Re: Ch. 7 - The Invention of Team Spirit
GOD defiles Reason: I don't think anything Dennett says in this book closes off any other possible angle for looking at religion.
It may close them off to him, and anyone who follows in his assumptions. That's one of the inherent consequences of choosing a line of reasoning -- adhering to it means ignoring other possibilities. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but in this particular instance, I think he's chosen the wrong set of assumptions.Whether his channels are ultimately productive or not is going to depend on what you and Dennett consider productive.
Productive of what, is the question. Dennett is a little vague on this point. The intent, he says, is to craft policy in regards to religion. And it seems clear to me that the policy he wants is policy that will limit the role religion plays in a civil democracy. In that sense, he's already decided the general policy, and he's calling on science as a way to defend that policy, only he wants to do so diplomatically enough that some
religious believers -- in particular, those who consider themselves moderate and rational -- will take the cue he provides.
That's how the book seems to me. It's a rhetorical structure, not the open-ended scientific consideration he presents it as. That rhetorical structure is what determines his choice of what findings to highlight and how to present them. And I think that shows very clearly, particularly in the last chapter. All you have to ask to see that is the same question Dennett asks throughout: cui bono?
Does he provide any argument for why ev.psych. is the best -- or even an adequate proxy -- tool for examining science? Does he provide an explanation for why an understanding of the origin of now defunct religions should determine our policy towards living religions? It's reasonable to assume that Dennett is sharp enough a thinker to have a reason for following the course he did. Figure out the why.But I don't think this book was meant to be structurally sound or scientifically precise.
Then what's the point? The first third of the book argues for the necessity of more scientific study of religion. If that isn't what Dennett is offering in the second third, then why does he cover the subjects he covers.I think there's a purpose to what you're calling conjecture.
Oh, I think there's a purpose to it, too. And I think that purpose is hostile, or at least ambivalent, towards something that a great many people hold dear.
Look, I know that a lot of people who know something of my background are going to think that I'm seeing anti-religionists under every bed. I really am open to the suggestion Dennett makes -- there's nothing necessarily wrong with using science to learn more about religion as a phenomenon. But I don't think Dennett's intention is as disinterested as he presents it. His mixed attitude towards his audience is part of the reason I think he has the spread of atheism in mind; the limitations he places on dialogue is another; that he went through the trouble of dispensing with theological arguments is yet another.
At the very least, I think it's safe to say that he's having a hard time keeping his suggestion and his feeling that all rational people ought to be freethinking atheists at arms length. At worst, he's purposely concealing a more fundamental ideological agenda in the hopes of confusing the issues. I'd say that truth is probably a far less sinister gray area between the two. Either way, mixed motives make for a problematic book.Those would be the theories where the eventual policies should be derived.
Again, any theory that serves as the basis for policy of the sort that Dennett is proposing cannot be purely scientific. Policy has to have some foundation in ideology.
Quick example. You can go through tons and tons of scientific research, fund further research, test and re-test the validity of those findings. But none of that will help you craft policy on the permissability of animal testing until you've established some ideological underpinning on why inflicting pain is wrong. Science alone cannot take you to that point.
So the first question has to be, what principles are we going to refer to when crafting policy about religion. And I think it only begins to become clear in the last chapter which ideals Dennett would pick. Even then, the question is left fairly vague -- mostly because Dennett himself hasn't asked him. That's a curious thing for someone who claims to be writing as a philosopher.