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Michael Shermer’s Wrongheaded Claim

August 23, 2011

imageTony Woodlief has penned a rational and logical thought about how Michael Shermer and his fellow skeptics just don’t get it. It’s good. Read the whole essay at Image Blog ◊ Dreaming God. Here are some teasers:

“As a back-of-the-envelope calculation within an order-of-magnitude accuracy,” Skeptic magazine founder Michael Shermer writes in his new book, The Believing Brain, “we can safely say that over the past ten thousand years of history humans have created about ten thousand different religions and about one thousand gods.”

Humans have evolved, it seems, a tendency to look for patterns, and to attribute events to intentional action by other beings. We have selective perception that inverts the aphorism, “seeing is believing.”

What we see, Shermer writes, is what we want to believe, and what we want, most of us, are gods.

. . .

We can let all that go for now, and with good effect; my experience is that nothing enrages the rational, scientific atheist more than when you get rational and scientific with him.

. . . I’ll wager Shermer is still wrong, and that mankind has come up with well over 1,000 gods in his time. Counting only the ones with a recorded history is to privilege literacy; surely pagans in the hills and forests of Europe alone came up with more than a thousand tree, bird, and thunder spirits to explain their world.

. . .

Get Americans started talking about the Nicene Creed, for example, and you’re likely to find more religions than you care to see hiding under the skirts of modern Christianity. And by the time you’ve finished reading this essay, odds are someone, somewhere has decided to start his own church, because the apostates running the one he’s in have gotten their views on the Rapture or head coverings or missions spending all wrong.

One religion per year, and one god per decade are just the right numbers, you see, to make the point Shermer wants to make, which is that man routinely invents gods to explain his world.

Except that man isn’t god-leaning, he’s god-obsessed.

. . .

We are god-obsessed the way a child snatched from his mother will always have his heart and flesh tuned to her, even after he forgets her face. Cover the earth with orphans and you will find grown men fashioning images of mothers and worshipping strong women and crafting myths about mothers who have left or were taken or whose spirits dwell in the trees.

And at the edges of their tribal fires will stand the anthropologist and the philosopher, reasoning that all this mother-talk is simply proof that men are prone to invent stories about mothers, which is itself proof that no single story about a mother could be true, which is proof that the brain just evolved to work that way.

It’s the only narrative that fits the facts while affirming the skeptic’s presupposition that all this mother business is just leftover hokum from the dark ages.

Except that in a century, when the most famous of the skeptics is long forgotten, broken men will still be telling stories about what we have lost, and what we pray is still out there, coming even now to set all things right.

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  1. August 24, 2011 at 11:54 am
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