Sunday, June 27, 2010

"I love the smell of napalm in the morning..."

There's a reason a book like this is published in the popular press rather than among the experts in the field:

Bering argues that the strangely deeply-rooted sense that some intentional agent created us as individuals, wants us to behave in particular ways, observes our otherwise private actions, and intends to meet us after we die would also have been felt by our ancestors, leading them to behave in ways that favored
their reputations--and thus saved their genes.
IOW, Richard Dawkins meets St. Augustine, and the result? Bollocks.

Funny, I was just reading some notes on Augustine's Confessions, and even the editors of Norton's Anthology of World Literature pointed out that the three characteristics of Augustine's remarkable work would have been strange and, indeed, incomprehensible to his peers and his predecessors, especially the idea that we were created as individuals, that the gods wanted us to behave in particular ways, and that the gods would be the least bit interested in our personal, indeed in our interior, lives.

That's all Augustine. Every bit of it, rooted in Augustine's Confessions. And it is no more a summary of human religious experience than John 3:16 is a summary of all Christian theology. It's just pure, mindless crap. It's just another "expert" taking some simplistic, reductio ad absurdum view of religion, shoe-horning it into a "scientific theory" (of which it is neither) and peddling it for purposes of making a buck from the gullible and naive. The author, Jesse Bering, is noted in the catalog from which I took that precis (and for which, to be fair, he is not responsible) as "one of the principal investigators of the Explaining Religion Project. I can only hope their efforts are better informed than this.

Oh, and the thesis of the book, apparently, as if you couldn't guess:

But in today's world, these psychological illusions ahve outlasted their evolutionary purpose and Bering draws our attention to a whole new challenge: escaping them.
Same song, different verse: a little bit louder, a little bit worse.

In other news, Sam Harris continues to set fire to the straw men in his head:

Bestselling author Sam Harris dismantles the most common justification for religious faith—that a moral system cannot be based on science.
I can only say that was probably "the most common justification for religious faith:" in the nineteenth century. And World War I pretty much set fire to it, as "The Waste Land" and most of the ouevre of the "Lost Generation" eloquently recounts. And there are plenty of "moral systems" based on simple observation (which is, essentially, science), starting with the great-granddaddy of them all: the Nicomachean Ethics.

Lord, deliver me from fools. Please.


  1. "these psychological illusions have outlasted their evolutionary purpose"

    If they are truly "evolutionary," they have no purpose. The scientific notion of evolution has nothing to do with purposefulness.

  2. Bestselling author Sam Harris dismantles the most common justification for religious faith—that a moral system cannot be based on science.

    I love the simultaneous embrace and rejection of the argumentum ad populum here.

  3. rick: absolutely; they talk teleologically, time to reach for the Super Soaker. And a ridiculous number of propositions in 'evolutionary psychology' and similar fields arise far more from ideology than from actual, y'know, science, and can't be tested or falsified.

    Interesting, seems to me, how 'Social Darwinism', which is neither, rears its ugly head with regularity, endlessly, in much the same way as does 'scientific' racism. Never goes away. Needs to be called by its name, every time.