Tags: Daniel Dennett, Genetic Memory, Religion
I'm not sure how it got into my posession. It's a little hardcover book, the size of a paperback. It's entitled "Mankind's Search For God." It's one of those Jehovah's Witnesses propaganda recruiting tools, beckoning readers to join, but it contains much in the way of interesting information and photographs. It's like zooming out - way out - of the program you're working in and seeing an overall, much bigger picture. I've always been fascinated by the concept of religion and by mankind's desire to give thanks, channel hope and recognize something larger at work in the Grand Scheme--- whatever that grand scheme may be.
There's something "new" in the mix, which may explain that certain "something" that exists deep within the core of our collective "desire to believe."
Tufts University Philosopher Daniel Dennett theorizes beliefs are like genes or viruses with their own evolutionary history: "Can mankind's age-old belief in God be explained as a stubbornly recurring natural phenomenon?" Fellow atheist and biologist Richard Dawkins in the early 1970s first proposed this idea, calling such ideas "memes."
In his book, "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon," Dennett calls for a scientific study of the incidence of religion, based on the concept that certain ideas -- religion among them -- are "memes" that successfully perpetuate themselves across generations for their own sake, not the good of their hosts.
He wondered if there might be a genetic or other natural explanation for why some people are deeply moved by a religious ritual or service, while others have tin ears.
"Could there be a genetic basis for this?" Dennett asked. Dennett's basic argument is that some ideas – including religion – are like genes or viruses with their own evolutionary history. They jump from generation to generation. Weak ones die; strong ones survive.
Consider that Christianity, Islam and Judaism have endured for thousands of years, Dennett said.
"They can't all be true," he said. "So if your religion has survived because it is true, the other religions that are robust and well today have survived for other reasons."
Note: Here is where Dennett and I part company: I think that there is "something" that ties these three "core" religions together. A college classmate once wrote a report arguing that the "angel" who appeared in the dream warning Mary and Joseph to flee Bethlehem was the same being who dictated the Qur'an to Muhammad.
Aside: Isn't it interesting how we know who these people are and have an idea or mental picture regarding their life-style circumstances? The above "Note" would take a day and a half to explain to, someone who had grown up and been educated totally outside of our contemporary beleief systems.
Dennett himself says "No religion should be favored, and none ignored." He advocates "Freedom of Choice."
"How much more freedom could one want? The freedom to lie to your children? The freedom to keep them ignorant? You don’t own your children, like slaves, and you have no right to disable them with ignorance. You do have an obligation to let them have the mutual knowledge that is available to every other child, as a normal part of growing up in a free society." - from "Teach Our Children Well"Some people are able to go thorugh their entire lives, satisfied with the religious beliefs and traditions passed down from their parents. Others challenge themselves while still others struggle to find comfort within their belief system. So, is Bennett right? Is there a "genetic memory" at work here? Is it much deeper than that? Is it something that we cannot understand, or something that in time, we will understand?