bad analogy

In a review of Daniel Dennett’s new Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, Adam Kirsch argues that an explanation for why people believe is not an argument against belief:

“Mr. Dennett believes that explaining religion in evolutionary terms will make it less real; that is the whole purpose of his book. But this is like saying that because water is made of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, it is not really wet…. Just so, the reality of religious experience cannot be abolished by explaining it as an adaptation to our prehistorical environment.”

Mitchell Stephens does a good job of explain why this argument doesn’t really work. But even Kirsch’s original analogy doesn’t help his case because while it is true that just saying that water is hydrogen and oxygen doesn’t explain a great deal about it, as one builds one knowledge about it scientifically one does begin to understand more about water’s properties. how the shape of the molecule is important to shape of ice crystals and snowflakes, how the strong van der Waal forces make it liquid at a surprisingly high temperature, make it such a good solvent and (of course) that is part of the explanation for it’s wetness, etc., etc.

There’s nothing ineffable about cloud-juice and even less about cloud-dewellers because they don’t even exist.


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