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Supernatural Selection

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By Drake Bennett | January 29, 2006


WHEN THE philosopher Daniel Dennett was a teenager, he played the backwoods holy man Elijah in his prep school's production of ''Inherit the Wind." ''Bearded, wild-haired, dressed in a tattered burlap smock," Elijah comes down from the hills, on the eve of Bert Cates's trial for teaching evolution, to sell Bibles out of an old vegetable crate. ''Are you an evolutionist? An infidel? A sinner?" Elijah asks an out-of-town newspaperman.


Until he went to graduate school, Dennett claims, the play, famously based on the 1925 Scopes ''monkey trial," was the source of most of what he knew about evolution and natural selection. Today Dennett has a prophet's beard, one corner of which he will sometimes fold into his mouth for a ruminative chew, and he is one of Darwinian theory's foremost promoters. He sees it not just as an explanation for the origin of species, but for the fundamental whys and hows of human habits, beliefs, thinking, and desires. The logic of evolution, Dennett wrote in his 1995 book ''Darwin's Dangerous Idea," is a ''universal acid," it ''eats through just about every traditional concept, and leaves in its wake a revolutionized worldview."


A month ago, when federal Judge John E. Jones III ruled that intelligent design could not be taught in a Pennsylvania school district, scientists and secularists celebrated the decision as a victory not only for the separation of church and state, but of church and science. A few editorials quoted Harvard evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould's argument that science, concerned as it is with facts, and religion, concerned with human purposes and values, were ''Non-Overlapping Magisteria," separate sources of authority that could exist in ''respectful noninterference." Judge Jones himself took pains to emphasize that the theory of evolution ''in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator."


Daniel Dennett, however, is no great believer in respectful noninterference, and in his new book, ''Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon" (Viking), he argues vehemently against it. Religion, Dennett says, is human behavior, and there are branches of science to study human behavior. ''Whether or not [Gould] was right," Dennett told me in his office at Tufts University, where he is director of the Center for Cognitive Studies, ''and I don't think he was, I'm not making a claim that he would disagree with. I'm not saying that science should do what religion does. I'm saying science should study what religion does."


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That is a position I have always found interesting, and one that I agree with, while knowing I know practically nothing about the subject. Has anyone here heard about Spiral Dyanmics? Once I get home from work I'll dig up the link I have, but basically it is a theory (or is it a hypothesis? :shrug: ) about cognitive development based on "extensive cross-cultural data" which gives evidence that religion may have been not only inevitable, but necessary. It explains that religion enable early man to build societies because it united larger groups of people under a shared law. But each "step" in development (I use step loosely, SD does not claim that each step is set in stone, but flows into the next level) has its pitfalls, with religions being fairly obvious. (But I will state it anyway) While religion united larger groups under one law, it did not united all peoples under one law, and eventually each group started to think that they had the True Law which led to war on a larger scale then just tribal warfare.

Anyway, basically religion allowed pre-rational man to form societies which helped him thrive, but since man in general is moving to rational and even to post-rational religion is starting to lose its benefit and therefore is becoming more of just a downside.

(Note: last section is merely my opinion based on how I view the world and my understanding of Spiral Dynamics).

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Huh, apparently one has to join something to see the site I had linked, so screw that. You can go here for some info through links. I haven't read the site(s), but they should give some info, I would assume. I do know that Ken Wilber gives a good synopsis in A Theory of Everything.

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