Clever, but snarky?

Author:Brown, Rex
Position:Letter to the editor

David Hart ("Daniel Dennett Hunts the Snark," January) uses the rhetorical trick of claiming that "religion" does not actually exist but only reflects the existence of a variety of different belief systems we call religion for the sake of convenience. It his point is that religion, like culture, is hard to investigate with the methods of science, then he is correct. If his point is that religion and culture cannot be studied with the methods of science, then he is clearly mistaken. Otherwise, sociology, anthropology, social psychology, etc., would be disciplines without subject matter.

To follow Hart's logic, culture does not exist, music does not exist, art does not exist; ironically, only science would seem to exist, since there are not many scientific methods in the way there are many religions or cultures. It doesn't take a linguist to point out that such terms as religion and culture are universal and used to speak about specific religions or cultures. We might not be able to point to religion, but we can point to many specific religions. How do we know what is a religion and what isn't? We do seem to know, by the way, or else we could never know if we belonged to one or not. So we know it when we see it, and therefore it is not beyond the bounds of the scientific method to study it. Hart's point here is of no consequence; he illustrates a semantic difference that makes no difference.

Hart thinks that if Dennett is to understand religious belief truly and empirically, he should study it from the inside, that he should pray. As it the only way to study a phenomenon is from the inside--whatever that means. I hope Hart means this sarcastically, which would be consistent with the overall tone of his article. Hart argues that Dennett's naturalistic, evolution-based explanations of religion are empty abstractions, but he offers no explanations other than that religious practices and beliefs are somehow different from other human behaviors because they feel that way. We just "know" that prayer makes things happen; we have subjective certainty not open to scientific analysis. This isn't an explanation, only a rationalization.

Hart is clever, but ultimately he is just one more parrot--not snark--for a theology that rests its claims on concepts that cannot be falsified. Hart considers Dennett's rhetoric childish and responds with his own brand of childishness. I can hear the argument: "Just because you have never seen a snark doesn't mean it...

To continue reading