Brilliant NY Times essay on Religion and Evolution
Posted: 03 March 2007 05:58 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Not only can Robin Marantz Henig write, but this article clearly shows why [i:7c8746e5a5][b:7c8746e5a5]humanists[/b:7c8746e5a5][/i:7c8746e5a5] ought to be listening to the real debate on (not between) evolution and religion from scientists like Scott Atran (who thanks to my "pushing" for his work, finally interested CFI to invite him as a speaker, apparantly at the the World Congress), and DS Wilson… and leave Dawkins and Harris to mumble to themselves in the halls of "neo-atheism."

[b:7c8746e5a5]Darwin’s God[/b:7c8746e5a5]
www.nytimes.com/2007/03/04/magazine/04evolution.t.html?ex=1173589200&en=12d117a887d7001d&ei=5070&emc=eta1

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Posted: 05 March 2007 03:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I fully disagree with that article.

#1) Most civilizations never believed “in God”.

#2) People who are not introduced to god beliefs don’t automatically invent god beliefs.

#3) Most organized religion in this world has been spread from a few powerful sources, it hasn’t independently arisen.

#4) There are many cultures who had no beliefs in any gods at all of any form whatsoever.

#5) There are even cultures, described by Darwin himself, who had no beliefs in “spirits” of any kind.

“God belief” is something that has clearly be culturally cultivated, it is not a biological trait.

“God belief” may be reliant on some fundamental biological traits, but these aren’t specific to god belief. These traits are generally things like pattern formation, drawing conclusions between causes and effects that are not real, (i.e. I danced and it rained, thus my dancing must cause rain, etc.), leader worship, and the desire for social control.

These traits are probably biological in nature, but they don’t constitute a biological “god belief”. They may be appropriated through social constructs into a “god belief” but it is the social construct that creates the god belief, not biology.

Again, this is easily solved. Raise children without ever exposing them to the concept of gods and see if they invent gods. I’d bet any amount of money that they wouldn’t.

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Posted: 05 March 2007 06:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Interesting article, Barry. Thanks.

I disagree with your comment about Atran’s real debate vs Dawkins’s mumbeling. Atran wants to find out why religion exists; I’ve heard most of this before from Freud though, who for some reason doesn’t seem to get the credit anymore, when reading his Civilization and Its Discontents, Totem and Taboo, and other of his works. Dawkins understands that there are many different possible explanations why religion exists. But his main point is that religion (for whatever reason it exists) doesn’t belong in 21st century. It is dangerous and we don’t need it anymore.

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Posted: 05 March 2007 07:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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rationalrevolution:

I fully disagree with that article.

Well, all I can say is.. read Atran more closely.  And recall that the Times essay was not only about Atran’s work, but also about others who are on the same path but have differing ideas.. such as DS Wilson.  I happen to agree with you that Wilson’s adaptationist argument is much like the nonsense of adaptationism we find in Pinker’s work.. and I hardly think religion is biological in this way.  Atran also dissagrees with Wilson here.  But I do not think there were/are many human societies which DON’T have supernatural beliefs of some sort (even if many folks don’t take them too seriously); Atran is not only talking about the Judeo-Christian “God.”

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Posted: 05 March 2007 07:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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George:

Dawkins understands that there are many different possible explanations why religion exists. But his main point is that religion (for whatever reason it exists) doesn’t belong in 21st century. It is dangerous and we don’t need it anymore.

Yes, Dawkins seems to understand that there are many reasons for religion’s origins, but he seems to discount reasons for its persistance today… like with fundementalism.  There IS a problem with religious fundementalism and biblical literalism (but not with all religion) today because of our abilty to destroy ourselves with WMD’s and other reasons such as via stem-cell research, etc.  But Dawkins thinks we can just argue people out of their beliefs.  He is insulting to people who have such beliefs and he ignores the reasons modern people hang on to these beliefs… socio-political and economic reasons. 

Atran is about understanding, Dawkins is about debunking and insulting.  Atran’s work will add to our understanding on what we can do to minimize the dangers of religion, Dawkins’s books and essays on religion will only flame the fires.  Dawkins needs to look beyond supernaturalism to understand what we need to do to in this regard; he has to have a better understanding of culture and fear (not fear of death alone, but all the other fears we find in societies where fundementalism thrives.)
Atran is about moving forward, Dawkins is 19th century.

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Posted: 05 March 2007 07:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Just thought I’d add here that Atran’s book as well as the book by anthropologist Pascal Boyer are two that Steven Pinker recommended as perhaps the best books available on the evolutionary origins of religious thought.

Moral: read the people involved rather than the stilted commentary.

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Posted: 05 March 2007 08:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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[quote author=“Barry”]Atran is about moving forward, Dawkins is 19th century.

Funny thing. I really thought it might be the other way around. As I said earlier, Atran’s ideas seem very much like the ones said by Freud in the 19th century. Why is Dawkins 19th century? Dawkins is often compared to Sagan with the difference that Sagan was “nice” and Dawkins is not. This bothers me a little. Can we afford to be nice toward religion after what happened on 9/11?

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Posted: 05 March 2007 08:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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George, it’s useless to try to unpack that sort of rhetoric. It’s just political posturing. Better to move on.

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Posted: 05 March 2007 08:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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George:

Why is Dawkins 19th century? Dawkins is often compared to Sagan with the difference that Sagan was “nice” and Dawkins is not. This bothers me a little. Can we afford to be nice toward religion after what happened on 9/11?

Dawkins is not thinking systemically.. and he is writing about religion like he is some modern day Ingersoll.. but without the class or humility of the “great agnoistic.”  Dawkin’s critique of religion - the attitude of the critique - and his neo-Darwinism too - all seem pretty 19th century to me… not very much aware of the work in the social sciences and more which came after (though he does embrace the regressive attitude of Pinker-esque EP).  This is why other evolutionary biologists wonder why Dawkins thinks he can talk to things he knows little about. 

But as for what bothers you, THAT is my point (and if Sagan were alive, I am sure he’d see my point too)...  9/11 was far more about politics and economics than about religion (despite the opinions of Hitchens, Harris and Warraq), and untill atheists understand this, we will get nowhere toward reversing such situations.

PS:  Have you heard that some neo-con or the like - Brzezinski, I think - gave a talk in early Feb. saying that a terrorist attack will happen soon and will be blamed on Iran!  I am sure some atheists will blame it on religion instead!  These conservatives have no virtue!

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Posted: 05 March 2007 08:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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[quote author=“Barry”]rationalrevolution:

I fully disagree with that article.

Well, all I can say is.. read Atran more closely.  And recall that the Times essay was not only about Atran’s work, but also about others who are on the same path but have differing ideas.. such as DS Wilson.  I happen to agree with you that Wilson’s adaptationist argument is much like the nonsense of adaptationism we find in Pinker’s work.. and I hardly think religion is biological in this way.  Atran also dissagrees with Wilson here.  But I do not think there were/are many human societies which DON’T have supernatural beliefs of some sort (even if many folks don’t take them too seriously); Atran is not only talking about the Judeo-Christian “God.”

I didn’t read the whole thing because its 11 pages. I get tired of these stupid “hard wired for God” claims, they are totally idiotic and don’t even look at real data.

If that isn’t what they claim in the rest of the article then I simply didn’t read that part, but I would say certainly there there is no such thing as any kind of hard wired belief in “God” or even “gods”, and that there isn’t even such thing as “supernatural beliefs” unless one has defined what natural is.

For most cultures there is no distinction between “natural” and “supernatural”, they just happen to hold collections of beliefs, some of which are correct and some of which are incorrect. None of them are supernatural”, they have no idea what that even means.

All that this comes down to is showing that people all over the planet believe things which are not true. No big revelation there, and no mystery to solve.

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Posted: 05 March 2007 08:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Doug:

George, it’s useless to try to unpack that sort of rhetoric. It’s just political posturing. Better to move on.

Doug just wants to ignore the obvious so that he can continue feigning objectivity and claim socio-politics does not affect - or can not be a tool to understand - folks like Dawkins. A typical move I have seen conservatives make many times.

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