Home » Intelligent Design » Birth of religion? My latest Deprogram column at Salvo Magazine

Birth of religion? My latest Deprogram column at Salvo Magazine

On the supposed evolutionary origin of religion:

Did you know that: Religion is good for you; also, Religion is bad for you; also, Religion makes no difference; also, Religion can be explained by a God gene, or a meme, or part of the brain . . . or whatever the editor of your local paper’s “Relationships” section will buy for this weekend’s edition?

You didn’t know any of those things? Aw, no surprise. But never fear: One outreach of the new atheist movement, currently making its way around the lecture rooms of the nation, is the academic attempt to account for religious belief, and to do so on any basis whatsoever, except one.

We will get to that forbidden one in a moment. First, let’s look at the permitted ones.

[ ... ]

Okay, so what is missing from this picture?

First, common sense: Suppose I told you that flossing your teeth (1) helped; (2) didn’t help; (3) made no difference; (4) can be explained by . . . (choose an option). What would you reasonably conclude about the state of the evidence?

Go here for the rest.

Denyse O’Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.

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10 Responses to Birth of religion? My latest Deprogram column at Salvo Magazine

  1. Denyse, that’s a good point and very well sums up the problem with Darwinian evolution. Every answer is acceptable as long as it is naturalistic, and it seems almost arbitrary which option is selected for the best, especially since the “best” is constantly changing, often to completely contradictory options. Nothing is ever nailed down except the continual response of “we may not know what the answer is, but we know what it’s not.” A priori assumptions of this sort are rather annoying, especially when the matter so easily dismissed is the very thing upon which the science being done relies. There’s nothing like watching a person saw off the branch upon which they stand, all the while applauding their own intelligence for doing so.

  2. If naturalistic science is so incompetent at explaining the world, what would you replace it with that would do better? Scriptural interpretation? Divine revelation? Prayer?

  3. Imagine there is some action (A) which depends on some proposition (P) to function. Now imagine someone taking A to try and disprove P. That wouldn’t make any sense. In the process of using A to disprove P the person doing so has destroyed their own foundation. As I said, they’ve cut off the branch upon which they sit.

    That’s the problem with naturalistic science, by which I mean science which assumes that the natural world is all there is. It depends upon a lot of things that cannot work within its worldview to function. It claims that only that which science can prove is truly knowable, yet the things it depends upon to work cannot be proven by science. As JP Moreland wrote in Scaling the Secular City, “…science is just not a discipline that is isolated from other fields of knowledge in such a way that it fits into a neat compartment.

    My problem is not with science – my problem is with a version of science that acts like it is all there is as far as knowledge is concerned – like it fits into a neat compartment all by itself where nothing else affects it. That simply isn’t true. And that is my problem with supposedly scientific explanations of religion such as O’Leary is talking about. As she points out, they ignore, purposefully, the most obvious solution all because they are using a faulty foundation.

  4. Seversky at 2,

    I deny that, in their present state, naturalistic explanations of religion should even qualify as science.

    All they are is the imaginations and speculations of naturalism. Not even wrong, but certainly useless.

    As in:

    Suppose I told you that flossing your teeth (1) helped; (2) didn’t help; (3) made no difference; (4) can be explained by . . . (choose an option). What would you reasonably conclude about the state of the evidence?

  5. Leslie @3,

    That’s the problem with naturalistic science, by which I mean science which assumes that the natural world is all there is.

    That is precisely that type of science you would to explain the natural world we live.

    If there were a world we occupied that was external to this natural one we find ourselves in, then I agree you might need a different science to explain it.

    It makes no sense however, to do a door to door search in Paris, France, for a child who went missing ten minutes ago in Las Vegas, Nevada.

    There is a scope to science, and that scope is this natural world we are in.

  6. Toronto @5,

    That should be,

    “That is precisely the type of science you would want to explain the natural world we live in.”

    My typing is devolving! :)

  7. You would need natural sciences to explain parts of the natural world, yes. The problem is that naturalistic science assumes every single thing we experience can only have naturalistic explanations. But what if there are things that we experience that do not have such an explanation? For example, morality, religion, logic, consciousness, design, etc. Then, if science is trying to find naturalistic explanations, what will happen? It will, by the nature of it, come to the wrong answers about these things, and will be looking in all the wrong places for the answers on top of that.

    That kind of thinking leads just to what Denyse is saying here – vain imaginations and speculations. Not proof, not real arguments, just assertions. And even when there is supposed proof, it tends to be ad hoc – because the alternative is simply unacceptable. That’s not really science in my mind – it’s just being determined to prove your own presuppositions.

  8. Leslie @7,

    You would need natural sciences to explain parts of the natural world, yes.

    I think then that we should define which parts we are trying to explain and with what means.

    I don’t think that anyone on the ID side would argue with me that a thermometer would be a more apt instrument to measure temperature with than a speedometer.

    This means we should find the most effective means possible for discovering answers to our questions, understanding that they all have a unique and limited scope.

    Science should use natural tools to explain the natural world, as so far, they have served us well.

  9. O’Leary @ 4

    I deny that, in their present state, naturalistic explanations of religion should even qualify as science.

    All they are is the imaginations and speculations of naturalism. Not even wrong, but certainly useless.

    That depends on what you mean by “explanation”. Naturalistic science can offer functional accounts of how religions have survived because they are very effective at binding people and societies together and provide great comfort and support in times of crisis. It has nothing to say about theology except where a faith makes claims about the natural world which fall within its domain.

  10. Leslie @ 6

    You would need natural sciences to explain parts of the natural world, yes. The problem is that naturalistic science assumes every single thing we experience can only have naturalistic explanations. But what if there are things that we experience that do not have such an explanation? For example, morality, religion, logic, consciousness, design, etc. Then, if science is trying to find naturalistic explanations, what will happen? It will, by the nature of it, come to the wrong answers about these things, and will be looking in all the wrong places for the answers on top of that.

    As I read it, we are still, talking slightly as cross-purposes on what is meant by “natural”.

    By my definition, any observable effect in our Universe is part of the natural order and is a fit subject for science to investigate. If consciousness, for example, is found to be inexplicable solely on the basis of the physical brain, if it is found that there is some external factor which is partly responsible, then that external factor, whatever it is, is something observable and possibly measurable and certainly something that science can study and try to understand. If something is observable in any way, shape or form, however indirectly, then it can be investigated and we can construct at least tentative explanations for it.

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