The two debaters in this program are Daniel Dennett, famous philosopher from Tufts University (and one of the main advocates of the “new atheism”) and David Cook, professor of philosophy at Wheaton College. Of some seven or eight times that we did discussions on the atheism/religion conflict, this one was most frequently requested for rebroadcast.

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There are 13 comments.

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  1. J Climacus Member

    I think you mean Daniel Dennett.

    • #1
    • February 23, 2016, at 6:40 AM PST
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  2. GrannyDude Member

    J Climacus:I think you mean Daniel Dennett.

    Why can we not keep these people straight? On another thread, I quoted Dennett but attributed the sentiment to Richard Dawkins… I think it’s because they’re all white guys with Ph.Ds and whitebread names. They need diversity. Maybe they could recruit some Angelicas, LaShondas and Kwan-Lees to the New Atheism?

    • #2
    • February 23, 2016, at 6:54 AM PST
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  3. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Editor

    J Climacus:I think you mean Daniel Dennett.

    Fixed it! Thank you.

    • #3
    • February 23, 2016, at 7:01 AM PST
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  4. J Climacus Member

    About halfway in and I’m already disappointed with Prof. Cook. He asks a great question of Dennett. My paraphrase – “If all our thinking is conditioned by evolution – that is, is conditioned by survival rather than truth – why should your evolutionary explanations be preferable to religious explanations?”

    Dennett proceeds to answer this by giving an evolutionary explanation – which of course begs the question, since the question is why evolutionary explanations are preferable in the first place. Cook should have stopped him right at the start and pointed this out, instead he let him get away with it. But it’s really the entire game.

    The point of the evolutionary explanation of religion isn’t really to explain it, but to undermine religion as a rational enterprise. You don’t believe in God because you are rationally convinced of his existence, but merely because you are a product/victim of evolution, while my atheistic thought somehow escapes being a mere tool of the evolutionary process, transcending it to embrace truth itself. It’s a neat sleight of hand and Dennett shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.

    • #4
    • February 23, 2016, at 7:29 AM PST
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  5. GrannyDude Member

    J Climacus:

    The point of the evolutionary explanation of religion isn’t really to explain it, but to undermine religion as a rational enterprise. You don’t believe in God because you are rationally convinced of his existence, but merely because you are a product/victim of evolution, while my atheistic thought somehow escapes being a mere tool of the evolutionary process, transcending it to embrace truth itself. It’s a neat sleight of hand and Dennett shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.

    Exactly!

    • #5
    • February 23, 2016, at 7:40 AM PST
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  6. GrannyDude Member

    Moreover: Your religious views and institutions are really about controlling the masses, while the atheist can transcend her Selfish Genes and conjure pure, disinterested, universal altruism…

    • #6
    • February 23, 2016, at 7:44 AM PST
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  7. Saint Augustine Member

    Well done, as always, Milt!

    • #7
    • February 23, 2016, at 4:56 PM PST
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  8. Saint Augustine Member

    Whether Dennett’s explanation of the origins of religion is correct is a separate question from the question whether any religious beliefs are true. The historical tale posited by evolution is compatible with religion a good many versions of a good many religions.

    A Dennett-style biological explanation for a belief is a necessary part of a thorough atheist account of life. But it’s not sufficient. If Dennett were to give an account of the origins of the phenomenon of science, it would be compatible with his view that science is a source of knowledge and also with his view that scientific theories are often correct.

    Well, his account of the origins of the phenomenon of religion is compatible with my view that religion can be a source of knowledge and also with my view that some religious theories are correct.

    Of course, Dennett’s thesis itself needs to be evaluated, but I’m not writing a book review here. My point is that the evaluation of whether religious belief is ever true is a separate evaluation.

    • #8
    • February 23, 2016, at 5:14 PM PST
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  9. Saint Augustine Member

    Sometimes people say that it’s a genetic fallacy to reject religion on account of its origins in the style of Freud, Nietzsche, and Marx. But it’s not that fallacy at all. It’s just a swift application of Occam’s Razor: The atheist finds one explanation for religious belief and doesn’t think there are any others, so he cuts off religious belief.

    That’s very logical, given his premises.

    And if that’s what Dennett is doing he’s also very logical. And, given those premises, a positive evaluation of Dennett’s view on the origins of religion does lead to a negative answer to that other question whether religious belief is ever true.

    If you’re reading me carefully, you may have noticed key phrases like “given those premises.” Let’s review the premises. Allow me to quote myself:

    The atheist finds one explanation for religious belief and doesn’t think there are any others, so he cuts off religious belief.

    So it’s a very important question whether there are any others.

    • #9
    • February 23, 2016, at 5:15 PM PST
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  10. Saint Augustine Member

    In fact, there are. Religions are in fact, quite often and to a rather large extent, empirical.

    Now back to Dennett. I suspect he operates under one of the most widespread and devastating errors of our time: that the argument for religion is primarily an argument from ignorance. It’s not.

    I don’t believe in God because I don’t know how else to explain this or that. I believe in God because of things I do know.

    If you review the history of religious belief as an evaluation of experience, and if you study the classic arguments for the existence of God (cosmological, teleological, ontological, moral), what you find is that people typically are religious because they think they know something, not because they don’t know how to explain the universe without God.

    So those arguments and the relevant religious evaluations of experiences (and above all those experiences at the origin of Christianity) need to be examined on their own merits–Dennett’s book’s accuracy or lack thereof notwithstanding.

    • #10
    • February 23, 2016, at 5:19 PM PST
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  11. J Climacus Member

    The podcast title (“Is Religion True?”) is poorly formulated – can’t some religion, like some science, be true while other religion is false? But even so, the podcast never addresses the question. As Augustine points out, Dennett’s evolutionary account of the origins of religion in general may be true or false on its own terms, but that’s irrelevant to the question of whether some particular religion is true or false in its own terms. E.g., Christianity claims an historical resurrection of Christ that is either true or false as a matter of history.

    That’s Dennett’s real aim: Not so much to prove religion false as to find a way to prevent it being considered in rational categories in the first place. Insofar as this podcast is concerned, he largely succeeded.

    • #11
    • February 24, 2016, at 3:31 AM PST
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  12. Andy Blanco Inactive

    I don’t understand why these people (the academic atheists) take this tack where they agree with all of Christianity’s moral teachings. “Yes, that’s a good thing,” and “it’s demeaning to suggest that without religion people wouldn’t do good,” etc. Where do they even get these ideas about good and bad? Do they really think that they are so sharp that they have, by themselves, come up with exactly the same moral framework? What are their first principles and where do they come from? Aren’t their arguments completely undermined by this?

    Why don’t they just take a Nietschean route say: f— religion, Christianity is bull—-, morality makes us weak, let’s be rational and recognize that people aren’t equal, some should be slaves, etc… I think this would be a more consistent argument. But somehow, not as compelling?

    • #12
    • February 24, 2016, at 1:50 PM PST
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  13. Milt Rosenberg Contributor

    A good discussion and I thank the reader-commentators for it.

    • #13
    • May 9, 2016, at 8:30 AM PDT
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