Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Generation Gap

I belong to a voluntary organization that promotes science, reason and secular principles. My job is to write up position papers. Last night we held a meeting to discuss some of these positions. There were 8 people at the meeting, including me. All of the others were in their 20s, freshly minted university grads, at the beginning of their careers. It was a meeting of generations, me and all the rest.

As we dissected what I had written as preliminary drafts it became apparent that I occupied a different intellectual space. One of the things I had written was that “…science was the only way in which we could measure and understand reality…” There was universal agreement amongst the others that this should be changed to “...the best way…”, rather than “…the only way...”

I argued for my position, challenging them to identify another way that we could satisfactorily measure and understand reality. I was met with the quick rebuttal that they know very well there is no other way, but they don’t want to say it.

And so it went, with some other phrases I had chosen. Eventually, hoping to embarrass them, I laughed, and said, “You guys are really steeped in relativism – for you there are not absolutes.” They looked at me as if I had just grown a set of horns out of my head and said, “Well, of course”, as if there could be no other way of looking at the world.

This is the same organization that wants to promote the idea that morality is something we derive from the exercise of our conscience, not a divinely inspired gift, and that conscience is a universal quality of all humankind. This only makes sense if the conscience of all humans is the same (barring medical impairments to judgments). What could be more absolute than a universal conscience that informs humanity of the same concepts of right and wrong? But, we don’t want to say that because we will be out of step with modern thinking about relativism and we certainly wouldn’t want to look foolish.

This is going to be a long and difficult gig for me. There are many things that bring the generation gap home to me and this is just another example.

1 comment:

Dan Reid said...

As someone who is neither a kid nor an old man, I think absolutes become gradually easier and more attractive as you get older, or perhaps you simply get more comfortable voicing them. I also think that relativism and acceptance of ideas, even those we might fundamentally disagree with, has been beaten into our heads...