History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Dennett’s pseudo-science

January 29th, 2006 · No Comments

We are about to get bombarded with another round of fake science on religion in the sociobiology vein: Dennett’s Breaking the Spell is due out next week, and I find the question depressing because this type of material has an immense groupie following, and is ground out according to the Dawkins formula.

No matter that it is crap, and I mean crap, the potential sales factor determines the content. Since Dennett himself is a sort of overgrown groupie himself that’s short of a charge of fakery.
As a critic of religion I find myself forced nonetheless to defend religion against this kind of ignorant assault.
Dennett is attacking the decay of the Axial Age religions, or at least one stream of them, the monotheisms. Fine. Madam Blavatsky did the job better in the nineteenth century (then flooded the market with a lot of her own nonsense).
But the decay of religion is itself a religious subject, the specialty of Buddhists, sufis, and yogis.

But is it necessary to vitiate the status of science with truly pseudo-scientific posturing in the phantom explanations of Darwinists? These gestures are rapidly making science lose its credibility in the eyes of millions on this planet.
It would be good if the Dawkins/Dennett gang wised up a bit before anti-science starts to get fashionable.

In his characteristically provocative fashion, Dennett, author of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea and director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, calls for a scientific, rational examination of religion that will lead us to understand what purpose religion serves in our culture. Much like E.O. Wilson (In Search of Nature), Robert Wright (The Moral Animal), and Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene), Dennett explores religion as a cultural phenomenon governed by the processes of evolution and natural selection. Religion survives because it has some kind of beneficial role in human life, yet Dennett argues that it has also played a maleficent role. He elegantly pleads for religions to engage in empirical self-examination to protect future generations from the ignorance so often fostered by religion hiding behind doctrinal smoke screens. Because Dennett offers a tentative proposal for exploring religion as a natural phenomenon, his book is sometimes plagued by generalizations that leave us wanting more (“Only when we can frame a comprehensive view of the many aspects of religion can we formulate defensible policies for how to respond to religions in the future”). Although much of the ground he covers has already been well trod, he clearly throws down a gauntlet to religion.

Tags: Evolution

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