Thursday, July 16, 2009

Daniel Dennett on Belief in Belief

Daniel Dennett has an article up in The Guardian called, "The Folly of Pretense." It's pretty short and he doesn't give much support to his argument, but essentially he maintains that belief in belief in God -- in other words the utility of religion -- is unnecessary. He subtitle is "We must not preserve the myth of God – it was a useful crutch, but we've outgrown it."

I'm highly skeptical of this sort of argument. First of all, the subtitle is ridiculous. Who is this "we" that he is speaking of? The vast majority of people in the world have religious beliefs, and many of them are held quite fanatically. I think Dennett greatly overestimates the number of people who just believe in belief and don't actually believe at least some of the tenets of their particular faith. I realize that Dennett is a philosopher, but he seems to be operating in a make-believe world.

His article is an answer to the question: should we believe in belief? But it is nowhere near as clear-cut as Dennett thinks. He cites Denmark as an example of how religion isn't really necessary to have an advanced, peaceful society. But one small country is an unconvincing example. Most people seem to have an innate need to believe in some higher force. Throughout recorded history there has never been a time of no religion. It is nice for we atheists to think that everything would be far better without religion, but there is really no way to tell. It's quite possible that the world might be much worse, despite all the problems religion causes. The absence of religion does not imply rationality. People are quite capable of transferring their religious impulses to dangerous ideologies and leaders. Communism is the most obvious example. Dennet's assertions seem like little more than starry-eyed wishful thinking.

1 comment:

  1. "But one small country is an unconvincing example."
    Really? What more do you want?

    There is a word for your kind of argument: unfalsifiable.