Saturday, December 08, 2007

Claim Anything You Want - As Long As It Supports Religion

Scott Stephens declared in 'Eureka Street' that Christopher Hitchens' recent book 'God Is Not Great' contemptuously strips religion of its nobility and dislodges it from its pride of place as the noble founding gesture of civilisation by ignoring that:
"[religion represents] the moment when Homo sapiens, driven by its emerging thirst for transcendence, takes the first step out of the domain of primates by investing certain ritualised practices with meaning."
Unfortunately, Stephens doesn't offer a single shred of empirical evidence to substantiate his claim that homo sapiens was "driven by its emerging thirst for transcendence" or even that this represented the "first step out of the domain of primates", whatever he means by those terms.

Having dismissed Hitchens, Stephens then attacks Dawkins, who is generally credited with creating the notion of the religious meme (though not by Stephens), but Stephens dismisses Dawkins by quoting that Daniel Dennett dismissed Dawkins' theory of the meme as mere 'philosophy' and, anyway, Stephens claims that Marx had already referred to the meme as "full of theological subtleties and metaphysical niceties". Nevertheless, I have to agree with Stephens and disagree with Dawkins; there is no empiric evidence that the meme qua meme exists, but all that means is that Dawkins has not nailed the reasons for the continued existence of religious faith and in no way evidences that religion is (a) necessary, (b) noble, (c) the first step out of the domain of primates, or (d) anything else that is intrinsically worthy per se. (I also have to admit that it is some 70+ years since I read Marx, but I do not recollect him referring to the meme as such, and I suggest that Stephens is in all likelihood 'egging the pudding').

Frankly, I find Stephens' argument weak to the point of non-existence. If, as he appears to be maintaining, religion represents homo sapiens' "thirst for transcendence", that seems to me to be an admission that religion is simply the wish-fulfilment of a primitive psychological need for meaning and permanence - a need which those of us who continue to develop and mature psychologically realise is as unnecessary and as meaningless as the so-called answers that religion claims to give. (NB. I am also intrigued at the hubris of those who believe that primates and other species do not have a need for meaning and permanence, unlike homo sapiens, but perhaps they are more capable of divining the inner life of other species than I am).

In conclusion, Stephens and his kind are unable to give any evidence demonstrating the necessity for religion per se, and attacking people like Hitchens, Dawkins, Marx or Uncle Tom Cobbley when they dismiss the validity of religion does nothing to make religion anything other than a symptom of the primitive psychological needs of insecure and dysfunctional people. However, his attack does prove that one can say anything one likes, as long as it supports religion - unless, of course, one is a fundamental Muslim who claims that it is God's will that unbelievers and apostates be murdered (not to mention the Xtian 'pro-life' murdrerers).

No comments: