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Richard Dawkins - Like a moth to a flame

Richard Dawkins - Like a moth to a flame

(4:05) What is the Darwinian survival value of religion? That's not the right question, says Richard Dawkins. His book 'Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist' is available from: Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

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Guest: (34 days ago)

The archbishop of athiesm needs to give it a rest me thinks

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The archbishop of athiesm needs to give it a rest me thinks

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Guest: (36 days ago)

Did he say what is the right question?

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Did he say what is the right question?

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Guest: (36 days ago)

He certainly didn't say what the right answer is. I expect they're in his book. Link below.

Interesting though. Shows how you can rephrase any question to suit what you're prepared or able to answer.

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He certainly didn't say what the right answer is. I expect they're in his book. Link below.

Interesting though. Shows how you can rephrase any question to suit what you're prepared or able to answer.

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WalterEgo WalterEgo (35 days ago)

I disagree. I don't think it shows how you can rephrase any question to get the answer you want, it shows how important it is to pose the right question in the first place - and his moth example brillianlty illustrates that.

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I disagree. I don't think it shows how you can rephrase any question to get the answer you want, it shows how important it is to pose the right question in the first place - and his moth example brillianlty illustrates that.

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Guest: (35 days ago)

I disagree. He shows how easily you can avoid answering a question if you can distract people with a lazy analogy or your own rephrased question, or just spend your time talking about how the question was phrased.

Why do moths appear to commit suicide on flames? Answer - they navigate using celestial objects.

What is the survival value of religious belief? Answer - well let me tell you about moths.

Original comment

I disagree. He shows how easily you can avoid answering a question if you can distract people with a lazy analogy or your own rephrased question, or just spend your time talking about how the question was phrased.

Why do moths appear to commit suicide on flames? Answer - they navigate using celestial objects.

What is the survival value of religious belief? Answer - well let me tell you about moths.

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MissAnneThrope MissAnneThrope (35 days ago)

probably better to ask why you didn’t understand his explanation and analogy. When moths use celestial objects, the navigation system they have evolved with functions perfectly and they can fly in straight lines between points. When they use a bulb or candle, which were invented by humans relatively recently - too recently for moths to develop the ability to discern - their navigation system is unsuitable and they end up in a spiral, crashing into the light.

Now, try to see humans as moths (analogy) and think about the description of the candle, but use the term ‘god’ instead. This man-made (invented) light is confused for a celestial (heavenly) object and impacts on the direction and behaviour of the human.

Original comment

probably better to ask why you didn’t understand his explanation and analogy. When moths use celestial objects, the navigation system they have evolved with functions perfectly and they can fly in straight lines between points. When they use a bulb or candle, which were invented by humans relatively recently - too recently for moths to develop the ability to discern - their navigation system is unsuitable and they end up in a spiral, crashing into the light.

Now, try to see humans as moths (analogy) and think about the description of the candle, but use the term ‘god’ instead. This man-made (invented) light is confused for a celestial (heavenly) object and impacts on the direction and behaviour of the human.

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Guest: (35 days ago)

Maybe you should ask whether you have understood what he meant, or whether you've fallen for the distraction too. I suspect it's what you already wanted to believe, but it's amazing what people don't notice. Analyse what he said. Look for the answer.

His pointed analogy isn't an explanation. It merely suggests that there are some evolutionary traits that have negative consequences, so maybe religion is one of them. Is this really good enough for you as an explanation of WHY religious thinking has survived?

What you failed to notice is that while he happily gives you an explanation of the evolutionary basis of that light-oriented movement (even down to the specific angle), he doesn't have anything to say about the evolutionary basis of religious thinking. Odd, bearing in mind that was the question.

Anyway, he knows he's preaching to his converts so it's fairly academic. He doesn't need to explain his beliefs to his followers any more than the Pope does for his.

Original comment

Maybe you should ask whether you have understood what he meant, or whether you've fallen for the distraction too. I suspect it's what you already wanted to believe, but it's amazing what people don't notice. Analyse what he said. Look for the answer.

His pointed analogy isn't an explanation. It merely suggests that there are some evolutionary traits that have negative consequences, so maybe religion is one of them. Is this really good enough for you as an explanation of WHY religious thinking has survived?

What you failed to notice is that while he happily gives you an explanation of the evolutionary basis of that light-oriented movement (even down to the specific angle), he doesn't have anything to say about the evolutionary basis of religious thinking. Odd, bearing in mind that was the question.

Anyway, he knows he's preaching to his converts so it's fairly academic. He doesn't need to explain his beliefs to his followers any more than the Pope does for his.

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WalterEgo WalterEgo (34 days ago)

In his first sentence Dawkins says that "what is the survival value of religion?" is the wrong question, because religion is the manifestation of the high survival value of something else. In the case of the moth, the survival value of being able to fly in a straight line is very high, but that also results in suicidal behaviour - like flying into candles. An analogy might be - the benefits of personal transport outweighs the death rate on roads, so we don't ban cars.

The reason for going into detail about how a moth flies in a straight line, is to show the direct connection between the physical mechanics of a moth, and its suicidal behaviour. So if asked "what is the survival value of moths flying into candles", and you answer "they navigate using celestial objects", that is a meaningless answer - unless you also explain the connection and that means talking about moth mechanics.

Religious behaviour is much more complicated than a moth's suicidal behaviour. I don't know what the physical mechanics in humans are that manifest in religious behaviour - I'm sure Dawkins discusses them in his book.

Consider this. An 'unquestioning obedience to an authority' has a very high survival value for an army. It also has a very high survival value for very young children. Seems to me that that trait could easily manifest itself in religious behaviour.

Original comment

In his first sentence Dawkins says that "what is the survival value of religion?" is the wrong question, because religion is the manifestation of the high survival value of something else. In the case of the moth, the survival value of being able to fly in a straight line is very high, but that also results in suicidal behaviour - like flying into candles. An analogy might be - the benefits of personal transport outweighs the death rate on roads, so we don't ban cars.

The reason for going into detail about how a moth flies in a straight line, is to show the direct connection between the physical mechanics of a moth, and its suicidal behaviour. So if asked "what is the survival value of moths flying into candles", and you answer "they navigate using celestial objects", that is a meaningless answer - unless you also explain the connection and that means talking about moth mechanics.

Religious behaviour is much more complicated than a moth's suicidal behaviour. I don't know what the physical mechanics in humans are that manifest in religious behaviour - I'm sure Dawkins discusses them in his book.

Consider this. An 'unquestioning obedience to an authority' has a very high survival value for an army. It also has a very high survival value for very young children. Seems to me that that trait could easily manifest itself in religious behaviour.

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Guest: (33 days ago)
Latest comment:

Yes, he thinks it's the manifestation of a broader trait, but it's unsatisfactory that he chooses to describe broader trait behind moth suicides, instead of the traits behind religious behaviour. That's a lazy distraction technique in the form of a barbed analogy. Perhaps he means 'It's all very complicated and I don't know, but maybe it's vaguely like moths.' Either way, he ducked the question.

I don't see how religious thinking is prefaced by an evolutionary trait of unquestioning obedience - a naive assumption that would doubtless be challenged by any behavioural / child psychologist (or parent). Obedience is something that occurs in the early years and has to be encouraged through intensive socialisation, incentivised by reward and punishment (look up Kohlberg's 'Premoral' stage).

On the other hand, an inclination to believe in deities really seems to be present at birth as you once showed me. This is then mingled with the fact that (like it or not) the infrastructure of religion often provides familial support, community cohesion, charity for the weak, and yet more factors that would have a clear evolutionary value. As much as it pains atheists to admit these benevolent factors, surely they are more relevant in evolution than the simple obedience that is only taught in formative years.

Anyway, these comments are more thinly veiled jibes at religious stereotypes rather than reasoned arguments or explanations. Religious thought is suicidal or dangerous, religious thought is unquestioning obedience. It's a bit like someone asking me 'Why there are so many atheists?', and me replying 'Well, it's like when teenagers get into 'Emo' subculture out of a need to feel special and different, and end up being very uniform and homogenous'. Yes, it's an analogy alright, but more of a criticism than an explanation.

Original comment
Latest comment:

Yes, he thinks it's the manifestation of a broader trait, but it's unsatisfactory that he chooses to describe broader trait behind moth suicides, instead of the traits behind religious behaviour. That's a lazy distraction technique in the form of a barbed analogy. Perhaps he means 'It's all very complicated and I don't know, but maybe it's vaguely like moths.' Either way, he ducked the question.

I don't see how religious thinking is prefaced by an evolutionary trait of unquestioning obedience - a naive assumption that would doubtless be challenged by any behavioural / child psychologist (or parent). Obedience is something that occurs in the early years and has to be encouraged through intensive socialisation, incentivised by reward and punishment (look up Kohlberg's 'Premoral' stage).

On the other hand, an inclination to believe in deities really seems to be present at birth as you once showed me. This is then mingled with the fact that (like it or not) the infrastructure of religion often provides familial support, community cohesion, charity for the weak, and yet more factors that would have a clear evolutionary value. As much as it pains atheists to admit these benevolent factors, surely they are more relevant in evolution than the simple obedience that is only taught in formative years.

Anyway, these comments are more thinly veiled jibes at religious stereotypes rather than reasoned arguments or explanations. Religious thought is suicidal or dangerous, religious thought is unquestioning obedience. It's a bit like someone asking me 'Why there are so many atheists?', and me replying 'Well, it's like when teenagers get into 'Emo' subculture out of a need to feel special and different, and end up being very uniform and homogenous'. Yes, it's an analogy alright, but more of a criticism than an explanation.

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