Pharyngula

Yet more sequins for god

You may recall that irritating essay by Nicholas Wade in which he butchers the philosophy of science — well, his book is out, it’s gotten a mixed review in the New York Times, and Jerry Coyne mentions that it’s Templeton-endorsed. It’s all the kiss of death as far as I’m concerned — I don’t think I’ll be reading it. Ophelia Benson will be reviewing it for Free Inquiry, so maybe she’ll change my mind.

Although I doubt it.

I don’t know. It seems like there’s this weird industry generating lame apologetics for religion now, busily churning out half-assed books for the faitheists. To me, it looks like a gang of people making up bushels of glittery, repetitive sequins to dress up the Emperor’s nudity. I think they need to spend a little more time figuring out exactly what they’re going to stitch them to.

Comments

  1. #1 Lynna, OM
    December 28, 2009

    This paragraph within the New York Times review was interesting:

    … sidelining the by-now tiresome debates about religion as a force for good or evil. According to Wade, a New York Times science writer, religions are machines for manufacturing social solidarity. They bind us into groups. Long ago, codes requiring altruistic behavior, and the gods who enforced them, helped human society expand from families to bands of people who were not necessarily related. We didn?t become religious creatures because we became social; we became social creatures because we became religious. Or, to put it in Darwinian terms, being willing to live and die for their coreligionists gave our ancestors an advantage in the struggle for resources.

    First, there’s the refreshing note that religion is NOT really a force for good or a force for evil. It’s a social construct to bind groups together for a common purpose.

    However, the reviewer doesn’t seem to really take into account the fact that the common purposes of religious groups are all too often deleterious, both to in-groups and to out-groups.

    I’ve read stories of Brighman Young sending out settlement parties that included people adept at setting up lumber mills, others who were good at breeding horse and cattle, etc. Those groups were compelled to work together, and I’m sure that at least some good came of it in terms of efficiency and long-term commitment. Whether or not they did more good than evil is another question. But in present-day terms, obedience to “the prophets” is definitely doing more bad than good. The entire construct needs to be slowly broken down, or allowed to break down of its own accord.

    The reviewer ends with a paragraph that seems meant to pinpoint the problem with Wade’s book, while at the same time taking care not to raise any religious hackles — a style I dislike for it’s reluctance to speak plainly.

    The problem, to my mind, is not that Wade has overambitiously linked genetics and religion. It is that he has underambitiously portrayed religion as less encompassing and consequential than it is. Can we really isolate as distinct adaptations the magnificently bizarre and oddly satisfying behaviors and feelings crammed into that drab pigeonhole of a word, ?religion?? I would have thought that would amount to explaining what makes us human.

  2. #2 jerthebarbarian
    December 28, 2009

    It seems like there’s this weird industry generating lame apologetics for religion now, busily churning out half-assed books for the faitheists. To me, it looks like a gang of people making up bushels of glittery, repetitive sequins to dress up the Emperor’s nudity.

    The thing to remember is that apologetics are not for you. Apologists do not write for the non-believer – there’s no point to it and more to the point no money in it. Their arguments are not going to sway someone who has arrived at their disbelief based on a personal journey. Either you have faith or you don’t – if you don’t it’s going to take a personal experience for you to get it. You’re not going to get it by reading a book you picked up from the local B&N.

    Apologists write for the believer whose faith is shaking. They provide a crutch that the believer can hold onto as they’re own faith is falling apart. Which is probably why you’re seeing a lot of these types of books being aimed at liberal Christians right now – religion has been cocking things up pretty good for the last 30 years, the conservative movement has pretty much co-opted the entire edifice in the US and in much of the rest of the world, and the liberal Christians are looking around wondering if they can really hold onto their beliefs with the way the world works.

    The folks you call “faitheists”[*] are just writing to the market. A lot of liberals in the US are trying to figure out if they can keep their faith in God while holding onto their political beliefs. There’s a market for “self-help” books for people in that niche and that’s getting filled. This is just capitalism at work.

    [*] (I don’t like the term “faitheist” myself because, frankly, even the ones who profess not to believe in God still seem to believe in “believing in God” and so they’re “religionists” as far as I can tell. Robert Wright is particularly guilty of this weird little belief system. They’re like the kids who are old enough to know the truth about Santa Claus but aren’t yet ready to give up on the free toys and candy that comes with that belief. They don’t believe in God so much as they believe in religion itself. Which is about the worst kind of Christian you can be in my opinion – at least if you have a sincere belief in God your delusion is somewhat minimal in comparison – you’re not putting your trust into the hands of people who have proven time and time again how untrustworthy they are.)

  3. #3 Celtic_Evolution
    December 28, 2009

    What really irks me is the seemingly never-ending source of funds for these people to vomit up book after book of empty, base-less, vapid apologetics for religion and they all say essentially the same thing:

    “Science doesn’t know everything, religion makes you feel good and what’s wrong with that, Hitler, Mao and Stalin were atheists, and without religion we’d all go around murdering and raping each other at will”.

    Seriously, it’s nothing short of a mass-mailing propaganda PR stunt masking the desperate, dying throngs of a belief system that is utterly incompatible with the modern world and current knowledge…

  4. #4 Lynna, OM
    December 28, 2009

    Yes, the comments up-thread make a good point. There’s money to be made in catering to people looking to prop up their faith.

    These readers are especially gullible because they are in need. We see examples all the time, like James on the Mormon Prophecy thread, who was just delighted that a bogus archaeologist had come up with bogus “proof” of the Book of Mormon. “Thank gog it’s true!”

    Aside from the money-making aspect, I think some authors of religious-prop books are actually writing to themselves. They are reordering their world, putting the furniture back in place after an earthquake, while ignoring the cracks in the foundation.

    The books are so much the same because they all make a choice as to what they will idealize. They have chosen to idealize religion.

  5. #5 MadScientist
    December 28, 2009

    @Laynna: Thanks for the quote – it’s hilarious. One of my favorite bits: “We didn?t become religious creatures because we became social; we became social creatures because we became religious.”

    That makes all the great apes and most monkeys religious – who’d a’ thought?

  6. #6 eddie
    December 28, 2009

    Are there catholic ants and protestant ants?

  7. #7 Krystalline Apostate
    December 28, 2009

    I don’t know. It seems like there’s this weird industry generating lame apologetics for religion now, busily churning out half-assed books for the faitheists.

    Well of course there is. Faith is big business, there’s nothing like a built-in automatic audience that’ll pay denero to hear what they wanna hear.

  8. #8 boygenius
    December 28, 2009

    @eddie #6

    I have a Baptist aunt and an Evangelical uncle.

    Never mind.

  9. #9 SC OM
    December 28, 2009

    From the Times review:

    …a happy side effect of evolution (or, if you?re a dyspeptic atheist, an unhappy one)

    Y’know, this really gets my goat on fire. “Dyspeptic”? Seriously?

  10. #10 Miki Z
    December 28, 2009

    @#3:

    When my son was 12, we went to Hawaii and one of our tour guides started a bizarre and disturbing monologue about what he would do if he didn’t believe in God:

    “I hope you believe in God. I do, and it makes me a better person. If I didn’t, I’d be out raping someone right now. There’s some girls in my neighborhood I for sure would have raped by now. I bet you [to my son] know some girls you’d like to rape, and you’re young enough to get away with it.”

    I never fail to think of that guy when the “God keeps us from doing bad things” reasoning comes up.

  11. #11 NixNoctua
    December 28, 2009

    We didn?t become religious creatures because we became social; we became social creatures because we became religious.

    Yeah, I don’t think humans’ religiousness has to do with us being social; it probably has to do with us being intelligent enough to ask questions about our environment, and then being creative enough to come up with answers (no matter how wrong). The social part just kinda goes along for the ride.

  12. #12 'Tis Himself, OM
    December 28, 2009

    I hope you believe in God. I do, and it makes me a better person. If I didn’t, I’d be out raping someone right now.

    So the only reason this guy isn’t a serial rapist is because he’s afraid The Big Guy In The Sky will spank his bottom for eternity. I haven’t believed in TBGITS since shortly after puberty and I haven’t raped anyone yet.

  13. #13 Miki Z
    December 28, 2009

    He seemed far more concerned that God might tattle on him to the police. The eternal bottom paddling can be avoided by a heartfelt dunk in sheep’s blood.

  14. #14 Crewvy
    December 28, 2009

    From the tribal shaman to the catholic shaman ,sorry ,pope religion is all about control of others, I can`t see how genetics come into it.

    A shame Wade has taken this tangent,because I found his book Before the Dawn excellent and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in paeleoanthropology.

  15. #15 Hypatia's Daughter
    December 29, 2009

    #10 Miki Z Seems your tour guide forgot the “lusting in your heart” part of Jesus sermons. Thinking about & wanting to do something wrong is just as sinful as actually doing it.

    But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh o­n a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.Matthew 5:27&28.

    All those Xtians who admit they want to commit crimes but are only held back by the fear of eternal punishment, may be screwed ….

  16. #16 boygenius
    December 29, 2009

    ‘Tis @12

    I haven’t raped anyone yet. [emphasis mine]

    Hmm?

  17. #17 Cath the Canberra Cook
    December 29, 2009

    Relax, boygenius, it’s just a mildly wry understatement from ‘Tis.

  18. #18 Rorschach
    December 29, 2009

    The old testament aka the word of god is ok with rape, genocide, stoning and other pleasantries if I remember correctly.
    So this argument that the only reason one is not raping looting and pillaging constantly because one might get in trouble with the celestial dictator who is so morally superior and opposed to these things is a load of rubbish.
    The celestial dictator clearly is into this stuff.

  19. #19 shonny
    December 29, 2009

    Is it just my impression, or does dyspepsia afflict the religious at a much higher rate than it does us without faith and belief?

    When you come across any of the religious leaders they seem to have serious problems keeping their dysfunctional rage and ravings in reins. In particular when you are not under the same delusions as they are.

  20. #20 shonny
    December 29, 2009

    Very good of NYT to put out this warning:

    Judith Shulevitz?s book, ?The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time,? will be published in March.

    Judging by her pathetic review, it will be a good one to avoid. Life is too short to dance with an ugly girl.

    The reviewed one was of course never under consideration as an acquisition.

  21. #21 Richard Eis
    December 29, 2009

    It seems like there’s this weird industry generating lame apologetics for religion now, busily churning out half-assed books for the faitheists.

    The times they are a changing and the market is a good barometer of this.

    Someone needs to write a “how to become an atheist” book. Its the next-big-thing. Amaze your friends, surprise your family. Learn the secrets of the universe THEY didn’t want you to know.

  22. #22 Ray Moscow
    December 29, 2009

    jerthebarbarian @ #2: Apologists write for the believer whose faith is shaking. They provide a crutch that the believer can hold onto as they’re own faith is falling apart. Which is probably why you’re seeing a lot of these types of books being aimed at liberal Christians right now – religion has been cocking things up pretty good for the last 30 years, the conservative movement has pretty much co-opted the entire edifice in the US and in much of the rest of the world, and the liberal Christians are looking around wondering if they can really hold onto their beliefs with the way the world works.

    I think Jer nailed it.

    Apologetics always looks, and is, unbelievably lame to the skeptic.

  23. #23 tsg
    December 29, 2009

    It sounds like more defending religion for the few beneficial side-effects it has while ignoring both the major flaws and that the benefits can be had without the oogie-boogie bullshit. I’ll pass.