RELIGION FROM THE OUTSIDE – The Scientist as Rebel – Freeman Dyson
Trigger warning: – atei di professione – la religione da dentro e da fuori – credere di credere – la religione fa male o bene al mondo? – la religione a scuola – amore e terrorismo
BREAKING THE SPELL of religion is a game that many people can play. The best player of this game that I ever knew was Professor G. H. Hardy, a world-famous mathematician who happened to be a passionate atheist.
Note:HARDY: ATEO DI PROFESSIONE
There are two kinds of atheists, ordinary atheists who do not believe in God and passionate atheists who consider God to be their personal enemy.
Note:DUE TIPI DI ATEISMO
Paul Erdös was another world-famous mathematician who was a passionate atheist. Erdös always referred to God as SF, short for Supreme Fascist. Erdös had for many years successfully outwitted the dictators of Italy, Germany, and Hungary, moving from country to country to escape from their clutches.
Note:IL SUPER FASCISTA
And now comes Daniel Dennett to take his turn at breaking the spell. Dennett is a philosopher. In Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon1 he is confronting the philosophical questions arising from religion in the modern world.
Why does religion exist? Why does it have such a powerful grip on people in many different cultures? Are the practical effects of religion preponderantly good or preponderantly evil? Is religion useful as a basis for public morality? What can we do to counter the spread of religious movements that we consider dangerous? Can the tools and methods of science help us to understand religion as a natural phenomenon?
Note:LE DOMANDE DI DENNETT
Dennett defines scientific inquiry in a narrow way, restricting it to the collection of evidence that is reproducible and testable. …He does not accept as scientific the great mass of evidence contained in historical narratives and personal experiences. Since it cannot be reproduced under controlled conditions, it does not belong to science. …
Note:COS’È LA RICERCA SCIENTIFICA PER DENNETT
He quotes with approval and high praise several passages from The Varieties of Religious Experience, the classic description of religion from the point of view of a psychologist, published by William James in 1902. …James is examining religion from the inside, like a doctor trying to see the world through the eyes of his patients. …He studied the personal experiences of saints and mystics as evidence of something real existing in a spiritual world …
For Dennett, the visions of saints and mystics are worthless as evidence, since they are neither repeatable nor testable. Dennett is examining religion from the outside, following the rules of science.
Note:ESPERIENZE NON BRIPETIBILI
He explains them tentatively as products of a Darwinian competition between belief systems, in which only the fittest belief systems survive. The fitness of a belief system is defined by its ability to make new converts and retain their loyalty. …it has nothing to do with the truth or falsehood of the beliefs. …
Note:COME SPIEGARE LE RELIGIONI
He observes that belief, which means accepting certain doctrines as true, is different from belief in belief, which means believing belief in the same doctrines to be desirable. He finds evidence that large numbers of people who identify themselves as religious believers do not in fact believe the doctrines of their religions but only believe in belief as a desirable goal.
Note:CREDERE DI CREDERE
The phenomenon of “belief in belief” makes religion attractive to many people who would otherwise be hard to convert. To belong to a religion, you do not have to believe. You only have to want to believe, or perhaps you only have to pretend to believe. Belief is difficult, but belief in belief is easy.
Note:VOGLIA DI CREDERE
He quotes Alan Wolfe, one of the sociologists who study American religious organizations and practices: Evangelicalism’s popularity is due as much to its populistic and democratic urges—its determination to find out exactly what believers want and to offer it to them—as it is to certainties of the faith.…
Note:EVANGELICI E POPULISMO
Like Hardy and Erdös, Dennett plays the game of breaking the spell by making religion look silly. Many of my scientist friends and colleagues have similar prejudices. One famous scientist for whom I have a deep respect said to me, “Religion is a childhood disease from which we have recovered.” There is nothing wrong with such prejudices, provided that they are openly admitted.
Note:DIVERTIRSI A ROMPERE L’INCANTESIMO
In a long chapter entitled “Morality and Religion,” he blames religion for many of the worst evils of our century. He blames not only the minority of murderous fanatics whose religion impels them to acts of terrorism but also the majority of peaceful and moderate… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Note:FANATISMO E GUERRE
He quotes with approval the famous remark of the physicist Stephen Weinberg: “Good people will do good things, and bad people will do bad things. But for good people to do bad things—that takes religion.” Weinberg’s statement is true as far as it goes, but it is not the whole truth. To make it the whole truth, we must add… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
The main point of Christianity is that it is a religion for sinners. Jesus made that very clear. When the Pharisees asked his disciples, “Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?” he said, “I come… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Note:LA RELIGIONE DEI PECCATORI
I see no way to draw up a balance sheet, to weigh the good done by religion against the evil and decide which is greater by some impartial process. My own prejudice, looking at religion from the inside, leads me to conclude that the good vastly outweighs the evil. In many places in the United States, with widening gaps between rich and poor, churches… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Dennett, looking at religion from the outside, comes to the opposite conclusion. He sees the extreme religious sects that are breeding grounds for gangs of young terrorists and murderers, with the mass of ordinary believers giving… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Note:IL BILANCIO DI DENNETT
I see religion as a precious and ancient part of our human heritage. Dennett sees it as a load of superfluous mental baggage… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Note:EREDITÀ O ZAVORRA?
in the end,” he says, “my central policy recommendation is that we gently, firmly educate the people of the world, so that they can make truly… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
To give the recommendation a concrete meaning, the meaning of the little word “we” must be specified. Who are the “we” who are to… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Note:MA CHI EDUCA CHI?
“We” might be the parents of the children to be educated, or a local school board, or a national ministry of education, or a legally established ecclesiastical authority, or an… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Note:GENITORI? SCUOLA? ESPERTI?
The control of education is the arena in which political fights between religious believers and civil authorities become most bitter. In the United States these fights are made peculiarly intractable by the legal doctrine of separation of church and state, which forbids public schools to provide religious instruction. Parents with fundamentalist beliefs have a legitimate grievance, being… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
When public education was instituted in England in 1870, eleven years after Darwin’s theory was published, Huxley was appointed to the royal commission which decided what to teach in the public schools. Huxley was himself an agnostic, but as a member of the commission he firmly insisted that religion should be taught in schools together with science. Every child should be taught the Christian Bible as an integral part of English culture. In recent times the scope of religious instruction in England has been extended to include Judaism and Islam.… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
The teaching of religion in public schools coincided with a decline of religious belief and a… Some highlights have been hidden or truncated due to export limits.
Note:ESITO DELL’INSEGNAMENTO CONGIUNTO
Dennett also advocates more intensive research on religion considered from a scientific point of view. Here again, we can all agree with the recommendation, but we may disagree about the meaning of “research.” Dennett limits research to scientific investigations studying religious activities and organizations as social phenomena. In my opinion, such research, looking at religion from the outside, can be helpful but will never throw much light on the central mystery. The central mystery is the perennial sprouting of religious practices and beliefs in all human societies from ancient times until today. My mother, who was a skeptical Christian like me, used to say, “You can throw religion out of the door, but it will always come back through the window.”
Note:NON SOLO SOCIOLOGIA
Let me state frankly my own philosophical prejudices in opposition to Dennett. As human beings, we are groping for knowledge and understanding of the strange universe into which we are born. We have many ways of understanding, of which science is only one. Our thought processes are only partially based on logic, and are inextricably mixed with emotions and desires and social interactions.
Note:AFFERMARE IL MISTERO
To understand religion, it is necessary to explore it from the inside, as William James explored it in The Varieties of Religious Experience.
Note:STUDIARE DA DENTRO
The sacred writings, the Bhagavad Gita and the Koran and the Bible, tell us more about the essence of religion than any scientific study of religious organizations.
We can all agree that religion is a natural phenomenon, but nature may include many more things than we can grasp with the methods of science.
Note:NATURA E SCIENZA
The best source of information about modern Islamic terrorists that I know of is a book, Understanding Terror Networks, by Marc Sageman.2 Sageman is a former United States foreign service officer who worked with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Chapter 5 of his book, he describes in detail the network that planned and carried out the September 2001 attacks on the United States. He finds that the bonds holding the group together, during its formative years in Hamburg, were more personal than political. He concludes: “Despite the popular accounts of the 9/11 perpetrators in the press, in-group love rather than out-group hate seems a better explanation for their behavior.”
Note:AMORE E TERRORISMO
We have no firsthand testimony from the young men who carried out the September 11 attacks. They were not as highly educated and as thoughtful as the kamikaze pilots, and they were more influenced by religion. But there is strong evidence that they were not brainwashed zombies. They were soldiers enlisted in a secret brotherhood that gave meaning and purpose to their lives, working together in a brilliantly executed operation against the strongest power in the world. According to Sageman, they were motivated like the kamikaze pilots, more by loyalty to their comrades than by hatred of the enemy.
DAL MALE COMPIUTO IN NOME DELLA RELIGIONE COMPRENDIAMO MEGLIO IL BENE CHE PUÒ FARE.