The What Newspaper in the World?

I want to answer Norm’s answer – but later. I have – all these things to do, and more keep coming in. Meanwhile I’ve been wanting to say a few acid words about that ridiculous Deborah Solomon interview with Daniel Dennett.

She starts the stupidity with the very first question. (And that’s the kind of thing that always makes me marvel at the way the Times [NY version] is always calmly informing us that it is the best newspaper in the world – that dopy mediocrity. Why have someone interview Dennett who will ask such silly, ill-informed questions? What is the point of it? Why not do better? Because it would be ‘elitist’ to get someone with a clue to ask the questions? But then – if you’re taking that route, then you don’t get to call yourself the best newspaper in the world, do you. You can’t do both.)

How could you, as a longtime professor of philosophy at Tufts University, write a book that promotes the idea that religious devotion is a function of biology? Why would you hold a scientist’s microscope to something as intangible as belief?

Look at all that – what a train wreck. His book ‘promotes the idea’ as opposed to arguing; it’s religious ‘devotion’ that he’s talking about (she should have called it devout religious devotion, just to make sure); she expresses bovine incredulity at the idea that something ‘intangible’ could be a function of biology. Best newspaper in the world.

But your new book, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, is not about cathedrals. It’s about religious belief, which cannot be dissected in a lab as if it were a disease.

And not only can it not be dissected, it cannot be considered rationally or investigated at all. Nor can depression, or schizophrenia, or memory, or perception, or attention, or language – and bang goes a century of research.

Yet faith, by definition, means believing in something whose existence cannot be proved scientifically. If we knew for sure that God existed, it would not require a leap of faith to believe in him.

Yes. And if we knew for sure that anything existed, it would not require a leap of faith to believe in it. Therefore what? We should believe in anything and everything? Couldn’t you have done better than that?

No, obviously she couldn’t. Dennett is polite – which is heroic of him.

That strikes me as a very reductive and uninteresting approach to religious feeling.

Does it! Compared to all the fascinating, rich questions you’ve been asking! Best newspaper in the world.

Traditionally, evolutionary biologists like Stephen Jay Gould insisted on keeping a separation between hard science and less knowable realms like religion.

What does she think she’s talking about? ‘Traditionally’? Nonsense! Gould made that argument a few years ago, but what’s traditionally got to do with it? And why does she generalize from that to ‘evolutionary biologists like’ Gould? She just means Gould, so that’s what she should have said. And, as Dennett hints (tactfully), she has the widespread idea that Gould was some sort of president of the biologists, but that’s a mistake.

So that’s the world’s best newspaper – assigning a clueless hack to ask questions on a substantive subject. What on earth is the point? Why not either do it right or refrain from doing it at all?

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