Imaginary Enemies


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imaginary enemies WeberDurkheimMarx and how they account for religion

How do we account for religion - its origin, its development, and even its persistence in modern society? This is a question which has occupied many people in a variety of fields for quite a long time. At one point, the answers were framed in purely theological and religious terms, assuming the truth of Christian revelations and proceeding from there. In the 18th and 19th centuries, a more naturalistic approach developed. Instead of needing to believe in the truth of the religion, what was required was just the opposite: intellectual detachment and a suspension of belief. Three people who ended up doing just that were Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber.  
Marx studied philosophy in Berlin under William Hegel. Hegel's philosophy had a decisive influence upon Marx's own thinking and theories. According to Marx, religion is an expression of material realities and economic injustice. Thus, problems in religion are ultimately problems in society. Religion is not the disease, but merely a symptom. It is used by oppressors to make people feel better about the distress they experience due to being poor and exploited. This is the origin of his comment that religion is the "opium of the people." People do not have an objective view of the world; they see it from the restricted point of view of their own positions.(p.35) At times I may seem to be focusing more on economic rather than religious theory, but that is because Marx's basic stance is that everything is always about economics.
According to Marx, humans - even from their earliest beginnings - are not
motivated by grand ideas but instead by material concerns, like the need to eat and survive. This is the basic premise of a materialist view of history. At the beginning, people worked together in unity and it wasn't so bad. But eventually, humans developed agriculture and the concept of private property. These two facts created a division of labor and a separation of classes based upon power and wealth. This material organization of society is what Marx calls class consciousness. This, in turn, created the social conflict that drives society.
All of this is made worse by capitalism which only increases the disparity between the wealthy classes and the labor classes. Confrontation between them is unavoidable because those classes are driven by historical forces beyond anyone's control. Capitalism also creates one new misery: exploitation of surplus value.
For Marx, an ideal economic system would involve exchanges of equal value for equal value, where value is determined simply by the amount of work put into whatever is being produced. Capitalism interrupts this ideal by introducing a profit motive - a desire to produce an uneven exchange of lesser value for greater value. Profit is ultimately derived from the surplus value produced by workers in factories.
A laborer might produce enough value to feed his family in two hours of work, but he keeps at the job for a full day - in Marx's time, that might be 12 or 14 hours. Those extra hours represent the surplus value produced by the worker. The owner of the factory did nothing to earn this, but exploits it nevertheless and keeps the difference as profit.
Economics, then, are what constitute the base of all of human life and history - generating division of labor, class struggle, and all the social institutions which are supposed to maintain the status quo. Those social institutions are a superstructure built upon the base of economics, totally dependent upon material and economic realities but nothing else. All of the institutions which are prominent in our daily lives - marriage, church, government, arts, etc. - can only be truly understood when examined in relation to economic forces.
It should be clear now that religion is one of those social institutions which are dependent upon the material and economic realities in a given society. It has no independent history but is instead the creature of productive forces. As Marx wrote, "The religious world is but the reflex of the real world." Marx asserts that religion is only dependent upon economics, nothing else - so much so that the actual doctrines of the religions are almost irrelevant. This is a ... more

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The Beak of the Finch

The Bogus Logic of The Beak


People who have served in the Armed Forces may be familiar with the expression, "If you can't dazzle then with your brilliance, baffle them with your baloney." The Beak of the Finch uses such laughable logic, it is remarkable that anyone would believe it. The book does such a terrible job of presenting a case for evolution and history, that the only logical conclusion is that the book's true intent is to disprove it.


 

Jonathan Weiner, The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time. New York:

Alfred A. Knopf, 1994. ISBN 0679400036.


 

"It is never too late to give up our prejudices. No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof." --Thoreau, Walden

This book claims to be about evolution, centered in the location made famous by Charles Darwin, the Galapagos Islands. I read this book on the recommendation of a good friend who knows I am interested in birds and thought I might get something out of it. Indeed, the few parts of the book actually about the Gouldian Finches of the Galapagos Islands are fascinating. The book records in detail some of the trials the Dr. Peter Grant family endured in studying these birds on a hot volcanic rock. However, the writers and editors of the book avoid simple logic and put a spin on history that is misleading. The facts and logic presented in The Beak of the Finch really make the book's author out to be a closet creationist.


 

It just so happened that at the same time I read this book, I was reading The Storm Petrel and the Owl of Athena by Louis Halle. Half of The Storm Petrel is on the bird life of the Shetland Islands, another isolated natural system. Halle, though an evolutionist, devotes a whole chapter on how the Shetlands and other islands conserve species. (Halle. 1970, 155ff.) Where species have changed their habits, it is most often due to adaptation to humanity. He compares the wild starlings, house sparrows, and rock doves found on the Shetlands with the more domesticated versions of these birds found on the continents--and to some degree even in the main village of the Shetlands. The island birds are more like their original wild forebears. I mention this now because it will come back to haunt us later.


 

Logical Fallacies

By the first thirty or so pages I had found two logical fallacies and at least one historical inaccuracy in The Beak of the Finch. The fallacies were significant. The historical point was minor, but could be misleading. The fallacies would continue through the book.


 

Page 10 says "Evolutionists are watching life evolve" on different islands. Well, not on the Shetlands, if Halle's observations are accurate. One reason given is that islands are "a closed system." I am not sure how closed any place on earth is any more; however, the Grants (the scientist couple doing the research reported by The Beak) were certainly careful to keep their little island as closed as possible. They washed themselves carefully, watched for any alien seeds they might bring, and so on. The great irony is that after twenty five years of observing, the net result is no change: Individual variation from year to year, surely, but nothing even remotely approaching one species turning into something else.


 

The Problem with Using Breeders for Analogies

Page 30 describes the "law of succession" (not plant or forest succession). This is adjunct to evolution. Is it truly a law? Can it be observed? Can it be repeated experimentally? Well, he says, Darwin showed that breeders can produce varieties of breeds of dogs and pigeons. Both Darwin and Weiner spend a lot of time on pigeons.


 

There are several problems with this. One, breeders are outside intelligent operators. They are not natural forces. Second, and what will prove to be most significant, they still breed pigeons. The pigeons never become another species, regardless of the exotic traits they display. They are still pigeons. Even Darwin backer Sir Charles Lyell noted, "There is no good evidence of spontaneous generation, and breeders know only too well that they cannot change one species into ... more

imaginary enemies

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