Sunday, February 19, 2006

Daniel C. Dennett: "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon" / The New York Times Book Review

This is my reply to an email from
Yen Cheong
Publicity Manager Viking and Penguin Books

A division of the Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

The quotes in BLUE are Wieseltier's words.

THE question of the place of science in human life is not a scientific question. It is a philosophical question.

Since philosophy is only quasiscientific, its relative value in determining any meaning to Human Existence factually dimishes with its distance from objectivity. A philosophy which eschews objectivity is really of very little value to any but an isolated individual or an extraordinarily homogeneous group of individuals. Even then, such value is of limited utility.

Scientism, the view that science can explain all human conditions and expressions, mental as well as physical, is a superstition, one of the dominant superstitions of our day;
and it is not an insult to science to say so.

"Scientism" is the ultimate meme. It is insanely inane since it ignores the fact that Science is only a method for revealing the material workings of reality. Since it misdefines what science is, it says absolutely nothing about it. The fact that the concept is meant to apply to scientists is especially offensive and ignorant since it ignores what philosophies an individual scientist might embrace.

But why must we read literally in the realm of religion, when in so many
other realms of human expression we read metaphorically, allegorically,
symbolically, figuratively, analogically?

It's quite simple really. Religious people do so with glee and ardour and try to FORCE their "philosophy" upon others, usually for "our own good." THAT amounts to literal attempts at oppression and requires honest and dedicated repudiation. Wieseltier is an ignoramus, and that is not insulting since he really doesn't seem to know the topic he's discussing.
Dennett is the sort of rationalist who gives reason a bad name; and in a new era of American obscurantism, this is not helpful.
This entire review engenders and defines obscurantism, and he still has no clue that he's doing so. Sad, that.

I don't recall what I did to get on this list, but thanks for the link Cheong.

Michael Bains
a personally evolving organism

For science, God is not a valid category because God is by definition a reality beyond time and space and therefore does not belong to the world of our scientific experience.
-- Hans Kueng


  1. Hi, Michael,

    I'm not sure I'd describe philosophy as even "quasi-" scientific. It can be used to argue the existence of things that are patently impossible, to argue that what we SEE doesn't exist, and that what is obviously cruel and wrong is acceptable (see Machiavelli). Generally, I find formal philosophy to be a load of malarkey, more akin to religion than science.

  2. Oy... Good catch Jay.

    Ya know, I first wrote that philosophy is "protoscientific". S'pose I shoulda stuck with that cuz you're right. It has rules though and, sometimes in my effort to find balance; to avoid an extreme POV, I miss the fact that there really isn't any balance in certain assertions.

    Philosophy is more deliberate than belief and more reasoned than faith. In that respect, I think it comes closer to objectivity than either of those.

    But it's still far more similar to religion than it is to science.

  3. You might find Owen Flanagan's response to Wieseltier of interest. See also Dennett's conversation with Robert Thurman.

  4. Very cool link Anon. Thanks. Right off the bat, I saw 3 or 4 different links I'm going back now to follow.

    And it's interesting what Kelley mentions 'bout the Dalai Llama. I heard the latter speak about it on NPR late last year and found his comments both encouraging and humorous. He said that, where religious belief refutes scientifically determined fact, science must be given the nod: Except in regards to reincarnation.

    Heh heh.. I wonder if he was smiling when he said it... {-;