Saturday, September 02, 2006

Why We Believe...Or Not.

A few days ago I was listening to author and professor of philosophy Daniel C. Dennett on WBUR. He was talking about his new book, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. His thesis seemed to be that we can fully explain why people from all cultures form religions. The explanation is that there are natural (biological) reasons why this happens—it is not due to supernatural happenings. I haven't read the book and this is not a book review. What Dennett indicated on the radio show, is that since there are natural reasons which can explain the emergence of religion, it is therefore not rational to continue to believe in the supernatural content of religions. There is a certain logic to this: If you already have a complete explanation for a phenomenon, then there is no logical need to seek further reasons. What Dennett overlooks is a piece of circular, but nonetheless persuasive reasoning. If there is to be a coherent religion, it would assume there is a God and that he wants to be known. So, if there is a God and he made the universe and he wants us to worship him well...wouldn't it follow that he would design things in such a way as to make this possible? His creation would have to contain, at a minimum, creatures who are able to conceive of God. But that is really not enough. Just because his creatures are able to think of God doesn't give them any reason to actually do so. He could either come down and manifest himself to them every so often or he could make his people such that they have an internal need for religion. I happen to think that the latter is the better solution. Much like planetary mechanics via Newtonian physics is more elegant than earlier solutions which called for constant divine intervention. To look at it in a different light: If there is a God and he wants to be worshiped, wouldn't it be odd to make creatures who have no need or interest in religion? To put it into a natural selection perspective: If there were a selective disadvantage to religion, then religion would have been bred-out of humanity. A God who wants to be worshiped would make a world such that religion conveys some kind of benefit to his people; this way, they would never out-grow it. On a more respectful note, I don't think that any God worthy of worship would want it for the sake of his own ego. It would have to be for the good of his people. There may be something fundamental about sentient creatures (such as those found in mankind) that we need the divine (or the idea of the divine) in order to lead lives in which we find meaning.

2003--The first time I had been to Story Land. Dahlia was only 3 and it was a real accomplishment just to get her to go on the ride. If you examine the expression on her face, it is clear that she expects to die...right away. Posted by Picasa
This year we went to Story Land over the 4th of July weekend. We all went on the Bamboo Shoots ride, but this was the only time the picture came out. You can see that Surenna is scared by how she is clutching my knee, but mostly she is thrilled. Posted by Picasa

Haven't posted much...

I haven't posted much here, so I will use comments I have made on other sites for filler... For some backstory...I had made a short (critical) comment on Oscar's site about a post he made about an impeachment teach-in he had attended. Ann piled-on with another comment--she wanted more juicy details and also thought the idea of impeachment was idiotic too. Well Oscar eventually came back with a long post defending the idea. It was probably mostly Ann who goaded Oscar into such a long response, though he mostly addressed my concerns rather than hers. I felt that since he had gone to such efforts, I should make a long riposte. So here it is: Here is the link... to Oscar's first post and here is the response post. Hi Oscar, I hope it was Ann rather than me who was mostly responsible for you taking such an effort on this post. You put a lot of work into it and so it deserves some kind of response: 1. I don’t want to split hairs on impeachment v. being removed from office: I am well aware of the difference,-when one speaks of impeachment it is usually assumed that the end goal is removal from office. As an aside, I won a bet back during impeachment days on this very distinction. If the purpose is not to remove Bush from office, why not just pursue a resolution (in either chamber of Congress) of censure? It has twice the chance of passing since you have two chambers to work with, while impeachment must originate in the House only. 2. I never brought up the possibility of a back-lash because, while I suspect there would be one, it is hard to have much assurance one way or the other. The Republicans did loose 4 Senate and 2 House seats in the election of 2000, so it would be hard to say that they gained from impeachment. The argument should be whether Republicans were hurt and if so, by how much. 3. We can debate on the chances of such a project being successful: Impeachment itself would be one degree of success and removal from office a much higher level of success. I am not a Democrat, so maybe I just cannot relate, but I don’t see most liberals liking Cheney better than Bush. I will grant though that it might end up with a Ford-like situation, where the President was too weak to do much against an energized opposition in Congress. 4. I think you will agree (or maybe not) that a minimum requirement for success in this impeachment project is, at least a Democratic majority in the House. If the Republicans retain control, why would they give the opposition an impeachment proceeding to play with? Further, the Republicans would not have to defend an unpopular president. The burden of proof is on the accusers: All the Republicans have to do is rebut any accusations the Democrats make. 5. I see a lot of “Bush lied…etc” when I wander through liberal sites. In most cases it is all about the WMD, which were highly pushed in the lead-up to war and turned-out to be not-so-abundant. For Bush to be a liar, he would have to have known that there were no, or very few WMD there. How do you propose he would know this while the CIA and every foreign intelligence service thought that Iraq retained WMD stocks? On a similar vein, if Bush was so power-mad why would he have kept the lid on the actual poison shells that have been found in the last two years in Iraq? A real demagogue would have trumped each find, instead he kept it quiet to prevent insurgents from seeing if they could find some to use on our forces.I won’t re-fight the Clinton impeachment here—I followed it closely at the time and have no urge to dredge-up all of that again. I made the bet that Clinton would be impeached a couple of days after he was re-elected. I thought it would be due to abuse of executive privilege claims, or recess appointments of officers already rejected (voted down) by the Senate or maybe Chinese spy issues etc. I think the Lewinski affair would certainly have sunk a Republican president, but probably saved Clinton’s since it lured the Republicans into pursuing weaker (but easier to prove) charges. The impeachment never had anything to do with disagreeing with Clinton: The only major things that got done then: Welfare reform and NAFTA were ideas that Republicans liked. The things Republicans didn’t want; BTU taxes, national healthcare etc never got anywhere anyway. Jeeze Oscar! You goaded me into posting the longest comment I have ever made, so we’re even. Best regards, dbp