If Religion Has Become Peripheral in the West, It’s Not Solely Because of Science

Reviewing a recent biography of John Stuart Mill that focuses on the British philosopher’s attitude toward religion, and a recently published book that looks at the diminishing authority accorded in contemporary culture to the supernatural, John Cottingham examines what these two books have to say about the secularization of the West. Cottingham finds more merit in the latter book, written by Paul Gifford, but nonetheless contends that its core argument is unconvincing:

Gifford is well aware that there is more to being religious than the holding of certain beliefs: religion, he acknowledges, has been a vehicle for “community, tradition, emotion, ritual, color, beauty, value, art, poetry, and much else.” But he nevertheless insists on focusing almost exclusively on the cognitive element within religion because of what he calls the “great ditch”—the decisive shift in outlook in the early modern period leading to the rise of science and its application to technology, which produced “continuous innovation and increase” that “swept all before it.” The rise of a new “form of knowing associated with science,” Gifford argues, has “peripheralized religion in the West.”

If this thesis is hardly new, Gifford deploys it in an informative way, with almost every page enriched with quotations from an array of sociological, historical and other sources. But the thesis is highly problematic, not because there is any doubt about the magnificent achievements of science, but because there seems no good reason to think that these achievements are what have led to the decline in religious belief.

Excluding fundamentalists and fanatics, most religious adherents (certainly all those known to me) have a deep respect for the ways of knowing championed by science. They simply do not believe that these ways of knowing exhaust all reality. To insist that there is no meaning or truth outside the limits of science is not science but metaphysics, and Gifford’s airy dismissal of metaphysics (he cites with approval the discredited positivism of A.J. Ayer) thus verges on the self-refuting. If there is a connection between the rise of science and the decline of Western religion, one would need a philosophically more sophisticated account of such key notions as “natural,” “supernatural,” and “otherworldly” in order to make the case convincing.

Read more at Times Literary Supplement

More about: Decline of religion, John Stuart Mill, Science and Religion

Would an American-Backed UN Resolution Calling for a Temporary Ceasefire Undermine Israel?

Yesterday morning, the U.S. vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution, sponsored by Algeria, that demanded an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. As an alternative, the American delegation has been circulating a draft resolution calling for a “temporary ceasefire in Gaza as soon as practicable, based on the formula of all hostages being released.” Benny Avni comments:

While the Israel Defense Force may be able to maintain its Gaza operations under that provision, the U.S.-proposed resolution also warns the military against proceeding with its plan to enter the southern Gaza town of Rafah. Israel says that a critical number of Hamas fighters are hiding inside tunnels and in civilian buildings at Rafah, surrounded by a number of the remaining 134 hostages.

In one paragraph, the text of the new American resolution says that the council “determines that under current circumstances a major ground offensive into Rafah would result in further harm to civilians and their further displacement including potentially into neighboring countries, which would have serious implications for regional peace and security, and therefore underscores that such a major ground offensive should not proceed under current circumstances.”

In addition to the paragraph about Rafah, the American-proposed resolution is admonishing Israel not to create a buffer zone inside Gaza. Such a narrow zone, as wide as two miles, is seen by many Israelis as a future protection against infiltration from Gaza.

Perhaps, as Robert Satloff argues, the resolution isn’t intended to forestall an IDF operation in Rafah, but only—consistent with prior statements from the Biden administration—to demand that Israel come up with a plan to move civilians out of harms way before advancing on the city.

If that is so, the resolution wouldn’t change much if passed. But why is the U.S. proposing an alternative ceasefire resolution at all? Strategically, Washington has nothing to gain from stopping Israel, its ally, from achieving a complete victory over Hamas. Why not instead pass a resolution condemning Hamas (something the Security Council has not done), calling for the release of hostages, and demanding that Qatar and Iran stop providing the group with arms and funds? Better yet, demand that these two countries—along with Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon—arrest Hamas leaders on their territory.

Surely Russia would veto such a resolution, but still, why not go on the offensive, rather than trying to come up with another UN resolution aimed at restraining Israel?

Read more at New York Sun

More about: Gaza War 2023, U.S.-Israel relationship, United Nations