientific hypothesis on the Origin! And even if one day we had a complete theory of particle interactions, would this theory make it possible to understand how appeared a physical world obeying this theory? Not so sure ! And anyway I think that no one can pretend to solve the enigma of the human condition with Science for only help!
I will not, however, overwhelm the Scientists. We have to be simply realistic. In fact, when a scientist speaks it is himself who speaks, it is a human who speaks, it remains the fruit of his culture, his era, his language. All knowledge is socially constructed, taken in the paradigm of the time. To imagine what Science would say if she could speak is something that no one is really capable of. Whenever we comment on Science we probably say something other than what Science would say if it could speak … We say things that are too often approximate and that will carry with them clandestine »a priori » that we do not control. We inject into our speeches things that come from language and our respective cultures. Evidently that science is science but to say it with words is always, to be well done, something that requires critical work, on oneself, and also on language. Because the language tends to naturally say « I believe that » and remains imbued with the religious vision of the World and its sacred books and our human emotions … Any scientific discourse is a kind of « pseudo Science » for lack of precision , for lack of knowledge, for lack of global vision! So if we mean Science by language, we must dig it like a foreign language in order to be able to extract the originality of the messages that come from Science. One can thus be a very great scientist and speak badly of the Science which can drive to false ideas in the Culture . We have seen this over and over again. For example, the atom as we have learned in our schools, even if they were those of the Republic, was not the right model. It is Quantum Physics that teaches us that particles are not « objects » in the sense that we have learned: elementary particles are quantum fields. But we did not know how to « image » the concept other than with our poor words. Few people, moreover, know how to represent these concepts. This requires very sophisticated forms of expression and therefore a lot of effort. Our expression must evolve, our languages must be enriched again and again, and our consciousness too.
That’s why the question of how to say what we know is a question of ethics and vigilance! It is in our own words that thought exists. So, we have to think to the limits of the words we use … Moreover, the ideas that bother us are ideas that are difficult to integrate. As Bachelard said: « To do science is to think against one’s brain ». It is accepting ideas or evidence or laws that always contradict what is spontaneously thought or observed. This requires that the brain be able to « overhang » in relation to itself. So, there are many people who refuse to hear Science because it is disturbing for their psychic comfort.
But I am not an integrist of Science or Reason. Indeed, the most delirious dreams can sometimes find solutions to certain problems. We can also call it thought experiments (well, everyone is not Einstein!). To come back to the Laïcité, which allows the multiplicity of points of view, in all freedom, we must consider that it is a wealth, even though some points of view are clearly deist or totally wacky! A bit of madness is sometimes useful because when it disappears there is often nothing left … Between imagination and rationality, what matters is the confrontation of ideas, knowledge, imagination, to question the reality of the World, in all freedom of expression. Because solutions can be predicted and detected through disagreements. Hypotheses can then be formulated to explain these disagreements. A theory that no one knows if it is true or not, can later be demonstrated by calculation, by reinterpreting the observation of the real. So, things that do not exist, do not exist for nothing. They engage the debate. Especially when the debate is better than if it is only beliefs that oppose … Thus, the scientific debate has lasted 2500 years. Although we still do not know anything about the Origin, since that time scientists have understood with incredible precision many things. Victor Hugo used to say: « Science goes on constantly, scratching itself. Ratures fertile … « . We progress, we progress …
Nevertheless: There are irreducible questions. Like the question of the effectiveness of Mathematics in Physics for example. How is it that by writing equations we describe a good part of reality? Can we understand that or can we just see it? Is it not a Metaphysical question? It will take all the imagination of the world to approach the truth. Both believers and unbelievers one. Because, in the end, » The important thing is not to convince but to give sobering » … We must hope in Man, a man or a woman totally free, not subservient to anyone, neither slave of his possible vices nor of a religious, scientific or political doctrine and determined to act on the world, in an altruistic and benevolent spirit (I have a lot of progress to do …). I am convinced that Laïcité should be used for that . This is a flawless program that reminds me furiously of this motto of the Philosopher Baruch de Spinoza that I love: « No laughing, no crying, no hating, but understanding. «
Post Scriptum: For those who, in the face of my non-belief, will object to the fact that most religions recommend loving one’s neighbor, I say that despite this beautiful objective, they have often secreted exclusionary behaviors. « pagans », « infidels », « enemies of the true God », « apostates » etc … who are no longer regarded as neighbors, Brothers, but as adversaries to eliminate. It is not in the name of GOD will that one must « love one’s neighbor » but in the name of our lucidity on the human reality. This lucidity is for me one of the foundations of what we are calling Laïcité in France …