Back of the North Wind

Discussions of theology, philosophy, religion and life inspired by the writings of George MacDonald (and perhaps others such as CS Lewis) posted by "recovering fundamentalists".

My Photo
Location: California, United States

I am a "recovering fundamentalist". The trick is to figure out how not to throw out the Baby with the bathwater. I learn through dialogue, and so invite commentary on my posts to Back of the North Wind.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Are Animals Atheists?

In response to my first post asking Is Atheism Livable?, prof rob comments:

I don’t see anything untenable about an atheistic worldview. I believe all other animals are atheistic, and I’ve never seen a suicidal dog. The nature of any species is survival, and I believe religion is often one of those tricks we use to propagate. Why else would all religions have rules for couples? They are ensuring the survival of the species. Without this, however, another system of rules would arise. A species survival is not based on religion. Religion is one of many possible tactics.
I have addressed since then why from a morality perspective and a meaning perspective I am asserting that a self-consistent materialist world-view is not livable. (That's a bit different than saying "tenable". As I claimed in my original off-hand remark which sparked the Cline rebuttals on the atheist website: it is possible to construct a completely self-consistent materialist world view.) There is one more perspective to describe: that of rational thought. But prob rob provides a much needed and light-hearted break from the more serious discussion.

As an aside, I really haven't been saying anything in these posts about religion. I haven't claimed that religion is or is not a source of morality, nor will I contest here that religion arises from the evolutionary imperative. I am merely trying to focus on whether or not one needs something outside of the material universe in order to derive the possibility of morality, meaning, and rational thought.

Prof rob asserts: "all other animals are atheistic". I would translate this as either, "No animal believes in a god" or "All animals believe that there is no god". In either case, he asserts something about animal beliefs. It is not obvious to me that animals have beliefs. Well, my dog seems to believe that she'll get a biscuit everytime I let her in and out of the house. Let me rephrase that--it is not obvious that animals have beliefs about God. (See University of Waterloo's Philosophy 255 course outline on animal beliefs, and Dennett's "Do Animals Have Beliefs" in Comparative Approaches to Cognitive Sciences, MIT Press, 1995.) Actually, I recall reading as a child a very disturbing Mark Twain essay of a dog which seemed to believe in a god -- though the god (her master) was unworthy of the dog's belief.

On the other hand, even if one asserts that an animal has beliefs, no one has information about whether the animal relies on a purely materialist world-view! So I'll leave aside animal beliefs as not particularly relevant to the discussion of a materialist world-view. But I may bring up in a future post, "animal souls".

And finally, yes, prof rob, it's about time to bring this blog back to George MacDonald!