Crystals, the Goddess or Kim Jong-il

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«You have a particular definition of god which i think is not normative.»
—rabiz

Richard Dawkins, a fundamentalist atheist and author, has a new book out called The God Delusion. It looks at religion as a social phenomenon and makes some predictions and admonishments about our attachment to what is patently irrational. Sadly, Dawkins was in town a few weeks ago and I missed him. I would have enjoyed going to his reading.

While this book is not on the top of my current reading list, even though I’m a fan of Dawkins’ work, I do enjoy reading the reviews of it. It’s the lazy way to feel smart!

From one such review on Uncertain Principles comes this bit of insight:

«The modern versions of the “ontological argument” for God may be awfully intricate, but they’re not really any worse than the loopholes in experimental tests of Bell’s theorem (in fact, divine intervention is probably about as credible an explanation of the results as some of the proposed loopholes). Ridiculous and complicated as they may seem, those are the arguments that need to be addressed, in the same way that a new Bell’s theorem experiment would need to deal with the faintly absurd loopholes that remain in the existing experiments.»

It’s a sad, sick world in which we, as a culture, still need to debunk a priori arguments (i.e. the pure-reason logic constructs referred to as “ontological arguments” made by Olde Timey authors like Decartes).
Why do I have to waste my time explaning why the crap in your head is irrelvant to the mechanical nature of the universe?
Just because you can’t “imagine a being greater than which no greater can be conceived” only proves your cognative limitations and suggests limitations on all human thinking. And if you accept the limits of human cognative ability, you might find a priori arguments as a class of persuasion even less cogent.

Like Vegas, what happens in your head, stays in your head.

Looking at some of the “classical onotological arguments” for God, I shudder at the utter remoteness of them. They explain nothing. They predict nothing. The do not expand our understanding of life, the universe and everything. They move civilization forward not one jot. Cavemen learning to beat each other about the head with giant sloth bones was, as an achievement for the species, more productive.

Interestingly, one of the comments on that review points to a more philosophical rebuke of Dawkins:

«Again, not to harp on the point, but Dawkins’ citations suggest that if children aren’t indoctrinated into their parents’ religion they will amost certainly accept some other superstition. In this case Dawkins seems to be assuming a naive sense of free well, as well as a tabula rasa conception of human nature. Among atheists there is an old joke that all children are born godless, but eventually indoctrinated into believing in gods. But science is science, and the works that Dawkins references in the first half of his book produce a great deal of evidence that children are ‘natural theists.’ So a child is not turned into a Christian or Muslim from the state of non-theism, but rather inculcated in a specific set of beliefs slotted on top of their innate religious sensibilities.»

What’s fascinating to me (and points to my own general dullness), is the idea of studying religion as a natural and social property of humans. Stripped of its emotional baggage, religion is an enormously important social activity that merits full scientific investigation. The mythology of religion, of course, does not.

I’ll have to pick up Breaking the Spell one of these days.