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Ch. 11 - Now What Do We Do? 
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Post Ch. 11 - Now What Do We Do?
Ch. 11 - Now What Do We Do?


You may use this thread to discuss the chapter or you can create your own threads however you see fit. These chapter threads are simply a helpful structure for those that appreciate such things. ::80




Tue Jun 27, 2006 12:40 am
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Post Re: Ch. 11 - Now What Do We Do?
Eleven. Now what do we do?
Okay, here's a big point that needs to be considered carefully: That Dennett's "description of various features of religion" is "just a theory" (p. 309) is not in itself problematic. The problems are: 1) it isn't really testable, thus failing his own criteria, and 2) that it doesn't necessarily point to strong reasons for adopting one policy or another. And I think this shows up in later sections of this chapter. The crucial question to ask is, what is the relationship between the policies Dennett suggests, and the account that they are presumably derived from? It seems to me that there isn't much of a relationship, and that most of the policies are determined in reference to the observations that Dennett took as axiomatic in the first couple of chapters.

Another very big point. P. 312: "I anticipate that one of the challenges will come from those in academia who are unmoved by my discussion of the 'academic smoke screen' in chapter 9, and who firmly believe that the only researchers qualified to do research are those who enter into an exploration of religion with a 'proper respect' for the sacred...." On the whole, it looks as though Dennett would like to count consideration of the sacred out of research conducted on religion. That certainly would have the effect of making it more amenable to scientific method, but it might also undermine any attempt to really address religious claims. If one of the claims, explicit or implicit, of religion is the validity or presence of the sacred, science must either find a way to compass the sacred or admit its inability to broach those claims as testable material for experimentation. Dennett is right that the efficacy of intercessory prayer as a consistent mechanism ought to be testable, but how would researchers address the claim that prayer brings the believer in proximity to the sacred? Or, another example, how would science test the claim that a particular ritual imbues a mundane object -- say, a boat, a piece of bread, a neophyte -- with sacred character? I doubt it could be done without stretching the bounds of scientific method or the definition of "sacred". The sacred is a conception central to every religious tradition I've ever encountered -- it may well be the defining feature of religion -- and the majority of justifications for religion are likely to center around some relationship to the sacred.

In effect, asking religion to provide for scrutiny only elements that fit scientific criteria is to demand that it be something other than what it is, then to fault it when it fails. It's a bit like asking someone to assess the morality of a given action, but without recourse to notions of good and evil, right and wrong. How is anything moral without reference to one of those features? By that token, is anything really religious unless it takes some position in reference to the sacred. Dennett's position on this matter may indicate implicit bias, and any research based on that foundation is likely to perpetuate that bias unless some means of mediating between the two standpoints can be found. I'm not saying it's impossible, but Dennett's book provides us no groundwork for doing so.

There's good material in the last chapter, but it all leads in to incredibly sketchy territory. For instance, Dennett's suggestion that the social and biological sciences could be used to help mediate religious experience among those who "can't 'metabolize' them the way other people can" (p.318) seems, on the face of it, like a very humane position, particularly if it helps curb misguided religious violence. And when he talks of "rescuing" (p. 325) natives, adult and child alike, from their ignorance, there is some tendency to think that they need, at least, to be informed of what they're shunning. But I'm not sure that Dennett sheds any light on what the appropriate moral stance ought to be. His suggestions here lead towards a kind of social engineering -- even social Darwinism -- that ought to be evaluated very carefully before anyone jumps on board. His discussion of intervening in the parental indoctrination of children, for instance, seems like a fairly straight-forward extension of the sort of consideration that allows for intervention in any case of neglect or abuse. What it ignores, however, is that it essentially advocates the substitution of one form of indoctrination for another. What Dennett apparantly objects to is not the idea that children should have certain ideas imposed on them, but that those ideas should differ so broadly from what he perceives to be the appropriate social standard. The question of how we much access we allow to person's with certain psychological preconditions is far trickier territory than he really acknowledges in this chapter. What that implies is limiting their possibilities as a person -- not only barring them from violence, but also potentially barring them from happiness. It certainly sets curbs on their liberty. Whether or not restricting religious belief sits well with Dennett's avowed committment to democracy is something worth considering.

The point that Dennett wants to press is that of "informed choice". But in doing so, he also limits choice. On page 339, he writes, "in the end, my central policy recommendation is that we gently, firmly educate the people of the world...." It seems clear that he means we do so regardless of whether or not they would choose that education. The idea he's forwarding here, it seems, is that no one should have the right to choose ignorance, and by doing so, he's setting the terms of choice. I think we can affirm that informed choice is prefereable to uninformed choice, without making that preference a matter of policy.

A final note on this chapter, Dennett writes on p. 339 that "Such open discussions are underwritten by the security of a free society, and if they are to continue unmolested, we must be vigilent in protecting the institutions and principles of democracy from subversion." This is the closest he comes in the book to admitting that his purpose is to pit one ideology against another, not to examine religion from the neutral viewpoint of science. It's not so clear whether or not Dennett takes religion to be ultimately subversive to those institutions and principles he holds sacred, but that's certainly a possible interpretation. I think you can see this ideological leaning at work earlier in the same section, when he consideres (and denies) the hypothetical claims of Mohawk "holy soil". His denial is explicit, but his criteria for judging the claim are less clear. And it's particularly interested that his hypothetical situation has the Mohawks claiming Liberty Island. Are their claims "nonsense" for some scientifically demonstrable reason, or is because their claims come into conflict with the personal significance the Statue of Liberty holds for Dennett?




Thu Aug 31, 2006 3:04 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 11 - Now What Do We Do?
Now what do we do?

p.139 - "So here is the only prescription I will make categorically and without reservation: Do more research."

Over and over again he admits things like:

"My theory sketch may well be false in many regards..."

"my proto-theory is not yet established and may prove to be wrong, it shouldn't be used yet to guide our policies."


In this chapter, and throughout most of the book, he readily admits that this book he wrote is not a precise science. Those two quotes and many others tell me that he doesn't intend, nor does he want, for policies to be adopted based on his "proto-theories" or on this book alone. This book is just getting fuel in the tank and revving it up for a test drive.


Mad: "2) that it doesn't necessarily point to strong reasons for adopting one policy or another."

Not yet. Not for any particular policy just yet. But he does make the case that some kind of policy should be adopted.

In the first paragraph of this chapter, he refers to the movement thats been attacking the teaching of the theory of evolution. Some have succeeded in putting "stickers in some of their biology textbooks saying 'Evolution is a theory, not a fact," That movement alone is a strong enough reason to get more research done and start getting some policies adopted for religion to be taught in schools. I think thats one of Dennett's primary goals -- to get religion taught in schools.



Mad: Another very big point. P. 312: "I anticipate that one of the challenges will come from those in academia who are unmoved by my discussion of the 'academic smoke screen' in chapter 9, and who firmly believe that the only researchers qualified to do research are those who enter into an exploration of religion with a 'proper respect' for the sacred...." On the whole, it looks as though Dennett would like to count consideration of the sacred out of research conducted on religion.

"Sacred" looks like a word that could take up a whole chapter or subchapter in a school textbook by itself. If people use "sacredness" as a smokescreen or protective shield to keep their religion off limits from scientific research, then that in itself needs to be studied and hypothesized and theorized: How many religions today are like that? When did they become that way? What were the first religions to do this? Does every member of that religion behave that way?


And just because something is sacred doesn't mean that to study it would destroy it. I bet some of us, including Dennett, probably hold this nation's founding documents somewhat sacred. Yet, those founding documents can be studied. The meaning behind the words can be studied. The Founders' thoughts and feelings before, during and after can be studied. The historical context from wince the documents came, "Why did the Founders even come up with these documents?" -- All these things can be studied, without destroying the "sacredness" of the documents. What I think it does is give us a better understanding about why it is that we hold those documents sacred.

The same goes for religion. Every religion that has ever existed had a beginning. Some of those beginnings can probably be established -- let's put that in a school text book. If the founders' motives can be established, put it in the text book. Is that religion a schism or break off from a previous religion? -- in the book. I think these studies will give us spell breaking inoculations as well as give us more rational, better reasons for holding certain aspects of a religion sacred.

Mad: "That certainly would have the effect of making it more amenable to scientific method, but it might also undermine any attempt to really address religious claims. If one of the claims, explicit or implicit, of religion is the validity or presence of the sacred, science must either find a way to compass the sacred or admit its inability to broach those claims as testable material for experimentation."

I think most of these claims are testable, one way or another. Some "sacredness" might just boil down to an irrational emotional attachment. Those emotional attachments are probably held by adults more than children. If children are better educated about religion, then they can make a better informed choice about what they wish to hold sacred themselves. If they eventually hold a particular religion sacred (or some aspect of it) then they at least have a better chance of understanding that that religion had a beginning, and has evolved -- and is still evolving (and he or she can take part in how it evolves).




Fri Sep 01, 2006 5:08 pm


Post Re: Ch. 11 - Now What Do We Do?
Mad: "The point that Dennett wants to press is that of "informed choice". But in doing so, he also limits choice. On page 339, he writes, "in the end, my central policy recommendation is that we gently, firmly educate the people of the world...." It seems clear that he means we do so regardless of whether or not they would choose that education. "

If this really is problematic, then it's a problem that already exists, isn't it? Are parents free to choose not to send their children to school? Are kids free to choose whether to learn mathematics?

If we're talking adults, what forum would they be forced to be educated about religion? If it's on the Science Channel, they can just change the channel.


Mad: "The idea he's forwarding here, it seems, is that no one should have the right to choose ignorance, and by doing so, he's setting the terms of choice. I think we can affirm that informed choice is preferable to uninformed choice, without making that preference a matter of policy."

Having policies in place is the only way to get anything done. Without certain public school policies, a larger number of the American population would be illiterate and probably wouldn't know how to count. What little education the poorest among us get is due to policy.




Fri Sep 01, 2006 7:49 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 11 - Now What Do We Do?
Me: 2) that it doesn't necessarily point to strong reasons for adopting one policy or another.
GDR: Not yet. Not for any particular policy just yet. But he does make the case that some kind of policy should be adopted.

Part of my point -- and this is an idea that Dennett, as a philosopher, really ought to be familiar with -- is that science itself provides no basis of values for determining policy. Knowing such-and-such a thing about neuroscience, for example, does nothing to elaborate a policy for dealing with the rights of autistic patients. Policy is always determined in reference to a set of values, and those values are determined by other aspects of culture.

That leads to a problem, because the values of religious believers are determined in large part by their religion. That's one major function of religion. And because of that, I think Dennett is underestimating the potential for using science as a way of reconciling policy between secular and religious thinkers. This chapter reveals the basis for a lot of the values that Dennett calls into play: secular democracy. If he really wants to mediate, it would have been more effective to argue for a set of values that are shared -- or ought to be -- between secular democracy and mainstream religious traditions. Science may help as a tool for making policy in reference to those values more precise, but science itself does not produce policy.

I think thats one of Dennett's primary goals -- to get religion taught in schools.

A pretty important question, though, and one that is a stumbling block for all attempts to get religion taught in schools, is that of how they should be taught.

If people use "sacredness" as a smokescreen or protective shield to keep their religion off limits from scientific research, then that in itself needs to be studied and hypothesized and theorized: How many religions today are like that? When did they become that way? What were the first religions to do this? Does every member of that religion behave that way?

I don't think the concept of the sacred is a smokescreen -- I think it's at the root of all religious traditions. Without some sense of the sacred, I'm not sure you're dealing with a religion.

I think most of these claims are testable, one way or another.

How do you test the claim that a particular animal is sacred? Unless you can quantify sacrality and measure it in the field, I don't think science can even touch the subject of the sacred.

Re: "firmly educating"
If this really is problematic, then it's a problem that already exists, isn't it?

Absolutely, but it has some justification in terms of the requirements placed on any citizen in a society. Compulsory education says, these are the baseline requirements for serving as a full member of our society. But by including certain forms of religious education in that curriculum, Dennett runs the risk of saying that citizenship requires a particular attitude towards religion and certain religious traditions. That's patently dangerous stuff.

Having policies in place is the only way to get anything done.

And that's why people draft policy. But in a case like this, I'm not sure that we really want to "get things done" at the expense of giving people their own choice in the matter, even if the choice seems, to us, a poor one.

Gotta run. More later.




Tue Sep 05, 2006 3:35 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 11 - Now What Do We Do?
Dennett: "I anticipate that one of the challenges will come from those in academia who are unmoved by my discussion of the 'academic smoke screen' in chapter 9, and who firmly believe that the only researchers qualified to do research are those who enter into an exploration of religion with a 'proper respect' for the sacred...."

I wonder if proper respect might involve a willingness to actually experiment within the religious universes he politely assaults from the outside looking in? Maybe this would involve joining a prayer circle...participating in worship services...joining the choir...shadow a hospital chaplain...undergo spiritual direction and learn multiple prayer, meditation and contemplative practices...work with the social justice ministry of a faith community in finding ways to combat poverty, homelessness, ecological devastation...all of these activities for an extended period of time, repeatedly, for an entire liturgical calendar year?

Wouldn't these activities embody an essential element of the scientific method: actual experimentation?

Mad: But by including certain forms of religious education in that curriculum, Dennett runs the risk of saying that citizenship requires a particular attitude towards religion and certain religious traditions. That's patently dangerous stuff.

Not including certain forms of religious education in a curriculum is already a particular attitude towards religion and religious traditions. With a world awash in religion, keeping religion out of education, is no way to learn about the world.

Perhaps education would be far more effective (knowing full well that this criteria is hopelessly value laden, but still inescapable) if students were asked: what is sacred about learning math, studying science, creating art, exploring ecosystems; what is holy about knowledge, creativity, intelligence, or wisdom? And these questions woven throughout every class, all projects, each examination, etc...creating a much different attitude toward school and education.




Tue Sep 05, 2006 11:48 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 11 - Now What Do We Do?
Dissident Heart: Wouldn't these activities embody an essential element of the scientific method: actual experimentation?

That may qualify as personal experimentation, but I doubt it would meet the standards of scientific experimentation. Where are the controls? What's being measured, and how? What are the hypotheses that could be verified or rejected on the basis of participation? A scientist testing the effects of a vitamin supplement need not swallow it to produce scientific results, nor need a scientist studying the effects of radiation bombard himself.

Not including certain forms of religious education in a curriculum is already a particular attitude towards religion and religious traditions.

That's true. And one of the possible attitudes that it may represent is that attitude that secular public education is neither justified nor fit to present religion in an unbiased fashion.

I'm not against offering classes on religion in public schools. I think, if handled well, it could result in a general benefit to society. But I doubt the intentions of those who argue for its conclusions, and I suspect that their intentions may lead to significantly less than the possible benefits.




Wed Sep 06, 2006 12:15 am
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Post Secular and Sacred
GDR: What I think it does is give us a better understanding about why it is that we hold those documents sacred. The same goes for religion....I think these studies will give us spell breaking inoculations as well as give us more rational, better reasons for holding certain aspects of a religion sacred.

I think exploring the origins of a subject is important, even if highly subjective...especially if those origins stretch back over millenia, utilizing languages, symbols, etc. that we must transpose into very foreign settings. In the very least it keeps us honest about our projections. But, I think religion is far more than understanding the past (knowing precisely how something occured way back when). It is also a matter of living fully here and now. There is plenty of demand for knowing bits of information and having particular beliefs...and there is tremendous impact in experiencing a wide range of activities: engaging rituals, ceremonies, practices, and activism. These are not simply ideas, but are lived experiences that shape attitudes and relationships. There is also an element involving the future, rooted more in hope and expectation than in historical certainty or present experience.

In essence, I don't see how "understanding religion" could neglect these elements; it must incorporate the tension, interaction, and interdependency of past, present and future.

Mad: That may qualify as personal experimentation, but I doubt it would meet the standards of scientific experimentation. Where are the controls? What's being measured, and how? What are the hypotheses that could be verified or rejected on the basis of participation?

No doubt all of these questions would require answering in relation to the specific dimensions under examination. I think the important element involves a willingness on the part of the examiner to enter into the subject matter as though seeing it from the inside: to participate as if it really mattered...to practice prayer and worship alongside and in journey with the faith community in question. I am demanding the scientist go native and actually risk being transformed in the process. Not simply gaining more information, but undergo a spiritual transformation.

MA: A scientist testing the effects of a vitamin supplement need not swallow it to produce scientific results, nor need a scientist studying the effects of radiation bombard himself.

No, probably not, but some living being, somewhere, would be forced to experience these substances in visceral intimacy so the safe and secure Scientist could verify his theories. Some level of incarnation is required, bringing the logos to flesh, sacrificing some innocent lifeform along the way......

MA: one of the possible attitudes that it may represent is that attitude that secular public education is neither justified nor fit to present religion in an unbiased fashion.

I agree, and extend this to say we can't escape bias in the classroom. If secular public education can't avoid bias regarding religion, then I think we should show similar concern about history, civics, economics, literature....and even science and math: all of which find interconnecting threads with religious ideas, history, practice, morality, art, diet, law, etc...Hell, how classrooms are structured to guide behavior, evaluate performance, develop relationships, reinforce dominant values, regulate heterodoxy...the ethos of the school is, again, profoundly value laden, thus selective and biased.

MA: I'm not against offering classes on religion in public schools. I think, if handled well, it could result in a general benefit to society.

I agree. What "handled well" means is entirely the issue. I think it is something that should be covered in all the subject areas (back to my questions "What is sacred about math....") and explicit in the strucutring of the school ethos as well. I think it should be intentional and transparent and subject to constant discussion, debate and revision where deeed necessary. I also think it requires a willingness to encourage students, teachers, adminstrators, parents and community to "go native" and experiment with various rituals, ceremonies, practices, etc.

MA: But I doubt the intentions of those who argue for its conclusions, and I suspect that their intentions may lead to significantly less than the possible benefits.

Are you willing to extend this doubtful intentions in both directions: those who demand only secular, and those who see room for spirit?






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Post Re: Secular and Sacred
DH: Are you willing to extend this doubtful intentions in both directions: those who demand only secular, and those who see room for spirit?

Absolutely; nearly every side has some sort of agenda, and I don't see a readily available way to mediate between those agendas. There are those who want religion taught in schools as a way to indoctrinate religion, those who want to teach in order to indoctrinate against, those who don't want it taught so as to keep it at arms length, and those who don't want it taught because they feel damn sure that it will be taught from a perspective contrary to their own. Dennett glosses over these conflicts of interest as though it were obvious that there were one right and proper way to educate about religion. I suspect that, from his perspective, there is, and that's something that needs to be addressed when considering his proposal.




Wed Sep 06, 2006 12:45 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 11 - Now What Do We Do?
Mad: "A pretty important question, though, and one that is a stumbling block for all attempts to get religion taught in schools, is that of how they should be taught."

What are your suggestions?


"How do you test the claim that a particular animal is sacred? Unless you can quantify sacrality and measure it in the field, I don't think science can even touch the subject of the sacred."


We have all kinds of sacred testing devices now. For a cow, for instance, there's a sacredness measuring rod that you stick into a cow's ass. If it's shit doesn't stink, you got your self a sacred cow. Other methods include checking the weight and firmness of it's udders.


"Compulsory education says..."

Who decides what compulsory education has to say?


"But by including certain forms of religious education in that curriculum, Dennett runs the risk of saying that citizenship requires a particular attitude towards religion and certain religious traditions. That's patently dangerous stuff."

What are the risks of no education of History at all?




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Post Re: Ch. 11 - Now What Do We Do?
Me: A pretty important question, though, and one that is a stumbling block for all attempts to get religion taught in schools, is that of how they should be taught.
GDR: What are your suggestions?

What policy you craft depends a great deal on what your purpose is in attempting to get something pushed into the curriculum. Dennett, for example, wants to provide some basis for evaluating religion -- that, at least, is the basic claim he's making here. So from that point of view, an education curriculum would present religion as a set of claims to be considered and tested, and that approach would yield certain methods and determine what sort of information about religion would be presented. Presumably, a lot of it would be the sort of statistical information that Dennett has presented in the book, along with, perhaps, some conjectural origins of religion, although I think that would be harder to pass through review.

And if Dennett's broader purpose is to make people wary of religion, then you can bet that anyone who shared that purpose and was involved in crafting the curriculum would, whether deliberately or subconsciously, tailor the information presented in classrooms towards that end.

So the first step in evaluating suggestions of this sort is to evaluate the avowed intentions behind putting it in the curriculum at all.

Personally, I think that legitimate theology and any sort of study geared towards sorting out belief should be reserved for voluntary education -- college and grad work, and maybe a few extra-curricular classes at the high school level. Probably nothing of that sort before then, as it smacks too much of indoctrination. And classes of that sort should never be required in public schools.

That said, I do think that there's a legitimate rationale for including some education about religion in the compulsory education. We live in a pluralistic society, a society that is, to some degree, participatory, and those two facts make it important that we understand one another to some degree. If it can be granted that religion plays a large part in some people's lives, that it plays some part in their decision making process, and that a person's religion is one of the factors that should be taken into consideration when crafting policy that will effect them -- if all those things can be granted, then it should follow that knowing something about religion will help us in dealing justly and fairly with religious believers in our own society. That, I think, is the best argument for including some religious education in the curriculum.

And if that's your rationale for the inclusion, then you should have an eye towards shaping the curriculum along those lines. What I would suggest are classes that present the tenants of the major religious traditions, specifically with the intention of providing a platform for understanding the beliefs of denominations and sects related to those traditions. That presentation would be geared towards conduct rather than belief -- understanding what is expected of people in those traditions, how their beliefs shape their conduct and their view of the world, rather than exhorting anyone in the classroom to believe. Some religious history would have to be included as well, and probably some general theory of religion, but only as a supplement to educating the student about the role that religion plays in shaping our interactions with other people.

We have all kinds of sacred testing devices now. For a cow, for instance, there's a sacredness measuring rod that you stick into a cow's ass. If it's shit doesn't stink, you got your self a sacred cow.

Funny, but my point stands. Scientific method works mostly because it puts certain limits on itself. Most of what is important in religion falls outside those limits.

Who decides what compulsory education has to say?

In America, it's handled mostly on the level of the school district. School boards and local communities have fought hard to keep the federal and state government from interfering too much in determining what the curriculum of local schools will be. This is counter-balanced by school accreditation systems, which in turn functions as a kind of survival of the fittest. Unaccredited schools can graduate students, but most higher education institutions won't accept applicants from unaccredited schools. If getting a diploma a particular high school isn't likely to allow your kid into college, a great many parents will put their kid in a school whose diploma will. The schools that don't get accreditation tend to dry up and die for lack of students. So there are two forces that help shape curriculum, but the local school district is the more direct force, and accreditation checks tend to be periodic and more glacial in pace. My high school underwent an accreditation check my junior year. The accreditation board gave them 5 years to make some changes, and another 10 to make additional changes. So even if their curriculum weren't entirely up to snuff, they still had 10 years left of accreditation, in which time they could more or less teach the curriculum they wanted.

What are the risks of no education of History at all?

Depends on the person, I'd say. Most of your garden variety plumbers probably haven't benefitted that much from 10th grade History classes.




Thu Sep 07, 2006 1:36 pm
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Post Re: Experimenting and Engaging
MA: All of that is fine on the individual level, or even at the level of small intra-classroom groups, but I think it's entirely impractical to think that those considerations can play more than a nominal part at the level of policy and regional administration.

I agree the model is impractical, if you simply want to reproduce current educational structures. If you are working for a change of direction in theory and policy, I think the participatory model is well worth consideration. I think engaging whole-school conversations around these questions (the shaping of school ethos) will impact policy making in the short run, ie. organized voices in unison influencing policy makers and administration. In the long run, as the children who are raised in these participatory models grow up and take leadership roles in their communities. Frankly, I think there is a great deal that is profoundly impractical about the status quo public school system...so I think any suggestion requires an ingredient of substantial change.

MA: Saying that public education should take an active role in determining the meaning disseminated to the student sounds a great deal like arguing that we should be striving to indoctrinate them to something, even if we suspend the decision as to what that something should be.

Leaving questions of meaning out of the equation is taking an active role: actively silencing concerns of meaning and purpose. I think the stronger indoctrination occurs when students are told "Don't ask why you're learning this, to what end, or for what purpose and value...don't bother with what meaning it has for your life or the world around you." I think the inquisitive spark of existential concern is paramount to keeping students, and teachers, interested in the sacrifice of time and effort that school requires. I also think if students are not actively engaging these concerns, they will be consuming the answers deemed appropriate by the dominant cultural/economic forces of the day...answers that may or may not be in the students' or society's best interest.

MA:Compulsory education should make sure, first and foremost, that students can read, write and perform basic math skills, since that's what is necessary to function in society (although some people are clever enough to get by without one or more of those skills); for its own good, society should also make sure that its students know what is expected of them as citizens.

What should they read, and what kinds of questions should they ask of their authors, and what kinds of concerns should the authors raise for their lives, and what issues should they write about, and to whom should they write...our answers to these questions are drenched with values and meaning and purpose. What kind of Citizen are they expected to be: simply reinforce the status quo desires of the dominant classes; dissident activists challenging structures of domination....for what good and what kind of society? We do our youth no favor by denying them the skills and opportunities to explore these questions. Again, I think these kinds of questions inspire minds to think and challenge and critique...all worthy goals for any educational process.

MA: To say that a scientist should participate in religious phenomenon is to say that he should cease, for whatever duration, to operate from scientific method. Which is fine, so far as the suggestion goes, but it has almost nothing to do with Dennett's argument or my reply to it.

In some cases yes, but not all. And I don't know how a scientist could determine in advance, apriori, that all religious experiments must be illegitimate. And, the fact that both you and Dennett leave out the simple challenge (i.e., actually attempting the activity in question) portrays a striking deficiency. Your claim that science cannot address religion and his that science must, both leave out the eminently practical issue: have you tried it yet?

MA: I'd say that scientific method leaves no room for that sort of experience as an epistemological method. The chosen tools of scientific method simply cannot operate on that sort of holistic experience.

I'd say that some scientists will interpret the scientific method that way, others won't. I suggest the latter are far more attuned to the spirit of experiment and wonder that make science worthy of its sacrifices. I think a great deal of its strength lies in its willingness to attempt and explore, to see for oneself if a claim is worthy of the adjective "true".

MA: And yet you keep making the suggestion, as though the only alternative were to keep plugging away at the dance until the metaphysical naturalists let their guard down. Why not try something new?

No, another alternative would be to actually pursue the suggestion and see for oneself if engaging these practices confirm or deny the claims of those who adhere to them...or to admit that one knows nothing about what they are from the inside, as one who actually employs them- which is to admit how little one knows about the phenomena. It's like saying "Let's try to understand music, but you cannot pick up an instrument and play it, or hum a tune, or do anything that actually requires performing music...we can only look at from a distance and describe how others do it."

MA: Would you say that those traditions leave much purchase for scientific method?

As far as these traditions recognize a demand members seek to know and understand Creation: to utilize all facets of intelligence and will to explore the depths and reaches of all that God has made (and I think these traditions can be shown to do just that)...then I think they are great fuel for the scientific effort.

MA: Even if the Judeo-Christian tradition allows for a this-wordly experience of the divine, is that experience measurable and quantifiable? That, after all, is the reason I brought up the topic of the sacred.

Quote:
Luke 20-22: When the men came to Jesus, they said, "John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?' " At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard : The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.








Tue Sep 12, 2006 8:57 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 11 - Now What Do We Do?
GOD defiles Reason: It's hard to tell if that's a yes or a no.

Sorry about that. A lot of times, yes or no just doesn't cut it.

I don't think Dennett gives an explicit answer on this one. What he seems to be saying is that any suggestion that the sacred element in religion (and every religion that I know of claims a sacred element -- it's a defining feature, it seems)... ahem, that any suggestion that the sacred element in religion must be respected by researchers is nothing but a smoke screen "designed" -- either intentionally or memetically -- to shield religion from scrutiny. That, at least, is how I understood it.

The important question, though, is what that assumption entails for actual research. In other words, if we accept Dennett's premise on this count, how does it effect the conduct of research which Dennett is so vigorously advocating? What do people who espouse this perspective actually do when they're studying a religion?

One way to look at it is this: some religions have sacred sites, to which only confirmed adherents are admitted. Mecca, for example, is Muslim's only -- so much so that Spike Lee had to hire and all Muslim crew to film segments of "Malcolm X" there. Dennett's "smoke screen" view might serve as justification for stepping over that taboo, but I think the results of that would be disastrous.

Another way to look at it -- and this is more to the point of what I was saying earlier: if Dennett dismisses "the sacred" as a way of diverting attention, then he's bound to dismiss it altogether. If, as I've suggested, the concept of the sacred is fundamental to religion, then by excluding it from consideration Dennett would be limiting his research to only what is peripheral to religion. It would be like demanding that we research HIV, but that we restrict ourselves to the symptoms and not do any research on the virus itself.

I sometimes wonder if you aren't using smoke screens yourself -- not only in your responses to me, but in your criticisms of Dennett.

Not me. The memes in my head, maybe, but not me.

I know you could just as easily switch over and argue my points far better than I could.

I could tell you what I thought the strong points of your perspective were, but I'm really not the sort of person that can effectively argue something I don't believe.

You know goddamn well that there's a whole hell of a lot more to religion and religious beliefs today than love.

That isn't what I meant to imply. What I'm saying is that every religion, every religion, is organized around something it thinks is sacred or divine. In this particular example it was love, but it could just as well be justice, or transcendence, or just a particular conception of God. For Kierkegaard, love was the cornerstone of Christianity, and even if it doesn't hold true for all Christians, Kierkegaard was sincere enough that I don't really doubt that, in his mind, love was the one big organizing feature of the Christian God, Christianity as a practice, and the whole damn universe when you came down to it. And the priests of Solomonic Israel probably thought the whole of existence hinged on divine justice. For all I know, the Pythagoreans might have truly believed that this particular mathematical proportion really was divine, the key to all existence, and a transcendent basis for morality. What is sacred to any given religion varies according to the context and content of the religion, so don't be mislead by the example I gave -- the point is that every religion has something that is sacred. And the question that still remains to be answered is, what is a researcher adhering to scientific method to do with that central, fundamental claim?

Since my last example caused some problems, let's take a new on. The Pythagoreans gave us a lot of ideas that have been very useful in secular mathematics, but the historical fact is that Pythagoreanism was a religious cult. And one of the claims they made was that the Golden Mean, as it was called, was sacred. Now the mean is just a proportion, one that turns up a lot in nature, and it's useful as an example because a mathematical formula is susceptible to testing: that's how you end up with a mathematical proof. So you can, perhaps, test the claim that the Golden Mean shows up so much in nature because it has certain features which make it structurally stable, but how do you test the claim that it's sacred? There's nothing to measure, nothing to quantify, no substance which can be acted upon.

Dennett supposes that this is an evolved feature which protects religious claims from skepticism. I'd say that a modified form of that is correct -- ie. that religions which have had the misfortune to take as their sacred object something which can be tested and disproved are more likely to lose the gamble when they submit to the desire to prove the truth of their religion. But I don't think that's why all religions form around some conception of the sacred or divine. But I digress.

Sacred -- what the hell does "sacred" mean anyway? It's not really anything that exists outside the human mind, is it?

Neither are love, morality, consciousness, music or creativity, for that matter, but we don't take their cultural basis as sufficient reason to jettison any of those.

They have sentimental value. They're almost sacred -- to me.

Okay, that's a good place to draw a dinstinction. By analogy, we often take sacred to mean something like "very valuable". Dennett gives a few examples of things he takes to be sacred, but it isn't clear if he means sacred in the same way that Judaism takes the Ark of the Covenant to be sacred, or simply very valuable. If we're talking about the sacred thing at the center of your religion, then we're talking about something which your view of the entire world hinges upon. The litmus test may well be imagining what it would mean to you if the sacred thing were destroyed or proven to be illusory. Would the world seem to unravel around you if your grandmother's paintings were destroyed in a fire? I don't mean to diminish the importance of something with real sentimental value. You'd be upset; it might even throw you into depression -- I'd feel much the same if certain objects of sentimental value were destroyed. But it wouldn't have quite the same effect -- not the same kind of effect -- as having something as central as the basis of a deeply felt religion destroyed.

When I read about or imagine what it must have done to the Israelites and Judeans to have the Temple destroyed, the thought is genuinely appalling. Not because I condone or share their belief, but because I have some inkling of what it means to have the whole world supported by a particular pivot, and to have that pivot rattled to its core. To put it into perspective, imagine what it would do to you if, in one fell swoop, someone managed to undermine your belief in your own reason. Imagine that you were forced to second guess every action you had taken because you could no longer be certain that it was as moral as you once believed, that the meaning of events in your past and your hope for events in the future were all called into question, that the significance of your relationships could all be plausibly dismissed.

Not everything categorized as sacred has that kind of importance, but just about every religion offers one thing or concept which, for true believers, is the hinge upon which the whole world swings.

I think it can be shown that it's not the objects that are "sacred," but rather it's the human mind mentally placing some sort of emotional attachment to those objects.

Give me a method, something compatible with scientific method. My claim here is that scientific method explicitly restricts itself from dealing with the sort of claim embodied by sacrality, but I'm open to suggestions as to how it could test that claim.

So what's the science that I'm talking about here? Psychology? Can it be combined with cognitive science or neurobiology? How do those sciences fit into evolutionary biology?

All of the mind sciences can look at the phenomenon of thought functionally -- this is what happens in the body before, during and after thought; this are potential interruptions to those process; these are ways of simulating, maybe even provoking those processes -- but it looks to me as though they are methodologically incapable of dealing with meaning or with ultimate questions of the correspondence between reality and conception. What I mean by that is, cognitice sciences can show what goes wrong when the mind makes an obvious mistake in cognizing something perceived: the researcher holds up a pencil and the patient calls it a lighter. But that's applicable only when the researcher herself can accurately identify the thing being cognized. So a researcher can only say that a patient has misidentified a sacred object if the researcher has already verified whether the object is or is not sacred.

It's even plausible that the congitive sciences could demonstrate how the idea of holiness is cognized in the first place, but that would demonstrate absolutely nothing about its correspondence to reality. We are, after all, capable of conceiving of infinity and nothing without ever actually being able to directly perceive either.




Tue Sep 12, 2006 10:17 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 11 - Now What Do We Do?
MadArchitect: Sorry about that. A lot of times, yes or no just doesn't cut it.

I didn't think you'd like to be tied down to a definitive yes or no, anyway. If the answer's 'yes,' (that Dennett is suggesting that sacred objects are to be tested somehow) then we'd have to break out the Sacredness Measuring Rod -- turn your head and say "mooooooo." If the answer is 'no,' then the study turns to the way the human mind has evolved, and what sacredness means to us, to religious people, and how the idea came about in the first place.

On the other hand, if you're completely wrong in your interpretation of Dennett's meanings behind his words, then it's Uranus that may need to be probed.


I don't think Dennett gives an explicit answer on this one.

If that's the case, then it's not Dennett who is suggesting what you say he's suggesting. It's you suggesting what he's suggesting. At least, that's what I'm suggesting.

What he seems to be saying is that any suggestion that the sacred element in religion (and every religion that I know of claims a sacred element -- it's a defining feature, it seems)... ahem, that any suggestion that the sacred element in religion must be respected by researchers is nothing but a smoke screen "designed" -- either intentionally or memetically -- to shield religion from scrutiny.

What's your opinion about that in general? Do you think anyone at all would ever use the sacred element of their religion to guard against critical questioning?

Like, have you ever heard the "God is beyond/above logic" meme? I know I've seen that on tv. I'm pretty sure I've seen it on the internet. And sure enough, my mother repeated it to me as well. What do you think is the purpose of that? Isn't that like a smoke screen? A protective shield?

These may not be the same as using the sacred as a smoke screen, but I've got another situation that shows what at least one local church does to protect itself from criticism. My mother recently told me about an outside preacher coming to her church. Her message was about deceit. They read about deceit in the bible, and she tied that message to "members coming to the congregation for reasons other than what they come here for." My mother used words like "troublemakers" "sent by Satan" and something about a "gifted tongue."

What do you think the purpose of that preacher's message was?


Not me. The memes in my head, maybe, but not me.

You are what you meme.


Neither are love, morality, consciousness, music or creativity, for that matter, but we don't take their cultural basis as sufficient reason to jettison any of those.

Jettison? Like to do away with? Dennett doesn't want to do away with religion -- nor do I.


Would the world seem to unravel around you if your grandmother's paintings were destroyed in a fire?

Well, I was going to mention that, although it might be a bit irrational, that if I thought I could save anything from a fire, I'd probably save them before I tried saving anything of real monetary value....

When I read about or imagine what it must have done to the Israelites and Judeans to have the Temple destroyed, the thought is genuinely appalling. Not because I condone or share their belief, but because I have some inkling of what it means to have the whole world supported by a particular pivot, and to have that pivot rattled to its core.

...But yes. I do understand that distinction. And I recognize that it's an important one. I wonder if the Shiites feel the same way about their Samara Mosque being attacked. But I think there are scientific explanations for why humans have those feelings about objects or ideas. So to me, it's not about scientific inquiries about the objects as it is about the human mind, and how we evolved to behave that way. And I'd like to see better explanations of how human culture coevolved with biological evolution.


Not everything categorized as sacred has that kind of importance, but just about every religion offers one thing or concept which, for true believers, is the hinge upon which the whole world swings.

Well, we certainly don't want any of these true believers to become unhinged. Both pun and sincerity intended.

If people weren't already indoctrinated in their religion, then there wouldn't be anything to become unhinged about if our society decided to teach our chitlins what religion is and how it has evolved.




Sat Sep 16, 2006 1:56 am
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Post Re: Ch. 11 - Now What Do We Do?
God:

Just want to say I appreciate your last response. Very well done!! Except the part about not wanting religion to go away...I do hope one day people will let that go and focus on the here and now and not place false hope in pretend.

Mad:

Quote:
that any suggestion that the sacred element in religion must be respected by researchers is nothing but a smoke screen "designed" -- either intentionally or memetically -- to shield religion from scrutiny.


Exactly! And I feel that it is true whether people realize they are doing it or not. The 'sacred' is almost always used when I approach people about why they believe, and when I offer arguments against what they offer. They do not offer anything but "It is god's will" or "we cannot hope to understand god's ways", "the bible says so right [here]..." or other nonsense. Sometimes, when I luckily come up with a good comeback, these excuses are preceeded by blank, hopeless stares as they realize that the smoke screen has failed to activate as quickly as they would have liked.

Mr. P.

Mr. P's place. I warned you!!!

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

The pain in hell has two sides. The kind you can touch with your hand; the kind you can feel in your heart...Scorsese's "Mean Streets"

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Sun Sep 17, 2006 10:03 am
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