Bloggers get philosophical over a New York Times Magazine essay on the scientific basis for religious belief. They also mourn the passing of Jean Baudrillard and hope Oprah gives up her fascination with The Secret.
Galapogospel: With rigorous atheist briefs on the rise from figures like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, Robin Marantz Henig has published a widely read piece, "Darwin's God," in the New York Times Magazine that asks, "Which is the better biological explanation for a belief in God—evolutionary adaptation or neurological accident?"
Larry Arnhart at Darwinian Conservatism sees faith as a means of crowd control: "Religious understanding also serves to unite us into a community of believers who can trust one another to be cooperative, even when this requires individual sacrifice for the good of the group. That's why conservatives tend to see religion as necessary for social order. Regardless of what one thinks about the theological claims of religious belief, religion can have a practical benefit in holding believers together in cooperative communities."
Conservative Marvin Olasky at the evangelical weekly World magazine's WorldViews writes: "Ignored (except for several paragraphs) is the idea that God really exists and intelligently designed everything. The article does not mention one bit of contemporary evidence that evolutionary advantagists … might use: evangelicals, Orthodox Jews, and orthodox Muslims are having more children than secularists or even theological liberals. The article also doesn't compare religions: Believers in a Bible-based religion that says man can and should dig wells will do better than those remaining in animism who believe that digging wells will anger the earth god or goddess."
Liberal Ruchira Paul at Accidental Blogger asks: "What is more fascinating to me is that if our reliogisity indeed is an evolutionary trait, adaptive or otherwise, why have some humans through history had no use for religion despite enormous social pressures - sometimes at the risk of endangering their lives? In this group belong the atheists, the agnostics, the skeptics and those who just couldn't care less about the religious question. Among those who claim to have faith, what percentage really has a deep seated belief system that flies in the face of their rational thinking?"
MikeGene at evolution/cognitive-science blog Telic Thoughts argues that "the truth of God's existence is not dependent on humans having some supernatural ability to perceive such existence. After all, our perception of the physical world must also have a biological/evolutionary explanation. Would numbers, other minds, and history cease to be real because we could come up with a biological explanation for how we came to believe in such things?"
Read more about "Darwin's God."
This death never happened: French Postmodern theorist Jean Baudrillard died Tuesday at age 77. His writings have influenced everything from polemics against Wal-Mart to the philosophy of The Matrix, though he aroused a minor scandal in the wake of the first Gulf War by questioning the "reality" of this highly televised event.
The Latin teacher at The Life of the Dead Author observes: "I was fascinated with Baudrillard before the rise of the World Wide Web in popular culture. His notions of simulation and reality and truth and the perception of truth made their impressions. His remarks on 'residue' and meaning made deep impressions on me. And I believe that I actually understood, to some paltry degree, what he was saying."
Stephen Smoliar at ideas blog The Rehearsal Studio also offers a personally tinged eulogy to Baudrillard: "Here is a bullet list of points I made after reading his chapter about collection in Le Système des Objets: Collecting is ultimately discourse with one's self. As such it is fundamentally infantile. This distinguishes it from science (the collection of facts) and memory (the collection of knowledge). … Writing as one who collects music (CDs, sheet music, and orchestral scores for study) and books, I found this pretty stern stuff."
Ed at socialist International Rooksbyism says: "[Baudrillard's] famous declaration that the first Gulf War 'never happened' was, I think, politically and morally irresponsible. This isn't to say that Baudrillard doesn't make some good points in that infamous work - clearly, (post)modern* warfare is, in many ways, media spectacle. Doesn't mean that there aren't real people really being pulverised and eviscerated in the explosions shown on our TV screens, however."
Read more on Baudrillard's passing.
Secrets and Lies: Oprah's latest obsession: The Secret. It's a self-actualization manifesto and video, which this article claims is nothing more than pooled New Age gobbledygook, which the queen of daytime television would do well to repudiate, posthaste.
In the comments section of media-and-marketing blog achievable ends, Jimmy Chalmers notes: "Much of the junk taught in THE SECRET sounds familiar. In Tulsa, OK in the eighties you could hear this theology spouted almost every Sunday and Wednesday in the large charismatic congregations… I heard the stuff about most bible characters being rich over twenty-five years ago. The ones that struggled...they had not had a full revelation of the gospel. Rhonda Byrne will become more wealthy than any health and weath prophet. Why? Her audience is huge...by the time they figure it out...their pockets will be empty."
Theologian Prof. John Stackhouse thinks the design scheme's changed, but the content of "The Secret" is centuries-old: "In some cultures, yes, this sort of teaching was kept secret–literally, 'esoteric.' Only initiates could find out that the world was not, in fact, the material stuff we all naturally think it is, but is in fact essentially spirit or–in a term more acceptable to those in the age of quantum mechanics–'energy.' Seeing the spiritual essence of things was the great knowledge–in Greek, the gnosis–that let one free oneself from material encumbrances to enjoy a higher life. Thus The Secret is simply the newest packaging for gnosticism, a religious impulse that courses through a variety of religions around the world and that has been making a comeback in our own time."
Read more about the Oprah takedown.