The God Delusion - Chapter 5

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The God Delusion - Chapter 5

Post #1

Post by otseng »

According to Dawkins, how did religion arise?

McCulloch's question:
Is religion as an accidental by-product – a misfiring of something useful?

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Post #71

Post by Jose »

Bunyip wrote:
otseng wrote: If I don't understand his points, feel free to correct me. But the way to do it is to provide direct quotes from his book, not simply providing your own interpretation or claiming I haven't read the book.
Sorry, If i start dumping every full citation in here there won't be any room for messages. "Not a shred of evidence" is not a direct quote, but neither is it an "interpretation". It is the theme of the book. If you missed that theme, you either haven't read the book or fail abysmally to understand it.
Y'know, Bunyip, I'd be interested in some of those quotes, too. I haven't read the book, so I don't know whether there are any statements that are succinct enough to warrant quoting. Maybe not...but if there are, they would be helpful.

As a rule, I agree with Dawkins. I, too, see no shred of evidence for a supernatural entity of any flavor. But, there are a great many Christians who believe otherwise, and for whom a blanket statement like this is just so much hot air. But it's hard to prove that there is no evidence, because you can't show someone "no evidence." If quotes aren't reasonable, can you paraphrase a couple of Dawkins' arguments?

I was recently reading Evolution for Everyone by David Sloan Wilson. He makes a very compelling case for religion as a trait that has arisen by natural selection. To paraphrase, a functional social group needs to have its members cooperate with each other for the good of the group--but also needs a mechanism for keeping individuals from cheating for personal gain at the expense of the group. Small hunter-gatherer societies can manage this by social conventions because everyone knows everyone else. But when the groups get larger, social coherence is achieved by common beliefs and common expectations of unpleasant consequences for misbehaving.

According to this logic, we are programmed with an instinct to Believe. Different cultures have come to different beliefs, but all of them achieve the same endpoint: social coherence. At least, there's coherence as long as we don't bang two different beliefs up against each other under conditions where the future is uncertain (cf. Iraq inn its current state of disarray).

I infer from this that it is going to be really hard to convince Believers that there is no evidence for their Beliefs. We're programmed not to need evidence.

Scientists are weird exceptions. We've identified a set of Rules of Evidence by which we try to be as objective as possible, and we don't buy anything for which there is no evidence. Unfortunately, we don't teach this in the schools; instead we teach the conclusions that scientists have come to over the years. Most people have absolutely no clue that there is such a thing as "data" and that "scientific knowledge" is simply the inferences from the data. They see "science" as stuff we were told to Believe. It was our teachers who told us, rather than ministers, but it's basically the same idea: it's Received Wisdom.

Back to my original point: I think it really matters that we identify and summarize the data that lead to our conclusions. Dawkins has a strong argument, but to many people, he "just can't be right." He makes "extraordinary claims." As we say in the business, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. It's like trying to convince me that my favorite hypothesis to explain my own data is actually bunk.
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Post #72

Post by QED »

bunyip wrote:> "This statement can be considered an ad hom attack."

Perhaps so, but if you don't understand Darwin's own feelings in the early days of his formulating his ideas, then you don't understand the intellectual environment of his times. "Change over time" with traceable results [as the fossils were showing] was a serious challenge to orthodox thinking. Your earlier postings leave the impression that it was a widely accepted concept.

> "It's a metaphor stretched beyond the limits of what natural selection means."

Fine. You go tell all the cosmologists and astrophysicists to take out those chapters on "stellar evolution" from their monographs and textbooks.

and please let us know which phrase to replace it with. Then go back to the pre-Hubble books on astronomy and find the descriptions of the universe. Tell us all about their views on stellar "life" and how "change over time" was a commonly accepted view among them.
I tend to agree with bunyip here. Yes, natural selection has a specific meaning within the context of biological systems -- but selection is an important concept that has a far wider application -- and natural is often the most appropriate term to describe the force behind the process.

Recall the argument about the interpretation of the apparent fine-tuning of the values for the physical parameters of our universe for example. We can talk in terms of how these values were selected -- were they selected from the range of all possible values by a conscious thought process akin to the kind we employ when designing things, or were they self-selected by conscious beings who could only contemplate particular values in the very narrow (perhaps only) range that permits contemplation? This would be rightly termed "natural selection" and would only require a super-set of conditions from within which the self-selection process could take place.

But I think bunyip was also trying to draw attention to the major paradigm shifts that started out in the nineteenth century -- important adaptations of thought that were necessary to accommodate the considerable changes detected in a deep history that was formerly considered to be static. I can sympathise with the zeal to uphold that development lest it be forgotten, but it's always risky to talk in terms of ignorance.