Re: Ch. 9 - Toward a Buyer's Guide to Religions
Nine. Towards a Buyer's Guide to Religion
1. For the love of God
On p. 256, Dennett asks "Has our evolved capacity for romantic love been exploited by religious memes? It would be a Good Trick." And that's it. He doesn't explore the question any further. He doesn't even give any indiction as to how research along those lines would proceed. Is such a proposal even testable
? Another Good Trick, from the viewpoint of Dennett's argument, would be to raise doubt by making suggestions like these and leaving them tantalizingly unanswered -- in fact, it's a Good Trick that he accuses religion of using.
2. The academic smoke screen
Dennett claims to be heading off objections that external analysis is inherently destructive. Even if you grant that objection, his arguments here are susceptible to the objection that bias has determined the course of his inquiry. Legitimate inquiry from an external point of view should strive for neutrality. "Breaking the Spell" hasn't shown much in the way of neutrality (cf. last chapter).
Dennett states on p. 264: "One of my goals in this book is to make it easier for subsequent researchers to enter these forbidden zones and find friendly natives with whom to collaborate, without having to hack their way through a jungle of hostile defenders." Is that goal reconcilable with the dismissal of theism on ch. eight, the criticisms logged throughout the book, and the inevitable conclusion? The tone of the whole book makes this goal read something like, "Your most intimately held beliefs are false, we're here to gathr evidence to that end, and we hope that you'll welcome and aide us in that cause!" It seems that Dennett wants to smooth the way to understand religion enough to discredit it, and I think that's at root in his objection to the Bergsonian understanding proposed by Mircea Eliade and his compatriots.
Incidentally, he has misrepresented Eliade's points. Eliade spent the vast bulk of his career trying to make it possible for people to understand traditions of which they weren't a part. It's unfair to a ridiculous degree to accuse him of being part of an academic smoke screen.
3. Why does it matter what you believe?
Dennett's analogy of belief in God to belief in the iron and nickel core of the earth misses the point. The chemical make up of the planet is consequential, but it is one factor among many material factors, and depending on what issue is foremost in your mind, it may have only peripheral significance at any given time. But if the whole of material existence is related, in whatever fashion, to the existence of an ontologically distinct being, then the nature of that being is of ultimate
consequence -- that is, that being bears some consideration on every material fact as well. The analogy, therefore, is misleading. Further, that God is in any way concerned about the material universe is one possibility; even if that's not the case, the relationship of the universe to an uncaring God would still be of consequence for the sheer fact that the character of the "font of being" or "prime mover" would have a formative influence of every part
of the universe, thereby setting the singular and total condition in which we live. In that light, it should be clear why belief in God should matter to those who do believe.
Why is that "only a person could be literally disappointed in you..." etc.? Is that by definition (if so, it's begging the question -- who set that definition)? Or is it a testament of experience -- and if so, how can we be sure that experience is exhaustive?
A very important reference to note here is Dennett's reliance on the groundwork laid by William James. It is apparantly the textual basis for Dennett's focus on "effectiveness" and "morality" as the only arguments for religion worth considering. It is presumably also his basis for excluding all other potential arguments.