Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Piety Gene

Michael Shermer surveys the ubiquity of religious belief around the world and concludes that it must all be a result of evolution:

Of course, genes do not determine whether one chooses Judaism, Catholicism, Islam or any other religion. Rather, belief in supernatural agents (God, angels, demons) and commitment to certain religious practices (church attendance, prayer, rituals) appears to reflect genetically based cognitive processes (inferring the existence of invisible agents) and personality traits (respect for authority, traditionalism).

Why did we inherit this tendency? Long, long ago, in a Paleolithic environment far, far away from the modern world, humans evolved to find meaningful causal patterns in nature to make sense of the world, and infuse many of those patterns with intentional agency, some of which became animistic spirits and powerful gods. I call these two processes patternicity (the tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless data) and agenticity (the tendency to infuse patterns with meaning, intention and agency).

Yes, well, the clunky neologisms aside, one wonders: If religious belief is the norm, and if it is the product of our genes, does that not imply that those who don't have a religious belief are genetic mutants and deviants? Just asking.


The Head of the Snake

Apparently, after years of false reports of the deaths of these two thugs, it seems the good guys finally caught up with them.

Here are some highlights from the report in The Long War Journal:

Iraq's Prime Minister and the US military confirmed that al Qaeda in Iraq's top two leaders have been killed during a raid in a remote region in the western province of Anbar.

"Abu Ayyub al Masri, Abu Omar al Baghdadi and a number of other al Qaeda leaders in Iraq were killed during a security operation in al Thar Thar region in Anbar," Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki told reporters at a press conference in Baghdad, according to Voices of Iraq.

"A series of Iraqi led joint operations conducted over the last week resulted in the Iraqi Forces with US support executing a nighttime raid on the AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq] leaders' safehouse," the press release stated. "The joint security team identified both AQI members, and the terrorists were killed after engaging the security team. Additionally, Masri's assistant along with the son of al-Baghdadi who were also involved in terrorist activities were killed."

During the operation, one US soldier was killed in a helicopter crash, and 16 al Qaeda associates were detained.

The deaths of al Masri and Baghdadi are a major blow to al Qaeda in Iraq, as the terror group has suffered major losses in its leadership network over the past four months. Since January, the US has picked apart the top leaders of al Qaeda's northern network. Among those killed or captured are the last two emirs, or leaders, of the northern Iraq network, the last two emirs of Mosul, the top facilitator operating in the Iraq-Syria border areas, and other senior members of the network.

The NYT reports that among the documents seized at the scene were communications from Osama bin Laden. That's a bit surprising given that we've been told over and over again by the left that al Qaeda is not really involved in Iraq and that we should get out of Iraq and hunt al Qaeda down elsewhere.


The Euthyphro Dilemma (Pt. II)

Yesterday we took a look at the challenge posed by the Euthyphro dilemma to those who believe that God's existence is a necessary condition for any meaningful, non-subjective, non-arbitrary ethics. We began by considering the second horn of the dilemma which we stated as follows:

Is an act morally good because God commands it or does God command it because it is good?

In this post I'd like to reflect on the first of the two horns: Is good simply whatever God commands? Would cruelty be good if God commanded it?

If we stipulate that God is omnibenevolent and that good is that which conduces to human happiness then the latter question seems to me to be an incoherent act description.

The question of God commanding cruelty presupposes a state of affairs in which a being whose essence it is to always do that which ultimately conduces to human well-being and happiness nevertheless commands us to do something which produces gratuitous suffering and pain. There seems to be a logical conflict in that.

In other words, if goodness is as we've defined it, and if God is good, then it's logically impossible for cruelty to be part of his nature or for him to command cruelty or anything else which would conflict with ultimate human well-being and happiness. It would require of God that he issue a command that is in opposition to his own nature. It's like asking whether there is something which a being which knows everything doesn't know.

So, the answer to the question of whether God commands us to love because love is good or whether love is good because God commands it, seems to me to be "neither." God commands us to love because it is his desire to have the world conformed to his own essential nature which is love.