CXXVI – The Religion of the State

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I
have long been interested in the hidden assumptions
that underlie our thinking — mine as well as others. 
As a confirmed agnostic, I have no defense to make
for the theory of u201Cintelligent design.u201D  To
the contrary, when advocates of that proposition
contend that life is too complex for its origins
to be explained by theories of evolution, my interest
in the study of u201Cchaosu201D reminds me that it is the
very complex nature of life that makes intelligent
planning and control as unworkable in matters biological
as it is in the realm of state economic planning
and control. I share Terry Pratchett's view that
u201Cchaos always defeats order because it is better
organized.u201D

Nonetheless,
the basis of the Pennsylvania federal district court's
recent opinion that requiring teachers in government
schools to offer u201Cintelligent designu201D as an alternative
to Darwin's theory was a violation of the First
Amendment, carries a hidden premise that I have
not heard discussed.  A news report informs
us that the judge condemned the required reference
to u201Cintelligent designu201D in part because it is contrary
to science.  If this report is correct — I
have not read his opinion — the decision rests on
an article of faith — by definition a matter of
religious belief — that the scientific process provides
the ultimate standard by which all u201Ctruthu201D is to
be defined and measured.

While
I am a strong supporter of scientific inquiry, I
recognize that, as with any belief system, it has
its limitations: one cannot use the so-called u201Cscientific
methodu201D to validate the scientific method. 
Gregory Bateson observed the need for every belief
system to be subject to the standards of a metasystem
for confirmation, a never-ending process requiring
each metasystem of thought to be validated by yet
another metasystem.  The explanation u201Cit's
turtles all the way downu201D helps to put the limited
nature of our thinking in perspective.

One
must also factor in the late scientific historian
Paul Feyerabend's thesis that the sciences have
not been driven by a single u201Cscientific method.u201D 
Scientific understanding has employed not only the
more familiar empirical, replicative procedures;
but also chance, guesswork, accidents, dreaming,
visualization, even fraud, to advance our knowledge
of the world. The notion that there is an objectively
u201Ccorrectu201D route to truth becomes, itself, a religious
proposition.

Furthermore,
if the scientific process ends up being capable
of validating only that which is verifiable by announced
scientific methods, what is to be said of those
values that are beyond quantifiable and empirical
assessment?  What are the costs of Nazi concentration
camps, Soviet gulags, or American and British torture
camps? It is this awareness that sets the Austrian
school apart from other schools of economic inquiry
(i.e., those that presume that the unquantifiable
cannot — and ought not — be incorporated into economic
analyses).  This was the central point of my
Rothbard Lecture given at the Mises Institute in
early 2003, titled u201CA Cost-Benefit Analysis of the
Human Spirit: The Luddites Revisited.u201D

To
smuggle a set of a priori assumptions into a discussion
and then imagine that one is challenging religious
faith, is an exercise in self-delusion.  There
is an element of arbitrariness underlying every
belief system, if for no other reason than the fact
that our beliefs arise wholly within our minds;
that they are about the world rather than
of it.  To condemn the theory of u201Cintelligent
designu201D because it contravenes scientific understanding
is no less an act of religious faith than attacking
Charles Darwin's work because it is contrary to
the Book of Genesis.

Each
of us, I believe, has a need for spiritual experiences;
for a sense of transcendence; a need to connect
up with the universe — including other people —
in a profound way.  We pursue this need in
a variety of ways reflective of the inherent diversity
of life.  Some of us seek this spiritual sense
in religious and philosophic speculation; others
in scientific pursuits; still others in music, art,
dance, poetry, architecture, engineering, business,
gardening, or the raising of children. Those who
pursue wealth, power, fame, or status, are driven
by a need to transcend themselves by becoming u201Cbigger
than life.u201D  Even politics attracts people
who believe, however mistakenly, that they can experience
a connection with others through careers in government,
conduct that puts themselves in conflict with —
and coercively violates the wills of — their fellow
humans.

Institutions
— particularly the state — have no interest in spiritual
or emotional matters. Their pursuits are purely
materialistic and mechanistic. The inner lives of
individuals — such as the desire for liberty –
are of no consequence to them, other than as entropic
wastes to be avoided or disposed of in the most
efficient manner.  To such entities, a materialistic
science applied to u201Chuman resourcesu201D through technology
and social engineering is all that matters. 
The nonmaterial becomes immaterial
in such a world, and those who insist upon a metasystem
of values — whether grounded in religion, philosophy,
or other normative pursuits — are simply looked
upon as being counterproductive to the u201Cbrave new
worldu201D of corporate-statism. Spiritual inquiries
provide too much of a distraction from politically-centered
purposes to be abided by the state.

We
live in a world in which the mass killing of people
is dismissed as u201Ccollateral damageu201D; the constant
and ever-more-intrusive control and surveillance
of men and women is treated as a form of u201Cinventory
controlu201D; the spontaneity and curiosity of children
is defined as a social disease to be drugged; and
the inviolate nature of human beings is routinely
disregarded by robotic functionaries of the state
whose own spiritual death allows them to torture,
maim, and kill others upon command.  All of
this is defended by morally deranged political leaders
on the twisted grounds of u201Cnecessityu201D and, far worse,
the preservation of u201Cfreedom.u201D

As
I stated earlier, I do not believe in the notion
of u201Cintelligent design.u201D  But my dispute is
not over the comparative merits of this doctrine
versus evolution.  There is a far deeper issue
going to the separation of religion and state that
is rarely mentioned: the secular religious faith
that government should be involved in education;
in indoctrinating the minds of people to accept
a politically-centered society.  State education
is no less grounded in religious faith than are
churches; replacing a crucifix or Star-of-David
atop a building with a flag does not change the
fundamental nature of what is taking place.

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