Good bloggers are golden. I hope Bill Vallicella has plans to write for a long time.
Is there a difference between religion and superstition, or is religion by its very nature superstitious? There seem to be two main views. One is that of sceptics and naturalists. For them, religion, apart perhaps from its ethical teaching, is superstitious in nature so that there could not be a religion free of superstition. Religion just is a tissue of superstitious beliefs and practices and has been exposed as such by the advance of natural science. The other view is that of those who take religion seriously as having a basis in reality. They do not deny that there are superstitious beliefs, practices, and people. Nor do they deny that religions are often interlarded with superstition. What they deny is that religion is in its essence superstitious.
Indeed, a philosophically sophisticated religion such as Roman Catholicism specifically prohibits superstitious beliefs and practices. One way it does this is via the prohibition of idolatry which derives from the First Commandment’s prohibition on ‘false gods.’ It should be noted that a sophisticated religionist can turn the tables on the sceptic and naturalist by accusing the latter of idolatry. Some sceptics appear to worship Doubt Itself, or else the power of their minds to doubt everything — except of course the validity of their own sceptical ruminations. Others like Carl Sagan appear to worship science. Humanists often enthrone Humanity, as if there were such a thing as Humanity as opposed to just a lot of human beings. Futurists expect great things from the Future: does not that smack of idolatry? Our human past has been wretched; why should we think that our future will be any better? The quasi-religious and idolatrous nature of Communist belief has often been noted. Environmentalists often appear to make a god of nature. One thinks of Edward Abbey in this connection. Naturalists can be found who attribute divine attributes to nature such as necessity of existence and supreme value.
Superstition, in the form of idolatry, therefore, can be found in the opponents of religion as much as it can be found in its proponents.
There are certain data that no one will dispute, whether materialist, dualist, or idealist. Among these data are the various correlations… : stimulate this portion of the visual cortex in such and such a way and the subject experiences phenomenal blue, etc. Intelligent dualists have always been aware of such basic facts as that drinking alcohol alters the quality of one’s qualia, that a blow to the head can cause unconsciousness, and the like. It is important to realize that dualists are not in the business of denying obvious facts. The questions are not about the gross facts, but about their interpretation, about what they mean and what they entail. Hence dualists cannot be refuted by citing any obvious facts. Indeed, if dualism could be refuted by citing empirical facts, it would not be a philosophical thesis at all.
I stress this, because many don’t understand it. They think that substance dualists deny facts that are well-known or scientifically established. One commenter, for example, compared substance dualists to flat-earthers — which of course shows total misunderstanding.
“Why is this the case, if our minds aren’t simply something the brain is doing?” Because it could be the case even if our minds are not simply something the brain is doing.
Vallicella has a knack for expressing complex ideas clearly. So often in the comment boxes here and elsewhere, it’s plain that the person I’m dealing with does not grasp the point of a critique and hence the ‘flat earth’ charge, albeit sometimes more diplomatically phrased. Philosophy is spooky; it will ask you to realize that the mental platform you’re standing on is not as sturdy (“obvious”) as you might think.