Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Dennett Reviews Dawkins

There is a very interesting review of Richard Dawkins’ new book, The God Delusion, by none other than Daniel Dennett. As Dennett is an outspoken atheist as well as a friend and comrade-in-arms of Dawkins, it’s an interesting review to read. It touches on many of the issues that have been so loudly discussed here recently, including the question of whether a society without religion would really be better than what we currently have (like Dennett, but unlike Dawkins, I’m not convinced it would be) and how to make reasoned arguments against religious beliefs (something that, despite the misconceptions of some, I am absolutely fine with) without alienating those who most need to consider those arguments. I’m not going to go into detail on what I agree with or disagree with in the review, I’m just going to link to it.

Comments

  1. #1 Gretchen
    November 28, 2006

    Thanks for linking to that. I’d also be interested in reading a review of Dennett by Dawkins (considering I’ve read Breaking the Spell but not The God Delusion)

    including the question of whether a society without religion would really be better than what we currently have

    I never know how to address that question, because it seems so artificial and non-correspondent with reality. If you believe, as I do, that religion is an evolved by-product of many different elements of human cognition that have been adaptive for our survival, then it’s hard to imagine any society as a whole being able to leave behind religion any time soon, if ever. I live in the second or third most secular country in the world, but people as individuals are still religious….just generally in a very vague and blurry way. They believe in “something,” but don’t care to extrapolate beyond that.

    I have no reason to believe that people will stop believing in gods, souls, and life beyond death any time soon. I think what we can reasonably hope for is that people will stop using religious justifications for conflict between “us” and “them.” Will this suddenly make the world a more peaceful place? Maybe not, but if it’s true that religion gives particularly palpable, visceral motivations for brutality or a particular push toward blind idealism, then watering down these aspects of faith is almost certainly, on the whole, a good thing.

  2. #2 Lettuce
    November 28, 2006

    how to make reasoned arguments against religious beliefs (something that, despite the misconceptions of some, I am absolutely fine with)

    Thanks for the permission.

  3. #3 Markus
    November 28, 2006

    Typically when a person tells me that I will burn in hell for my disbelief, I tie them down to a sacrificial altar and sacrifice them for the moon-god…Or, I tell them they are simply full of shit. Which ever is easier.

  4. #4 GH
    November 28, 2006

    I apparently posted this is in the wrong place above but to be redundant Dennett’s review is excellent. He is pleasure to read. It’s the best review I’ve read of Dawkins book.

  5. #5 David Durant
    November 28, 2006

    So many of the problems we come across stem from people adhering to what could loosely be called “group mentality”. Whether it’s Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Republican or Democrat making the statement “I believe the same as ” is almost always never actually true. No two Christians I know believe quite the same thing – similarly no two atheists.

    You would hope that it wouldn’t come as a surprise that one atheist reviewing the work of another would come up with disagreements. The problems come in when people of *any* belief camp decide that everyone must accept the same memes as they do.

    I think Ed does a good job of pointing this out on a regular basis. Sure, he’s more than happy to point out when he thinks people are “wrong” but the vast majority of the time he attacks their ideas and not the groups they say they belong to.

    Sure, some Christians are extremely stupid – news flash so are some atheists. Let’s stop saying “my camp good / everyone else stupid” and try to judge individual people on what they say and do.

  6. #6 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    November 28, 2006

    Dennett is upfront about his friendship and common cause with Dawkins getting in the way of an objective review. Nonetheless he does find things to criticize.

    This was my favorite section:

    Both Dawkins and I have to deal with the frustrating problem of the game of intellectual hide-and-seek that “moderate” believers play to avoid being pinned down to the underlying absurdities of their traditions. “Don’t be so literal-minded!” they chortle, marveling at the philistinism of anyone who would attempt to take them at their word and ask them for their grounds for asserting that, for instance, God actually answers prayers (here, now, in the real world, by performing miracles). But then as soon you start playing the metaphor game with them, they abuse the poetic license you have granted them, and delight in dancing around the truth, getting away with all sorts of nonsense because they are indeed playing intellectual tennis without a net.

  7. #7 tacitus
    November 28, 2006

    It’s one thing to debate whether or not things would be better or worse without religion today, but there is also the past to consider. There is an excellent radio discussion series from the BBC called “In Our Time” that debates all kinds of scientific and philosophical subjects, and I remember from a couple of years ago the host asked a panel of philosophers what impact religion had made on the history of their field.

    They were unanimous in declaring that religion (mostly Christianity in this case) had greatly retarded the development of philosophy for hundreds of years, if not a thousand years after the flowering of Ancient Greece.

    Unfortunately I can’t remember which episode of the show I was listening to, but it is well worth browsing their archives. The quality of their guests and level of debate is usually excellent, and they have archived most of the shows from past series, including podcasts.

    For example, this week’s show is titled “Altruism – how can evolutionary biology explain it?”

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/inourtime/

  8. #8 DuWayne
    November 28, 2006

    I thought this line was interesting;

    Let us recognize, in the same spirit, that the strangely haunting story of the crucifixion does not so much transfigure as disfigure our species.

    I find it interesting because when I was a lot younger I thought that was exactly the point of the crucifixion in the bible. That the human reaction to “god” come to earth would be to kill “god.”

  9. #9 Don
    November 28, 2006

    I haven’t read the review yet nor the book. However I do feel society would be a better place without religion, but only marginally. Then, too, only if religion was dumped voluntarily, and only if something replaces it. That something would have to lack a supernatural basis (obviously) and fill the needs that religion currently fills for so many people. Exactly what that something would be I am hard pressed to say.

  10. #10 Gerard Harbison
    November 28, 2006

    I hope this review leads people to read more of the work of Dennett, perhaps my favorite modern writer.

    This is my favorite section, although Dennett characteristically attributes it to someone else.

    (…a list of rules for how to write a successful critical commentary on an opponent’s work).

    First… you must attempt to re-express your opponent’s position so clearly, vividly and fairly that your opponent says “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.” Then, you should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement), and third, you should mention anything you have learned from your opponent. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

    This is wonderful advice, and I shall try to adopt this model in scientific reviewing. While its adoption might have made the recent Neville Chamberlain fracas a bit wordier, it would probably also have shown how little everyone really disagreed.

  11. #11 Gretchen
    November 28, 2006

    Then, too, only if religion was dumped voluntarily, and only if something replaces it.

    When religion left my life, it wasn’t replaced by anything at all. Well, except for the question, “Why do people believe in religion?”

  12. #12 Don
    November 28, 2006

    Gretchen,
    Many people won’t need anything. I didn’t either. However, I think a large portion of religious people will need something.

  13. #13 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    November 28, 2006

    That something would have to lack a supernatural basis (obviously) and fill the needs that religion currently fills for so many people.

    I would add that the replacement should not be considered beyond question. Unquestionable dogma is a problem whether it is supernatural or not.

  14. #14 Don
    November 28, 2006

    Oh, absolutely. Everything is up for scrutiny and revision, no dogma… or catma. (sorry)

  15. #15 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    November 28, 2006

    Yes, and I refuse to compromise on that. ;>

  16. #16 Will
    November 28, 2006

    Sure, some Christians are extremely stupid – news flash so are some atheists. Let’s stop saying “my camp good / everyone else stupid” and try to judge individual people on what they say and do.

    Thanks for your concern, we’ll all try to be smarter and better for you in the future.

  17. #17 David Durant
    November 28, 2006

    > Thanks for your concern, we’ll all try to be smarter and
    > better for you in the future.

    Good. :-D

    This is definitly one of the best blogs currently on the ‘net and I’m sure we’re all getting sick of the “all religous people are idiots” vs “no their not” debate that seems to be all the comments have been about for the last week.

    Everyone trying to be better, all sarcasm aside, I think would be a good thing.

  18. #18 Don
    November 28, 2006

    Ok, now that I have actually read the review I find myself wanting to read “Breaking the Spell” and then “The God Delusion”.

  19. #19 Mustafa Mond, FCD
    November 28, 2006

    I’m sure we’re all getting sick of the “all religous people are idiots” vs “no their not” debate

    (snicker)

    all sarcasm aside

    OK, so I’ve got problems with that. Carry on.

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