Saturday, March 11, 2006

theist v. atheist on studying religion

Web exclusive: 'How should we study religion?' by Daniel Dennett | Prospect Magazine March 2006 issue 120

Daniel Dennett was just in Seattle, but I missed him. But my colleague saw him and filled me in. His fundamental point is that we need to remove the stigma attached to scientifically studying religion, which I agree with. He also has a different take on the role and origin of religion as a "natural phenomena" rather than what I have typically seen as more of a "tribal tendency" theory in terms of evolutionary advantage of religion. An interesting claim that is often made by religious people is that without religion, there an be no morality. So, Dan suggests that we should empirically study questions like these--put them to the test. I hardly believe that in the overall scheme of life that religion generally makes people more "moral" than nontheists. There are a lot of atrocities done in the name of religion that will deduct from that tally.

Favorite quotes from the debate:

Presumably this same foresighted creator anticipated the amusement the unbelievers would feel when contemplating the recent declarations by Pat Robertson to the effect that Ariel Sharon's ill health was God intervening to punish him for ceding Gaza. I'm sure you'll tell me that our expectations about what a good creator would want, and do, don't extend to such particulars as these, but why are your expectations any better grounded than mine? You haven't told us what the rules of this game are.

You find it improbable that there would be a multiverse of all physically possible universes, including ours. Is it less improbable than that there would be an omnipotent, benevolent universe-creator? I don't think so, and here Bayesian probability theory gives no leverage, so far as I can see. Both are mind-boggling prospects—but that doesn't give yours the edge.

I see no reason to go along with your hypothesis that we're just what to expect from a perfect and omnipotent creator.

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