Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Doug Feith is still the heavyweight champ, though

Via Ezra Klein we discover Jane Galt calling Daniel Dennett a contender for the title of “stupidest smart person in the world.” Dennett is comparing the need to eradicate religion from modern life, with public health campaigns against tobacco. Ms. Galt, shall we say, has problems with his argument.

The Dennett tangent, though, pointed me to Edge.org, a site I had forgotten about, which does this annual New Years’ stunt where they ask 160 or so really smart people to answer a really big question. This year’s question is: What Are You Optimistic About? Why? It’s very much worth browsing around in.

The people are mostly scientists and philosophers, and where they touch on religion, as in Dennett’s case, it’s in the vein of predicting religion’s demise or at least its remission. The one writer they truck with at Edge.org who's sympathetic to religion is Andrew Brown of the Guardian, whom I’ve blogged before.

[A]n enquiry into religious belief would be distinct from an enquiry into religious opinions: Religious "belief" would involve all of the largely unconscious mechanisms which lead people to behave superstitiously, or reverently, or with a disdain for heretics; religious opinions would be the reasons that they give for this behaviour. We need to understand both. It may be that their opinions would correspond to their beliefs but that is something to be established in every case by empirical enquiry. It's obvious that in most cases they don't. Intellectuals are supposed to be motivated by their opinions; some of them actually are. But everyone is motivated by their beliefs and prejudices as well.

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