Saturday, December 19, 2009

50 blogs on disbelief - Evolution

50 Blogs on Disbelief
My thoughts on the book, 50 Voices of Disbelief, Why We Are Athiests, edited by Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk. Written as I read them in no particular order. The page number of the essay is provided at the top of each entry.
P 97 Taner Edis An Ambivalent Nonbelief

This one starts off almost reluctant to discuss the subject. He was never been a believer and never will be. Then he admits he can’t leave well enough alone. He spends a little time listing the common arguments, not so much to argue them but to admit weaknesses on both sides. He develops a scientific discussion about religion, eventually discussing finer details of its evolution. Other essays have only touched on this so I was pleased to read one that took it full on. This one essay makes the book worth buying.

Instead of attempting to takes sides in arguments that reasonable people have already agreed cannot be settled, he describes where we are with those arguments. I hope that future books on the topic of belief begin at this point. For example, he asks, how do we settle the question of evil? He asks:

“How do we score the Torquemadas on one side and the Stalins on the other? By body count? If atheists can disown Stalinism as a quasi-religious aberration, what about Christians who insist that Catholic authoritarianism betrays Christian love? Every significant political tradition has blood on its hands, including secularism with which I identify.”

Taner follows with a reasoned discussion of science that does pit it against religion. He does say that supernatural claims “give ground” to science, but also says “naturalism is a work in progress”. This can be forgotten in common discourse. It can be annoying to have someone claim the Bible is inerrant, but does the nonbeliever do something similar when they do not allow naturalism to be questioned?

He continues with not only how we got where we are, but how we might move forward from here. In the early days of modern science, it was thought that science would eventually show how nature is God’s creation. Many people still hang on to this notion today. To study ourselves within nature, we need to get some distance from intuitions. As Edis notes intuitive physics, as observed by Newton for example, fails once you start to explore the mechanisms. He compares this to intuitive psychology and suggests we spend more time investigating brain mechanisms. He states, “We do not have a complete and compelling science of religion yet.”

He also notes that his own explorations into supernatural beliefs indicate they are deeply rooted in normal human cognition, and does not expect them to fade away. As he puts it:

“My reading of the science and secular philosophy concerning morality leads me to moral pluralism. In complex societies , we should expect multiple stable, self-reproducing ways of life. These ways of life will support different moral outlooks. They will promote different satisfactions, and participants in these ways of life will most often endorse them upon reflection. Not every possible way of life is viable in this moral ecology, but neither can we achieve any universal morality independent of our particular interests and agreements.”

Taner Edis contributed to the recently published textbook, “The Evolution of Religion: Studies, Theories and Techniques”. Recent generations have grown up with “God is Dead”, the Monkey Trial and LSD. It will be interesting to see what comes from the next generation that grew up with George W Bush and a fundamentalist resurgence, and at the same time, a deeper understanding of the mechanisms behind it.


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