Thursday, February 11, 2010

Good Reasons for "Believing" in God - Dan Dennett, AAI 2007

In the introduction by Richard Dawkins he relays the story of when Dan Dannett was very sick and perhaps he wouldn't make it. He "miraculously" recovered and he thought to thank God but instead he reconsidered and said this instead.

To whom, then, do I owe a debt of gratitude? To the cardiologist who has kept me alive and ticking for years, and who swiftly and confidently rejected the original diagnosis of nothing worse than pneumonia. To the surgeons, neurologists, anesthesiologists, and the perfusionist, who kept my systems going for many hours under daunting circumstances. To the dozen or so physician assistants, and to nurses and physical therapists and x-ray technicians and a small army of phlebotomists so deft that you hardly know they are drawing your blood, and the people who brought the meals, kept my room clean, did the mountains of laundry generated by such a messy case, wheel-chaired me to x-ray, and so forth. These people came from Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, Haiti, the Philippines, Croatia, Russia, China, Korea, India - and the United States, of course - and I have never seen more impressive mutual respect, as they helped each other out and checked each other's work. But for all their teamwork, this local gang could not have done their jobs without the huge background of contributions from others. I remember with gratitude my late friend and Tufts colleague, physicist Allan Cormack, who shared the Nobel Prize for his invention of the c-t scanner. Allan - you have posthumously saved yet another life, but who's counting? The world is better for the work you did. Thank goodness. Then there is the whole system of medicine, both the science and the technology, without which the best-intentioned efforts of individuals would be roughly useless. So I am grateful to the editorial boards and referees, past and present, of Science, Nature, Journal of the American Medical Association, Lancet, and all the other institutions of science and medicine that keep churning out improvements, detecting and correcting flaws.

I too owe the same debt of gratitude being a cancer survivor. I thank unknown scientist who studied cancer and developed chemotherapy. I also thank my nurse practitioner who had suspicion that it might be NHL. And I thank the oncologist who knew how to treat the disease. Otherwise I would not be here today.

Reasons to believe in God

Non-reflective "believers"
  • Because the Priest/Minister says so
Reflective believers
  • Fear - oblige to support belief. Afraid of the structure might collapse. Say that it is better to believe to keep people in line. Lying is acceptable here. Ignoring the disbelief inside. It will save society to so the ends justifies the means. It is to protects us.
  • Love - disappointing those we love. How can I tell my grandma I am an atheist. It would be a betrayal.
  • Guilt - lots of guilt amongst the priest because they don't believe what they are preaching. They push down guilt they feel down the believers. It is like preachers who are so angry against sexually sinning and they it is found they themselves are doing it. Thou protest too much.
  • Concorde fallacy - So deep into it they cannot get out.
Name given by evolutionary biologists to a form of suboptimal behaviour found among wasps and policymakers. Certain species of wasp are observed to defend their nests with an amount of energy proportionate to the amount they have spent on building the nest. It would be more efficient for them to defend them with an amount of energy proportionate to the cost of an alternative and the strength of the aggressor. Likewise, wasteful public expenditure on the supersonic aircraft Concorde was defended on the grounds that a great deal had already been spent. But this argument is fallacious. What has been spent has been spent, regardless of what happens now. Spilt milk cannot be unspilt. Spending on Concorde should have been judged by the expected value of the extra spending being contemplated, and on that alone.
The Concorde fallacy is extremely widespread in human reasoning, with the result that policymakers who commit it are rarely punished for doing so.
  • Embarrassment - cannot admit they were wrong


  1. Wow. What an excellent blog. I have bookmarked it on my google homepage.

    I always thought you are a genius, now I'm sure of it.

    Embarrassment - cannot admit they were wrong

    It's too bad some people feel that way. When I find out I've been wrong all my life about something, I thank goodness I have finally discovered the truth. And I thank the person who told me I was nuts.

    I think this is a big problem creationists have. They remain creationists despite all the scientific discoveries that have made the basic facts of evolution the strongest facts of science, because they think admitting being wrong is too horrible to consider. But I could not possibly have greater respect for a creationist who was able to recover from his disease. And that's why you, ex-minister, deserve a standing ovation.

  2. thank you for your kind words. As I go around the internet and find excellent websites on science I feel quite humbled and jealous of the great talents I am finding. However, I am glad they are there and learning an incredible amount. Feel free to stop by anytime. I appreciate your input and grateful you got me started on such a wonderful path.