Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

April 25, 2008

Daniel C. Dennett: Thank Goodness!

Filed under: culture, Education, religion — Tags: — codesmithy @ 8:28 am

I came across an article by Daniel C. Dennett, a “bright” philosopher of philosophy at Tufts University called “Thank Goodness!” It had a few ideas I tried to get across in an earlier post when talking about Chomsky’s remarks about religion. As I wrote at the time:

It therefore seems superficial to irrationally thank all these imaginary factors [god, prayer, etc.] without recognizing a few that actually made a tangible difference.

Dennett does an excellent job elaborating on that theme (before I thought of it no less!).  At some point I’m going to have to read his book “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon,” but alas, there are only so many hours in a day.

In some ways I feel god is a stand-in for a tremendous amount of awe.  As a single person, with an individual capacity, I can’t imagine accomplishing feats such as building the car I drive from scratch, or the cell phone I use, or the apartment I live in, etc., etc.  Obviously there is someway to extract the resources of this earth in such a way to do it, but it is hard for me to fully comprehend everything it took to reach this point.  There are so many things we just take for granted, like not getting smallpox or polio that it are just extraordinarily difficult to quantify in any meaningfully way.  It seems too great for an individual, but nevertheless, it is something that we, a collection of individuals, do on a regular basis.

This is why religion scares me.  In one respect, it is insulting.  It is insulting to irrationally sing the praises of individuals and things which had no provable impact on a fortunate outcome while the people who made a difference are ignored.  If it were just in back-handed insult, I could probably ignore it.  The part that scares me is the lack of recognition.  The true believer really doesn’t see that it is us.  We did this.  Maybe with a little bit of luck and fortune, but also a lot of hard-work and sacrifice.  The failure to recognize that which is manifestly important to the essence, nature and achievement of our civilization will mean that it can be forgotten.  We can revert.  We can go back in the dark and watch the steady march of scientific progress crumble.  We can become the cargo cult worshipers, witch doctors, the people hoveled in superstition, ignorance and disinterest.  That possibility is the frightening one.

I realize there is no perfect time in history and there is no time to act in history other than the present.  Every generation must rewrite, replicate and reembody the values we wish to pass on.  However, it remains clear there are people who don’t get it.  They don’t get it because they are unable to place themselves in a world outside of themselves.  They are blind to the “goodness.”  A principle crutch to this blindness is religion.  If we care about preserving the “goodness” of the civilization, it is in our interest to takeaway that crutch.

How?  Teach comparative religion starting as early as possible.  Let them know there are at least 2 billion people who disagree with them no matter what religion they choose.  I believe the fundamental humility this realization breeds is as essential to the thinking we try to promote in education and the secular principles of our society as any other.

Religion is a real phenomenon and too important to leave to just the theologians.

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