Ball? What ball? Tiny on deck in the arc of Tuck's chipboard fabric-cutting board during early-morning ball play.
"I believe that the antagonism between reason and faith will only grow more pervasive and intractable in the coming years," writes Sam Harris, author of the New York Times bestseller, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, at The Huffington Post. According to the blurb at his book's web site, "Mr. Harris is now completing a doctorate in neuroscience, studying the neural basis of belief, disbelief, and uncertainty with functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)." Right up our alley. He came to our attention this morning as the purveyor of an email from Muslim journalist Irshad Manji -- blogged here and here -- forwarded by our good blogfriend Annie of AmbivaBlog. [Click here to sign petition.] Googling revealed that not only does he blog at Huffington, but we ourselves have had occasion to quote him in one of our favorite Darwin-related posts, "There is a grandeur in this view of life."
Tiny and the superball (just off camera to the right) pose an ongoing challenge to the photographer's hungry eye. For every keeper, there are dozens of shots where she has just exited stage right or left when the shutter finally clicks. Note dark blue jabot, upper left, Tuck's first, brilliantly executed finished segment of the new living room swags and jabots.
While we share Sam Harris's view of science as the key to "our rational description of the universe," we disagreed then -- as we do now -- with his dismissal of religion:
To win this war of ideas, scientists and other rational people will need to find new ways of talking about ethics and spiritual experience. The distinction between science and religion is not a matter of excluding our ethical intuitions and non-ordinary states of consciousness from our conversation about the world; it is a matter of our being rigorous about what is reasonable to conclude on their basis. We must find ways of meeting our emotional needs that do not require the abject embrace of the preposterous. We must learn to invoke the power of ritual and to mark those transitions in every human life that demand profundity -- birth, marriage, death, etc. -- without lying to ourselves about the nature of reality.
Between frenzied moments of batting and pouncing, Tiny retreats to a corner of the room to regroup.
Mr. Harris is understandably troubled that "irreconcilable religious commitments still inspire an appalling amount of human conflict," but it isn't religion per se but human nature itself that's the problem/challenge in our view. As we blogged here -- citing anthropologist-turned-psychologist Pascal Boyer's brain-scan studies addressing the question "Why has belief proved so resilient as scientific progress unravels the mysteries of plagues, floods, earthquakes and our understanding of the universe?" -- that's just the way we are after the great winnowing process of evolution:
By injecting nuns with radioactive chemicals, by scanning the brains of people with epilepsy and studying naughty children, scientists are now working out why. When the evidence is pieced together, it seems that evolution prepared what society later moulded: a brain to believe.
As well as providing succour for those troubled by the existential dilemma, religion, or at least a primitive spirituality, would have played another important role as human societies developed. By providing contexts for a moral code, religious beliefs encouraged bonding within groups, which in turn bolstered the group's chances of survival, says Boyer.
The early-morning light illuminates a cat's-eye view of the dining room as playing field, where the props of Tuck's sewing project lend interest and mystery.
Bonding within groups -- the importance of being noticed -- is one of the ur-themes of this blog (check out Neo's latest, "Dueling: defending one's honor" for a great take on the topic). Still, we couldn't agree more with Sam Harris when he writes "While religious tolerance is surely better than religious war, tolerance is not without its liabilities":
Our fear of provoking religious hatred has rendered us incapable of criticizing ideas that are now patently absurd and increasingly maladaptive. It has also obliged us to lie to ourselves -- repeatedly and at the highest levels -- about the compatibility between religious faith and scientific rationality.
All that jazz. We love the liquid counterpoint of cat's paw and table paw and whiskers and superball and early-morning light as Tiny trips the light fantastic.
Does he realize his argument about ideas that are "patently absurd and increasingly maladaptive" applies equally to Islamist bile and the politically correct pronouncements of our fellow citizens of the left? It's not faith vs. rationality, but intolerance vs. tolerance. Render unto Caesar, as we've blogged before. It doesn't require religious faith to believe in something worth fighting for. The shining city upon a hill shimmers in our mind's eye. As Oriana Fallaci wrote -- and we are forever quoting -- "I am an atheist, and if an atheist and a pope think the same things, there must be something true." We were touched by the poignant naiveté of Sam Harris's unself-aware statement of his own brand of secular faith:
When we find reliable ways to make human beings more loving, less fearful, and genuinely enraptured by the fact of our appearance in the cosmos, we will have no need for divisive religious myths. Only then will the practice of raising our children to believe that they are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu be broadly recognized as the ludicrous obscenity that it is. And only then will we stand a chance of healing the deepest and most dangerous fractures in our world.
There must be something true. Try human nature. As Kerry of The Smoothing Plane asks in the comments re Mr. Harris's desire to "find reliable ways to make human beings more loving," "Make them . . .? We who?"
Update: If a cat and a blogger think the same things, there must be something true, as you will find at Carnival of the Cats at Music and Cats.