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← God and logic: help with theist conversations

Mark Jones's Avatar Jump to comment 136 by Mark Jones

Comment 134 by Less Entropy

These discussions are certainly not a waste of time for me as there is nothing like having to defend your corner in the dialectic in order to sharpen up your game - and stimulate fresh thought. As for you, if you can see a glimmer of truth in what I say then the dialectic should chip away the misconceptions and reveal whether that glimmer was fool's gold or otherwise.

Talking is often valuable. Ideas are often good. The first step in the scientific process is often the inspired guess. But the facts around us are potentially explained by an infinite number of actual explanations. So everyone on the planet could have a different logically possible explanation of how reality is. How do we decide between them? I could see a plausible explanation in what you say, but how could I see a 'glimmer of truth'? What would be persuasive?

Well, I'm sure you know where I'm going again with this. The Dunbar article is the first link you've included (I think; maybe because you're not familiar with the combox functions - you can hover over the buttons on the WMD toolbar above the combox for tips, or highlight text and use the buttons directly. Sadly the WMD website appears to have disappeared). Thanks for that link, it's interesting, but it's just a short discussion piece, not a study, with no supporting links itself, as far as I can see. Pascal Boyer discusses some of the problems of treating 'religion' as a homogeneous thing in Religion Explained, as you no doubt are aware. In this article, he also discusses the problem, despite having written a book with that word in the title!

Studying "religion" in the spirit- or god- or ancestor-related stuff that is found before and outside religious institutions is like studying "sport" in a place where there is no such concept. One can certainly find that the people in that place sometimes do strenuous physical activities, that at other times they compete in achieving difficult tasks, that they laughingly throw objects at each other, that they often support their lineage against others... But there is no single time and place where people compete in playful strenuous and difficult physical tasks and others watch and support one of the competing sides. "Sport" is one of these institutions that some human groups have and others do without.

Boyer's observations are a bit of a stumbling block to anyone who wants to assign a selection advantage to 'religion', don't you think? How do you know that any apparent advantage you see in adopting some 'religion' isn't down to advantages conferred by underlying human traits that are not necessarily instantiated by 'religion'? Was our ancestral environment not 200,000 years ago? In which case, what 'religion' was conferring a selection advantage then?

Of course, Boyer may be wrong. Guess what you would need to show that he is?

For further discussion, see this piece by biologist Jerry Coyne.

Sat, 19 May 2012 10:05:20 UTC | #942277