Taking a closer look at religion’s role in war

While watching the “Beyond Belief” videos that prompted the previous posting, I was struck by how often anthropologist Scott Atran, a rational thinker like everyone else in the room, was isolated by his insistence that (1) things aren’t as simple as we’d like them to be and (2) we should really test our pet theories before we leap to defend them.

Why should Atran’s insistence on direct  examination of theoretical claims have made him an outsider in a room filled with fellow scientists?

Isn’t his stance one of the “sacred values” of scientific investigation about which I wrote last time? Well, it should be, but for the New Atheist dogmatists any suggestion that the world is complex seems to ramp up their aggression.

And Scott Atran seems often to be in their sights, as he will be again, now that he has published another article that suggests that things are more complicated than “religion bad, reason good.”

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A commitment to the natural and the observable

Way back, near the start of this blog more than a year and a half ago, I posted an article titled “Science: not just another religion.”

In that article I agreed with Richard Dawkins’s contention that science, unlike religion, doesn’t give unyielding precedence to tradition and authority, and it doesn’t give any credence to claims grounded in faith or revelation.

Having recently finished viewing a full 24 hours of video lectures and discussions from the 2006 and 2007 “Beyond Belief” conferences — not consecutively, in case you were curious — I’d like briefly to pursue a somewhat more nuanced version of Dawkins’s claim. This seems especially relevant in the context of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

What I won’t do is to slacken in any way my thoroughgoing commitment to the supremacy of the natural and the observable as the only true reality. What I hope to do is examine the nature of that commitment itself, as an epistemological stance — there is no other way to know — and as a heuristic — there is no other way to know.
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From the frying pan into the fire?

As I head back home to California today for a weekend visit, it’s a good time for another in my periodic forays into the underworld of the American political psyche.

Earlier this week, I posted a generally negative review of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind.

But my thumbs down was for the book’s political slant, not its core contents. Haidt proposed, quite reasonably, that our politics are founded on our emotions, not on our reason. The most spectacular example of the truth of Haidt’s assertion is the fact that all of the polls show that the U. S. presidential race is, so far, too close to call.

On any rational basis, this seems absurd. Continue reading

“Now that I think about it, I’m not that religious after all”

According to a much-trumpeted new study, rational thinking has a negative effect on the strength of religious belief.

Well, gee, really? Isn’t that the whole idea behind rational thinking? Do we really need a new study to tell us this? Many religious leaders and almost all atheists readily agree that religious belief is more a feeling than a thought, more emotion than analysis. Continue reading

Five writers tackle the issue of God

Coincidentally, another periodical published last week a series of articles on one subject. Last time, it was free will.

This time, it’s God.

On March 21st, New Scientist made temporarily available online five articles from, and on, “The God issue.” The pieces’ authors include well-known apologists and atheists, pundits and professors. Like the free will pieces, these short God essays exhibit a wide range of interest in the question of the origins of belief in God. Continue reading

A free discussion of free will

Despite its frequent academic navel gazing and elitist condescension, The Chronicle Review manages to publish some pieces of broader scope and interest.

This time they’ve outdone themselves, producing a series of six short but engrossing articles on the subject of “free will.”

The articles, published online March 18th,  feature scientists, philosophers, and moralizers of various stripes– and these authors assume as wide a range of positions on the subject at hand. Taken together, the six short pieces are a useful summary of the key free will questions. Continue reading

In the camp of the hierarchists …

Thanks to a provocative article title, a little while ago I found myself on the unfamiliar webpage of The American Conservative.

It’s an alien place, where, in the manner of an 18th century salon conversation, sincere hierarchists present erudite justifications for all manner of political and social injustices.

The article that drew me to this font of evil is titled “Right Minds: What sets conservatives apart from authoritarians and fascists?” Officially a review of left-leaning Corey Robin’s book, The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, Samuel Goldwin’s article is really a short history of rational conservatism.

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The usual suspects lash out at hard atheism – again

I haven’t written very much about religion lately.

While a verbal war with Bible literalism was a feature of this blog’s earliest efforts, recently I’ve managed to ignore the subject in favour of more fruitful topics like politics and the human mind — despite the fact that fundamentalists continue to have too much contact with the former, and too little with the latter.

Besides, I haven’t felt much compulsion to defend the religion-haters among my fellow religion-deniers. Continue reading

Life, heat death, and the meaning of it all

Thirteen and a half billion years ago, something happened. Billions, perhaps trillions of years from now, nothing will ever happen again.

For a short time near the beginning of that unimaginable span, conditions in the universe are right for life. For an instant during that window of existence, humans live. And for a brief part of that instant, you and I live.

Yes, I’ve been watching cosmology documentaries again. Sigh. Continue reading