Dogma: a new perspective


Valued Senior Member
Each dogma is essentially historically contingent but the fact that dogmas are a fixture of all human societies is a direct consequence of natural selection. Whenever we use this notion of natural selection, we better give the time-frame involved to get some perspective. For example, the general logical capability of the human brain is the end-product of something like at least 525 million years of nature selecting neurobiolological systems over the entire surface of the Earth, over the whole thickness of the biosphere, in the seas, in the atmosphere, on the ground, and indeed below ground. No one is going to beat that with a computer any time soon. We may be tempted to think of dogmas as motivated essentially by social politics. This seems to be what people talk about when they discuss a dogma. Usually, there will be some implicit reference to the dogma of the Catholic Church at the time of Copernicus, Galileo and Descartes. Yet, the word “dogma” comes from the word “opinion”, or “belief”, in ancient Greek. Thus, dogmas as we think of them today are merely the socially generalised equivalent of our personal, individual beliefs. It’s belief on a social scale. Now, obviously, our personal beliefs would play a major role in our lives even without the dogmas we come to believe through our being part of a social group. And if the fact that the many beliefs we have independently of the dogmas we have are essential to our ability to function properly both in society and more generally in our environment, may be we need to recognise that dogmas play a similar role for social groups, including societies and indeed civilisations. So the capability to have beliefs probably goes back to at least the first dinosaurs 251 million years ago and certainly the first mammals around 210 million years ago. But to have a dogma requires, according to the sense of “socially generalised belief” I use here, some significant social relations, and here it’s more difficult to assess when this may have happened. Still, we’re probably still talking in millions of years, so nothing like the paltry 2000 years of things like the Catholic dogma. This certainly is enough to support the idea that dogmas are part and parcel of how any social group will inevitably function. That is not to say dogmas are necessary, merely that our societies work that way and we should keep that in mind before we try to dispose of them here and there without much thinking about what to put in place instead. History shows how dogmas are removed only for other dogmas to take their place. As I see it, dogmas, and dogmatic people, are there to stay and should be regarded indeed as necessary as long as we don’t know exactly how to live, and indeed survive, without them. I certainly wouldn’t be alive myself if not for the dogmatic people trudging along regardless of what our smart elite says. Obviously, we need our Copernicuses and our Einsteins to remove the ground under the feet of some of our dogmas, but only those dogmas that are obsolete because someone happens to know what to replace them with, and this ain’t going to happen everyday of the week. Still, the smart elite at the time of the Enlightenment successfully removed the Catholic Church’s dogma. Yet, it was only to replace it with the scientific dogma. It also seems a characteristic of our time that many different, and indeed incompatible, dogmas are allowed to somehow co-exist within the same societies. Indeed, the idea that this is a good thing should be regarded as a dogma of our democratic societies and a distinguishing fixture compared to all authoritarian regimes that still exist today.
as you have suggested ...there is nothing to say that we have to consider "dogma" always in the pejorative.