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Justin M. Stoddard


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Some Quick Thoughts
January 18, 2007 — 7:23 pm

Our good friend Tim Virkkala has posted a blog entry about Eric and I over at his site. There is much to think about there and I want to take some time to process it all. I emailed him to let him know I would post some kind of reply this weekend.

For now, I just wanted to post a few quick replies to some comments my friend Brian McCall made in response to one of my earlier posts. I hope you’ll forgive my brevity. I have a bit of studying to do tonight and there are miles to go before the night is through.

Brian posted the following:

I disagree with their view on religion. I don’t think it is useless. After all, religiosity is a trait that evolved in humans, so it must have conferred, and perhaps is still conferring (note the relationship between birthrates of a society and the prevalence of religion in that society) some kind of advantage. So on that point at least I don’t put much value in Dawkins’ et al hostility toward religion. I think a more thoughtful understanding of our world would incorporate this nearly universal human need into the overall picture, rather than treat it as some kind of aberration, a virulent foreign element in need of eradication, as Dawkins does.

The idea that “religiosity is a trait that evolved in humans” is something Steven Pinker does a pretty good job of arguing against. I can’t really add anything to his hypothesis except to reiterate that any evolutionary processes we may have should be scientifically testable. We know, for example, that we have a very real evolutionary fear of snakes. We have this fear because our very ancient ancestors lived in an area rich with snakes. They learned that for the most part, snakes were very deadly. So, those who feared snakes were most likely to survive in such an environment.

Pinker continues:

Perhaps there really is a personal, attentive, invisible, miracle-producing, reward-giving, retributive deity, and we have a God module in order to commune with him. As a scientist, I like to interpret claims as testable hypotheses, and this certainly is one. It predicts, for example, that miracles should be observable, that success in life should be proportional to virtue, and that suffering should be proportional to sin. I don’t know anyone who has done the necessary studies, but I would say there is good reason to believe that these hypotheses have not been confirmed. There’s a Yiddish expression: “If God lived on earth, people would break his windows.”

Sam Harris has postulated that rape and slavery also have evolutionary advantages. However, no civilized society will even remotely tolerate these practices today.

I think the point being made is this; we are more than the sum of our evolutionary parts. Because of an ever changing (evolving) moral zeitgeist, we find it harder to believe the old superstitions, to grasp onto the old injustices. Evolution has brought us to the point where we can face our animalistic behavior right in the face and change it, if we so desire.

More from Brian:

But as far as religion retarding the advance of science, you should consider that nearly all the greatest scientists were devout believers, and saw their scientific inquiry as an homage to God’s creation. Their faith did not hinder them, it actually motivated them.

Since science (as we know it) is such a young institution (450 years old), this is hardly surprising. For at least the first 200 of those years, it could be rather unhealthy for anyone to contradict accepted church doctrine. And remember, Galileo actually had to recant his idea of heliocentrism. That seems like a bit of a hindrance to me.

It’s also interesting to note that 93% of scientists belonging to the National Academy of Scientists are either atheist or agnostic.

— Justin M. StoddardComments (0)

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