History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Dennett debates Swinburne

March 15th, 2006 · 1 Comment

Dennett debates Richard Swinburne,How should we study religion.
The self-programmed stupidity of scientists attempting to study religion is often baffling, and Dennett simply makes this more visible. It is small wonder people recoil and end up dialectically propelled back into traditionalism. Maybe if scientists shut up on the subject this reverse gear effect would go away.
For the hundredth time, let it be said, that a theory such as Darwin’s based on natural selection simply CANNOT explain the phenomenon of religion.
But of course scientists trained in Darwinism are incapable of breaking out of their own over-simplifications.

It is high time science took a good hard look at religion. Why? Because it has become evident in recent years that if we are to make progress on the world’s major problems, we will have to learn more about religions and the influence they wield over people’s lives and actions. Failure to appreciate the dynamics of religious allegiance, and the psychological impact of religious differences, may lead us to invest heavily in counterproductive policies. The phoenix-like rebound of religion in the former Soviet Union suggests to many that just as prohibition and the war on drugs have proved to be disastrous, if well-meant, attempts to deal with the excesses of these popular indulgences, so any ill-informed effort to rein in the fanatical strains of religion will probably backfire badly if we don’t study the surrounding phenomena carefully and objectively.

From a biological perspective, religion is a remarkably costly human activity that has evolved over the millennia. What “pays for” this profligate expense? Why does it exist and how does it foster such powerful allegiances? To many people, even asking such a question will seem a sacrilege. But to undertake a serious scientific study of religious practices and attitudes, we must set aside the traditional exemption from scrutiny that religions have enjoyed.

Some people are sure that the world would be a better place without religion. I am not persuaded, because I cannot yet characterise anything that could replace it in the hearts of most human beings. (Perhaps we should try to eliminate music while we’re at it. It inflames the passions and seduces many young people into wasted lives.) What people care about deeply deserves to be taken seriously. Exempting religion from scrutiny is actually a patronising way of declaring it to be all just fashion and ceremony.

Either we take religion as seriously as we take global warming and el Niño, and study it intensively, or we treat it as mere superstition and backwardness. As with the other marvels of nature, I find that paying scrupulous attention to its elegant designs increases my appreciation of it, but others may think that too much knowledge of the backstage machinery threatens to diminish their awe, to break a spell that should not be broken. This is not just a difference in taste, or a purely academic disagreement. Our futures may well depend on how we decide to proceed.

Tags: Evolution · Science & Religion

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Stephen // Mar 16, 2006 at 5:59 pm

    Every exchange of words carries a sublime underbelly. Meaning is never found in the ink of chemistry, rather meaning is extracted like magic when informing is balanced with receptivity, and the underbelly becomes hard to spot. Science is now invested in the belief that a study of religion is necessary to make “progress”. I say yes it is, but the meanings they look for are not to be found in the chemistry of ink; science’s sublime underbelly is showing in stark nakedness so to aid understanding in those that watch.

    Studying religion in the name of science is going to create an interesting conflict with those that think a separation of church and state is necessary to teach the said science in public school. It would be more direct to study Trinity from the perspective of science; to study vitalism and transcendentalism. There can be no doubt of the sublime reach here, those that do not believe follow as puppets on strings to show their underbelly with no shame.

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