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  1.    #1  
    The recent violence in the middle east has reminded me of a book I have been reading which looks at the biological evolution of Religion itself, and the relation between religious belief and moral conduct. Does religion in fact make us more moral?
    Quote Originally Posted by Keith Ward
    Belief, Deconstructed

    Breaking the Spell: Religion as
    a Natural Phenomenon
    Daniel C. Dennett
    Viking, 2006
    464 pages. $25.95

    In an interview shortly after his book Breaking the Spell was released, philosopher Daniel Dennett likened the human propensity for religious observance to a craving. “Our sweet tooth for religions is one of the most important and influential factors in the world today,” he said. “If we don’t understand it, we’re cruising to trouble in this twenty-first century.” The quest for such understanding, as Dennett purports to undertake in his book, is certainly a worthy one.

    The particular spell that Dennett wants to break is the “taboo against a forthright, scientific, no-holds-barred investigation of religion, an approach that would treat religion” as “one natural phenomenon among many.” This seems a wholly commendable enterprise. Yet Dennett’s defining of religions as “social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought” might lead one to suspect that Dennett’s proposed investigation will not be quite as dispassionate and open-minded as one might hope.

    Dennett’s Darwinian explanation for certain features of religion is, in some ways, illuminating: Since competition will prompt some entities to evolve or change in order to dominate their environment, some present-day religious acts or beliefs may be features that enabled groups of the far past to survive and to spread. If a ritual enhances feelings of solidarity and loyalty within a group, for example, that group may be better able to exterminate its rivals. This explanation seems reasonable. Still, because we have practically no reliable information about the origins of religion, many of the theories Dennett puts forth in the book inevitably feel more like speculative philosophy than hard science. When he tells us, for instance, that the earliest form of religious belief was animism—the idea that everything in the world has intentions and feelings—and that animism evolved into theism basically because the idea of one all-powerful God was more gratifying than many conflicting spirits, we have no way of knowing if this is true. The conclusion of a chapter called “Does God exist?”— that there are no good reasons for believing in God or spiritual realities—is certainly not one that emerges from experimental science, as it cannot be verified or falsified.

    By the time Dennett ends the book, calling for proper scientific investigation into the efficacy of prayer and the relation between religious belief and moral conduct, we can be fairly certain where he sees such investigation leading. While it is entirely right to expose religion to informed critical inquiry, it is also important not to assume the falsity of religious beliefs.

    —Keith Ward

    Keith Ward is the head of the faculty of theology at the University of Oxford and a priest of the Church of England.
  2. #2  
    Depends on the religion and the interpretation of that religion.

    Quote Originally Posted by theBlaze74
    Does religion in fact make us more moral?
  3. #3  
    I have 2 problems with that blurb.

    1) Monotheism is a feature of the Semitic religions. Who said this is a natural evolution all religion? Maybe monotheism simply evolved from the effort of a ruler to consolidate religion onto himself (i.e. the god-king) This would obviously not leave room for competing gods (except for the evil god that had to be opposed, worshiped by the enemies of course).

    2) God not being falsifiable is a result of efforts to falsify him. If God was supposed to live at the top of the mountain, and I go there and he isn't, that particular aspect is pretty much falsified. As science pushes back the boundaries of the unknown, god will shrink ever more. At which point you decide he does not exist anymore would be up to you.

    In general though I agree with he thesis, except I subscribe to the Meme school. I believe some ideas are self- sustaining, and that religion is one of them, as is nation-hood.

    Surur
  4. JayL's Avatar
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    #4  
    It makes us less---you name it, a religion has done it, in the name of god.
    Sprint 700p
  5.    #5  
    The first of Dennett's books that I read was "Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life", where Dennett describes Charles Darwin's idea of Evolution by Natural Selection, not only the biggest scientific discovery ever, but compares it to "universal acid", dissolving everything it touches, throughout the realm of psychology, phillosophy, not just inside Biology.

    Then the natural evolution of our very minds in Consciousness Explained, and his latest work takes on the natural evolution of Religion itself, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.
  6.    #6  
    Quote Originally Posted by surur
    2) God not being falsifiable is a result of efforts to falsify him. If God was supposed to live at the top of the mountain, and I go there and he isn't, that particular aspect is pretty much falsified. As science pushes back the boundaries of the unknown, god will shrink ever more. At which point you decide he does not exist anymore would be up to you.
    Dennett brings up in his second book, (paraphrasing) "Discovery is not something we should resist, does the sunset look any less beautifull now that we know the world is not flat."
  7.    #7  
    Quote Originally Posted by surur
    In general though I agree with he thesis, except I subscribe to the Meme school. I believe some ideas are self- sustaining, and that religion is one of them, as is nation-hood.
    But how could a religion which does not benefit us, evolve?

    Dennett talks about "the Blind Watchmaker" being responsible even for our minds, for our conciousness, which he describes as an algorithm. With ideas passing around freely between our "algorithms" in a way with a life of their own, evolving over time, one of those being religion. But the ideas that grow are not always beneficial to us.

    In an interesting example, he talks about an insect who crawls to the top of a blade of grass only to be blown off by the wind, but the insect immediately crawls back up, over and over and over. Certainly this behavior does not help the insect in an evolutionary sense, nothing here is helping the insect to eat or care for offspring, or reproduce. Then WHY does the insect climb the grass over and over.

    Turns out there is a pathogen in the insect's brain, one that has evolved to enduce this behavior in order that the insect can be eaten by the cow, where the pathogen can reproduce and spread.
  8. #8  
    Quote Originally Posted by surur
    2) God not being falsifiable is a result of efforts to falsify him. If God was supposed to live at the top of the mountain, and I go there and he isn't, that particular aspect is pretty much falsified. As science pushes back the boundaries of the unknown, god will shrink ever more. At which point you decide he does not exist anymore would be up to you.

    Surur
    Here's one disagreement to your opinion that I think is worth noting:
    "When you have for the first time in front of you this 3.1 billion-letter instruction book that conveys all kinds of information and all kinds of mystery about humankind, you can’t survey that going through page after page without a sense of awe. I can’t help but look at those pages and have a vague sense that this is giving me a glimpse of God’s mind." Francis Collins, the director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute
  9. #9  
    ...a glimpse of God’s mind." Francis Collins, the director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute
    God's mind is pretty rhetoric which is pretty much used by every scientist who wants to appeal to the public. Remember its defects in those 3.1 billion base pairs which is responsible for all the genetic diseases which plague mankind.

    Surur
  10. #10  
    Quote Originally Posted by surur
    God's mind is pretty rhetoric which is pretty much used by every scientist who wants to appeal to the public. Remember its defects in those 3.1 billion base pairs which is responsible for all the genetic diseases which plague mankind.

    Surur
    “This most beautiful system could only proceed from the dominion of an intelligent and powerful being.”
    “I see God’s hand at work through the mechanism of evolution. If God chose to create human beings in his image and decided that the mechanism of evolution was an elegant way to accomplish that goal, who are we to say that is not the way,”
    Francis Collins, the director of the US National Human Genome Research Institute
    Collins believes that science cannot be used to refute the existence of God because it is confined to the “natural” world
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article...220484,00.html
  11.    #11  
    I wouldn't expect religious persons would be barred from engaging in sciene.

    Complexity and or beauty or splendor of the Universe was always offered as evidence of God. Early artist would draw a picture of an eye as evidence of god's work. "How could this eye have been made without god?"

    But that is exactly what evolution through natural selection has shown us. Exactly how an eye or a genome could be made without god. And what's more, a natural progression in the universe from less complexity to more complexity.
  12. #12  

    He's pretty much a loon then. Who says the point of evolution isnt to make ants? They sure outnumber humans, and they will be here after we are gone. Anthropocentricism is a biased view which should not be held by some-one who may be in charge of priorities or funding.

    Surur
  13.    #13  
    Quote Originally Posted by surur
    He's pretty much a loon then. Who says the point of evolution isnt to make ants? They sure outnumber humans, and they will be here after we are gone. Anthropocentricism is a biased view which should not be held by some-one who may be in charge of priorities or funding.

    Surur
    Isn't the point that both humans and ants are a product of evolution by natural selection, a product of a natural progression in the universe from less complexity to more, and that religion is attributable to the same process? And can't we admire both humans and ants?
  14. #14  
    Quote Originally Posted by theBlaze74
    Isn't the point that both humans and ants are a product of evolution by natural selection, a product of a natural progression in the universe from less complexity to more, and that religion is attributable to the same process? And can't we admire both humans and ants?
    There is little point to the universe. Local increases in complexity only occurs at the expense of a larger increase in entropy. All that it indicates is that there are organizational processes also amongst the many processes that break things down.

    There are many more processes that increase entropy than decrease it.

    Surur
  15. #15  
    Quote Originally Posted by surur
    He's pretty much a loon then. Who says the point of evolution isnt to make ants? They sure outnumber humans, and they will be here after we are gone. Anthropocentricism is a biased view which should not be held by some-one who may be in charge of priorities or funding.

    Surur
    The director of the Human Research Genome Institute is a loon? Well, possibly. But he clearly knows more about this scientific study than any one of us and he doesn't see an inconsistency with a belief in God. In fact, it appears that his research has solidifed his faith in God.
  16.    #16  
    Quote Originally Posted by hoovs
    The director of the Human Research Genome Institute is a loon? Well, possibly. But he clearly knows more about this scientific study than any one of us and he doesn't see an inconsistency with a belief in God. In fact, it appears that his research has solidifed his faith in God.
    He does? This scientific study? The study of the natural evolution of conciousness and Religion?

    Furthermore, as SurSur said, since religion requires no evidence, and accepts the supernatural, it is immune to disproof.

    This is not about the disproof of god, but about explaining the universe without god. And again, about why the fact that the complexity of our eye, or our genome is not evidence of god.
  17. Micael's Avatar
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    #17  
    My two cents: Religion offers a framework for contemplating morality. It does this by providing a model for measuring behavior against. It doesn't, in and of itself, cause or hinder morality. But thats just me....
    The Law of Logical Argument: Anything is possible if you don't know what you are talking about.
  18. #18  
    I believe religion can guide a like-minded group of individuals to act more morally. Religion/faith in and of itself can not cause someone to be moral or more moral.

    I believe C.S. Lewis's take on it in "Mere Christianity" is closer to how religion/morality interact. To very broadly paraphrase, you may be born with a vague knowledge of right and wrong, but religion can be an aid in more fully understanding and defining the two ideas. Just as you may "know" when you hear an off-note in music, even if you have no knowledge of music, but you know how and why it is "off" when you have more information about music.
    Brent
    T650 on Sprint's Wireless Wonder
  19. #19  
    Quote Originally Posted by theBlaze74
    He does? This scientific study? The study of the natural evolution of conciousness and Religion?
    When I said that, I was referring to the study of genetics which, necessarily, means he's more well versed in evolutionary theory as well.

    Quote Originally Posted by theBlaze74
    This is not about the disproof of god, but about explaining the universe without god. And again, about why the fact that the complexity of our eye, or our genome is not evidence of god.
    Why is it necessary to?
  20.    #20  
    Quote Originally Posted by bheuss
    I believe religion can guide a like-minded group of individuals to act more morally.
    Or to carry a nail bomb in to an abortion clinic, or a cafe, or to launch a Crusade or to fast until dead.
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