Thursday, August 21, 2008
Out and About the Intertubes
There has been a recent spate of interesting articles on religion that fall in between the extremes of "it's the source of all good" and "it sucks."
Looking Up Down Under
High on my list is John Wilkins' discussion at Evolving Thoughts why the retreat made by many believers into claims that science and religion are just competing "worldviews" risks making the privative fallacy or the Weltanschauung mistake.
John also has more food for thought in "Agriculture and the rise of religion," where he contends that that "religion proper arose along with the settlement in sedentary townships made possible by agriculture," as a means to "mark out those who one can expect aid from, because they have demonstrated the 'costly signaling' religion requires ... from those who are more likely to cheat," a skill made necessary by the shift away from a society based on close kinship.
Larry Arnhart of Darwinian Conservatism also has a pair of good ones. In "Ross, Lincoln, and the Biblical Morality of Slavery, " Professor Arnhart responds to claims that the debate over slavery illustrates the failure of any natural morality that is supposed to be valid even in the absence of religion. Supposedly, natural morality:
... fails to explain the abolition of slavery, because it fails to see that human beings would never have recognized the immorality of slavery through their natural experience if they had not been taught that slavery was contrary to God's law.
Against this, my [Arnhart's] critics appeal to what they take to be the moral universalism of biblical religion. But this appeal to biblical morality is always vague. They never explain exactly how the Bible specifies our moral norms. And in the case of slavery, they just assume without argument that the Bible is clearly opposed to slavery, and so they never respond at all to those like Ross who support their pro-slavery position with meticulous biblical exegesis.
... he never explains why we should attribute any moral authority to this intelligent designer. In fact, [Michael] Behe worries about the apparent immorality of the intelligent designer in deliberately designing living mechanisms--like malaria, for example--to kill millions of innocent people. But then Behe decides that we cannot know "whether the designer of life was a dope, a demon, or a deity," and after all, "from the bare conclusion of design, I see no necessary major implications for our daily lives."
Finally, there is an interview with Francisco Ayala at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Bulletin:
The United States was largely founded by people who were being persecuted for religious reasons. I think love for religion predisposes citizens in this country toward the perception of a conflict with science. On top of that, the idea is pervasive that science tends to be materialistic. ...
Materialism is a philosophical position, affirming that nothing exists beyond "matter," that which we can experience with our senses. I would say that science is methodologically materialist: it can deal only with the world of matter. But it is not philosophically materialist; it does not imply that nothing can exist beyond what we experience with our senses, as religion requires. One can accept scientific principles and also hold religious beliefs.
But, many people are ignorant of science and just assume it is contrary to their religion. Of course, the proponents of intelligent design and creationism are also spreading a lot of propaganda. The only way to deal with the problem is education and specifically science education, which is unfortunately lacking, by and large, and not only in this country.