Gene Expression

i-76ccc7abd2e1f53df8da5524161d47ee-goddelusion.gifSo I read The God Delusion. I wasn’t going to. The reason is this: I didn’t want to read an atheist manifesto. I’m an atheist, no need to strengthen my unfaith. I have read books on atheism before, so I have that under my belt. Now, I am interested in religion as a natural phenomenon, but that’s a different issue. With all that said, I caved to the cultural phenomenon that is The God Delusion and read it. And I’m glad for it, was a fun book on the whole, something I hadn’t expected. Dawkins preaches an entertaining sermon.

The book is divided into two rough halves, the first is a quicksilver tour which explores why people are religious, and the history of various intellectual debates that have emerged from the phenomenon. The second half gives space to Dawkins’ ideas and reflections on what we’re going to do about it, on the influence of religion on world affairs and its relationship to morality. When I say it was a fun book on the whole, that means that the first half was more enjoyable than the second, and on the net it was worth the time. If the order of the chapters had been reversed I certainly wouldn’t have completed it; Dawkins the witty scientist cedes ground to Dawkins the op-ed writer with every chapter. There were many times I laughed during the first few chapters, but the rather ponderously serious tone cast a pall over the author’s attempts to interject his wry wit by the end of the book.

I was genuinely surprised by the fact that Richard Dawkins was not a village atheist. He’s not, rather, Dawkins is pretty familiar with the literature surveyed in Breaking the Spell, that is, he knows the cognitive anthropological background from which religiosity emerges. Dawkins is also familiar with functionalist arguments put forth by individuals such as D.S. Wilson. Dawkins also is not ignorant of rational choice/economic models which posit religions as competing firms. Finally, Dawkins hits the various rationalistic proofs, and disproofs, of Aquinas and Anselm. Dawkins is a more lively writer than Dennett, so even though the text is considerably more spare in regards to the terrain surveyed, he brings the ideas to life in the economical manner that is his trademark, and his occasional humorous asides enrich the general reading experience. Only Richard Dawkins can alternate a discussion of the merits of multi-level selection in the context of memetics with a snide but witty joke.

Dawkins uses the models which he introduces in the first half of the book in the transitional chapters where he attempts to decouple morality from religion. Dawkins makes the argument that religion is often the trailing indicator of ethical change and that it is an undefinable Zeitgeist that is truly allowing us to scale the heights of civilizational progress. He does not depart greatly from the general sort of arguments that the cognitive psychologists he alludes to in the first portion of the book make in regards to morality. His rebuttal of a functionalist or rational choice argument is thinner, but I would argue that both these models’ relationship to morality has not been clearly born out. I think Dawkins dismisses the reality that Communism was aggressively atheistic too quickly.He arguments are a good place to start, but Dawkins doesn’t truly engage the critique in my opinion, as atheism and anti-clericalism were central components of Communist movements throughout the 20th century. Nevertheless to be fair I think that is probably demands a separate treatment.

It is in the last third of the book that Dawkins really lost me. In fact, this portion of the book would have been more persuasive if he hadn’t shown quite clearly that he’s rather familiar with the literature on religion in the first half of the book. Whereas earlier Dawkins attempted to show that religion was not the root of morality, rather, it was often a handmaid, in several chapters he attempts to show its pernicious influence and power in forcing political and social issues in a particular (generally reactionary or conservative) direction. But, I think there is a problem here in that if you attempt to decouple explicit religious ideas from their relevance to the cognitive processes on a day to day level, I think it harder to make the case that a particular religion (Dawkins has it in for Abrahamic monotheism) is responsible for a particular social harm. Rather, the framework that the author sets up earlier in the book seems to pose the strong possibility that religion is a post facto justification, that it is swept along with the Zeitgeist, for good or ill. I think an examination of the conflicted attitudes toward sexual freedoms in Communist nations can attest to the fact that if you remove religion that does not imply that social conservatism magically disappears (Japan and China also attest to this).

Religion is a natural phenomenon, Dawkins seems clear on this, but as he progresses in the book his conception seems to become Otherworldy, and just as religionists see God as the root of all good, Dawkins sees it as the root of much evil. Whereas earlier Dawkins seems to imply that religion scaffolds basal moral sense, he seems to be unwilling to admit that conversely evil in the name of God is simply in name only, because organized religion is nothing but a collection of emotionally salient names coupled with rituals and folkways. The fact that Dawkins feels that he has to battle religion as if it was a demon behind every shadow also attests to another implication of the first half of Dawkins’ book: religion is inevitable and ubiquitous. It is a natural phenomenon, it emerges simply from the structural biases of our minds and the modal paths of our lives. Dawkins himself was a believer, and to my surprise a quite sincere one it seems, so he should know the score here. The literature Dawkins references strongly points to the reality that by the necessity of the nature of human cognitive architecture our species is religious. You can’t get away from God, he simply repackages himself in new forms, whether it be Crystals, as a Goddess, or as Kim Jong-il.

With this in mind some of Dawkins’ later assertions seem counter-intuitive and quixotic. Like Sam Harris he makes the case that moderate religion is problematic because irrationality serves as a legitimization of irrationality in general, and so violence in the name of God draws strength from the seedbed of non-violent religion. And yet I am reminded of the reality that rapists have almost certainly engaged in masturbation because of their sexual impulses derived from their testicles, that hard-core drug addicts likely almost certainly began with softer drugs and simple pleasures. But just because the latter is prior to the former does not mean that we should, or can, banish the latter to forestall the former. Some of the authors that Dawkins cites early in the text do assert that we can not banish religion, or even diminish its dominance in the minds of the average human. Dawkins knows this, but his denouement tip-toes around this reality, this inevitability. Fundamentally, I agree with Dawkins that “moderate” religionists do serve as the seedbed for “fundamentalists,” that non-violent irrationality serves as the necessary precondition for violent irrationality. Nevertheless, that is irrelevant if the reality is that religion and irrationality are simply inevitable facts of existence within this universe. Hands can do harms, and cars kill, but acknowledging this is not deep insight. The key is to tame nature and use its rules to bend it to our will, not to pretend it doesn’t exist and assume that it isn’t a contingent system.

And speaking of natural, one of the most interesting things abut Dawkins book is that he is forwarding his concern that children are indoctrinated into their parents’ religion, and he finds that appalling. As someone who seems to have been relatively immune to such indoctrination (unlike Richard Dawkins I never seriously accepted the religious “truths” promulgated by my parents) I see absolutely no hope that in the near future that there is any way to interfere or mitigate this process. I am not even particular interested in entertaining the implications of Dawkins’ concern on this issue because I don’t think that that particular thought-experiment is going to lead anywhere. Again, not to harp on the point, but Dawkins’ citations suggest that if children aren’t indoctrinated into their parents’ religion they will amost certainly accept some other superstition. In this case Dawkins seems to be assuming a naive sense of free well, as well as a tabula rasa conception of human nature. Among atheists there is an old joke that all children are born godless, but eventually indoctrinated into believing in gods. But science is science, and the works that Dawkins references in the first half of his book produce a great deal of evidence that children are ‘natural theists.’ So a child is not turned into a Christian or Muslim from the state of non-theism, but rather inculcated in a specific set of beliefs slotted on top of their innate religious sensibilities. Now, you may find this abhorrent, but I am not one to worry much over the reality that only by the caprice of fate does one child hew to the Triune God of the Christians while another holds to Allah and another bows his head to Vishnu. Leave it to theists to be concerned with the nature of creeds.

For me the frustrating aspect of all this is that The God Delusion attempts raise consciousness among atheists as a group. But to actually act in the world around us we need to acknowledge it as it is. Dawkins points to all the general landmarks which sketch out the bounds of our universe, which is socially going to remain religious, but he simply can not be bothered to use this as a background assumption when formulating policy prescriptions or advising us in how to interact with various religious groups. It as if Dawkins wants us to “Imagine there’s no religion,” after bathing us in the scientific literature which implies that this is fantasy-land thinking, frankly, the height of irrationality!

This does not mean that I am turned off by Dawkins’ militant, condescending and tactless atheism. I’m not. I laughed at quite a few of his barbs at the incoherency and question begging of theology. I do wish he was a little more humble and admitted his own values aren’t always grounded in rock-hard reason, but no one is a saint. People like Dawkins and Sam Harris have their roles to play, they are right that moderate religionists simply can not attack fundamentalists with the vigor necessary to the task. Over the past centuries religious enthusiasm has had its rival in the Humes, Voltaires and Paines of the world. Secular intellectuals who carve out a particular niche for themselves are necessary in the ecology of ideas. Just as religion maybe an inevitable part of the universe, militant atheist intellectuals can serve as a regulating force which keeps the system at equilibrium. They can not only attack fundamentalist religion at its root, but they aid liberal religionists in the tactics of triangulation, allowing there to be some contrast so that the fundamentalists can not dismiss the liberals as pure heretics. Moderate religionists maybe the “gateway drug” to fundamentalism, but they are here to stay, and we should learn to make our peace with them in the ways possible, because they stand with unbelievers against the fundamentalists on many issues (in The Future of Religion by Stark & Bainbridge, they report that moderate religionists tend to cluster more with secularists in their behaviors than fundamentalists). The world is messy and diverse, with an inevitability of pluralisms. But this isn’t all bad, cultural nature in all its profusion can be a grand work of art to behold.

Finally, I want to end on a high note, and praise Dawkins for one particular issue, and that is holding Islam to the same standard he does Christianity. To some extent I think that Dawkins seems a bit mechanical about this, as if he had to interject Islam in particular sections of the text to seem balanced and not myopic, but, it did the trick. In terms of a rhetorical delivery it of course helped him in seeming to make a broad principled, as opposed to parochial, case. But Islam is a serious issue, because it is, frankly, at a earlier cultural stage than Christianity. While Christians, as a whole, have learned to accept unbelievers as a fact of nature, Muslims have not. Dawkins points out that children are indoctrinated into religions, and I suggest that most children are going to be religious anyhow, but not all. In Christian lands these children who are natural unbelievers will go through turmoil and personal tumult, but in Muslim lands their lives maybe in danger if they express their views publically. This is a human rights issue which I think we should raise more consciousness about, and we can stand with religious believers of all stripes and demand that Muslims join at least the 19th century, if not the 21st.

Clearly the The God Delusion was a somewhat disjointed book. I think it comes close to incoherency because of the neglect of major points introduced early on in the exposition in light of later chapters. Fundamentally it is several books, and only a writer with the textual dexterity of Richard Dawkins could have pulled it off, because it isn’t a thin work in terms of substance. You’ll come away sated, even a bit gorged by the full throttle assault of ideas. It is, for lack of a better metaphor, an excellent “Core Dump” of Richard Dawkins mindscape when it comes to religion. And like any Core Dump there is a certain graceless lack of structural coherency here. But there are plenty of nuggets of logic, functional and elegant verbal flow to satisfy anyone.

Addendum: If you want to read what I think, check out Atheism, Heresy and Hesychasm.

Comments

  1. #1 mjb
    October 4, 2006

    Maybe part of why you think of religion as inevitable more than Dawkins, is you are personally less instinctively religious, and don’t assume a lot of freedom for instinctively religious people to reject religion. But reason can often overpower religious superstition in a strongly instinctively religious person (I am one), and this becomes easier in a relatively scientific society. I think your general thrust is largely correct though.

  2. #2 Orac
    October 4, 2006

    I’m only about 1/4 through the book, but I’ve already found a couple of things that annoy me. Perhaps the most egregious is that Dawkins describes part of the conclusions of the intercessory prayer study wrong. He states that patients who were prayed for and knew they were prayed for had “significantly” more complications. That’s not quite right. There was a trend towards more complications, but it was not statistically significant. A scientist should know better than that, and to a physician and researcher like myself an error like that screams sloppiness in thinking and editing.

  3. #3 J-Dog
    October 4, 2006

    Razib – I have a hard time believeing that we are “God-Programmed” (or god-dammed programmed), to believe…
    What kind of studies support this view? Isn’t any sample bound to be very small, and insignificant? Aren’t almost all kids indoctrinated to believe, and only very few are able to break the programming?

    Thanks for your thought on this.

  4. #4 razib
    October 4, 2006

    But reason can often overpower religious superstition in a strongly instinctively religious person (I am one), and this becomes easier in a relatively scientific society.

    true, but that requires intelligence. most people are not particularly intelligent.

    Aren’t almost all kids indoctrinated to believe, and only very few are able to break the programming?

    they don’t believe what you think they believe. religious people don’t believe what they think they believe.

  5. #5 razib
    October 4, 2006

    p.s., the decline of organized religion in europe does not mean that europeans are rationalists. nevertheless, presumably atheists feel more comfortable in european than in the USA, speaking to the point that not superstitions are created equally.

  6. #6 john w.
    October 4, 2006

    Thanks for the excellent review. I’m afraid it re-inforces my decision not to spend money on the book, though. My impression of Dawkins, based on his earlier stuff, is that he is a shrill, strident, irrational, dogmatic fundamentalist — exactly like the people that he attacks, except that his Belief System happens to be 180 degrees opposite to theirs.

    By the way, Razib, just out of curiousity: Why do you call yourself an atheist rather than an agnostic?? I would argue that it is orders of magnitude beyond the capabilities of the human brain to *ever* know for certain whether God exists or not.

  7. #7 razib
    October 4, 2006

    I would argue that it is orders of magnitude beyond the capabilities of the human brain to *ever* know for certain whether God exists or not.

    you have a particular definition of god which i think is not normative.

  8. #8 razib
    October 4, 2006

    also, re: dawkins & fundamentalism. i think this is somewhat warranted in light of his comments where he has expressed more understanding of fundamentalism because at least (in his mind) they take religious premises to their logical conclusions. on the other hand, this book shows that he does understand that reality is more than just this caricature on the reflective level. the problem, from what i can see, is that he still often defaults back to the mode of assuming fundamentalism as somehow more ‘authentic’ than non-fundamentalists…and he doesn’t have the excuse of ignorance.

    all to say that dawkisn is a more complex creature than i had thought.

  9. #9 Nina P
    October 4, 2006

    I was raised atheist/agnostic. But as I entered adulthood I found that certain religious metaphors and terminology best described many of my experiences. In fact, I often think to myself about “my relationship with god,” (“god” being a phrase I initially used ironically, for lack of a better term, but over the years its usefulness exceeded its irony) and on a personal level I’ve come to greatly value faith. Meanwhile, intellectually I remain as atheist/agnostic as ever. I think. Sort of. I mean, I don’t think a religious believer would ever use the term “metaphor” for the language they use to describe their belief system. I can live with the paradox of simultaneously organizing my life around my faith and thinking god-thoughts daily and even praying, while being an atheist. It’s a long conversation really, and reduced to words it doesn’t make sense, just as any religion doesn’t make sense. Actually I don’t know if what I have is religion – some would call it “spirituality” but I’ve been so turned off by the dogma and irrationality of spiritualists that term is tainted.

    I do, quite sincerely, thank god I’m an atheist.

  10. #10 Ethan Romero
    October 4, 2006

    Nina P

    It sounds as though you are an agnostic theist. That is if you actually believe in the existence of the god you discuss, but acknowledge that it is impossible to know weather or not that god exists. However, “looking at the menu doesn’t make you fat”, and using concept of god as a metaphor does not make you theist. Figuring out weather or not, to you, this god is real or simply an elaborate concept that you use to help you think about life may help to clarify your ostensibly contradictory position. Contradictions are often only so because we are looking at them in the wrong light.

  11. #11 Nina P
    October 4, 2006

    It’s not a contradictory position; it’s a paradoxical one. My god is real and I simultaneously don’t believe in god. Really. Somehow there’s enough room in my head for both, although at one time I thought that was impossible.

    Words, however, are “just” metaphors, “simply an elaborate concept that you use to help you think about life.” That’s what I’m using to try to describe my experiences, and they’re not adequate. That’s why I don’t talk about this much.

    Although I’m not a huge fan of Robert Anton Wilson, I recall he mentioned a similarly strange take on religion in “Quantum Psychology” (which I read because it was supposedly written in E-Prime, but he cheats).

  12. #12 Spike Gomes
    October 4, 2006

    I think the spectrum we’re seeing here ostensibly among atheists demonstrates that religiousness in human beings consists of varied set of functions.
    Intellectually, my slot is on atheism/agnosticism, as we all are here. However, I’ve always found Dawkins and that type of evangelical atheist to leave as bad a taste in my mouth as their theist counterparts. I tend to think of them as two sides to one coin that will always be around. Suffice to say, it’s best that they both exist in my mind than one side get too strong.
    However, my intellectual atheism isn’t a very happy one. I’m wired not so much for belief as for mysticism. In other words, I’m apt to have moments of odd cognitive function that, well, makes me really wish there was something behind it other than right temporal lobe activity.
    When combined with innate pessimism, profoundly misanthropic outlook and intellectual mistrust of humanity’s hubris, there ain’t much to nourish me as a person, really.
    I envy the existentially satisfied atheist, which Dawkins is, despite his other flaws regarding the subject.

  13. #13 Matthew
    October 4, 2006

    In other words, I’m apt to have moments of odd cognitive function that, well, makes me really wish there was something behind it other than right temporal lobe activity.

    How do you know that there is nothing behind it other than “right temporal lobe activity”?

    Is that a belief system sneaking in through the back door?

    You might find my blog of interest, particularly the scientific studies I reference.

  14. #14 MFG
    October 4, 2006

    Nina P,

    I don’t see your experience as paradoxical, even. My own, perhaps similar, experience is one of personification, for lack of a better word: giving a face to what has no face.

    Certainly there’s no “faith” involved: no commitment to unjustified belief in extraordinary propositions for which there’s no evidence.

    So there’s no reason not to go with the experience. The same to Spike. So what if it’s right temporal lobe activity? Watching a sunrise involves brain activity, but that doesn’t mean there’s no sunrise. Even dreams draw on something other than everyday life. Think of all the things you’ve seen asleep that you’ve never seen or even read about when awake.

    Interestingly, Sam Harris writes about this in “The End of Faith,” discussing in the closing chapters the fact that spiritual experiences can be had, no “faith” required. His own approach happens to be Eastern meditation.

    MFG

  15. #15 Matthew C.
    October 4, 2006

    However, my intellectual atheism isn’t a very happy one. I’m wired not so much for belief as for mysticism. In other words, I’m apt to have moments of odd cognitive function that, well, makes me really wish there was something behind it other than right temporal lobe activity.

    How are you certain that there is nothing behind it other than “right temporal lobe activity”? Is that judgement perhaps a belief system slipping through the back door, unexamined?

    I cover scientific evidence that the mystical viewpoint is the correct one on my blog.

  16. #16 bengali
    October 5, 2006

    Why do you call yourself an atheist rather than an agnostic?? I would argue that it is orders of magnitude beyond the capabilities of the human brain to *ever* know for certain whether God exists or not.

    “I’ll be honest about it. It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while. We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubts, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.” Life of Pi, Yann Martel
    :)

  17. #17 razib
    October 5, 2006

    the idea that agnostics are doubters is not false, but it is not the precise or exact definition of what many mean. fundamentally i view agnosticism as orthogonal to atheism. agnosticism is an issue of epistemology, is god knowable? that depends on your definition of god. one can assert that the theistic definition as espoused in christian philosophy is fundamentally incoherent, so you can falsify it. on the other hand, you can redefine it to the point where agnosticism is the only real position.

    so i’m an agnostic on many gods, and an atheist on a subset of those. but, pragmatically i don’t really believe in the god that most people are talking about, the personal god, so i say i’m an atheist.

    p.s. one can argue that fideistic theism is agnosticism too.

  18. #18 Nina P
    October 5, 2006

    “Is there God?”

    The believer says “yes,” the atheist says “no,” and the agnostic says “I’m not going to dignify that with a response.”

  19. #19 mjb
    October 5, 2006

    >>In other words, I’m apt to have moments of odd cognitive function that, well, makes me really wish there was something behind it other than right temporal lobe activity. [Spike Gnomes]

    >How do you know that there is nothing behind it other than “right temporal lobe activity”? [Matthew C]

    I can answer that, for myself anyway. You examine your mystic state carefully, find it quite understandable as an odd cognitive function, and fail to find any evidence of any deeper influence or content. Of course you can’t KNOW for sure that God doesn’t subtly influence your mind, or anything else in the world. But your mystic experiences don’t serve as a basis for belief in God if you have a naturalistic understanding of them. Of course, to get a realistic insight into the nature of your experiences you have to have that motive, as opposed to deciding a preferred conclusion ahead of time and constructing an argument that supports it.

    >>When combined with innate pessimism, profoundly misanthropic outlook and intellectual mistrust of humanity’s hubris, there ain’t much to nourish me as a person, really. [Spike Gnomes]

    Yeah, I’m with you there. I can’t say I envy smirky, confident skeptics and atheists – I often find them shallow actually, and not as smart in all ways as they think they are.

  20. #20 Matthew
    October 5, 2006

    BTW, the mystical consciousness is generally viewed by those who have experienced it, not as “God is subtly influencing your mind”, but rather that your mind, the world, and all things are in reality an indescribable, indivisible Oneness we might choose to label “God” or perhaps better yet “Awareness”.

    But your mystic experiences don’t serve as a basis for belief in God if you have a naturalistic understanding of them.

    We don’t have even the beginnings of a reductionistic / materialistic understanding for ANY experiences, certainly not mystical realization of transcendent oneness. See Chalmers and the Hard Problem of consciousness for more clarification here.

    I would submit that this is because awareness / consciousness / experience is in fact the primary ground of existence, hence explaining it in terms of “atoms” etc. is getting the causal chain precisely backwards. After all, what are atoms really, anyway, other than patterns of activity within some kind of matrix? Quantum mechanics looks much more like a thought pattern in some sort of collective Mind than the “solid” atoms of Democritus.

    I have written some posts on my blog that begin to describe a model of how there can be neural correlation with the contents of consciousness, without neural causation of consciousness.

  21. #21 Matthew
    October 5, 2006

    Another point to consider (when you are ready to really bend your mind) is that all “reductionist” theories are themselves mindstuff. And that all mindstuff is based on experiences. So even the theory that only matter is ultimately real is itself a construct of thought which is a construct of experiences. Pure mindstuff. The entire edifice of science is in fact a mind concept. Built upon foundations of experiences organized, categorized, and integrated into mind concepts, even the mind concepts of “atheism” and “reductionism”. Ultimately everything we know or can ever know IS built of mindstuff (although those with unflagging faith in the mindstuff construct of materialism will say “so what”!).

    Now perhaps all of this mindstuff is somehow “not fundamental”, perhaps there is a “real world” out there that is strict mindless material in motion. That is a popular mental concept among many scientists. But we don’t have direct access to it. Our only access to anything is the world of mind, concept, and experience. We can only say that a model based on that belief can help describe and explain a lot of what we see (although it also leaves out a lot, too).

  22. #22 john w.
    October 5, 2006

    razib wrote: ” …so i’m an agnostic on many gods, and an atheist on a subset of those. …”

    Actually, you and I may be saying almost the same thing, but just in different words: I’m about 99.99% confident that the “God of Abraham” does not exist (i.e. the traditional Judeo-Christian-Muslim God, who sits up at night deciding which sparrows are going to fall out of the sky the next day). That ‘God’was almost certainly created by Man in Man’s image & likeness, rather than the other way around.

    I’m also extremely confident that everything which has happened in the universe during the last 14 billion years (including the evolution of the human brain*) can be explained by a few simple laws of Physics, without recourse to anything supernatural.

    But on the other hand, the idea that the Big Bang itself may have been engineered by some superior Being for some rational purpose seems at least as plausible as the alternative explanation of “Well, Duh, it just happened by random chance.”

    * P.S. >> Does everybody here already know the definition of Hydrogen: “A colorless, odorless gas which, if you have enough of it and leave it alone for a long enough time, will spontaneously turn into Human Beings.” ??

  23. #23 razib
    October 5, 2006

    Actually, you and I may be saying almost the same thing, but just in different words

    yes. i don’t think people should shrink from the word atheist. there’s nothiong wrong with it :)

  24. #24 mjb
    October 5, 2006

    >But your mystic experiences don’t serve as a basis for belief in God if you have a naturalistic understanding of them.

    >>We don’t have even the beginnings of a reductionistic / materialistic understanding for ANY experiences, certainly not mystical realization of transcendent oneness.

    If you equate ‘naturalistic’ with ‘reductionistic/materialistic’, then of course experiences can not be explained that way. But thoughtful physicists do not think of natural law as rules governing a lot of inert billiard balls. Its in many regards more like what you call mind. As such, it is undeniably intelligent. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is self-aware, or globally connected in some sentient sense, or that it has other mental characteristics appropriate for a flesh animal.

    That’s all I’m going to say about this on this forum however, out of consideration for razib. Also I have no patience for this kind of discussion anymore.

  25. #25 Nina P
    October 5, 2006

    I prefer to evaluate labels and systems of inquiry according to their usefulness, rather than their “reality” or “truth.” I find disciplined scientific inquiry far more useful than (my own and others’) incoherent babbling about “god” and “reality.” On a personal level, terms like god, reality and truth are very useful to me, but I don’t see much benefit in discussing metaphysics, especially not on a science blog. Since Razib discussed whether there’s a “natural” inclination toward religion in humans, I thought my experience might be relevant (ie, I know better than to believe in god, but I’ve found faith very useful nonetheless). I didn’t seek a discussion of metaphysics; I’m more interested in this theory of natural religious inclination. If we’re in fact hard-wired for religious thought, can we work with that wiring to improve our lives, or should we fight it (as Dawkins seems to) because it generates so much nonsense?

    (I can also believe some people have absolutely no religious inclination whatseoever, as Razib claims. I’ve heard we’re all hard-wired to want to breed, but I have zero – negative, actually – inclination to do so. So even psychological “hard-wiring” has its failures, it seems.)

  26. #26 razib
    October 5, 2006

    I can also believe some people have absolutely no religious inclination whatseoever, as Razib claims. I’ve heard we’re all hard-wired to want to breed, but I have zero – negative, actually – inclination to do so. So even psychological “hard-wiring” has its failures, it seems.

    variation is often normal.

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