Dennett; Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon

This Thursday’s Nature had a review of Daniel Dennett’s new book called ‘Breaking the Spell; Religion as a Natural Phenomenon’. Michael Ruse, the philosopher and specialist on the relationship between science and religion, wrote the review. Dennett’s objective is to proffer a natural history of religion, to explain how and why religion exists and why it has such a hold over people. I haven’t read the book yet, although I will, but Ruse, whom I admire greatly is quite critical of it. Dennett, of course, is as enthusiastically atheistic as Richard Dawkins. They both believe that religion is a delusion that damages the individual and society. Dennett attempts to explain the emergence and persistence of religion in strictly biological Darwinian terms, ie as a phenomenon that has, for much of our past, aided our survival.

 Ruse criticises Dennett for basing his explanation entirely on biological factors and for ignoring the obvious historical cultural and social influences that affect both what people believe and the fervour with which they believe it. He also criticises him sharply for a lack of empathy in portraying the claims of religion as entirely a matter of smoke and mirrors. As Ruse correctly points out, a naturalistic analysis of the sources of religious faith has no bearing on the truth or otherwise of religious claims.

 Dawkins in some of his work, most notably in his very recent two part TV series ‘Religion, the Root of All Evil?’ falls into the same trap that Ruse suggests that Dennett does. I found a great deal to admire in Dawkins’ TV analysis, particularly his excoriation of fundamentalism and the evils that proceed from segregation on religious lines and from religious competition, and the telling observation that people’s religious beliefs overwhelmingly correlate with the society and family they are born into rather than the inherent merits or truth of various beliefs. In the end, however, Dawkins himself came over as a fundamentalist. He failed to engage sophisticated theologians, with the notable exception of his interview with the Anglican bishop of Oxford, he did not acknowledge any positive aspects to religious belief and he glossed over (to put it politely) the possibility that religion can and does contain warranted beliefs.

 If Dennett doesn’t cut the mustard, who does? Since it was published several years ago, I have thought Pascal Boyer’s book ‘Religion Explained: The Human Instincts that Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors’ is a wonderfully original, insightful and respectful analysis of why religion is a universal phenomenon and about the reason for religious beliefs having the characteristics that they do.  Boyer’s book is based on narrower anthropological lines, but is no worse for that.

 Those of us, like me, who are atheists, ought to remember that whatever powerful evolutionary, anthropological and social forces shape religious belief also apply to us, and that we do not stand above our evolutionary history any more easily, comfortably or surely than do believers.

Alec
evolutionpages.com

Dennett’s views regarding religion do no more to disprove theism than does evolution - that is, neither is a positive argument for atheism. On the other hand, evolution can be used as a response to a particular positive theistic argument - the argument from design. Similarly, Dennett’s proposal can be seen as a response to a certain flavor of theistic arguments - such as Kreeft’s Argument from Desire or any sort of argument that appeals to the existence of religion, religious conviction, or another similar phenomenon.

[quote=hecd2]………Dennett attempts to explain the emergence and persistence of religion in strictly biological Darwinian terms, ie as a phenomenon that has, for much of our past, aided our survival.

Ruse criticises Dennett for basing his explanation entirely on biological factors and for ignoring the obvious historical cultural and social influences that affect both what people believe and the fervour with which they believe it……….
[/quote]

I heard part (and unfortunately only part) of a radio interview with Dennett and Ruse the other day. I’ll have to check the network’s archive.
But I got the impression that he wasn’t arguing that it was a strictly biological phenomena but, using the concept of memes, that cultural concepts are selected for in a way that is similar to biological processes.

So when is the Dan Dennett vs. William Lane Craig debate scheduled so I can watch Dennet squirm? :thumbsup: I’ll wait for the paperback but I’ll flip through the hardcover at the store.

Phil P

[quote=steveandersen]I heard part (and unfortunately only part) of a radio interview with Dennett and Ruse the other day. I’ll have to check the network’s archive.
But I got the impression that he wasn’t arguing that it was a strictly biological phenomena but, using the concept of memes, that cultural concepts are selected for in a way that is similar to biological processes.
[/quote]

In re-reading Ruse, I think you are right. So I should have written ‘Ruse criticises Dennett for basing his explanation entirely on Darwinian factors and for ignoring the obvious historical cultural and social influences that affect both what people believe and the fervour with which they believe it’.

The concept of memes was, of course, brought to popular attention by Dawkins in ‘The Selfish Gene’, so there’s another link. Complexes of memes form entire belief systems which replicate from generation to generation, with modification, insertion and deletion of some memes, hence, for example, the diversity of Christian sects today. Dawkins idea is a good and insightful one as long as as we don’t push the analogy too far and we don’t rely on it for the explanation of social phenomena to the exclusion of other factors.

(Language is another phenomenon which undergoes replication, variation, selection and diversification along broadly Darwinian lines).

Alec
evolutionpages.com

Hi Alec,

Very interesting stuff. My brother is an arch evolutionist and I finally understand where he is coming from. I will have to read Dawkins and Denton. In the mean time I will try and read the book review in Nature.

I suspect that believers will always be susceptible to attacks on empirical grounds. That is, folks will be able to marshall arguments from facts against certain Christian beliefs. The more “fundamentalist” one is in his outlook, the more susceptible.

However, I have come to the conclusion that the idea of God itself is beyond and impervious to empirical arguments. I think this was established way back when by St. Anselm. If one holds to the relgious idea of God as the one who is worthy of worship, then he must exist by definition. See the modal version of the ontological argument as elucidated in modern times by guys like Malcolm and Hartshorne.

IOW, the battle is over whether the idea of God makes sense, not whether this or that empirical argument disproves his existence. (How could it?) Both atheistic and theistic empirical arguments (see argument from design) quite miss the point.

cordially

Karl

hi :slight_smile:

St. Anselm had three theories for THE ATONEMENT IN HISTORY. None of them were satisfactory. I’ve provided you his second theory. The remainder are located on the url.

"II. The Theory of the Ransom Paid by Christ to God (St. Anselm)
St. Anselm put the second great theory of the Atonement forward.

"There are several objections to this theory [St. Anselm], but it is better than the theory then prevalent that God deceived the Devil by holding out to him Christ’s human nature as a bait. In consequence, the “classical” theory, which was wrongly thought to be bound up with the ransom paid to the Devil, gave way to the theory of St. Anselm.

"The Scriptural basis of St. Anselm’s theory is not sufficient,
and the feudal ideas with which it is connected make it appear unreal now that feudalism has disappeared. The emphasis laid on the personal honour of God, rather than on His justice and His love, reduces Him to the level of an earthly despot. [F.J. Hall, Dogmatic Theology, v. 7, p. 27.] Here it is God that is reconciled to man, not man to God. The act of reconciliation does not come from God, but from Christ as Man. The Father and the Son are separated, and this was to have disastrous consequences in the later developments of the theory. Moreover, to regard sin as a debt that can be paid off is to ignore the depth to which sin penetrates. The whole being of a sinner is changed from what it ought to be. Sin affects him internally, not merely externally, like a debt. Also the living union between Christ and His Church is not enough emphasized.

“According to St. Anselm, the death of Christ alone, not as in the “classical” theory the whole work of the Incarnation, is what saves us. Hence the theory of St. Anselm is not satisfactory;
but it has this merit, that it requires the moral position of man to be changed before God’s purpose can be worked out…” By CLAUDE BEAUFORT MOSS, D.D.
katapi.org.uk/ChristianFaith/XXX.htm

I hope this helps you. :slight_smile:

(p.s :wave: Hi Phil, Jason & Alec, I’ve had computer problems. Hope to return on Tuesday when I can resurrect another topic…I need techie help! My computer conspired against me, knowing full well I’m not all that computer literate :o It’s taken me an hour to post this message :frowning: hang in there :thumbsup: Don’t do anything that wouldn’t make your Mom proud. :wink:


[/quote]

I imagine Krebsbach was referring to Anselm’s ontological argument (later resurrected by Descartes) (which is one of those arguments that always gets a laugh out of me).

[quote=EnterTheBowser]I imagine Krebsbach was referring to Anselm’s ontological argument (later resurrected by Descartes) (which is one of those arguments that always gets a laugh out of me).
[/quote]

tee hee :smiley: If St. Anselm flubbed up the Atonement then undoubtedly he would have flubbed up every other arguement. :smiley: Please don’t get me going on Descartes! He sure knew how to :whistle: :wink:

[quote=hecd2]This Thursday’s Nature had a review of Daniel Dennett’s new book called ‘Breaking the Spell; Religion as a Natural Phenomenon’. Michael Ruse, the philosopher and specialist on the relationship between science and religion, wrote the review. Dennett’s objective is to proffer a natural history of religion, to explain how and why religion exists and why it has such a hold over people. I haven’t read the book yet, although I will, but Ruse, whom I admire greatly is quite critical of it. Dennett, of course, is as enthusiastically atheistic as Richard Dawkins. They both believe that religion is a delusion that damages the individual and society. Dennett attempts to explain the emergence and persistence of religion in strictly biological Darwinian terms, ie as a phenomenon that has, for much of our past, aided our survival.

Ruse criticises Dennett for basing his explanation entirely on biological factors and for ignoring the obvious historical cultural and social influences that affect both what people believe and the fervour with which they believe it. He also criticises him sharply for a lack of empathy in portraying the claims of religion as entirely a matter of smoke and mirrors. As Ruse correctly points out, a naturalistic analysis of the sources of religious faith has no bearing on the truth or otherwise of religious claims.

Dawkins in some of his work, most notably in his very recent two part TV series ‘Religion, the Root of All Evil?’ falls into the same trap that Ruse suggests that Dennett does. I found a great deal to admire in Dawkins’ TV analysis, particularly his excoriation of fundamentalism and the evils that proceed from segregation on religious lines and from religious competition, and the telling observation that people’s religious beliefs overwhelmingly correlate with the society and family they are born into rather than the inherent merits or truth of various beliefs. In the end, however, Dawkins himself came over as a fundamentalist. He failed to engage sophisticated theologians, with the notable exception of his interview with the Anglican bishop of Oxford, he did not acknowledge any positive aspects to religious belief and he glossed over (to put it politely) the possibility that religion can and does contain warranted beliefs.

If Dennett doesn’t cut the mustard, who does? Since it was published several years ago, I have thought Pascal Boyer’s book ‘Religion Explained: The Human Instincts that Fashion Gods, Spirits and Ancestors’ is a wonderfully original, insightful and respectful analysis of why religion is a universal phenomenon and about the reason for religious beliefs having the characteristics that they do. Boyer’s book is based on narrower anthropological lines, but is no worse for that.

Those of us, like me, who are atheists, ought to remember that whatever powerful evolutionary, anthropological and social forces shape religious belief also apply to us, and that we do not stand above our evolutionary history any more easily, comfortably or surely than do believers.

Alec
evolutionpages.com
[/quote]

Have you read William James’ “Varieties of Religious Experience” ?

It’s a magnificent book :slight_smile: ##

Love is a Natural Phenomenon! :yup: This is my favorite…
vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20051225_deus-caritas-est_en.html

Here is an excerpt:

PART II
CARITAS
THE PRACTICE OF LOVE
BY THE CHURCH
AS A “COMMUNITY OF LOVE”

The Church’s charitable activity as a manifestation of Trinitarian love…

**Faith by its specific nature is an encounter with the living God—an encounter opening up new horizons extending beyond the sphere of reason. But it is also a purifying force for reason itself. From God’s standpoint, faith liberates reason from its blind spots and therefore helps it to be ever more fully itself. Faith enables reason to do its work more effectively and to see its proper object more clearly. This is where Catholic social doctrine has its place: it has no intention of giving the Church power over the State. Even less is it an attempt to impose on those who do not share the faith ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to faith. Its aim is simply to help purify reason and to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just.**DEUS CARITAS ESTOF THE SUPREME PONTIFF BENEDICT XVI TO THE BISHOPS, PRIESTS AND DEACONS, MEN AND WOMEN RELIGIOUS, AND ALL THE LAY FAITHFUL ON CHRISTIAN LOVE Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on 25 December, the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, in the year 2005, the first of my Pontificate. BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

Alec, you might find that you agree with some of what Benedictus XVI has written. At least a line or two may please you. :slight_smile:
Agape :thumbsup:

Hi Bowser and Blower,

It seems that poor Anselm has either been ignored or misunderstood over the centuries. St. Tom misunderstood him. Descartes tried to improve on him but failed. Kant thought he refuted him but was only arguing against the weaker form of the ontological argument.

To get a fair treatment read Charles Hartshorne’s Anselm’s Discovery. Hartshorne argues pretty convincingly that the modal version of the ontological proof found in Proslogion III eliminates both empirical atheism and empirical theism. The only remaining options are theism and what Hartshorne calls logical positivism or the belief that the idea of God is logically impossible.

Anslem assumes first that the theism is logically possible and then certain other postulates. if one rejects these presuppositions, then one is not taking the position of atheism or agnosticism as commonly understood but positivism. If one accepts the presuupositions then one is necessarily a theist.

That’s why I say that folks like Alec is talking about quite miss the point.

cordially

karl

don’t you wish you could be a little cherub on the wall when Dennet, Dawkins et al finally make it to the pearly gates for that interview with St. Peter, and the moment when he brings them to the Big Guy?

[quote=hecd2] I found a great deal to admire in Dawkins’ TV analysis, particularly his excoriation of fundamentalism and the evils that proceed from segregation on religious lines and from religious competition, and the telling observation that people’s religious beliefs overwhelmingly correlate with the society and family they are born into rather than the inherent merits or truth of various beliefs. In the end, however, Dawkins himself came over as a fundamentalist. Alec
evolutionpages.com
[/quote]

Stephen C. Meyer, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, wrote an article *Signs of intelligence * for the Dallas Morning News January 29, 2006. He quotes Richard Dawkin within his article:

**“Contrary to media reports, intelligent design is not a religious-based idea, but instead an evidence-based scientific theory about life’s origins – one that challenges strictly materialistic views of evolution. According to Darwinian biologists such as Oxford’s Richard Dawkins, living systems “give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.” But for modern Darwinists, that appearance of design is entirely illusory. Why? Because the undirected processes of natural selection acting on random mutations can produce the intricate structures found in living organisms.” **

tinyurl.com/agkpk
( I did email myself the article so do have proof of it having appeared in the newspaper though it may not be available online at this time because it is outdated.)

I obtained the above information from Meyer’s article that was noted Original Article located on the Discovery Institute News where his article is also presented on this url:

tinyurl.com/9y5uq

When delivering to the public this type of information that mentions the Discovery Institute’s propaganda of ID to the public by way of newspapers or the Internet, would they have claim that people are “Advocating Teaching the Controversy”?

discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=2633

Could they use it in court in such a way that would allow them to teach it to 10th graders in a social studies class :confused:

Alec, I was going to mention this to you on the last topic you started but decided to place it here because Dawkin is being used as a puppet by Miller in his article * Signs of intelligence*. :mad:

Thanks :slight_smile:

puzzle << don’t you wish you could be a little cherub on the wall when Dennet, Dawkins et al finally make it to the pearly gates for that interview with St. Peter >>

They shall be cast into the outer darkness and forced to hear sermons, day after day, for eternity, by Henry Morris and Duane Gish and Pat Robertson (who are also there). :thumbsup:

Oh yeah reminds me of a new article I put on my apologetics site

Phil P

Listen to Richard Dawkings on BBC radio tinyurl.com/9wsug

I like the guy and love his cute, sexy voice… “eeevolution”. He is a ‘bright’. I think he praises Jesus and isn’t against religion! :smiley:

Alec,

Have you read C.S. Lewis’ demonstration of the self-contradiction of “naturalism” in his book Miracles? “Naturalism” here is the belief that the physical world is all that there “really” is and that consciousness and the like are epiphenomena arising from the motions of the atoms in our brains. Lewis’ argument is that if this the case, then the only relation that our thoughts have to the outside world is one of cause and effect, rather than anything as abstruse as truth or falsehood.

The only counter-argument that I have heard to this is that somehow evolution favored accuracy in our ideas and thoughts. I bring this up because this takes the old argument against the truth of religion, that it prospered because evolution favored it (which argument I think I find again here in Dawkins and company), and tries to use it to defend naturalism.

  • Liberian

wild << I like the guy and love his cute, sexy voice… “eeevolution”. He is a ‘bright’. I think he praises Jesus and isn’t against religion! >>

The dude is hot and all :smiley: but I haven’t heard him praise Jesus lately. Thanks for the link, you can also hear him in my crazy Uncommon Dissent game. :whacky:

Phil P

[quote=EnterTheBowser]I imagine Krebsbach was referring to Anselm’s ontological argument (later resurrected by Descartes) (which is one of those arguments that always gets a laugh out of me).
[/quote]

I wonder at those who find discussions of the Ultimate Reality to be humorous.

[quote=PhilVaz]wild << I like the guy and love his cute, sexy voice… “eeevolution”. He is a ‘bright’. I think he praises Jesus and isn’t against religion! >>

The dude is hot and all :smiley: but I haven’t heard him praise Jesus lately. Thanks for the link, you can also hear him in my crazy Uncommon Dissent game. :whacky:

Phil P
[/quote]

:slight_smile: I’ve never held back on complimenting a smart, good-looking man. Richard Dawkin ranks 9 on the charts! :yup: :love:

Phil, I’m counting on you to share with us a transcript of the broadcast tinyurl.com/9wsug Dawkin does mention Jesus was ‘an exceptionally good man’ and ‘taught us lessons in moral philosophy’. . . :slight_smile: he goes on and on… (check around 16:13:44)

I’m sure there will be plenty people here that will enjoy your UnCommon Decent game. :slight_smile: I’ve never once played those games on the Internet. They’ve never interested me. I’m sorry. Hey, I was at a friends earlier and we read that story by Jay. We both thought it was too harsh and judgemental. Not enough charity in the piece…what happened to ‘love thy neighbor’? Whatever the case, was someone not praying enough to save those two souls? There didn’t appear to be any of God’s ‘mercy’ within the story. All it centered on was hell, hell, hell. A few of my friends called me on my cell phone with hope you may put on your website a few sweet, loving stories for children
:yup:

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