Reach of science #10… replace religion?

Posted on February 7, 2011

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Jenny: “Professor, did you happen to hear Dan Dennett propose how science could take over religion – even buy up empty churches? If not you can see it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5tGpMcFF7U.”

Peter: “What do they do, replace the cross with a big question mark?”

Professor Wiggly: ” Yes, I watched it last night. Very interesting. What he did was list the many positive contributions that religion has made over the centuries such as hope, beautiful art and music, a place to go for help and companionship, etc. He then proposed that secular – non-religious – organizations could do the same thing but without the irrational stuff about God. He proposed that an example already existed that was bring the best of human creativity and sharing it for free. Google ” Ted.com” if you’re curious to see its presentations on science, religion, humour, art, music, technology, culture….”

Jenny: “What did you think of Dennett’s talk?”

Professor Wiggly: “I thought it was brilliant. By far the most impressive presentation by an atheist on the role of religion, But in proposing that science replace religion he failed to admit the dominate role  that faith-based reasoning plays in our lives, every second of every day. Science assumes that, unlike religion it tests it theories against hard evidence. And in the ‘long run’ it does so with some of its theories. But Dennett doesn’t talk about how  scientists cherry pick positive evidence supporting their theory and sweep negative evidence under the rug. Nor did he mention that many (most?) of the major problems we face every day are currently, or forever, beyond the reach of science: choosing a mate, a successful cancer treatment, a career, a stock, political leaders, knowing what the driver in the next lane will do, whether our child’s teacher is trustworthy, what will the future bring? etc., etc. We can’t make such decisions on the basis of scientific evidence – it isn’t available –  we must make them on the basis of faith. Scientists claim they can replace faith with probabilities. For instance the rational, aethistic marriage ceremony would become something like: “do you take this man to be your husband to love and to trust as long as you both shall live,  even though we know that approximately 60% of husbands cheat on their wives, and even though you will probably cheat on him, and even though he will never be sure that the children he has are his unless he does DNA tests, which are not absolutely accurate. Remember that the atheist Richard Dawkins has been married 3 times and was estranged from his only daughter over religious arguments with his wife, Do you still want to go ahead with this ceremony given the that the probabilities of success are not so hot? Well do you, do you?” Herb Simon the Nobel Prize winner pointed out that we can’t afford to make most of our decisions on the basis of logic or evidence – we can’t afford to do so with our bounded rationality and incomplete and conflicting evidence – we make them on the basis of emotionally anchored assumptions. I’m waiting to see how Dennett addresses how atheists address the issue of how we make important  decisions when evidence is lacking or conflicted – or does he just sweep evidence such as Simons under the rug?”

Jenny: “How do you think Dennett – with his pro science stance –  would handle Simon’s mantra – no decisions without emotional anchored presumptions?”

Professor Wiggly: ” I think he would rely on one his emotionally anchored assumptions, namely on his neurological model of human behavior.Dennett claims that free will is a myth, that ALL behavior is controlled by teams of min robots – by interacting neurological networks. (to hear Dennett go to: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_dennett_on_our_consciousness.html). These networks are the result of genetic and environmental programing – inherited and learned habits of behavior. Free will is a myth, consciousness is a byproduct – sort of like a backseat driver under the illusion that they are controlling the show, but with no connection to the steering system. Instead the decision has already been made by the teams of mini-robots and the consciousness and the myth of free will take the credit. At this stage Dennett’s theory – or model – is just that a World 3 theory with little connection to World 1 evidence. An instance of Hawkings ‘model dependent realism’. Dennett would probably point to brain imaging evidence showing a correlation between blood flow and selected behavior, and also to the conditioning of behavioral response resulting from reinforcement or rewards leading to habitual behavior.”

Peter: ” So according to his own theory Dennett’s criticisms of religion aren’t based on conscious, rational analyses, but rather arise from the automatic firing of his particular teams of mini robots – he’s just a warm-blooded robot – a machine – firing off words over which he – a mythical self – has no control?”

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Posted in: Sciencing