So, it is a day or so after the final conference day, and I am now in Maidenhead, in Windsorshire (did I get that right?), next door to some head of state’s home. I visited Louis Constandinos (now there’s a name that has relevance to religion!), a chemist who reads this blog, and he showed my daughter and I a lovely country pub, and found a rather nice pub next to the Thames, with the houseboats and geese and rowers and all. Very picturesque.
The final day of the conference continued to cover questions of the role religion has in causing, or not, tolerance. A lot of comments indicated that religion can be intolerant but coexist, and I suspect this is a function of social evolution rather than intrinsic properties of religions. At the end of the day, there was a panel discussion that will find its way onto the The Science Network that included Richard Dawkins, the always impressive Pat Churchland, and Owen Flanagan, who I now realise I should have done a postdoc with. Keep an eye on that site for the discussion.
One odd claim was made by Roger Trigg and Tony Coady that Dawkins’ claim that it was evil to label children as Catholic or Protestant was unnecessary, since they had not ever seen that, but only “children of Catholics”. I went up to them and said, “I wish I had grown up in your home towns”, as in tolerant Melbourne we used in the mid 60s to throw stones at Catholics kids and they us Proddies, as early as 6 or 7. I think that their view is a function of their social class rather than religion.
Despite that, I found all the participants, even including the Anglican theologian, perfectly nice people, and I was very glad to see the sort of civility I prize in discussion. I fear I am an English Anglican at heart. I’m working on it…
I have decided that the term “religion” is polysemic. It refers to no single property or even cluster of properties. We “define” religion as those social and cognitive and psychological behaviours that happen to approximate our own exemplar of it, even if we are atheists: like the joke about the Irishman asking the atheist if he is a Catholic or Protestant atheist. It is simply not a natural phenomenon. There are a plurality of natural phenomena, such as ritual behaviours, certain cognitive dispositions such as the tendency to take an intentional stance to natural phenomena, and so on, that are natural, but the class, the category of religion, is a mishmash.
This has a lot of impact on both explanations given of religion, and also the moral and political implications. If we are dealing with, say, in-group and out-group behaviours, then religion is not privileged in that respect. If we are dealing with intentionality, neither is religion privileged there. It in the end evaporates in every respect save the social constructed.
I’m offline for a few days as I visit Bath and other places with my daughter, so I won’t be able to prevent Mornington Crescent in the comments.