Alister McGrath on Daniel Dennett
Alister McGrath skillfully undermines Daniel Dennett's recent book on religion:
Whatever the benefits of religions, Dennett and these writers believe that they arise entirely inside human minds. No spiritual realities exist outside us. Natural explanations may be given of the origins of belief in God. Now I hesitate to mention this, but this is clearly a rather circular argument, which presupposes its conclusions.There's more good stuff, especially about Dennett's unscientific reliance on the notion of "memes."
So what models does Professor Dennett propose for the origins of faith in God? I was delighted to find a rich range of explanatory approaches in this book. I read the first – the “sweet tooth” theory. On this approach, just as we have evolved a receptor system for sweet things, so in a similar way we might have a “god centre” in our brains. Such a centre might depend on a “mystical gene” that was favoured by natural selection because people with it tend to survive better.
Just a moment, I thought. Where’s the science? What’s the evidence for this? Instead I found mights and maybes, speculation and supposition, instead of the rigorous evidence-driven and evidence-based arguments that I love and respect. These theories are evidence-free and wildly speculative.
We are told, for example, that – I quote from the jacket blurb – religious “ideas could have spread from individual superstitions via shamanism and the early ‘wild’ strains of religion”. There’s no credible evidence for this. There’s no serious attempt to engage with the history of religions. It reminds me of those TV ads; “this could help you lose weight as part of a calorie-controlled diet”. Could. The TV ad writers would love to be able to say their product was “clinically proven” to do these things. But they can’t. There’s no evidence.