I’m a big fan of Ted Talks. My favorite lectures are those that begin with a personal story, present a new idea, or a different perspective on an existing idea, and are supported by numbers – numbers derived from measurement – the cornerstone of science. I’ve seen presentations that completely changed my perception and understanding of the natural world, and I’ve seen others that presented new ideas with such passion and evidence that I became excited about the future.
Before I even viewed Botton’s talk, I thought to myself, “How does one revise a lack of belief?” But in his introduction, Botton provides his definition of “Atheism 2.0” –
“Atheism 2.0 is about both, as I say, a respectful and an impious way of going through religions and saying, “What here could we use?” The secular world is full of holes. We have secularized badly, I would argue. And a thorough study of religion could give us all sorts of insights into areas of life that are not going too well.”
Let’s examine this introduction. “A respectful and impious way of going through religion and saying, ‘What could we use here?’” It’s an oxymoron to suggest combing through religion both respectfully and impiously, but I’m intrigued by this idea, but use for what exactly? “The secular world is full of holes.” It is? “We have secularized badly”? We have? “Religion could give us all sorts of insights into areas of life that are not going too well.” My interest is peaked! I want to know what these holes are?! How have atheists secularized badly (and how is that even possible?)?! What are these insights, and what areas of life are not going very well (I’m assuming for atheists)?
In a badly secularized world full of holes, Botton forges ahead, but completely neglects these statements! He never mentions them again. He doesn’t site one study or provide one number. He offers no evidence, and continues to make unsubstantiated claims throughout. He plods along presenting what appear to be random ideas with no relationship to each other. We were sold one presentation and given another, and the one we were given may be one of the worst TED Talks ever. Botton seems to know little about how science works, and even less about the history of science.
One thing he does have is confidence. He does go on to make suggestions about the great insights and traditions religions have to offer the secular world. Botton presents ideas concerning art, education, morality, and rituals. Not one of them is valid, but I’m going to focus on his ideas regarding education and morality.
Botton states how important education is to the secular world, but then makes another unsubstantiated and convoluted claim. He suggests that “higher education” was born out of the decline of church attendance in Western Europe in the early 19th century. When church attendance noticeably declined, “people panicked,” but he doesn’t define these people – what people? I would assume the church. He goes on to state, “They (there’s these people again!) asked themselves the following question, ‘where are people going to find the morality, …guidance, and sources or consolation?’ And influential voices came up with an answer.”
Let’s take a break. I’m dizzy from his pronoun use. Are the people who panicked the same people who asked the question? And these “influential voices,” who are these people? Are they the same people as the people who panicked? Or did “they” keep level heads when “they” came up with an answer?
And the answer the “influential people” came up with?
“They said culture. It’s to culture we should look for guidance, for consolation, for morality. They (influential voices?) wanted to replace scripture with culture. And that’s a plausible idea. It’s also an idea that we have forgotten.”
The great Christopher Hitchens, in his book, God is Not Great stated, “There are, indeed, several ways in which religion is not just amoral, but positively immoral.” When considering this, replacing scripture with almost anything would benefit society immensely. Aesop’s Fables comes to mind… come to think of it, so does SpongeBob SquarePants.
But the one thing that scripture cannot be replaced with is culture! The European culture Botton refers to was derived from scripture. Even today, culture is heavily influenced by religion. Botton doesn’t seem to have a clue how deeply imbedded religion is within culture. I think Botton’s story about “influential people” suggesting that we “replace scripture with culture” is completely bogus. I don’t think it ever happened because it’s not only a bad idea, it’s completely and totally implausible.
If Botton had given any of this a moment’s thought, he may have concluded that “secularists” need to change “culture” through education. But no, he never makes that connection. Botton doesn’t want to utilize education to change culture, but he does want to change education.
Botton makes some statements about how the church refers to their parish as “children.” Botton seems to suggest that all of us are like children, and “we need guidance and we need didactic learning.” In other words, we need to be taught morals. Earlier he stated we should derive our morals from culture. Now he’s shifting gears and suggesting morals should be taught as if we were children (isn’t that how the church currently teaches morals?). His circular reasoning is either proactively, subtly brilliant, or just not that well thought out (I’ll go with the later).
Botton then makes a brief point about sermons, and compares them to lectures – “a sermon wants to change your life, and a lecture wants to give you a bit of information.” He suggests that this tradition is something we need to return to and is hugely valuable.
|He then goes on to state that we need to “keep repeating a lesson ten times a day,” and also suggests that religion “circles the great truths again and again and again.” What great truths is he referring to? The one about Adam eating an apple from the Tree of Knowledge because a talking snake tricked Eve into believing this was the right thing to do? Or the idea that one should treat another as they wish to be treated? Or all of those other “great truths” that allow one to discriminate against others? I have no idea because he never says!|
Botton goes on to present three ideas, “stolen from religion” about education that would benefit the secular world and I could not disagree more. He suggests we treat people, adults, like children, deliver sermons until they change their life, and repeat lessons over and over about the great truths (of science?).
What are these great truths of science he would like to repeat over and over? E = mc2? Evolution by natural selection? That the brain is the source of all behavior? And who would get to decide what the great truths are? Would the local science educator determine this? Or is he suggesting that science should teach the “great truths” regarding morality and ethics? I have no idea because he never finishes a thought!
And here’s the issue with sermons – sermons, by definition, are not allowed to be questioned or discussed. This is the way it is, and you need to get on-board or risk being ostracized by the community.
If you include the idea about treating us like children, I think we can make a valid claim that these are the three worst ideas to ever be presented in sequential order in a Ted Talk! I thought Ted would have some sort of vetting and review process?
Please bear with me as I try and pull themes from his talk, which was all over the place, into one coherent argument. At first Botton states that we should derive our morality from culture, didn’t say which one, dropped that topic, and then he said we should teach morality to people by using repetition as if they were children. This is referred to as “indoctrination.”
|Finally, we get to the main idea of his talk. Botton suggests we replace our current educational system with indoctrination. He applies this idea to all aspects of education and art.|
At the most basic level, Botton’s entire premise is false. He makes statements about how religion handles art, education, rituals, and morals. Unfortunately, indoctrination is not something that “free-thinkers” and atheists value. The really great thing about free-thinkers, critical thinkers, skeptics, is that they learn at their own pace, they study things that interest them (not things that someone else deems important), and they are not children. But in addition to all of these things, one of the most valuable traits “free thinkers” have is the ability to ask questions! And sometimes these questions “offend” someone. Well, as Jon from Total Talk Nonsense says, “Boo Hoo!” Free thinkers are not drones that repeat the same mantra over and over and over even when evidence is provided to completely discredit their “belief.” Free thinkers ask questions, and they criticize ideas – regardless of where the idea originated.
Here’s how science works – someone presents a new idea. That idea is criticized. Studies are designed to gather evidence, and/or observations are made regarding the predictive power of the idea. The data comes in, and the idea is either supported or falsified based on evidence. New ideas replace old ideas; we progress forward. The outcome of this process is that we have a better understanding of the universe and everything that it includes (even us!).
Even in today’s “secular world,” some new, revolutionary ideas have to wait an entire generation to succeed because the scientists who advocate the current ideas refuse to consider a different approach – even when the scientific evidence suggests that the new idea is superior to the old. The reason is because we all have areas of “cognitive dissonance” and “confirmation bias.” And how do we know this? Because of science.
But if we replace our current educational process with “indoctrination,” a process that values the status quo, new ideas will be frowned upon and discovery and advancement will no longer flourish.
So why is Botton so wrong? According to his own website, he’s an author and television presenter with a master’s degree in Philosophy. Too bad he didn’t take any science courses. Or maybe he did, he just wasn’t paying attention because they didn’t treat him like a child and repeat “no measurement, no science!” over and over and over again. Whatever the story may be, Botton has no understanding of how ideas flourish, the history of science, or how science works. And unfortunately for those of us that have viewed his TED Talk, an argument can be made that we are almost “stupider” than we were before we viewed it.
Atheism 2.0? A more fitting title for his Ted Talk would have been, “Indoctrination – I’m not that well thought out. I’m just an author trying to sell a book.”