new photo blog

i started this blog in 2006, and it's shifted along with my interests through the years. it's been witness to a lot of learning for me...

still, i feel that i need a home for my photography -- so from now on, i'll be posting my pictures on the journal on my reworked website. if you like my photos, you might decide to follow me there!

my first post is here -- check it out!

as for this blog, i'm not sure what will happen. i don't think i'm willing to let it go, and certainly i'll keep it as an archive, but i need some time to figure it out.

for those of you that pop in from time to time, thanks for the visits and encouragement.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

the unbelievable truth: why america has become a nation of religious know-nothings

by daniel dennett on the ny daily news, in response to the new study by the pew forum on religion and public life, which concluded that atheists and agnostics tend to know more about religion than believers do.


the age of the earth, the existence of billions of galaxies, the detailed confirmation of evolutionary biology, including our demonstrated close kinship to chimpanzees and indeed all other mammals - all these discoveries and many more have taken their toll on any literal understanding of the holy texts. scholarship about the history of those texts has also made it more and more obvious that they are imperfect human artifacts with a long history of revision and adjustment, not eternal and unchanging gifts from god.

so what's a religion to do? there are two main tactics.

plan A: treat the long, steady retreat into metaphor and mystery as a process of increasing wisdom, and try to educate the congregation to the new sophisticated understandings.

plan B: cloak all the doctrines in a convenient fog and then not just excuse the faithful from trying to penetrate the fog, but celebrate the policy of not looking too closely at anyone's creed - not even your own.




  1. thirdphotoreceptor4/10/10 17:05

    There's a variation on Dennett's plan B that might be more accurate. Certain kinds of irrational behaviour may actually be serving a function within religious and other cultural groups. A concept like the trinity for example which seems absurd on its face is ideal for demonstrating loyalty, precisely because it is difficult to accept. If a person is willing to defend it, they are thereby demonstrating that they are capable of overriding their personal judgement in deference to the authority of the church. Initiation rites, which often involve suffering of one kind or another can be viewed in the same terms. It's a kind of costly signalling behaviour.

  2. thirdphotoreceptor4/10/10 17:24

    ^Dawkins talks about this idea in a paper called Viruses of the Mind, which you may have already seen (knowing your interest in these things). It was published in a volume devoted to Dennett and his critics (1993) edited by Bo Dalhbom. If you haven't seen it, a copy of the paper can be found here:

    (Section 3 is where the costly signalling idea gets mentioned)

    I'm surprised Dawkins and Dennett haven't made more of this idea in the time since because it appears to explain a lot.