Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Dennett & religion as a function of biology
The atheist Daniel Dennett believes that religious belief is a function of biology. In an interview in Sunday’s newyorktimes.com Dennett says, “belief can be explained in much the way that cancer can. I think the time has come to shed our taboo that says, "Oh, let's just tiptoe by this, we don't have to study this." People think they know a lot about religion. But they don't know.” Dennett is asked, “So what can you tell us about God?” He replies, “Certainly the idea of a God that can answer prayers and whom you can talk to, and who intervenes in the world - that's a hopeless idea. There is no such thing.”
My problem with this kind of response remains as follows. If religious belief is a function of biology, are there any beliefs that are not a function of biology? Are, for example, Dennett’s beliefs a function of biology? If they are, then why accept them? Why accept Dennett’s idea that religious beliefs are a function of biology if his idea is itself a function of biology?
If Dennett’s own ideas about religion are themselves a function of biology, then does that make them suspect? If not, then religious beliefs are also not suspect simply because they are a function of biology. And if religious idas and even all ideas are in part or entirely a function of biology to say that this renders them suspect is to commit the genetic fallacy.
If Dennett claims that his particular beliefs/theories/ideas about religious beliefs are not themselves a function of biology, what makes them so? How are his ideas not a function of biology when my religious ideas are? Last year I read Dennett’s book Freedom Evolves and had the same problems when he began talking like this. I find such talk incoherent.