Listing entries tagged with readings

Times on Itch for Meaning

posted on 02.02.2006 at 8:13 PM

The New York Times editiorial page is not known for discussions of the validity or usefulness of religion. But how about this line from an editorial this morning:

"This is human nature at work. There is nothing we love better than finding order where we suspect it may not exist and deciphering meaning where meaning may not be intended."

Not a bad explanation for why so many believe an intelligence lurks behind the universe. However, it appeared in an editorial on the effort to find a pattern in Academy Award nominations.

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 8:13 PM | Comments (1)

Whence Religion

posted on 02.01.2006 at 8:52 PM

A few quotes from Weston La Barre's The Ghost Dance: Origins of Religion (first recommended to me in a comment on this blog):

** "Religious behavior appears to be unique to man among all the animals."

** "Religious behavior is present in all known human societies, past and present."

** "The basis of all religion in both North and South America [and by extension, La Barre believes, everywhere else] is the shaman or medicine-man."

And La Barre believes that these shaman -- in the role of "master of animals" -- actually predate gods. Which may complicate the which-came-first-belief-or-disbelief question slightly.

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 8:52 PM | Comments (0)

Why Gods?

posted on 01.29.2006 at 12:12 PM

Old question. And, of course, just asking it is a step in the direction of disbelief. The sophist Prodicus, for example, believed gods were a way of explaining natural phenomena. That's different than saying gods do explain natural phenomena.

Discussions of why we have gods can get, I've found, a bit testy. Beliefs in the causes of religions occasionally seem to be held with the intensity of beliefs in religions: "No, that's not it! It is to deal with death!"

The philosopher Daniel Dennett has a new book out on this subject. Here's the first explanation for religion he gives, in a New York Times Magazine interview:

"We have a built-in, very potent hair-trigger tendency to find agency in things that are not agents, like snow falling off the roof."

That, after reading a book by Scott Atran, is the first explanation I would give. But the point, I guess, is that there is more than one reason why so much of humankind is convinced of the existence of never-quite-seen supernatural entities.

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 12:12 PM | Comments (1)

Religion Is Like Sex?

posted on 01.24.2006 at 2:45 PM

And what do you make of this surprising analogy from Bunting on Dawkins?

"Dawkins seems to want to magic [Bunting does have a way with verbs] religion away. It's a silly delusion comparable to one of another great atheist humanist thinker, JS Mill. He wanted to magic away another inescapable part of human experience - sex; using not dissimilar arguments to Dawkins's, he pointed out the violence and suffering caused by sexual desire, and dreamt of a day when all human beings would no longer be infantilized by the need for sexual gratification, and an alternative way would be found to reproduce the human species. As true of Mill as it is of Dawkins: dream on."

I feel bad for sad John Stuart, but aren't there rather obvious reasons why his task would be more daunting than that of Dawkins? And isn't it odd for a theist to try to score points by accusing an atheist of being anti-sex? And aren't there differences in the epistemological claims made by sex and those made by religion (which, last I checked, pretended to be something more than the pleasurable satisfaction of an itch)?

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 2:45 PM | Comments (1)

An Indifferent Cosmos

posted on 01.23.2006 at 6:38 PM

More from Madeleine Bunting's assault on Richard Dawkins:

"Science has to concede that despite its huge advances it still cannot answer questions about the nature of the universe - such as whether we are freak chances of evolution in an indifferent cosmos."

Is this really such a tough question?

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 6:38 PM | Comments (6)

God Creation

posted on 01.11.2006 at 1:44 AM

More from Nietzsche (not to worry, I'm almost done with the book): "...They have failed to create a God! Almost two millennia and not a single new God!"

What's up with that?

Is it true? How about Islam? What about those folks out in Utah? Are we to take their gods for old gods? What about San Francisco in the summer of '67?

OK, I quoted a little out of context; I think Nietzsche's talking just about northern Europeans. (And you get a bit uncomforable when Germans talk just about northern Europeans.) But hasn't god creation -- overall, worldwide - in fact slowed?

Why? Because we've already received the One True Revelation? (We just can't agree on which one.) Because printing presses tend to freeze things? Because the global culture tends to snuff out new cults before they can get their dieties together? Because we have new terms for people who claim they were talking to a god? Because we're finally -- recurring theme of this blog -- outgrowing this sort of thing?

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 1:44 AM | Comments (4)

Karmic Konnections

posted on 01.10.2006 at 1:03 AM

Odd how you can be reading something (The Anti-Christ, in this case) that seems to have nothing to do with where you are (India) and then suddenly (inevitably?) things seem to come together. (Nietzsche starts going on about Buddhism.)

Two possible explanations:

1. fate, karma, a caring (unabolished) god.

2. In human culture -- even in seemingly diverse human cultures -- things sometimes turn out to be connected, and human minds are primed to pick up such connections.

posted by Mitchell Stephens at 1:03 AM | Comments (2)