Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Religion and Evolution, Again

Because I really never get tired of this subject -- and I'm hoping against hope this holds true for you as well -- I'll send you to Judith Shulevitz's piece on Slate today about Daniel Dennett's most recent book. Pivotal excerpt, for me:
We'd be foolish to single out religion for evolutionary investigation if there is nothing about it that is unique. If religions are just cultures, if religious rituals are functionally indistinguishable from other irrational habits, if a religious idea, or meme, Dennett calls it, is just one more way of interpreting the world, then we ought to be asking much broader questions, such as, why do humans have a penchant for peculiar rituals? Trying to explain religion through evolutionary theory would be as frivolous as trying to understand skateboarding by means of physics.


Anonymous dfox3 said...

And once again, the baby bounces on the bathroom floor as the bathwater heads for the drain. Although I am only part way through Mr. Dennet's book, I was dismayed at the article on Slate by Judith Shulevitz. She promises more essays on what will most surely be the meat of the Dennet book and she should be made to deliver. This essay picks apart Dennet's definition of religion in what seemed like an effort to avoid the real analysis and conclusions by flagging a technicality. Much like a court of law occassionally avoids a ruling on substantive matters by throwing out the case because of 'standing' issues or because court papers were not filed on time. I will finish the book and look for Ms. Shulevitz to take up the discussion with the seriousness and facility that Dennet uses to lay out the subject.

11:54 AM  
Blogger JMW said...

Good to see you 'round these parts, dfox3. OK, I have to read Dennett's new book, so I can't bloviate as much as I normally like to. As you know, I have some pretty sharp talons for religion more often than not. That said, based on the only Dennett book I've read, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, here's my problem: It's not that I think religion shouldn't be analyzed as a human behavior, it's just that, as Shulevitz says, there are many irrational things we do as humans, and I'm not sure that: a) they can all be explained by applying evolutionary science to the ideas themselves (in other words, Dennett likes to set up religion and opera and political thought, etc., as "organisms" and then strictly apply evolution to them, and I'm not convinced that it isn't a goofy strategy), or b) that all of those irrational things are entirely bad. More bloviating to come, though; I look forward to discussing the book with you when we've both finished, which, given my reading load for work, should be sometime in 2026.

2:01 PM  

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