Friday, July 10, 2009

Richard Was a Feyn-Man...

...And after watching this video, I'm reminded of a Richard Dawkins quote which invites a rewrite.

"I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world."

Though it may lack the poetry & pith, maybe he should have said; I'm against religion, because it teaches us to be satisfied with an outdated understanding of the world.

In general, I don't think people are satisfied with not understanding. I doubt that the believers Dawkins was addressing think they don't understand the world and that's just fine with them.

Religion tried to address this lack of understanding long ago by attempting to explain the why's & how's while giving comfort to people living in an abstract & downright frightening world. If the rainfall could be controlled, crops would grow and people could eat. What controlled the rain? Well, it must have been some hidden agent. Hmm, perhaps we should try to get on its good side...

It was the beginning of the human quest to explain, and thus understand, our surroundings. The problem is that as humankind developed better and better ways to go about this, some of their previously treasured explanations no longer held up. And this is the problem everyone looking for answers must deal with. If you want to understand the world for what it is, you must be willing to modify, if not entirely discard old beliefs as better evidence arrives.


  1. I'm mostly with you - also an admirer of Feynman - but I'm not surprised that he chose to say "special stories" rather than "outdated understanding".

    The question is, what comfort does religion predicated on fear really provide?

    I appreciate, too, that there is a good deal of human nature even bound up into the entirety of religion; as a sideways kind of nudge for you, what do you think this tells us about our society's insatiable jealousy for its traditions, and its lack of appetite for the implications of technology, even?

  2. Just to clarify; my intention was to rephrase Dawkins' line in what I felt was a more Feynman-esq way.

    I did this, not to suggest Dawkins was wrong, but that many religious folks believe their texts do help them "understand" the world.

    The hidden premise was that my rephrasing also used "understanding" in a subjective sense, whereas I'm sure Dawkins probably meant it objectively.

    Although I feel bringing up this distinction comes nauseatingly close to apologetics for a badly written article, I do find it's often the unstated difference between science & religion's implications of "truth" & "understanding".

  3. Part Deux.
    I do agree with the conclusion your first question seems to be begging - none. But of course the comfort of a religion doesn't come from fear, but from a sense of control over it.

    The big man in the sky will protect you, provide for you and even give your enemies a "what for" if you just obey his appointed leaders. Fail to do so and you're back on the street with an additional, more powerful enemy. It's kind of like hiring the mafia to protect you from a bully. It's... not ideal.

    I think tradition gives people a vehicle for social interaction while sharing a common experience. I'm sure there's more to it than that, but there really doesn't need to be.

    As for a lack of appetite for technological implications... I've not experienced that.

    Thanks for commenting. If anything I said was nonsense, I'll try again.