Sunday, January 22, 2006

Dennett on religion

Daniel Dennett, the namesake of this blog, has a new book coming out about the natural history of religion:
For those who do not need to be persuaded, the main draw here is a sharp synthesis of a library of evolutionary, anthropological and psychological research on the origin and spread of religion. Drawing on thinkers such as Pascal Boyer (whose own book is called Religion Explained) and giving their work his own spin, Dennett speculates how a primitive belief in ghosts might have given rise to wind spirits and rain gods, wood nymphs and leprechauns. The world is a scary place. What else to blame for the unexpected than humanlike beings lurking behind the scenes?

The result would be a cacophony of superstitions — memes vying with memes — some more likely to proliferate than others. In a world where agriculture was drawing people to aggregate in larger and larger settlements, it would be beneficial to believe you had been commanded by a stern god to honor and protect your neighbors, those who share your beliefs instead of your DNA. Casting this god as a father figure also seems like a natural. Parents have a genetic stake in giving their children advice that improves their odds for survival. You’d have less reason to put your trust in a Flying Spaghetti Monster. At first this winnowing of ghost stories would be unconscious, but as language and self-awareness developed, some ideas would be groomed and domesticated.
Sounds like a modern, Darwinian twist on Hume...
No wonder, then, that mankind, being placed in such an absolute ignorance of causes, and being at the same time so anxious concerning their future fortune, should immediately acknowledge a dependence on invisible powers, possessed of sentiment and intelligence. ... Nor is it long before we ascribe to them thought and reason and passion, and sometimes even the limbs and figures of men, in order to bring them nearer to a resemblance with ourselves. ...

It may readily happen, in an idolatrous nation, that though men admit the existence of several limited deities, yet is there some one God, whom, in a particular manner, they make the object of their worship and adoration. ... his votaries will endeavour, by every art, to insinuate themselves into his favour; and supposing him to be pleased, like themselves, with praise and flattery, there is no eulogy or exaggeration, which will be spared in their addresses to him. In proportion as men’s fears or distresses become more urgent, they still invent new strains of adulation; and even he who outdoes his predecessor in swelling up the titles of his divinity, is sure to be outdone by his successor in newer and more pompous epithets of praise. Thus they proceed; till at last they arrive at infinity itself, beyond which there is no farther progress.


Blogger Chris said...

It also sounds like a slightly more cynical twist on Cassirer's Language and Myth, with his "momentary gods." I assume Cassirer had read Hume, of course.

1/22/2006 09:31:00 PM  
Blogger driftwood said...

This kind of speculation might be amusing, but it always seems to fall into the “sounds good to me” style of argumentation. And if somebody else says it doesn’t sound good to them, then that’s the end of it since neither party can point to much by way of evidence. I’m much more impressed by the kind of argument that Paul Bloom made in the December “Atlantic” that looks instead at what is it about humans that make them so susceptible to religious belief. At least here there is the hope of real evidence for or against your claim. And if we can nail this question down with some clarity, it might provide at least broad brackets on how historic religious beliefs and practices were likely to have developed. I’ll probably read Dennett’s book, but I’m not expecting it to be one of his better efforts.

1/23/2006 03:11:00 AM  
Blogger driftwood said...

I also agree with Bloom that religious belief might not have had any adaptive advantage in itself but is, perhaps, merely the by-product of other things that did. He quite rightly points out that there are many near universal characteristics of humans that do not have such advantage--say, masturbation.

1/23/2006 03:20:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Speaking of ideas that Dennett may or may not have gotten from Hume, his attack on the Cartesian theatre sounds a lot like Hume's idea that "The mind is a kind of theatre, where several perceptions successively make their appearance; pass, repass, glide away, and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations. There is properly no simplicity in it at one time, nor identity in different, whatever natural propension we may have to imagine that simplicity and identity. The comparison of the theatre must not mislead us. They are the successive perceptions only, that constitute the mind; nor have we the most distant notion of the place where these scenes are represented, or of the materials of which it is composed."

Steven Pinker has a "non-adaptive by-product" explanation of religion along the lines of what Bloom describes, as a combination side effect of 1) theory of mind [which causes us to overextend theory of mind to see intention in nature] and 2) trust of experts [adaptive because no one can know everything, so it's good to trust the group's herbal expert, but this makes us susceptible to religious preaching].

1/24/2006 08:15:00 AM  
Blogger driftwood said...

I've never read Pinker; maybe I should take a look. One of the most interesting bits of Bloom's argument is that the key piece is more basic than an overextended theory of mind causing us to see intention in nature. Before that the theory of mind causes us to see mind and body as distinct. Who hasn't imagined being "transported" into somebody elses body? We can think like that with ease. From there it is no problem to imagine existing after death or without a body at all. And then why not have all sorts of thinking, doing creatures that either don't need bodies or do quite nicely with a tree or even the wind?

1/25/2006 02:57:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

re Pinker - I don't think his explanation of religion is in any of his books (as far as I remember) - I heard it at a talk he gave 2 years ago. Maybe it will be in his next book... The divorce of mind and body is a key thing, I think Pinker did mention that. Maybe he took it from Bloom!

1/25/2006 01:05:00 PM  
Blogger graefix said...

Hi Andrew,
Have you seen yesterday's (Feb. 8) interview of Daniel Dennett at Salon? I'm tempted to read the new book based on the interview. I like his description of the "invisible moat around religion," keeping scientists from studying the phenomenon lest they "break the spell."

Driftwood is right about Bloom's article in the Atlantic. It's quite interesting. I especially like Bloom's descriptions of experiments on babies that show how we form different expectations of the physical and psychological worlds very early. Cool stuff.

2/10/2006 02:43:00 AM  
Blogger driftwood said...

Hmm, since I don't want to turn Cookies on just so I can watch an ad from Salon, could you fill in a bit what Dennett said?

I rather enjoyed Dennett's earlier work but he seems to have slipped into a bait-and-swap style of promising a lot more than he even tries to deliver. So my fear is that his book will be padded out with a lot of armchair speculating that might be interesting and might even be possible, but will be a long way off from probable. But, as I said, I will probably read the book since I have been growing more interested in the subject of late.

2/11/2006 04:39:00 AM  
Blogger graefix said...

Hi driftwood,

I bought Dennett's book yesterday. I have just begun reading it, but I would say that nearly everything in the Salon interview is discussed in the first 100 pages of the book. If you are going to read the book anyway, don't bother with the Salon interview. Here are a couple of answers Dennett gave that I thought were interesting:

Does it worry you that American politics under the current administration have become infused with religion?

It does. The separation of church and state is very important and is not as uncontroversial today in the United States as it should be. Around the world we see clear cases of how seriously bad theocracies are. So we certainly have to take steps to preserve the secular foundation of this country. I put my faith in secular, free societies and democracies like the United States.

You have "faith"?

By faith, I don't mean an irrational belief. I've got to leap and secular democracy is the lifeboat I leap to. Somebody else may think, "If I have to choose between my religion and country," I choose religion. We're beseeching people in Iraq not to do that. But what about at home? It's all right to have an allegiance to a religion, but is your allegiance to democracy and a secular state more important than your allegiance to your religion? If the answer is no, then I don't want you in office. I think that's a pretty reasonable test.

Dennett is a good writer. I am finding the book quite engaging so far. The topic was also handled well by Richard Dawkins in Unweaving the Rainbow.


2/12/2006 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger driftwood said...

Ok, cool.

Yes, I think Dawkins writes well too.

2/12/2006 08:46:00 PM  
Blogger graefix said...

I should clarify my last comment. There is some overlap between Unweaving the Rainbow and Breaking the Spell, but Rainbow is broader in scope. Spell is an argument for the scientific investigation of religion, whereas Rainbow is a defense of scientific inquiry in general. Both emphatically make the point that scientific understanding in no way diminishes the beauty of the natural - or the human - world. Religion may prove an exception. Dennett argues that investigating religion may be critically important, but we don't know because people are afraid to talk about it.

(I'm beginning to think I have hijacked this thread. Enough from me.)

2/13/2006 04:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Cat said...

best site

12/11/2006 05:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Lindsay Lohan said...

best site

12/11/2006 05:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Lingeries said...

best site

12/11/2006 05:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Cruise said...

best site

12/11/2006 05:39:00 PM  
Anonymous discount pharmacy said...

Generic Xanax Alprazolam drug without prescription is used to treat anxiety disorders and panic attacks. Alprazolam is in a class of medications called benzodiazepines. It works by decreasing abnormal excitement in the brain.

Generic Valium Diazepam drug is used to relieve anxiety, muscle spasms, and seizures and to control agitation caused by alcohol withdrawal. Valium brand medication.

Generic Ativan Lorazepam is used to treat anxiety. This drug may also be used for seizures, alcohol withdrawal, prevention of nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy, tension headache, and for sleeping trouble (insomnia).

Klonopin Clonazepam drug is used to control seizures. It is also used to relieve anxiety. Klonipin brand medicine is a benzodiazepine used to treat seizures and panic disorder.

Generic Prozac FLUOXETINE drug is a Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) that helps patients with depression by increasing the availability of serotonin in the brain. Scientists believe serotonin affects many types of activity in the brain, including the regulation of mood.

Generic Zoloft SERTRALINE drug is a selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) used to treat depression, panic disorder, obsessive - compulsive disorders (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD, and a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder - PMDD).

Generic Paxil Paroxetine drug is a newer class of antidepressant medication known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs).

5/01/2008 01:51:00 PM  
Blogger hima said...

This is an Excellent and fantastic blog – Why because It conveys only facts. I have gone through all the posts. I don't know why the blog master doesn’t update this regularly. Blog need daily updation. Hope that blog master will look to this soon.
I have some own blogs in this subject – on Rheumatoid Arthritis- I shall link this blog from them.
Regarding complete cure of Rheumatoid Arthritis I was simply wondering why we can’t find some thing useful in this direction. Since Rheumatoid Arthritis and its treatment is an important issue or information we need more specific information on this subject. I have found a nice informative guide on Rheumatoid Arthritis from following URL
This website will tell you guide How to Cure Rheumatoid Arthritis by Holistic Treatment – Only useful treatment for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Hope for the best

6/09/2008 09:48:00 AM  
Blogger D'r kepler said...

Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog
Viagra Blog

1/19/2010 11:21:00 PM  
Anonymous como invertir en la bolsa said...

Interesting information about Dennett on religion This theme serves to educate people in their daily life, thanks to people like you we have more knowledge about this important issue.

2/20/2010 08:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

15.4 laptop sleeve

6/03/2010 05:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Buy Generic Cialis said...

Thanks for comments mobile blog.

6/04/2010 03:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Tılsım said...

Thanks for comments mobile blog.

6/26/2010 10:53:00 AM  
Anonymous bacterial vaginosis cure said...

I'm impressed at the way you have covered the facts without missing any of the key points

8/07/2010 07:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The book is divided into three parts. Part I discusses the motivation and justification for the entire project: Can science study religion? Should science study religion? After answering in the affirmative, Part II proceeds to use the tools of evolutionary biology and Promotional Items memetics to suggest possible theories regarding the origin of religion and subsequent evolution of modern religions from ancient folk beliefs. Part III analyzes religion and its effects in today's world: Does religion make us moral? Is religion what gives meaning to life? What should we teach the children? Dennett bases much of his analysis on empirical evidence, though he often points out that much more research in this field is needed.

8/14/2010 11:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the great blog! By the way, if you are looking for cheap certified online ED pharmacy this information could be important for you:
Millions of men take benefits from Viagra. Read more about Viagra online. Viagra works effectively in amiable, moderate or undecorated Erectile Dysfunction.
Viagra improves erections for most men no matter how long they have had erectile dysfunction. Viagra online pharmacy. Brand and generic medications are available!
Generic Viagra is a need based pill. It should be taken only when you plan to indulge in sexual activity. Taken Viagra approximately 30 minutes before your plan sexual activity it will work on stimulation for around 4 hours. Order Generic pharmacy online from a certified generic drug pharmacy. Lowest prices on both generic and brand medications. Big discounts, fast and free worldwide shipping!

8/18/2010 09:02:00 PM  
Blogger lucas.lucasdylan said...

I've only read a little Dawkins and while he had something to say, he's devolved himself into something just as bad as a televangelist.
iPhone accessories

9/02/2010 10:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Nebraska Family and General Practice said...

It also sounds like a slightly more cynical twist on Cassirer's Language and Myth, with his "momentary gods." I assume Cassirer had read Hume, of course.

10/06/2010 11:51:00 AM  
Anonymous toronto limousine companies said...

You can go through toll road from Sukarno Hatta to Halim by taxi. It is about Rp 150.000,- by regular taxi. The traffic is not too heavy before 3 pm in workday. Many flights from Halim to Bandung and it is safe enough especially when the weather is good like nowadays.
toronto limousine companies

10/27/2010 06:33:00 AM  
Blogger FeNaaa said...

The latter, Web 2.0, is not defined as a static architecture. Web 2.0 can be generally characterized as a common set of architecture and design patterns, which can be implemented in multiple contexts. bu sitede en saglam pornolar izlenir.The list of common patterns includes the Mashup, Collaboration-Participation, Software as a Service (SaaS), Semantic Tagging (folksonomy), and Rich User Experience (also known as Rich Internet Application) patterns among others. These are augmented with themes for software architects such as trusting your users and harnessing collective intelligence. Most Web 2.0 architecture patterns rely on Service Oriented Architecture in order to function

11/03/2010 01:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Invertir en oro said...

I think it's important that we all know a little about this subject so interesting, I think it's part of human culture tell us about such things.
Invertir en petroleo

4/14/2011 05:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Viagra Online said...

It's great post..thank you for sharing..

11/07/2011 03:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Mens Health said...

I like the way your write articles.Very organized and straight to the point.Your blog is very informative.

1/21/2012 05:23:00 AM  
Anonymous price per head service said...

Great information, you have a wonderful blog and an excellent article!!

4/11/2012 08:35:00 PM  
Blogger losi gongi said...

Associated with rising falls and fractures just sunshine alone coming and going every year does the same as the post those so there should be some concern about the rises and falls in vitamin D not just the absolute vitamin D levels.


And I think what the Institute of Medicine is doing is ignoring that so even just the basic pharmacology if you invented a new drug what's the interval that you're supposed to give that.

1/10/2015 12:35:00 PM  
Blogger Rachel Stwerad said...

Without the shabby and overpowering stench of numerous economically accessible air freshener items, reed diffusers have turned into an inexorably prominent approach to tenderly aroma and refresh indoor air. Assignment help | Assignment Expert

12/10/2016 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger Rachel Stwerad said...

I am very happy to read this. This is the kind of manual that needs to be given and not the random misinformation that’s at the other blogs. Appreciate your sharing this best posting. Assignment help | Buy Assignment help | Marketing Assignment Help | Law Assignment help |

12/19/2016 07:51:00 AM  
Blogger Faisal Roofing said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12/22/2016 10:15:00 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

This was such a nice blog! Tadafill Jelly

1/09/2017 06:22:00 AM  
Blogger kartik gupta said...

I am very happy to read this. This is the kind of manual that needs to be given and not the random misinformation that’s at the other blogs. Appreciate your sharing this best posting. Marketing Assignment Help

3/02/2017 07:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Buy Forzest Online said...

Thanks for the information on this blog! I find it very interesting

3/15/2017 07:11:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Criss said...

Very Informative post you gave to us, really helpful I would like to share something really helpful for education Economics Assignment Writer Malaysia

3/23/2017 09:42:00 AM  
Anonymous buy cheap generic cialis online said...

Interesting information about Dennett on religion This theme serves to educate people in their daily life, thanks to people like you we have more knowledge about this important issue

3/24/2017 07:23:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Criss said...

Very Informative post you gave to us, really helpful I would like to share something really helpful for education. Homework Writer

4/14/2017 11:10:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Criss said...

Very Informative post you gave to us, really helpful I would like to share something really helpful for education. Best Assignment Helper

4/27/2017 12:09:00 PM  
Anonymous generic viagra online said...

nice information.

6/07/2017 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger Saç Ekimi said...

Esteworldtr saç ekimi estetik ve kozmetik cerrahi sağlıklı yaşam diyet spor egzersiz blogu.

6/10/2017 10:44:00 AM  
Anonymous DBMS Assignment Help said...

I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well Assignment help| Need Assignment help

6/22/2017 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger talha said...

I am very happy to read this. This is the kind of manual that needs to be given and not the random misinformation that’s at the other blogs. Appreciate your sharing this best posting. candid photographers | Freelance jobs | freelance web designer |

10/17/2017 11:13:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home