Response to "Is Religion Man-Made?"

June 26, 2007

Judging by everything I have read, in Stanley Fish's blog (NYT TimeSelect only) and elsewhere, about the 3 Atheists ' [Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris] arguments, it seems that most of their them pertain to ancient religious trends and do not necessarily address contemporary religion. So what if wheelbarrows might have been amazing to the (many) authors of the Bible? We humans still find existential consolation in many of their fine observations about our many natures (cf Ehrlich Human Natures). So humanity has progressed since that time. Likewise has religion progressed.

Brabo slays Antigoon. In front of the city hall, Antwerp, Belgium.

There have been many religions — or tweaks of existing religions — revealed / expounded / manufactured (take your pick) since the downfall of the Roman empire. Islam, Sikhism, Protestant Christianity, Latter-Day-Saints, Baha'i (my own), Unitarian Universalism, and more. These were all formed well after the wheelbarrow =). And with several of them, their scriptures were not assembled by disparate men over time, recording oral traditions subject to decades or centuries of the children�s game of "telephone."

If religion has evolved, then it is not, strictly speaking, "manufactured." At certain points in time one or a few individuals have come along to give religion a new push, by changing laws, injecting new inspiration and dealing with modern realities. Personally I think of these as the punctuations in the equilibria. But even these punctuations, which could be seen as manufacturing, do not occur in a vacuum — even these new revelations are built upon the shoulders of giants. Evolution of religious thought does not deny its meaning or usefulness to humanity. On the other hand, attacking all religion on the basis of its older incarnations is no better than attacking evolution on the basis of Darwin's "failure" to explain fully its mechanisms (DNA, genetic drift).

Another curious point is the failure to realize how much our conceptions of God have changed over time. This is well documented by Armstrong in History of God. Most of the populace seems to have missed this point as well. Maybe in this day and age we�ll start to recognize God as a concept that attempts to give us a connection to that reality which transcends — emerges from the chaos of the universe (reflecting and growing out of the seed from which all this chaos has emerged).

I highly doubt that 230 million Americans think that God personally authored the Bible (claimed by Harris I think to prove some point). I�m sure there are millions who think so — but not most of the people I know! Inspiration and authorship are incredibly different things. This is the type of demagoguery that does the 3 Atheists a major disservice. They are right to point out the many flaws in trying to directly apply teachings relevant for a past day and age to this one. To stoop to "manufactured = bad" and facile statistics (230 million!) is as un-helpful as anything they�re railing against.

For a particular religious perspective on the evolution of religion throughout history, wiki progressive revelation. Nietzsche was right that "God is dead." So long as you realize what God he was speaking about.

1 Comment

As someone who considers himself agnostic (more or less), I agree with you. I think the demagoguery that the Three Atheists engage in doesn't help their cause -- it's a mirror image of the worst parts of fundamentalism(s).