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Name: Defacto7
Gender: Do not display
Hometown: Portland, OR
Home country: not sure anymore
Current location: depends on which proxy I'm using
Member since: Wed Aug 1, 2012, 01:44 AM
Number of posts: 13,485

About Me

Humanist, Classical musician, Linux hack, Liberal, Cosmology enthusiast, Refuse resurrectionist, Living with you in purgatory

Journal Archives

Doubt, a summary of this little mini series

I'd like to offer up Edgar Allen Poe:

"In the beginning of the first thing lies the secondary cause of all things, with the germ of their inevitable annihilation."

The history of doubt is the history of humankind itself. It begins where our concepts of self and universe explode from two dimensions into three; it's at the point where we begin to seek symmetry from chaos. Doubt is the single catalyst that melds perception into truth and points imagination toward reality. Without it fact is a whim and truth a blur. Reason is non-existent without doubt's incessant prodding. Doubt is the fuel of science. It defines philosophy and philosophy, in turn, defines it.

Its history is one of discovery, wonder and courage; it's also one of dissent, agony and martyrdom. The 300,000 innocent lives who burned at the stake in Madrid alone, along with the millions of other murders perscribed by blind faith speak to the irrepressible nature of humankind and the power of doubt. Doubt has never conceded to anything but triumph.

I am honored to count myself among those who doubt and who seek facts as they are able to be verified. I'm also proud to be among doubters who can admit being wrong and in doing so, revise views to accommodate better ideas. To me this is life. I couldn't possibly think myself as courageous as so many who have stood against the monstrous adversities of past centuries, but through my doubts I hope I can continue to be part of the process to annihilate ignorance and spread the cause of reason.


P.S. The above words are my own musings so you can blame me. Much of the material from the previous entries are gleaned from the book Doubt by Jennifer Michael Hecht. I'd call it a philisophical history of doubt. If you want more it's a great read.

Doubt in 19th century America

Frances Wright, usually called Fanny, championed religious doubt. At 18, Fanny had a literary and philosophical club at which members delivered essays to one another. Fanny delivered one about Epicurus and Leontium, Epicurus's first female disciple, which was later published as A Few Days in Athens. In it she states, "To fear a being on account of his power is degrading; to fear him if he's good, ridiculous... I see no sufficient evidence of his existance; and to reason of its possibility I hold to be an idle speculation."
She was influenced by Utilitarianism, later called utopian socialism, famous for their schemes for a perfect community, including gender equality, free love, and free thought.

(One more to go...)

Doubt in the 19th century

Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) author, abolitionist and crusader for women's rights wrote as an impassioned doubter, "There is no theory of a God, of an author of nature, of an origin of the universe, which is not utterly repugnant to my faculties; which is not (to my feelings) so irrelevant as to make me blush." She also called for children's books for "the secularist order of parents." Martineau mused that Christianity "fails to make happy, fails to make good, fails to make wise." She also called herself the "happiest woman in England."

Doubt in the 18th century

A young man named La Barre who refused to take off his hat to a religious procession, damaged a crucifix, and was in possession of a copy of Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary was tortured and executed for blasphemy in 1766. Voltaire was particularly stung by La Barre's death and rose up against "this sentence so exécrable... so absurd... which is an eternal disgrace to France." Voltaire, though not atheist, became a great leader in stopping violent persecution partly due to this tragedy.

La Barre was 19 years old.

(Not to worry, there's hope in the next century)

Doubt in the 16th century

Born in 1548, Giordano Bruno, excommunicated by the Calvinists, excommunicated by the Lutherans, and sentenced to burn at the stake by the Catholics claimed, among other things, that the universe was infinite and filled with many other suns like ours. When sentenced to death by fire in 1600, he famously said, "Perhaps you, my judges, pronounce this sentence against me with greater fear than I receive it." Invited to repent, he refused. While on the pyre he was offered a crucifix which he pushed away with sharp disdain.

He was 51.

Doubt in the 17th century.

In 1696 a medical student at the University of Edinburgh named Thomas Aikenhead said that theology was " a rhapsody of feigned and Ill-invented nonsense" and that the scriptures were " so stuffed with madness, nonsense, and contradictions, that you admired the stupidity of the world in being so long deluded by them." He also said that Moses, "if ever there was such a man," had, like Jesus, "learned magic in Egypt, but that he was both the better artist and better politician.

He was executed for blasphemy in 1697. He was 20 years old.

Hope? Maybe.

I live near an elementary school in an urban area. Everyday I take walks around the neighborhood and occasionally watch children between 6 and 12 socializing, playing, and in class on the open field during good weather. When I read the news I sometimes feel hopelessness because of the racism, bigotry and discrimination that has surfaced lately. Yet watching these children, black, asian, hispanic, white, comforting each other, holding hands, an occasional arm over the shoulder, without showing the slightest sign of indifference, it makes me lose my hopelessness for a few moments.

I do hope this mirrors the future. But the cynic in me still wonders what they will learn from the state of our society. What will they pick up from our leaders, the media, and their greater association with peers? Are they going to change the world or succumb to our present human condition? I am at a loss to even try to answer that question.

May peace and harmony prevail.

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