I’m reading Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell” at the moment.

I’ve made it clear I’m a fan of Dennett as a pragmatic philosopher, unlike Dawkins as an unreconstructed logical-positivist reductive-determinist scientist. Their language and quality of argument are chalk and cheese. “Breaking the Spell” is explicitly an argument against god and religion aimed at an American Christian audience. That said the chapter “Belief in Belief” reads philosophically like the final word in epistemology and ontology generally – it really does.

Interestingly he concludes said chapter with the conclusion of his earlier work “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”.

Should Spinoza be counted as an atheist or a pantheist? He saw the glory of nature and then saw a way of eliminating the middle-man! As I said at the end of my earlier book :

“The tree of life is neither perfect nor infinite in space or time, but is actual, and if it is not Anselm’s “Being greater than which nothing can be conceived” it is surely a being that is greater in detail than anything any of us will ever conceive in detail worthy of its detail. Is it something sacred ? Yes, say I with Nietzsche. I could not pray to it, but I can stand in affirmation of its magnificence. The world is sacred.

And in summary :

“The belief that belief in God is so important that it must not be subjected to the risks of disconfirmation or serious criticism has led the devout to “save” their beliefs by making them incomprehensible even to themselves. The result is that even [those that profess belief] don’t really know what they are professing. This makes the goal of either proving or disproving God’s existence a quixotic quest – but also for that reason not very important.”

The real debate starts with the value of believing in God, despite that.

10 thoughts on “Meta-Belief”

  1. Did I ever tell you, Ian, that when I took Modern Philosophy back in the day, I wrote a paper on Spinoza, which I titled, “God: Now 100% All Natural”?

  2. i read “dialogues concerning natural religion” by david hume on my cross country journey.

    looks like the debate about the existence and nature of god will be with us for a while.

    left here (eastern sierra) two weeks ago, went north to idaho and montana to visit friends and then made a southeast diagonal across seven states to arrive in Chalottesville, Virginia a week later.

    After my niece’s wedding we journeyed up to Washington DC to spend a day in “the people’s city”.

    Then across on I70 to Denver and then on to our place. Arrived last night. My butt hurts.

    But here’s my question!!!

    Why in the world did you go to Limon? It was on our route and I anxiously waited to see what would draw two brits on holiday.

    I think I missed something.

  3. Hi Alice,

    Oh wow you drove to and from Charlottesville ? I didn’t twig that.

    Limon, ha … was just a convenient motel, nothing about the place itself … a bit like Kansas, had a convenient route across it 🙂

    Dennett points out that Hume addressed most of the “does god exist” questions already, and quotes freely. Clearly believing in god makes some people happy, so that’s it’s value. Clearly groups of people believing in god do good things for others, so more value. All of which is independent of the fact that the the god believed in does not exist.

    The negative value in believeing in (literal, omnsicient, omnipotent guy-in-the-sky) god is in the misleading view and explanations of how the world works, and worse still the fact that the meme is encouraged and self-reinforcing.

    Other “apophatic” beliefs in first-cause and underlying mysteries – with panthesistic or other god-like metaphors – have mixed values, and can be useful so long as they don’t become articles of faith, and remain metaphors open to empirical analysis and other forms of questioning and explanation.

    For Dennett, love and the world are the sacred values. I tend to agree with him.

  4. Hi Matt, never did see your Spinoza paper before. I’d be interested. I remember doing some daft on-line survey on my philosophical outlook four or five years ago, and Spinoza was at the top after Socrates I think.

    Always been sympathetic to Spinoza.

  5. well put.

    having grown up in a church which taught heaven and hell it has been difficult to extricate myself from some guilt about not believing, but it gets easier….

    a sure sign I’m headed for damnation.

  6. Hi Melissa, thanks for your comment.

    From the side of “faith” much of the debate has been about what is actually being believed in, if it is not the literal omniscient / omnipotent / guy-in-the-sky.

    I can’t really repeat all that here, without knowing where you’re coming from. (But everything from metaphors to various mysticisms, with a big helping of eudaimonic love.)

    Dennett’s point is that it’s not so matter what the belief is, as what is “professed” when people justify actions / decisions based on their professed beliefs.

    Hypocrisy between actual beliefs (in use) and professed (espoused) beliefs is not uncommon in any walk of life unconnected with religious faith.


  7. true ian. This is a point that drives to one’s inner consciousness. Are we hpyocrits, or more importantly, allows the reader to wonder what they actually believe in or not.


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