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Monday, August 18, 2008

Science, Religion, and Separate Magisteria

 
In a recent interview, Daniel Dennett was asked about Gould's idea of non-overlapping magisteria. Here's his excellent reply [Daniel Dennett's Darwinian Mind: An Interview with a 'Dangerous' Man] ...

The problem with any proposed detente in which science and religion are ceded separate bailiwicks or "magisteria" is that, as some wag has put it, this amounts to rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God that which Caesar says God can have. The most recent attempt, by Gould, has not found much favor among the religious precisely because he proposes to leave them so little. Of course, I'm certainly not suggesting that he should have left them more.

There are no factual assertions that religion can reasonably claim as its own, off limits to science. Many who readily grant this have not considered its implications. It means, for instance, that there are no factual assertions about the origin of the universe or its future trajectory, or about historical events (floods, the parting of seas, burning bushes, etc.), about the goal or purpose of life, or about the existence of an afterlife and so on, that are off limits to science. After all, assertions about the purpose or function of organs, the lack of purpose or function of, say, pebbles or galaxies, and assertions about the physical impossibility of psychokinesis, clairvoyance, poltergeists, trance channeling, etc. are all within the purview of science; so are the parallel assertions that strike closer to the traditionally exempt dogmas of long-established religions. You can't consistently accept that expert scientific testimony can convict a charlatan of faking miracle cures and then deny that the same testimony counts just as conclusively—"beyond a reasonable doubt"—against any factual claims of violations of physical law to be found in the Bible or other religious texts or traditions.

What does that leave for religion to talk about? Moral injunctions and declarations of love (and hate, unfortunately), and other ceremonial speech acts. The moral codes of all the major religions are a treasury of ethical wisdom, agreeing on core precepts, and disagreeing on others that are intuitively less compelling, both to those who honor them and those who don't. The very fact that we agree that there are moral limits that trump any claim of religious freedom—we wouldn't accept a religion that engaged in human sacrifice or slavery, for instance—shows that we do not cede to religion, to any religion, the final authority on moral injunctions.
Most people don't understand that Gould advocated a very small magisterium for religion.


[Hat Tip: RichardDawkins.net]

64 comments :

  1. "Most people don't understand that Gould advocated a very small magisterium for religion."

    I don't think that social claims are "small".

    Last I checked human society encompasses nearly 100% of human individuals, and they do own 100% of the money and 100% of the political power.

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  2. I'll admit that I never really thought about how large or small the religious magisterium was- all I've ever cared about, or cared about communicating to others, is that it's separate from the scientific.

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  3. "Last I checked human society encompasses nearly 100% of human individuals, and they do own 100% of the money and 100% of the political power."

    I think you're taking issue with the descriptive clause "very small," which is entirely missing the point. People who believe in a literal interpretation of religion believe that religion should have a much larger scope than Dennett does in this piece. Relative to what the religious fundamentalists believe to be the role of religion, Dennett believe that religion should have a very small role relative to science.

    Furthermore, I don't even think you're representing the argument of Dennett very well. Ethical considerations are a very small part of what you call "social claims." Society is involved in making decisions related to healthcare, enforcement of laws, maintenance of infrastructure, and a host of other things. In all things that are fact-based, religion should not supercede science.

    Maybe I'm wrong though. Are there any reality-based phenomena in that religion is better equipped to influence than science?

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  4. If nothing is off limits to science then religious books and laws have no authority--no basis.

    That's true.

    But if nothing is off limits to science then science ought to expand its purview to deal with the most fundamental questions. The most fundamental question facing biology today is the origin of life. There are many competing perspectives and hypotheses but no settled theory. We do not know enough to say that we understand how life first arose "beyond a reasonable doubt". We don't even know enough to claim that we "probably" know. We haven't achieved a sufficient level of certainty.

    Perhaps the Creator breathed life into the first form or forms, as Darwin wrote in the last paragraph of the Origin of Species. I doubt it very much but we have to acknowledge that WE DON'T KNOW HOW LIFE ON EARTH BEGAN.

    Science has invaded and colonized the religious magisterium. It will continue the process of excluding religious authority as a basis of knowledge, but only if it makes a major international commitment to ending the mystery of life's origin.

    The best defense against IDcreationism and other religious prejudices is the experimental demonstration of the origin of life. The lab is the answer to the pulpit.

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  5. You can't consistently accept that expert scientific testimony can convict a charlatan of faking miracle cures and then deny that the same testimony counts just as conclusively—"beyond a reasonable doubt"—against any factual claims of violations of physical law to be found in the Bible or other religious texts or traditions.

    This is, I think, a perfect statement of the mantra of "new" Atheism.

    Dennett hits the mark yet again.

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  6. "You can't consistently accept that expert scientific testimony can convict a charlatan of faking miracle cures and then deny that the same testimony counts just as conclusively — 'beyond a reasonable doubt' — against any factual claims of violations of physical law to be found in the Bible or other religious texts or traditions."

    Dennett dramatically unvalues the "black swan problem" (the problem of induction) -- the idea that general does not demonstrate the specific. N.N Taleb has demonstrated the consequences of this under-valuing in a variety of arenas, most notably in the financial markets. But the problem applies far more broadly than that, as his The Black Swan demonstrates. For similar reasons, the idea that what is objectively verifiable is identical to what is objectively real is not a scientific fact; it is a metaphysical claim which cannot be demonstrated. Fundamatheists who would, in effect, like us to doubt all authority but their own are arrogant charlatans and those who follow them are ignorant dupes. A self-respecting skeptic will exercise truly free thought and will recognize the imperative even to doubt his or her own premises and conclusions. While the exercise of rational and free thought does not mandate that one accept a general God-hypothesis (much less any specific one), it certainly does not preclude it either.

    Most people don't understand that Gould advocated a very small magisterium for religion.

    Without conceding the field to Gould's argument, that "small magisterium" includes most of the truly interesting and perplexing questions we face -- ethics, morals, aesthetics, policy choices, philosophical goals and values, etc.

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  7. There are no factual assertions that religion can reasonably claim as its own, off limits to science. ... or about the existence of an afterlife

    Well... I have to disagree on that one. A putative afterlife is off-limits to science, in the same way that my subjective experience is off-limits to science - if I choose to withhold it.

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  8. Fundamatheists

    My but aren't you clever?

    While the exercise of rational and free thought does not mandate that one accept a general God-hypothesis (much less any specific one), it certainly does not preclude it either.

    Upon what rationally respectable grounds would any such God-hypothesis be held?

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  9. A putative afterlife is off-limits to science

    And why, pray tell, is it within the limits of religion?

    Fiat declarations of particular realms of inquiry do not make it so.

    Religion has added nothing of value to this planet that could not otherwise have been had without presuming anything on insufficient evidence.

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  10. And why, pray tell, is it within the limits of religion?

    I did not say it was...

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  11. James Thompson says:

    "I think you're taking issue with the descriptive clause "very small," which is entirely missing the point. People who believe in a literal interpretation of religion believe that religion should have a much larger scope than Dennett does in this piece. Relative to what the religious fundamentalists believe to be the role of religion, Dennett believe that religion should have a very small role relative to science.

    Furthermore, I don't even think you're representing the argument of Dennett very well. Ethical considerations are a very small part of what you call "social claims." Society is involved in making decisions related to healthcare, enforcement of laws, maintenance of infrastructure, and a host of other things. In all things that are fact-based, religion should not supercede science."

    Actually I broadly agree with Dennett's stand - that NOMA isn't convincing because ultimately social claims, including ethics, come under the purview of science.

    In Dennett's view, Gould's NOMA will result in religion not merely having a "small role" but with practically no meaningful role whatsoever. This is a good observation.

    However I disagree with Larry's view that Gould intended to advocate a very "small" magisterium for religion.

    He wanted the magisterium of religion to extend over questions of ultimate meaning and moral value, insisting that they do not overlap with science.

    This clearly indicates that he believes that religion is the ultimate authority in such social claims, scientific facts and theories being irrelevant in this magisterium.

    As Sinbad observes:

    "Without conceding the field to Gould's argument, that "small magisterium" includes most of the truly interesting and perplexing questions we face -- ethics, morals, aesthetics, policy choices, philosophical goals and values, etc."

    That is not "small", it is huge. Gould is handing most of the human condition to religious obscurantists - who like to call themselves "self-respecting skeptics" nowadays.

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  12. Historically religion asked fundamental questions long before science answered them. Religion continues to ask questions that science is trying to answer. As science answers these question religion asks new ones. By "asks" I mean religion purports to answer those question, thus challenging science.

    What are the religious challenges to science now:

    How did life on earth begin? Religion (and Darwin) say the Creator breathed life into the first forms. Science is tryint to answer the question but hasn't succeeded yet.

    What is consciouness and cognition? Religion answers "the soul" but science is beginning to have more certain answers built on the modular structure of the brain and the way these structure interact.

    Why is there good and evil? Religion says "original sin" or just "sin" while science says our ethics are dependent on our evolutionarily engendered biology and brains.

    Where does religion come from? Relgion says it come from God (grace) while science says that it is a cultural phenomenon with a biological and evolutionary basis.

    And so on....

    The Magisteria compete and so far (at least since Galileo or perhaps Copernicus) science is gaining. As the trend continues religion will do what it has always done--it will give up the old questions and answers and ask new questions, which science will then answer.

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  13. Religion continues to ask questions that science is trying to answer. As science answers these question religion asks new ones. By "asks" I mean religion purports to answer those question, thus challenging science.

    Religion does nothing of the sort. It merely says "god did it" or "god wants it this way or that way", and leaves it at that. There is no system of religious epistemology other than fiat declarations of "fact". While religious history is a perfectly valid subject, theology is vacuous dribble.

    How did life on earth begin?

    A perfectly valid question, to which religion adds nothing but "god did it". While science tries to provide honest answers, once again religion teaches us to be happy with not knowing.

    What is consciouness and cognition? Religion answers "the soul"

    And "the soul" means???

    It is an intellectually dishonest way of saying "I dont know, so here's my made-up answer". When scientists don't know, they say "I don't know, but I'm working on it". When religious people don't know (and that's pretty much all the time), they say things like "the soul".

    Where does religion come from? Relgion says it come from God (grace) while science says that it is a cultural phenomenon with a biological and evolutionary basis.

    And once again, religious people add nothing to the discussion of a perfectly valid question by simply begging the question.

    I'll say it again: there is no religious epistemology. There is merely hand-waving.

    The Magisteria compete and so far (at least since Galileo or perhaps Copernicus) science is gaining. As the trend continues religion will do what it has always done--it will give up the old questions and answers and ask new questions, which science will then answer.

    And the god-of-the-gaps continues to shrink.

    NOMA is a completely ridiculous concept. Religion has no magisteria at all; it adds nothing to scientific questions, and begs the question when it comes to moral ones. While it may be true that Christianity, for example, does provide some moral teachings, once again we have to conclude that these can be (and generally are) had without assuming anything on insufficient evidence.

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  14. Larry Moran said,

    "Most people don't understand that Gould advocated a very small magisterium for religion."

    Gould used long-winded sugar coating when he implied that all religious experiences are a delusion.

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  15. The trouble with the whole 'Separate Magisteria' point is that its entirely subjective from both sides. Is there even a consensus amongst scientists regarding the borders of these magisteria? I personally don't think there is. I certainly wouldn't cede aspects such as ethics, morality or altruistic behaviour to the religious (I wouldn't exclude them either but I'd require them to approach these questions in a 'scientific' evidence based manner).
    Likewise for the religious, the vast majority of believers assume a 'magisteria' far beyond anything that natural science can accept.
    To even describe the problem in such a manner as 'magisteria' makes it sound like there are equally sized (or comparably equally sized) areas of interest. In fact the situation is more like getting a seat on an airplane next to the fattest man on earth technically you both have your own seat, but practically the fat guy takes up all of yours too. I get the feeling that Gould is like the airline trying to sell the religious its seat but purposefully neglecting to mention how fat the enlightenment has made the whole field of science.

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  16. The "magisteria" argument is just pragmatic politics. You say you respect your opponent while working heard to defeat him and take his stuff.

    That was, at bottom, the T.H. Huxley argument for accommodation (agnosticism). It is a strategy that science has for defeating religion bit by bit, over time, without a self-defeating confrontation. So far it has worked pretty well. Bit by bit religion has been forced to accept scientific explanations, even for evolution and speciation and human origins.

    The politics of science in society is no more honest than any politics. You embrace your enemy while you are eating his lunch.

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  17. "Religion has no magisteria at all; it adds nothing to scientific questions, and begs the question when it comes to moral ones." (Mike)

    Not so, if there is real power in the principles, then there is reason to believe in them, on such evidence.

    "A stick might fit a hole or a stone a hollow by accident. But a key and a lock are both complex. And if a key fits a lock, you know it is the right key." (Chesterton)

    And the odd problem with science as a complete explanation is where it claims to excel, in reasoning.

    "It was Huxley and Herbert Spencer and Bradlaugh who brought me back to orthodox theology. They sowed in my mind my first wild doubts of doubt. Our grandmothers were quite right when they said that Tom Paine and the free-thinkers unsettled the mind. They do. They unsettled mine horribly. The rationalist made me question whether reason was of any use whatever..." (Chesterton again)

    See the argument from reason, for example here.

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  18. Not so, if there is real power in the principles, then there is reason to believe in them, on such evidence.

    But the point is that all of the principles that are "good" in religion can be had just as easily without presupposing anything on insufficient evidence.

    The Golden Rule is a lovely concept, and it doesn't require a belief in god to follow.

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  19. "But the point is that all of the principles that are 'good' in religion can be had just as easily without presupposing anything on insufficient evidence." (Mike)

    But my point is that there is epistemology in religion, there are ways to evaluate the claims. This was also just one example, another example is fulfilled prophecy.

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  20. lee merrill said
    "another example is fulfilled prophecy". Prophesy can also be used as a means of falsification. In this way we can see that two prophesies, critical to Christianity, are clearly falsified by the evidence.
    First, the lineage of Jesus is incorrect according to prophesies (since Joseph was not his father we cannot connect his lineage to Jesus). More importantly Jesus himself claimed (or so we are told) that he would return within the lifetime of some of those living. He didn't. Therefore prophesy CAN be useful to determine the falsity of a religion. A prophesy that told us something astounding for its time (say DNA, bacterial germ theory or the composition of the various planets) should make us sit up and take notice but nothing even close to any of these facts has ever been foretold in religious texts.

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  21. "Faith" is a polite term for bigotry.

    Theology is ideology.

    The lab is the answer to the pulpit.

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  22. But my point is that there is epistemology in religion, there are ways to evaluate the claims.

    I believe martinc has made the point here; even if you accept the dubious "evidence" for fulfillment of prophesy, you still have to consider that Christianity, for instance, makes claims that are demonstrably false. In Matthew, Jesus states unambiguously that so long as one believes a prayer to be answered, it will be answered; prayers can literally move mountains, he says. Jesus places no qualification on this statement. Thus, the fact that prayer is demonstrably ineffective (see the famous RCT of intercessory prayer for heart patients, for example), is strong evidence that this claim, made by the son of god, is false.

    Likewise, Jesus states, without qualification, that he will return to earth within the lifetime of individuals living contemporateous with him (i.e. early first century CE). Jesus has not returned, thus falsifying yet another 'prophesy' by the biggest 'prohphet' of them all.

    We should also, of course, consider that virtually every religion contains stories of fulfilled prophesy. Add to this the fact that most religions are also mutually exculsive (i.e. the teachings of Islam and the teachings of Christianity cannot both be correct), and we are left with a situation in which we cannot distinguish between the truth claims of one religion versus another; all of which leaves us with the old question "why are you not a Muslim? Why are you not a Jew?".

    Furthermore, we must also temper our trust in this evidence with the obvious fact that the stories of the 'fulfillment' of these prophesies were written by people who had a vested interest in ensuring that the prophesies of the OT were fulfilled as written.

    This is why I claim that while I cannot prove that god does not exist (nor should I have to prove a negative), I can definitively state that specific religions are false. This is the downside of stating that certain books are inerrant; once you find an error, you have a lot of explaining to do.

    In order for religion to have a proper epistemology, it has to make PREDICTIVE statements; it must state "if X is true, we would expect to find Y, and if X is false, we would expect to find Z (or, at the very least, to not find Y)". Religion does not, to my knowledge, do this. It's not unlike muslim "scholars" claiming that the Koran is consistent with sophisticated modern science; sure it is, if you twist the words into meaninglessness, based on things that science has discovered independently. A common retort is that the cure for cancer will be found in the Koran, but not before it's found in the laboratory.

    And all of this has merely to do with the evidence for the truth claims of religion. It says nothing of the magisteria to which even moderate religion generally claims for its own: that of morality. In this case, I once again state that any claims of morality made by religion should be seen in the following light: first, they must be seen in the context of the numerous deeply immoral claims made by the same religions (god sending bears to eat impudent children???); second, it must be seen based on the fact that those same claims can be (and are) made by other people who, as an added bonus, do not claim to know things that they do not know. Morality can be (and is) had without reference to god.

    So if religion makes claims that are, once in a while, true (see The Golden Rule), this must be balanced with the fact that it also makes statements that are demonstrably false (e.g. the flood, the efficacy of prayer, the return of Jesus, the lineage of Jesus, etc), and makes statements that can be had just as easily without presupposing anything on insufficient evidence.

    Its magisterium is quite small, indeed.

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  23. I agree with Charles Darwin:

    "There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one..."

    From The Origin of Species, Oxford World Classics, p. 396

    The Creator breathed life in a few forms or one.

    Amen

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  24. I agree with Charles Darwin:

    "There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one..."

    From The Origin of Species, Oxford World Classics, p. 396

    The Creator breathed life in a few forms or one.

    Amen


    Things Charles Darwin was completely ignorant of:

    1. The identity of the genetic material
    2. The mechanism of heredity
    3. All modern biochemistry, cell biology, and molecular biology
    4. Genetic drift
    5. Special and general relativity
    6. Quantum physics
    7. The expansion of the universe
    8. A host of other facts that you and I can take for granted, thanks to over 125 years of hard scientific work since Darwin's death
    9. Whether or not god exists; the same as the rest of us.

    Things Charles Darwin was not ignorant of:

    1. Natural selection (and even here, one could argue that Darwin was ignorant, not knowing the mechanisms through which selection operates)

    This line of "reasoning" of yours is no different than those who quote Einstein's views on religion; they are irrelevant, and provide precisely zero evidence of whether or not god exists.

    But, in case you're interested in Darwin's real views on religion (insofar as they are relevant to just about nothing), try here:

    http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?itemID=F1452.1&viewtype=text&pageseq=322

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  25. Mike,

    You have no idea how life on earth began, but Charles Darwin did.

    The Creator, Mike. Or do you think Charles Darwin was just joking???

    He wasn't joking and no one has yet proved him wrong. The Creator is the source of all life on earth.

    From that beginning, various forms, wonderful to behold, have and are evolving.

    If you think life began without the help of the Creator, show us. But you can't. You can only acknowledge ignorance.

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  26. You have no idea how life on earth began, but Charles Darwin did.

    The Creator, Mike. Or do you think Charles Darwin was just joking???


    I'm calling Poe's Law on this, and leaving it at that.

    He wasn't joking and no one has yet proved him wrong.

    Poe, right? Flying Teapots, and all that. It's turtles all the way down, dontcha know.

    If you think life began without the help of the Creator, show us. But you can't. You can only acknowledge ignorance.

    It's GOTTA be Poe. No one is THIS thick, right? Right???

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  27. It's turtles all the way down, dontcha know.

    And that's another one of the biggest problems (and perhaps the biggest problem facing science, but this time it's philosophical. Is reductionism infinite? If not, then there are things that have no explanation. In other words, they are "magic" - the whole universe would be based on magical things.

    There are third and fourth alternatives too: 3) reductionism loops back on itself in circular patterns (too wierd to think about), and 4) reductionism is not the whole story, or can be subsumed in a larger context.

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  28. If not, then there are things that have no explanation. In other words, they are "magic" - the whole universe would be based on magical things.

    What a bizarre usage of "magic." The scare quotes are appropriate.

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  29. What a bizarre usage of "magic."

    You're right - maybe I should have used the word "supernatural", since there can never be a physical or "natural" explanation for something that is absolutely fundamental.

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  30. Mike,

    You can't respond to my (and Darwin's) assertion that the Creator is responsible for life on earth. Biology just doesn't know how life on earth got started. You don't know how it got started. Biology is ignorant and instead of getting to work and trying to answer the question, you resort to nonsense!

    Stop the nonsense, Mike. If you have a competing theory (not a hypothesis, Mike, a genuine scientific theory) please publish it for all the world to read.

    Until you do, I'll go on asserting (with Charles Darwin) that the Creator breathed life into one or a few forms at the beginning.

    Darwin proved to be right about the African origin of humans. Maybe he will be proved right about the Creator too.

    Ignorance is no excuse, Mike. The lab is the answer to the pulpit.

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  31. You can't respond to my (and Darwin's) assertion that the Creator is responsible for life on earth.

    You know what? You're right; I was mistaken all along. Who knew that just "asserting" something made it true. Praise be to Jebus.

    Biology just doesn't know how life on earth got started. You don't know how it got started. Biology is ignorant and instead of getting to work and trying to answer the question, you resort to nonsense!

    Jeez, I thought I WAS working to answer the question, but this damn confocal scope just isn't cooperating this morning, so I guess I'll just "assert" my next paper.

    Stop the nonsense, Mike. If you have a competing theory (not a hypothesis, Mike, a genuine scientific theory) please publish it for all the world to read.

    Not really my field of expertise, of course, so I'll just refer you to the most scholarly site I could find that summarizes current thinking:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origin_of_life

    Until you do, I'll go on asserting (with Charles Darwin) that the Creator breathed life into one or a few forms at the beginning.

    Works for me.

    Ignorance is no excuse, Mike. The lab is the answer to the pulpit.

    And with that in mind, I better get back to answering the pulpit.

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  32. Mike,

    By all means. Talk doesn't refute Creationism/ID and other superstitutions. And the "latest thinking" on biogenesis is just that, thinking. When the "thinking" rises to the level of, say, "adaptive radiation" or "translation and transcription", then you and others will have answered the religious.

    The absence of a theory of the origin of life is an embarrassment to science and thought that no amount of bafflegab and bluster (or Wikipedia entries) can hide.

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  33. The god of the gaps is alive and well, I see. So be it; I'm done rubbernecking on this thread.

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  34. The absence of a theory of the origin of life is an embarrassment to science and thought that no amount of bafflegab and bluster (or Wikipedia entries) can hide.

    I'm going to address this, against my better judgement.

    I actually think that this question is not entirely addressable by science. You see, we can speculate about the origin of life; the RNA world, the Cairns-Smith clay world, etc. We can do the Stanley Miller-type experiments, and generate amino acids and nucleic acids and so forth. And who knows, with enough messing around, we may be able to create artifical life (in fact, I have little doubt that we WILL produce artifical replicators from starting materials that were present in the primordial atmosphere).

    But even if we do all this, this will not be evidence for the specific manner in which life actually arose.

    You see, in the case of evolution, for instance, we can make statements that are falsifiable (e.g. "the genetic code should be redundant and vary only slightly across organisms, and the variations we observe should be correlated with the degree of relatedness of the organisms showing the variations"). We can then go out and test these observations (in the example given, the genetic code fits precisely with what is predicted by evolutionary theory...indeed, this helped guide the experiments used to decipher the code).

    In the case of evolution, we don't have to guess that life evolved; we can see the multiple lines of converging evidence.

    My problem with abiogenesis research is that it's not immediately clear what the evidence will look like. Life could have arisen in many ways; and even if we show that one way results in life similar to ours, this doesn't prove that it actually happened as such.

    This is a legitimate question of the abiogenesis experts out there: what would evidence supporting a particular theory of abiogenesis look like?

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  35. Discussing abiogenesis with a creationist is like discussing transitional fossils. Its not as if there isn't some evidential basis to each of these subjects, its just that their worldview doesnt allow them to accept the possibility that they might be wrong. I used to be confused by creationists saying there are no transitional fossils until I realized that if you are a creationist then every single transitional fossil is simply evidence of a different creation event. If you view the world like that then all the fossils of every animal that ever lived wouldnt be enough to convince you.
    Likewise for abiogenesis - although this is even more intractable as we are essentially talking about physical chemistry followed by organic chemistry and much later the beginnings of molecular biology. They seem to think that abiogenesis theories state that life started with the first cell - something no modern theories postulate, many of which suggest there were more than one abiogenesis event or chemical process that eventially led to the sort of RNA world scenario to which the current lifeforms can trace their ancestry.

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  36. Mike writes: "(in fact, I have little doubt that we WILL produce artifical replicators from starting materials that were present in the primordial atmosphere)."

    That would be a tremendous step forward, notwithstanding the fact that we can't go back in time to witness life's origin as it happened any more than we can watch the first few finches arrive on the Galapigos.

    Martinc writes:

    "Discussing abiogenesis with a creationist is like discussing transitional fossils."

    Sure, but there are lots of people who would be much more inclined to accept the fact that life began without divine intervention if we were to "produce artifical replicators from starting materials that were present in the primordial atmosphere)."

    The lab is the answer to the pulpit.

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  37. Quite right anonymous, the sort of people who refuse point blank to believe that humans and chimpanzees had a common ancestor are likely to likely to throw up their hands and admit they were mistaken as soon as the paper comes out with supporting evidence for the Cairns-Smith clay polymerization process. I can just imagine the Megachurch pastors bowing their heads and asking for forgiveness for spreading untruths about evolutionary theory and, with joy in their hearts, telling their congregation the good news about the latest geochemical research.

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  38. martinc,

    I don't disagree, but I think you underestimate the number of people (ie not the die-hard US superchurch superstitionists) who are willing to accept the fact that life didn't begin by magic (a.k.a. God).

    Besides, understanding more about the origin of life--from the first non-cellular self-replicating molecules to the first cells--is very interesting. To me anyway.

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  39. That would be a tremendous step forward, notwithstanding the fact that we can't go back in time to witness life's origin as it happened any more than we can watch the first few finches arrive on the Galapigos.

    Don't be disingenuous. As if the reality of evolution depends on whether or not we can observe the Galapagos finches. The fact is, we CAN state that finches have migrated to the Galapagos from the mainland (and between islands too) by looking not only at their physical features (as Darwin did), but at their genotypes as well.

    Molecular biology is the absolute proof of evolution; it is amazing that we had enough proof before the advent of DNA sequencing and large-scale genomics. What lends the REAL strength to the theory, however, is that the molecular biology agrees completely with that which was discovered PRIOR to the genomics era.

    The problem with abiogenesis research is that even if (for instance) Cairns-Smith is right (and it looks like he isn't), that doesn't prove the clay crystal theory is the origin of life; only that it could be the origin of life. This contrasts with the evidence for evolution, which proves unequivocally the common descent of all life (if not the mechanism(s) through which common descent has occurred).

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  40. Mike,

    Evolution is a fact. Adaptive radiation is a theory of speciation. I only mention the finches because they are famous. I might have used cichlids, sticklebacks or drosopholids as examples. Or Miocene apes, for a paleontological example.

    We have induced speciation in lab settings and have observed incipient species in the wild.

    The issue isn't "the reality of evolution", it is answering an important (perhaps THE most important) big unanswered question in biology--How did life begin?--as best we can. We're not there yet. It will be a great step forward when we are. The lab will again answer the pulpit and strike a blow for science and secularism.

    There was a time when many naturalists thought we would never really understand the origin of species. They were wrong. Today many biologists say we will never really understand the origin of life. I suspect that they're wrong too.

    Anon.

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  41. The lab will again answer the pulpit and strike a blow for science and secularism.

    I agree, but "the pulpit" adds nothing to the discussion, irrespective of what science does or does not do. If Newton had not described gravity, "intelligent falling" would not be a suitable descriptor or anything, if only because it begs the question.

    "The pulpit" has never done anything to enhance, even one iota, our knowledge of the physical world. If you think 'the Creator" is responsible for the origin of life, you'll need not only to show that this is the case (i.e. the Creator actually did create life), but also that "the Creator" exists at all.

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  42. Historically religious faith has been an essential MOTIVATION for many scientists, including Newton, who believed that he was describing God's works.

    Much of the early work in natural history and, later, biology, was also done in this spirit. Mendel was a Catholic monk who believed that he had discerned God's pattern in nature; he may even have seen his ratios as an argument (in his own mind) against Godless evolutionism or against natural selection. Early Mendelians, after 1900, understood heredity as a lawful process of unfolding numbers--the very opposite of variation and selection. Or rather, they understood variation as a lawful and fixed mathematical process.

    We live in a God-free universe and always have, but historically the religious motivation is very important to the development of science. We see vestiges of religion in the iconography of DNA. The double helix has become a kind of "symbol of the infinite" or of the ineffably beautiful--a spiritual symbol.

    This is not to say that religion is true, only that it is relevant to the history of science and, no doubt, in some instances, to its practice today.

    I think evolutionists should see religion and religious behavior (individual and social) in evolutionary terms and understand that it is a deeply rooted part of the human behavioral repertoire.

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  43. I think evolutionists should see religion and religious behavior (individual and social) in evolutionary terms and understand that it is a deeply rooted part of the human behavioral repertoire.

    Amen to that.

    What I dont see it as is 'true', or, in fact, as necessary. All that is good about religion can be had without religion.

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  44. But if we take human evolution seriously and if we accept the argument that religious behaviour is a human universal (and so likely to have a basis in our brains and, ultimately, our genes), then it makes little sense to attempt to eliminate religion. Rather, we should attempt to influence religion so that it does no harm.

    You can't eliminate religious behaviour any more than you can eliminate speech, bipedal locomotion, hanging out in groups, mating rituals or any other part of the human phenotype.

    Instead of advocating atheism, evolutionists should be supportive of religious expression that is pro-science, non-extremist, respectful of liberties, etc.

    The question, if you take human evolution seriously, isn't "religion yes or no?" but "what kind of religion?"

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  45. anonymous says,

    I think evolutionists should see religion and religious behavior (individual and social) in evolutionary terms and understand that it is a deeply rooted part of the human behavioral repertoire.

    At the risk of being offensive—a risk I frequently take—let's rephrease that statement.

    I think evolutionists should see superstition and superstitious behavior (individual and social) in evolutionary terms and understand that it is a deeply rooted part of the human behavioral repertoire.

    Now it looks quite different, doesn't it? Yes, we recognize that belief in things like astrology, predicting the future by looking at the entrails of chickens, and homeopathy are all part of human behavior. That doesn't mean we should ignore it and it doesn't mean we shouldn't fight to convince people to become more rational.

    Was that the point?

    People have believed silly things for as long as there have been people. Evolutionists understand that. What they don't do is use it as an excuse.

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  46. anonymous says,

    But if we take human evolution seriously and if we accept the argument that religious behaviour is a human universal (and so likely to have a basis in our brains and, ultimately, our genes), ...

    I certainly don't believe that. If religion has such a genetic component then it's difficult to explain how so many millions can abandon it so easily.

    Religion is a cultural phenomenon, just like belief in magic or extreme nationalism.

    ... then it makes little sense to attempt to eliminate religion. Rather, we should attempt to influence religion so that it does no harm.

    On the other hand, if religion is merely a cultural phenomenon and man invented God, then trying to get people to abandon this delusion is acceptable, right?

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  47. Yes, if religion is merely a cultural phenomenon founded on a falsehood (the existence of a deity), then it may make some sense to try to eliminate it, if it is deemed to be pernicious.

    Of course, religion, even if false, gives many people pleasure, the way listening to music gives pleasure. It gives them consolation, peace of mind, purpose, etc. etc.) If we could simply have "religion for pleasure" then what harm would it be?

    Perhaps we need to make a distinction between "religious behaviour" and "Religion"; it could be that the former is an evolved part of the human phenotype, while the latter is its particular cultural expression at any given time. (Just as speech is phenotypical while language is learned). Thus, different times and places invent different Religions to regulate or provide a context for religious behaviour. If that is the case, then the key is not to attempt to suppress religious behaviour but to adapt existing Religions (or invent new ones) to meet human needs and satisfy innate religious behaviours without the odious ideological and behavioural "side effects".

    This is the same kind of argument that evolutionists have used with respect to human aggression, male bonding and violence. Aggression, bonding and violence are things we do as humans; things we are in some way programmed to do; so we need to provide satisfying surrogates for them so that they don't get out of hand. Thus football and hockey. Hockey is to aggressive competition what Religion is to the impulse to worship and venerate.

    A minor point: Millions abandon religion, yes, but how many people abandon religious behaviour? Rituals are the foundation of social life in the university and in the sciences. Nobel prizes are part of context of worship, for example. Think of graduation ceremonies; think of factionalism in departments. We don't so much abandon religious behaviour as transfer it to other domains. We worship founding fathers (ancestors) like Darwin and Newton. We seek new saviours...

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  48. Of course, religion, even if false, gives many people pleasure, the way listening to music gives pleasure. It gives them consolation, peace of mind, purpose, etc. etc.) If we could simply have "religion for pleasure" then what harm would it be?

    And there's the rub. All of those things can be had WITHOUT presupposing anything on insufficient evidence.

    I have no doubt that the communal aspects of religion are valuable to many. But in what way does that sense of community necessarily depend upon the belief that Jesus walked on water or that Mohammed ascended to heaven on a winged horse?

    Are religious people so void of intellect that they have to fool themselves into believing things that are clearly false in order to acheive the fringe benefits of religion? I would hope not. What we need is a concerted effort to show that all of these things (community, morality, a sense of purpose) can be had without the epistemological and theological baggage associated with religion.

    Consider that the vast majority of people living in the United States believe that Jesus Christ will return to Earth in their lifetimes. That belief has serious consequences for the rest of us who know that it simply isn't true.

    Even if religion and superstition are byproducts of our evolution (which I suspect it is, at least in part), we need not be slaves to them. Rape is also part of our evolutionary history, and we, for the most part, do not rape.

    No one is advocating for the elimination of religion or the banning of religion or anything of the sort. What atheists are doing is (a) exposing the fact that religion is a hypothesis about the world, like any other, and that there is no evidence to support the truth of that hypothesis (the Sam Harris/Richard Dawkins approach), (b) exposing the ugly side of religion (the Chris Hitchens approach, as though it needed exposing), and (c) showing that what is good in religion is not unique to religion and can be had without the dreaming up the existence of an imaginary god.

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  49. I suppose what I am suggesting is a more nuanced and diplomatic approach based on a recognition that religious behaviour is here to stay because it has been inscribed in our brains (and genes) by natural selection.

    If so, then channeling and moulding religious expression would seem to be a better strategy than simply denouncing it. By denouncing it you only strengthen it as religious people "stick to their guns".

    But maybe not: maybe militant atheism does force some people who would otherwise not consider the matter to actually think....

    But militant atheism seems to me to resemble a kind of religious behaviour, a demand for Orthodoxy and the public rejection of Falsehood. A kind of Crusade or Revival. The mirror image of what it seeks to oppose.

    As I say, religious behaviour emerges in all kinds of contexts.

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  50. But militant atheism seems to me to resemble a kind of religious behaviour, a demand for Orthodoxy and the public rejection of Falsehood. A kind of Crusade or Revival. The mirror image of what it seeks to oppose.

    No one is demanding orthodoxy. All of the vocal, well-known atheists I can think of and have read (Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, Grayling, PZ, Larry, etc) are simply asking that religion be subjected to the same evidentiary standards as everything else. This is not a reaction to the "Golden Rule" or the "god is love" aspects of religion; a world in which religion took this form exclusively would be welcome.

    No, these people are reacting to the reality of religion; to the notion that, whatever its origins may be, religion is inherently bad because it teaches people to value ignorance and to believe things that are manifestly false. They are reacting to real people whose real beliefs and actions threaten the safety and well-being of everyone else.

    So if your plan is to neuter religion; to take what we can from it and dispose of the rest, then so be it. But the evidence suggests that this is not possible. You're asking for the drunkenness without the drink, so to speak.

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  51. I think what I'm advocating is called Unitarianism or, here in Canada, the United Church ... or various cognate styles of religion in Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other traditions.

    In many reformed religious groups in several different traditions you aren't even required to believe in God (although you can if you want). Instead, you are freely associating with people who value and wish to sustain a particular textual or poetic tradition. It is almost an esthetic choice. Most of these people (I think) would tell you that the universe began with a singularity and the life on earth is several billion years old and that humans are primates that evolved from a precursor species that we would recognize as a bipedal ape. They would tell you that Jesus is a mythical figure, the hero of a narrative that provides insights and inspiration (as many narratives do). The end of the world will surely come, but not until the earth stops rotating or the sun goes nova (or humans poison the biosphere).

    As for me, I don't practice religion but I try to see it from a distance, as an anthropological phenomenon, a cultural practice, that is extremely interesting (and pretty dangerous).

    Engaged atheism lacks scientific objectivity. What it produces, therefore, is doctrine and ideology, not dispassionate analysis and understanding. Atheism is a form of extreme dissent, a kind of Ultra-Puritanism. To avoid becoming the thing you oppose, practice moderation.

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  52. I think what I'm advocating is called Unitarianism or, here in Canada, the United Church

    I was, in fact, baptised in the United Church. I recognize that they are, in general, the most moderate, most accepting, most liberal of all of the Christian sects. Though I'm fairly sure that most practicing members believe that Jesus was the son of god. There are crucifixes hanging on the walls of every United Church I've ever been to.

    In many reformed religious groups in several different traditions you aren't even required to believe in God (although you can if you want). Instead, you are freely associating with people who value and wish to sustain a particular textual or poetic tradition.

    You're describing Secular Judaism (amongst others) to a tee, I think. What you're describing is retention of cultural values, and that's fantastic. Unfortunately, most cultural traditions are so intertwined with religious ones that it becomes difficult to untangle them. As I said, I think secular Judaism is probably the best example we have of shedding the religious baggage while retaining the important cultural ties that bind.

    Most of these people (I think) would tell you that the universe began with a singularity and the life on earth is several billion years old and that humans are primates that evolved from a precursor species that we would recognize as a bipedal ape.

    I have no doubt. That wasn't my point, however. My point was that according to many polls (including one released here in Canada earlier this month), the majority of all people do not believe in the biological fact of evolution. More than half of all Americans believe that Jesus will literally return to Earth some time in the next 50 years. This is not a straw-man of religion; it may not describe your granny, but, if you believe the polls, it describes MOST religious people.

    As for me, I don't practice religion but I try to see it from a distance, as an anthropological phenomenon, a cultural practice, that is extremely interesting (and pretty dangerous).

    And it is that last point that makes us rail against it; that makes us recognize, as Sam Harris has put it, that we cannot go on paying the price for the "ignorance of our iconography". The maintenance of cultural diversity is one thing (and it is a good thing), but the continued non-questioning of fundamentally bad (and, as you say, dangerous ideas) cannot be allowed to continue.

    Engaged atheism lacks scientific objectivity. What it produces, therefore, is doctrine and ideology, not dispassionate analysis and understanding.

    As an atheist, I ask only that the same standards of evidence we use for everything else be applied equally to questions pertaining to the existence of god or gods. "God exists" is a hypothesis about the universe; a hypothesis that brings with it a plethora of very bad things. If god really exists and really wants young engineers and architects to fly planes into buildings, then so be it (it would still, of course, be wrong). But I first ask, at the bare minimum, that the evidence be proffered to support this hypothesis.

    Atheism is a form of extreme dissent, a kind of Ultra-Puritanism.

    Atheism is no more a form of dissent than is disbelief in alchemy or that Elvis is alive. No atheist I've ever met or read has ever said that the cultural traditions that are often associated with religion are without value; quite the opposite, most say that these traditions are valuable and should be cherished, but should (and can) be stripped from their religious origins (again, in the tradition of secular Judaism).

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  53. Atheism is, in its militant form, just another religion, a cult. Just as interesting and just as dangerous.

    In its more relaxed form, atheism is nothing much in itself, just an attitude, a starting point, an opening....

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  54. Atheism is, in its militant form, just another religion, a cult. Just as interesting and just as dangerous.

    What exactly does one have to take on faith in order to be an atheist? What does one have to believe based on insufficient evidence to reject the notion of god's existence? No one claims that disbelief in Thor is dangerous or militant.

    There have been dangerous atheists, of course. But atheism is simply stating that there is no evidence for the existence of god. No more, no less. The gulags and the gas chambers were not the result of demanding too much evidence.

    Atheists have been too quiet for too long; careful not to openly question religion. The recent surge in what some have called "militant" or "new" atheism is simply the result of the recognition that 21st century technology is incompatible with 1st century iconography and morality. We can no longer afford to let religious notions go unquestioned; not when fissile material is so readily available.

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  55. I don't disagree, by and large.

    Of course atheism as "doctrine" is just an ideology; as an attitude it is skepticism. (It is also true, in my view.) But it is in the BEHAVIOUR of the adherants that atheism (like other ideologies) can become cult-like.

    Religious behaviour should be distinguished from religious doctrine. Arguably the practices of political parties (ritual performance, intense focus on dominants [a.k.a. leaders], exclusion of outsiders, funny hats and t-shirts, etc. etc.) are examples of religious behaviour.

    The thing about religion proper is that it has been with us, so the evidence suggests, from the dawn of the species, from the advent of language, and for all of recorded history. It will be with us, IN ONE FORM OR ANOTHER, forever. It is part of the human behavioural repertoire and it is culturally expressed. No amount of criticism or sound argument will eliminate it, just as no amount of criticism will eliminate sex, singing, sleep, game-playing among children, gambling and the use of drugs (also human universals), aggression and violence, etc. etc. We need to democratically manage some or all of these behaviours for the common good and for our health and well-being, but we will do MUCH MORE HARM THAN GOOD if we try to eliminate them.

    God is a mythological figure that has evolved through cultural time and continues to evolve. God will always be with us. We should learn to live with our own mythology.

    Religion is a cultural practice, like going to the theatre or movies or camping. Religions are associations--clubs--that people join because they enjoy the activities and the feelings they get. Religious behaviour stimulates parts of our brains, the way rock climbing does. There are many different clubs--Christian, Muslim, Hindu, etc. You can even leave one club and join another if you want. Some people really get into their religious clubs, the way some get into the book club or the movie club. They go to the clubhouse (Church, Mosque, Shul, etc.) three times a week the way others watch Star Trek every day and attend Star Trek conventions and learn Klingon. (Trekkies have invented their own very strange religion).

    Atheists should state their case forcefully and resist the imposition of religion on their lives, but, as a political matter, they should also practice a pragmatic and enlightened accommodationism with religion BECAUSE IT IS MUCH MORE THAN A MYTHOLOGY, IT IS SOMETHING THAT HUMANS DO AND ENJOY.

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  56. anonymous says,

    The thing about religion proper is that it has been with us, so the evidence suggests, from the dawn of the species, from the advent of language, and for all of recorded history. It will be with us, IN ONE FORM OR ANOTHER, forever. It is part of the human behavioural repertoire and it is culturally expressed. No amount of criticism or sound argument will eliminate it, just as no amount of criticism will eliminate sex, singing, sleep, game-playing among children, gambling and the use of drugs (also human universals), aggression and violence, etc. etc.

    How do you feel about slavery, capital punishment, the treatment of women as inferiors, and monarchies? They've also been around for a very long time. Do you think they're going to be with us forever?

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  57. Prof. Moran asks:

    "How do you feel about slavery, capital punishment, the treatment of women as inferiors, and monarchies? They've also been around for a very long time. Do you think they're going to be with us forever?"

    Well, monarchies may have some redeeming features, although I tend to republicanism and won't be at all unhappy when the Queens ceases to be Canada's head of state.... Monarchy is a form of social dominance based (often) on birth.

    What do slavery and the subjection of women have in common? They are extreme forms of domination; they are, if you like, "pathological" variations of the ordinary human dominance hierachy. Dominance is incribed in the human life cycle (adults control children) and in our social behaviour. It is exhibited in our closest living primate relatives in various forms as well. We are the dominant animal and we establish dominance hierarchies everywhere, from the kindergarten to the biochemistry department.

    So, if you were to ask me a rather less tendencious question: Will dominance hierachies always be with us? I would say yes. Humans will always arrange their families, institutions, national and international affairs hierarchically. We are a hierarchical species.

    The real issue is the culture and modalities of dominance. Will we selected our dominant females and males democratically or will we allow existing dominants to appoint their successors. Will we permit subjection? (Or, rather, how such subjection are we prepared to tolerate?) Our universities, for example, are authoritarian institutions in their internal organization (although they may play a democratic role in a broader social context). In our city halls, authoritarianism is still present, but it is regulated by democratic forms. Elites compete to "nominate" their mayoral candidates and then those candidates compete for votes. A similar thing happens at other levels of government and in some internally democratic institutions, like political parties and (indeed) some churches and other religious associations.
    (Universities justify authoritarianism on scholarly grounds, but its real purpose is, in fact, broader and much less edifying).

    Human hierarchies, we all agree, must exclude slavery and the subjection of women. They must also exclude other pathological and authoritarian forms of control. (As a democrat, I would argue for much greater democracy in the administration of the universities.) This effort to regulate the formation of hierarchies is part of the theory of democracy.

    Capital punishment? In our hierarchies we define rules or limits. We write laws. We say those laws apply to everyone equally (at least in liberal democracies) although in practice they do not. Transgression is suppressed and, in part, suppressed by punishment. Does capital punishment fall within the reasonable bounds of this regulation? Is it just? Is it good policy? I would argue that capital punishment tends to be unjust and is, all things considered, bad policy. Therefore we should not execute transgressors. (But should we disallow all authorized killing by the state?)

    Dominance hierarchies and the regulation of individual behaviour (social sanction) are indeed inscribed, at some level, in our biology, our brains and our genes. They will indeed be with us forever. The real issue is how to ascribe lawful, just and democratic boundaries to the imposition of authority on individuals and groups. Locke. Jefferson. Trudeau.

    Prof. Moran's evolutionism seems restricted to the molecular level; he seems to reject a broader application of evolutionary principles to human behaviour and society, in a way the SJ Gould (say) did not. If we are an evolved social species, then oughtn't we to think about ourselves that way?
    Ought's we to think about human universals (dominance hierarchies, religious behaviour, art) that way too?

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  58. P.S. Apologies for the typos etc. in the previous post: Writing too much too quickly.

    The general point is simple: If we take (human) evolution seriously then we should think about human behaviour and its regulation in terms that are consistent with our nature as a species. Phenotypical plasticity is not without its limits.

    The hypothesical on which this kind of thinking about religion is based is this: behaviours that are universals (found in all human cultures at all times) are inscribed in our brains and genes. They can assume different cultural forms but they cannot be eliminated.

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  59. anonymous says,

    What do slavery and the subjection of women have in common? They are extreme forms of domination; they are, if you like, "pathological" variations of the ordinary human dominance hierachy. Dominance is incribed in the human life cycle (adults control children) and in our social behaviour. It is exhibited in our closest living primate relatives in various forms as well. We are the dominant animal and we establish dominance hierarchies everywhere, from the kindergarten to the biochemistry department.

    Why don't you reduce religion to such a fundamental?

    You seem to agree that our society can abandon things like slavery but not dominance. Why can't we abandon religion as well?

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  60. I guess I would say, very tentatively, that we can (and have) abandonned religions. No one worships Thor (as far as I know) today....

    We can (and do) abandon religions but we can't necessarily abandon the behaviours that we characterize as religious. These behaviours appear to involve gathering in groups and engaging in various movements and vocalizations that are intended to address nature (in some way) -- to control it, or show awe or obedience, etc.

    There would also seem to be a relationship between dominance and religious behaviour. The chief rules but who rules the chief? God both justifies and supports the dominance hierarchy.

    "Religion" is a cultural term; "religious behaviours" is an anthropological or sociological one. You can alter the culture but you can only suppress the behaviours by draconian and coercive means and usually by a kind of simultanteous substitution of a "new God" for the old one -- see the advent of Roman Christianity, the spread of Islam and the Bolshevik revolution as examples of supression plus substitution. (Bolshevism suppressed religion itself and then substituted leader-worship and an ideology of the earthly utopia). Some forms of militant atheism may also qualify as a substitute for religion.

    The question becomes: what do you substitute for religion? The Constitution of the USA? Soccer? Hockey? My country right or wrong? Liberalism? Communism? Democracy? The Arts and Letters Club? Opera? The future? Our children? (Politicians are particularly fond of the last two).

    How stable or beneficial are these substitutions?

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  61. anonymous says,

    The question becomes: what do you substitute for religion? The Constitution of the USA? Soccer? Hockey? My country right or wrong? Liberalism? Communism? Democracy? The Arts and Letters Club? Opera? The future? Our children? (Politicians are particularly fond of the last two).

    I equate "religious behavior" with "superstition." The fight is between rationalism and superstition. So, what do you substitute for religion? The answer is rationalism.

    How stable or beneficial are these substitutions?

    Extremely, That's why we've been steadily moving in the direction of rationalism—and away from superstition—for several millennia.

    BTW, I reject the notion that we are "substituting" anything to take the place of religion. We are simply abandoning our belief in superstition and learning to live productive lives without that crutch.

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  62. The chief rules but who rules the chief? God both justifies and supports the dominance hierarchy.

    Doesn't that make God an atheist? Whom does he serve? If Christians are denigrating atheists, then they are denigrating God.

    We are simply abandoning our belief in superstition and learning to live productive lives without that crutch.

    Maybe, maybe not. Religion certainly isn't going away in our lifetime. Maybe things will go the other way. It would be interesting to come back in a thousand or ten thousand years and check up on your prediction, but of course none of us can do that. So it's really just rhetoric, isn't it?

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  63. anonymous says,

    Religion certainly isn't going away in our lifetime.

    Been to Europe recently? Or Canada?

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  64. This Anonymous agrees with Prof. Moran. God is a mythical figure and religious doctrine (ideology, particular beliefs) is superstition.

    But religious behaviour (and therefore religious expression) appear to be part of our extended phenotype with a basis in our genotype. Prof. Moran doesn't concede the phenotypical-genotypical nature of religious behaviour and expression. He argues that religion is simply a cultural phenomenon....

    I say nature; he says nurture. Or rather, I say nature culturally expressed. I wonder what twin studies have to say on the subject. Twins, separated at birth, who both grow up in religious families to be non-believers? Twins who grow up in atheistical families to be priests?

    Anon

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