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Why We (Supposedly) Need Religion
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Just a few more days of finals, then I'm home free. In the meantime, I read this article in Reason and just couldn't keep my trap shut.

Lots of interesting stuff in here, so you should read the whole thing.

It basically talks about the conservative attack on evolutionary thinking, and proposes that even though there are conservatives who recognize that ID is trash science and see the validity in evolutionary theory (see John Derbyshire and Charles Krauthammer), the main reason they're attacking Darwinian ideas is because they think a) Society is going to hell in a handbasket, b) Religion is the only way to reverse that trend and improve society:

But something deeper seems to be going on, and the key to it can be found in Bork's assertion in his book that religious "belief is probably essential to a civilized future." These otherwise largely secular intellectuals may well have turned on Darwin because they have concluded that his theory of evolution undermines religious faith in society at large.

I think he's probably right about this (the author, not Bork). He cites other conservative intellectuals saying similar things, that basically without religion society would get even worse than it is right now.

This philosophy is founded on a couple of flat-out false assumptions.

One I'll call the "Good 'ol Days Syndrome", and I've talked about this before. Religion generally seems to have a vested interest in talking about how shitty things are, and how shittier they are getting. So would we all like to get in our Wayback Machines and return to...when exactly? 1950's America? Medieval times?

Look, some things are worse, but most things are better. In America and around the world, on average, people have more rights, more responsibility in their government (the trend is toward more democracies, not fewer), and a higher standard of living. The last decade in America has seen a reduced crime rate, and the economy, despite all the doom and gloom, is sound and healthy (even the outgoing Alan Greenspan will tell you that).

So please, for Pete's sake, point to a specific era in either world or American history where things were better...a moment's reflection will reveal that this view is full of shit.

The second problem is the idea that people need religion or they'll run around raping and killing each other. I don't believe in god, and I don't feel the need to run around being antisocial. Ah, but the only thing keeping me in check are all those laws based on the Ten Commandments, right? Horse hockey. People by their reasoning faculties can decide on societal norms and laws based, not on ancient mysticism, but on modern ideals of fairness and justice.

Back to the article, which is good, for the most part, but when he starts defending evolution, he doesn't do that great a job.

In Berlinski's view, evolutionary theory simply says that the ones that survive are the ones that survive. But that is not quite right. Darwinian natural selection sifts for useful variations among mutations, thus natural selection generates increased fitness, not just preserving the fittest. This process generates new species, species B being the descendant of earlier species A. This claim is clearly more than a tautology.

Huh? Natural selection "generates increased fitness"? Bleh. He's right that the definition of fitness is not circular, but his explanation sucks. Fitness is a function of the environment (a word he never uses). That's the key part...that's what makes it not circular. Organisms are fit because they are suited to a particular environment (e.g., polar bears aren't fit just because they survive; they're fit because their genome equips them with thick white fur, a subcutaneous layer of fat, and nice sharp claws and teeth, which is great for living where they live). This actually seems like a pretty intuitive idea, so I don't know why the hell anti-evolutionists keep beating this particular stupid drum.

Anyway, that's enough to chew on for now...back to the grind.

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