01 March 2001, 812 words
That Pastor Cuffie should have found it necessary to get a PhD - albeit one from a suspect university - seems somewhat contradictory. As a Christian fundamentalist, after all, Cuffie is necessarily anti-intellectual. And yet not only did he have a fervent desire to put "Doctor" before his name, but he also purchased several half-hour television spots to advertise his purchase, sorry, achievement.
There was no financial or professional reason for Cuffie to get a PhD. He is already fabulously wealthy, with a loyal congregation, and a high public profile. His real motive, it therefore seems, was prestige. And herein lies the contradiction: why should academic qualifications be viewed as prestigious by a man who vehemently opposes any genuine intellectual activities, such as science and literature?
It is true that Cuffie's doctorate (as investigated by Sean Douglas in the Independent of February 9 and 16) was given by an institution which was founded by a high school dropout, which has no academic requirements for a first degree, and which lacks accreditation from any reputable agency. Yet the very existence of such institutions suggests that intellectual qualifications carry authority even within such an anti-intellectual culture as fundamentalist Christianity.
As a member of the tiny minority that opposes religious belief, I find this quite encouraging. I have been often assured by believers of various faiths that, because I am a seeker of knowledge, I shall eventually discover Truth ("Truth", of course, being their particular belief-system). Ironically, I have exactly the same attitude: that any persistent seeker must eventually become agnostic or atheistic like me.
But the similarity is only one of syntax. Believers hold that anybody who seeks truth must begin from a basis of faith - in other words, you have to believe the truth you seek in order to find it. Put like that, such an approach is obviously idiotic.
I, on the other hand, think anybody who seeks truth must begin from a basis of skepticism (including skepticism about atheism), attaining belief only because the evidence and logic guide one to certain conclusions. I also have concrete reasons to believe that my conviction about where knowledge leads you is more accurate than that of the believers.
For instance, a 1953 survey of 64 eminent American scientists, nearly all members of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences or the American Philosophical Society found that, while nearly all of them had religious parents and had attended Sunday school, "now only three of these men are seriously active in church. A few others attend upon occasion, or even give some financial support to a church which they do not attend. All the others have long since dismissed religion as any guide to them...A few are militantly atheistic, but most are just not interested".
Similarly, a 1965 study polled 850 U.S. physicists, zoologists, chemical engineers and geologists listed in American Men of Science (1955) on church membership, attendance patterns, and belief in an afterlife. Of the 642 replies, 38.5 percent did not believe in an afterlife, whereas 31.8 percent did. The Gallup poll taken about this time showed that two-thirds of the U.S. population believed in an afterlife, so scientists were far less religious than the typical adult.
It is true that there have been great scientists and intellectuals who were conventionally religious, but they are very much the exception rather than the rule. Even Albert Einstein, often quoted gleefully by religious apologists for his "God does not play dice with the universe" comment, did not believe in any God such persons would accept.
(Einstein said, "I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the kind that we experience in ourselves. Neither can I nor would I want to conceive of an individual that survives his physical death; let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egoism, cherish such thoughts.")
Now it may be going too far to say that religion encourages dumbness. But it is true that religion is the main vehicle of anti-intellectualism in the modern world. This is one of two reasons people like me oppose religious belief. The other, more important reason is that when religion wields political influence, it always results in oppression of one sort or another: of minorities, of women, of castes, of other ethnic groups.
The best weapons against these evils are clear thought and humanitarian values. Thus, when education is trumpeted within cultures that depend on ignorance, the seed of their own destruction has been planted. That is why I am encouraged by the closing paragraph in Pastor Cuffie's Newsday column of February 10, titled "My PhD - fully valid", where he writes: "People who desire to perpetrate their treacherous acts against others should know that it's not easy to fool people in today's enlightened world."
My point exactly.
Copyright©2001 Kevin Baldeosingh