“Religions aren’t growing: they’re just growing louder”: Dennett on God and religiosity

November 12, 2020 • 2:00 pm

A while back I was asked to appear on Robert Lawrence Kuhn’s Closer to Truth videos, but I had some issues over Templeton funding (there appears to be none), and the fact that the show always seems to be pushing goddiness.

Given that Kuhn has now interviewed atheist Dan Dennett (see the 8-minute video below), perhaps I should have been more willing to be interviewed, for I see my correspondence with Kuhn simply petered out.  What makes Dan ideal for this kind of show is that he’s affable, pulls no punches about his nonbelief, but also is interested in the phenomena of religion and especially of “belief in belief”: the view that religion is a good thing for humanity regardless of whether you yourself accept a god. As Dan points out, there are more people with “belief in belief” than those with “belief in God”, because the former class subsumes the latter and adds nonbelievers as well. So his interest in religion goes well beyond investigating whether any gods exist.

Dan does a good job here, saying that the Abrahamic god doesn’t exist but that the phenomenon of religion is still worth studying. He notes the steep decline of religiosity throughout most of the world, which just prompts churches to proselytize all the more. As he says, “Religions aren’t growing; they’re just growing louder.” (Dan’s handy with the bon mots.)

My only quibble with what Dan says, and it’s barely even a quibble, is that he’s not all that interested in the existence of gods. Having dismissed the Abrahamic one, he also isn’t interested in whether there is something “real” for which God can be seen as a metaphor (e.g., the cosmos or a Tillichian “Ground of Being” because “the answer to it doesn’t have much to do with how religions flourish and it guide people’s lives in the future.”

That may be true, but if you take moral guidance from the metaphorical god, or pray to it, or inculcate your children in it, or simply take the view that faith plays a role in this process, then at best you’re enabling belief in the unevidenced, and at worst promulgating or preaching bad behaviors.

h/t: Paul

15 thoughts on ““Religions aren’t growing: they’re just growing louder”: Dennett on God and religiosity

  1. But, what about Shinto? I guess technically the Kami’s are gods but I don’t know that people even really believe in them. Its more about being Japanese.

    1. Shinto is an animistic scam, just like all other religions. The kami, Allah, Yahweh, Ganesh, Christ … all are spirits that supposedly can exist without being linked to a corruptible body.

    1. Oh my — I thought this was new. I haven’t heard any new stuff from Dennett for a while and was sort of getting concerned.. not that I know him personally….

  2. It seems clear to me by now that this show … can we just call it a show for simplicity … this show is going to appeal to those who are soft on religion — and if it gets them to reason themselves out of a trap they never reasoned themselves into to begin with, it is a good thing.

    Personally, for me, the narrative / questions are embarassing — but Dennett shines in these scenarios, because his compelling personality navigates it with agility. Again I emphasize these questions would appeal to someone who really thought they shouldn’t be thinking too much about religion, but really need to do something about it.

    1. For some reason a lot of these videos have been coming into my YouTube feed lately. I’ve watched a few featuring some physicists, and some about consciousness. Generally interesting, but it does seem that Kuhn would at least like to be able to believe in god(s), if he could find a way. Not sure.

      One thing I can’t help noticing is that it seems about half of each video is just the host sitting somewhere, seemingly deep in thought – which becomes a little overwrought after a while.

      1. Although now I just watched the Dennett video, and this one did not feature Kuhn deep in reverie by a seashore, or walking along a sun-dappled path, or standing on a bridge as the masses pass him by. Ha.

      2. “… it does seem that Kuhn would at least like to be able to believe in god(s), if he could find a way.“

        Yes — this is what the show’s audience will pick up on. It is somewhat immaterial — the point is to foster dialogue.

  3. Supreme Court Justice Alito gave a speech to the Federalist Society and said that gay rights were oppressive to Christians. Also oppressive; Covid restrictions. This is our Supreme Court and it’s not getting better while the Senate is controlled by Mitch McConnel.

  4. Dennett’s idea of “belief in belief” – a driver of churches who skip over the whole truth problem of their schtick – just suggested to me the counterpart idea:

    Disbelief in disbelief

    It seems this also could be active in that scenario.

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