Sunday, September 28, 2008

BOOK CLUB: The God Delusion, chpt 5.

This chapter looks at explanation for religious belief.

Dawkins' suggestion is that religious belief is not something that natural selection has selected for, but a by-product of something it has selected for. He draws an analogy with the moth and the flame - natural selection did not select moths that fly into flames, it selected for e.g. a form of navigation (keeping a fixed point of light - such as the moon - at a certain position in the visual field) that has this unfortunate by-product: moths navigating by a candle will spiral in and fry.

Dawkins provides an example of the sort of thing he has in mind. Children need to acquire a lot of information very quickly if they are to have a good chance of survival. They cannot carefully reason though things before accepting - they must take advice from the elders on trust. So natural selection selects for this. But this feature of young humans has a down side - it makes them vulnerable to bullshit beliefs. Bullshit beliefs can slip in, and, once they slip in, they'll be passed down the generations along with the genuinely useful ones. Religion takes advantage of precisely this vulnerability.

Dawkins suggests we may also have an innate propensity towards dualism, falling in love, and understanding things intentionally (as intentional behaviour done by an agent), which again religion can take advantage of.

In the second part of the chapter, Dawkins applies memetics to religion, saying "memetic natural selection of some kind seems to me to offer a plausible account of the detailed evolution of particular religions" (p. 233) Dawkins was saying this kind of thing in "Viruses of the Mind" (1991 - available here) in which he compares religious belief to a computer virus.

I find very plausible the suggestion that religious belief can, to a large extent, be explained in these ways. But of course the suggestion upsets many religious folk. And of course memetics has its own critics, in any case.

The question I will put to you is - assuming that these explanations do have much to them, to what extent is this really a threat to the reasonableness of religious belief? To what extent does this kind of causal explanation of religious belief threaten its claims to truth?

54 comments:

Toby said...

Incidentally, I have just finished reading Daniel Dennett's "Breaking the Spell" (don't know if you've mentioned this - only just discovered your blog). I think Dennett's book could be seen as an expansion on this chapter.

Dennett (surprising for a philosopher) devotes little time to considering if god exists. About 6 pages I think. In some ways I think believers find this more annoying: "Of course there's no god; the interesting question is Why do you persist in thinking there is?"

As to whether this undermines the truth-value of the existence of god, in one sense, obviously not. God could exist whether it suited natuaral selection for us to belive in him or not. You might be able to devise athought experiment to illustrate this.

But in another sense it can undermine the appeal to tradition or appeal to authority that theists often employ. Yes, we take your point about wise prophets and clergy, cathedrals, sacred music, etc, but we don't need god to explain these.

Peter said...

Re: reasonableness

The fleshed-out point would surely be something like that religious beliefs do not track the truth, or that they are not the product of a reliable belief-forming practise.

I reckon you can probably alter that general point to fit many theories of warrant/justification etc.

Jarich said...

Ah, this was very interesting. I used to think that psychological reasons were the main reasons why God didn't exist, but yeah... I hightly doubt it now. Maybe you should continue discussing the problem of evil with some evasive christians :)

Kosh3 said...

Memetics seems a challenge to the reasonableness of anything whatsoever - if we exchange epistemic for causal explanations for belief, we seem to very much move away from engagement with arguments to analysis in terms of psychological matters. Remember, to the diehard meme fan, science is 'just a meme' as well.

Geert Arys said...

To what extent does this kind of causal explanation of religious belief threaten its claims to truth?

None at all.
But it helps to tackle the question why 96% of human population can be utterly wrong.

Paul P. Mealing said...

I felt that in this chapter, Dawkins provides a lot of meat for discussion. But he doesn’t discuss the role of politics or the role of mythology. It’s the conflation of politics with religion that makes it most destructive, and it seems that mythology is key to making religion cultural specific – an approach taken by Karen Armstrong in many of her discussions.

In an earlier post I referenced an article by Helen Phillips in New Scientist (1 Sep.07), who discusses this very subject in a similar context. She quotes a social psychologist, Daniel Batson, from the University of Kansas, who makes a distinction between ‘intrinsic’ religion and ‘extrinsic’ religion, that is almost contradictory. In particular, people who are extrinsically religious (more inclined to politicise religion) have an ingroup-outgroup mentality, whereas people who are intrinsically religious (more inclined to see religion as a personal odyssey, also called ‘quest’ religion) are more tolerant of others. Dawkins doesn’t make this distinction and seems to be mainly focused on ‘extrinsic’ religion.

In Chapter 3, when discussing ‘Pascal’s wager’, Dawkins makes the point that a belief in God (in that context) is not a choice, and I agree. God is an experience, as Phillips points out, that some people have but some don’t. Those who do are theists and those who don’t are atheists. For theists to say that everyone should be theists, or atheists to say that everyone should be atheists, is a bit like heterosexuals saying everyone should be heterosexual and homosexuals saying everyone should be homosexual.

Religion or God is not a choice – it’s an experience. And Dawkins can still call it a delusion, but he won’t rid the world of religion (as Phillips also points out).

Regards, Paul.

terence said...

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200512/god-accident

Cathy said...

Thanks, Terence, for posting the interesting essay. Even though it is several years old, and I have read some of these ideas before, it was well-written and interesting.

As to Dawkins' Chapter 5:

These explanations for the existence (and prevalence) of religion do not actually disprove religion, but they do answer many of the arguments that people make on behalf of religion.

The skeptical point of view would be to resist belief in forces and events unless there is evidence for said forces/events. People have looked for evidence for specific religious beliefs as well as for the existence of a vague and generic god. Some say that the widespread belief in god is, in itself, evidence for god, but the arguments put forth in this chapter show that this is not a good argument (as geert arys said so well).

wombat said...

"To what extent does this kind of causal explanation of religious belief threaten its claims to truth?"

I think it chips away at the family of arguments that imply that just because something is widely believed or indeed "professed" there must be some factual foundation to it. It also calls into question the ability of the religious to be objective about their claims in some cases. If they are in a state like being "in love" they are not just being biased in favour of a pet theory, they really are blinded to the faults in their belief.

Paul Mealing - "Religion or God is not a choice – it’s an experience. "

True enough but I think RD shows that it is a choice of sorts to deliberately avoid any further experience which might lead to that belief being subject to scrutiny or contradiction. Unless of course one takes the view that the various memes being postulated are so powerful as to override any sort of choice. Indeed there is also the powerful exhortation to those who start off simply "believing in belief" or just turn up through cultural/peer pressure to place themselves in a state in which such an experience is more probable (e.g. fasting, repetitive chanting) and that it will be interpreted in theistic terms.

(Not at all offended by allegations of marsupiality. :) )

Paul P. Mealing said...

I also thought Terence's link was worth reading.

Regards, Paul.

Papilio said...

True enough but I think RD shows that it is a choice of sorts to deliberately avoid any further experience which might lead to that belief being subject to scrutiny or contradiction.

Exactly. And that is where meme theory comes to the fore. What kind of religions would we expect to 'evolve' in the meme pool? Ones that demand exclusivity, commitment, who despise apostates, etc. Religions whose members honestly admit doubt as to the truth of their creeds, who tolerate defectors, who don't really mind if you turn up to collective worship-- these should all die out.

Other Side said...

Paul Mealing - "Religion or God is not a choice – it’s an experience. "

True enough but I think RD shows that it is a choice of sorts to deliberately avoid any further experience which might lead to that belief being subject to scrutiny or contradiction.

And there in lies another answer too. Perhaps you could say that this is the argument for why atheism exists. In order to refute that which apparently exists within us, one has to deliberately make the choice to deny the experience one might otherwise have which might lead to belief.

wombat said...

other side

While its certainly possible to deny some sorts of claims of experience (plenty of fakers around), it is not necessary to deny the experience itself in all cases. The question is one of interpretation.

Atheists, as RD points out, quite often experience something of the transcendent for example through contemplation of art nature, mathematics and so forth. Nor are they immune to events in their lives such as sudden recovery of a loved one who is suffering from some horrible disease. The difference is they are not trying to foster in themselves a mind set of a particular interpretation or placing themselves under the influence of someone who will encourage such an interpretation. Why is it that many religions encourage novices to pray or meditate under advice of a spiritual director, rather than just follow the instructions on how to fast, meditate and pray? How many of those will refer a novice who sees lights when praying to a GP first?

Don't forget also that there are atheists who would quite like there to be a God or Gods.

Anonymous said...

Off topic but I see the "Jewel of Medina" has seemingly found a brave publisher.

Telegraph article.

Stephen's thread on the subject.

Cathy said...

I have noticed that I am unusually skeptical in many situations that have nothing to do with religion. For instance, I have been in a small group in which one person excitedly shows a card trick. (Not illusion or slight-of-hand, but one of those tricks anyone can do.) Everyone marvels and repeats the trick and then gladly goes off on other topics; I am the ONLY one, apparently, interested in figuring out why it works. Sometimes, when I figure it out, others are excited to learn how it works, but other times they are disappointed and say that I took the fun out of it...When I was a kid, everyone got "into" Ouija boards, but my sister and I were the only ones who ran experiments to see if we really were unconsciously controlling it. Other people didn't even want to hear how we proved that our parents were almost surely right that outside spirits were not involved.

What I am trying to say is that I find myself in the minority for being actively interested in true explanations. Most people really like the wonder and mystery, I guess.

other side said...

Hello Wombat!

You said "The question is one of interpretation."

Absolutely!

"The difference is they are not trying to foster in themselves a mind set of a particular interpretation..."

Perhaps it is more than not trying to foster, perhaps it is trying to resist it! (again, a matter of interpretation). Looking at it from the theists perspective, God is obvious (just as He is obviously not, from the Atheist's perspective) So either He is, and you won't see it, or He is not, and we don't want to see it.

"Why is it that many religions encourage novices to pray or meditate under advice of a spiritual director, rather than just follow the instructions on how to fast, meditate and pray?"

Two reasons I can think of. 1 is control, fear, or lack of faith. It is the mistaken belief that if we leave the interpretation of our God in the hands of these normal, believing, idiots, they will surely mess it up! 2 is just general human laziness. It is so much easier to let someone else tell us what to believe rather than have to struggle through it ourselves. Kind of an "instant coffee" brand of religion.

"Don't forget also that there are atheists who would quite like there to be a God or Gods."

I understand. I am sure that there are some believers who would rather that there not be a God too! All that fire and brimstone can be kinda hard on the psyche.

Anyway, just a few thoughts for you from the other side. Cheers!

terence said...

I see two issues here. The first is WHY we form religious beliefs (in the first place). I think Dawkins and the Atlantic article fairly well outline that.

The second issue, and a more significant one IMO, is why we, or at least many people, continue to hold onto those sorts of irrational views, and never subject them to rigorous critically examination (e.g., could I possibly be wrong?). I think this is the more important aspect since it is only natural that we will at some time -- and maybe frequently -- have incorrect, imcomplete, poorly- supported views, and only through critical examination of our beliefs can we "self-correct".

It seems to me that if we don't have the critical thinking skills to "self-correct" our thinking/believing, then we are essentailly rudderless (with nothing to steer us) in a potentially sea of irrational ideas, beliefs, etc.

terence said...

PS - oops, that should be "potentially dangerous sea".

Paul P. Mealing said...

The more I read about this and the more I contemplate it, the more I tend to conclude that the universe is not an accident. In other words, it’s purpose-built for life. This does not axiomatically lead to the existence of God, as both Paul Davies and Christian de Duve point out. The ‘God’ question is almost irrelevant; it’s the wrong question. The question should be: what’s the point?

Imagine the universe with no consciousness at all, and then ask yourself: what’s the point? There are only 2 answers to this question: there is no point; or the point is consciousness, because that’s the end result.

Regards, Paul.

Anonymous said...

Paul: There are only 2 answers to this question: there is no point; or the point is consciousness, because that’s the end result.

This is entirely off the topic of Stephen's post, but needs a response.

Isn't it just a touch conceited to assume that because after 14 billion years of the universe, consciousness in one recent species (which could easily be wiped out) on one planet in one star system in one galaxy in however many universes there may be/have been is the end result?

What's wrong with no point?

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Anonymous,

Nothing wrong with 'no point'.

We agree to disagree.

And I agree that if the universe put all its eggs in one basket it wouldn't make much sense. But on this planet, at least, life seems to have a go in every niche possible, and there's lots of galaxies that could have other possibilities.

The universe seems primed for life is all I'm saying, based on what we already know.

Regards, Paul.

Svanur Sigurbjörnsson said...

Hi
I agree with Richard Dawkins that religion is a byproduct of certain qualities that we have.
I think it is the byproduct of our abstract thinking and imagination that makes us able to think ahead and visualise things in our mind. That is very useful in construction and many other skills.
Having this quality the god idea becomes attractive in order to:
a. Create a super leader that people become less jelous of than a human.
b. Create a mighty comforter that "never" fails.
c. Create a system of thought that keeps believers in place because breaking it will mean punishment.
d. The system can be tagged with some useful ethical message but also a harmful one.

The problem with this is, that there is no logical way to change the system of believe since it is set up as a sacred unchangeable system. It therefore becomes outdated almost the minute it is created (by man).
Thank - Svanur your Icelandic humanist.

Psiomniac said...

Paul,
You said:
"The universe seems primed for life is all I'm saying, based on what we already know."
I can certainly understand why anyone might have that hunch. But arguments about issues like this, about whether the universe is primed for life or whether we are just committing the lottery fallacy...don't they end up being, as Davies himself said, a matter of 'my turtle's better than yours'?
Shouldn't we just admit that we have no basis for choosing between the explanatory fictions on offer?

wombat said...

Paul -

OK this is from Wikipedia and should be taken with a pinch of salt but

Earth biomass (living critters) ~ 7.5 x 10^13 Kg

Mass of Phobos (tiddly little moon of Mars) 1.08 x10^16 kg

So in the local solar system so far we don't seem to have a lot of life do we?

How about looking at the habitable region round the sun? Lets say we take the size of the region to be about 100 AU radius (about as far as the Voyager space probes have got) we are looking at a habitable zone of say 0.75 AU to 1.25 AU which is about 1/500,000th of the volume. A lot of astronomers reckon the solar system is rather bigger, extending to about 1 light year. That makes it about 125 million times bigger than the rough calc I just did. Most of it lifeless. So really there isn't much habitable space for life and damn all life living in the space there is!

wombat said...

A correction -

"How about looking at the habitable region round the sun? Lets say we take the size of the solar system to be about 100 AU radius ..."

I just said...

Howdy Psiomniac.

You said, "Shouldn't we just admit that we have no basis for choosing between the explanatory fictions on offer?"

Yet isn't that what philosophy is partially about, trying to reason that which we don't understand? If we simply admit this and say we are done, I suppose life would be easier, but where's the fun in that?

Psiomniac said...

Well, ijs, my assessment of the epistemic horizon is itself a philosophical process. It might not be the most fun part, but I'm not averse to trying to reason that which we do not understand. It's just that I have reached the conclusion that, in broad terms, some of the limits of our understanding are things that we do in fact understand.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Wombat,

Paul Davies, in an interview, over a decade ago, with renowned Australian atheist, Phillip Adams, admitted that his interest, or desire (I can’t remember his exact words) in finding other life forms in the universe was philosophically driven. (Davies is an astro-biologist as well as a physicist.)

One of my favourite sayings is ‘only future generations can tell us how ignorant the current generation is’. It would be truly strange if Earth was the only source of life in the universe, but not impossible I admit.

Regards, Paul.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Last comment also addressed to Psiomniac.

Regards, Paul.

wombat said...

Paul P. Mealing

I'm all in favour of looking for other life in the Universe. It's a worthwhile enterprise on many levels.

I think though that consciousness makes the question "What is the point?" meaningful, rather than being an answer to it.

You said "Imagine the universe with no consciousness at all, and then ask yourself: what’s the point?". Assuming I achieve the first part, how (by whom) is the question to be asked?

It seems like a sort of epistemic big bang with the "Whats the point?" bit taking the place of the "What happened before that?" in the conventional cosmic version.

Stephen said...

assuming that these explanations do have much to them, to what extent is this really a threat to the reasonableness of religious belief? To what extent does this kind of causal explanation of religious belief threaten its claims to truth?

And then I said... Obviously a lot. Similarly, if we regard the world as flat because that is how our brains evolved, on a roundish planet, then the world is not so much flat as roundish. That is, the explanations that we are being asked to presume presuppose the falsity of much religious belief.

On the other hand, similar explanations could account for much of the political aspects of religions, and leave the more metaphysical aspects untouched. Indeed, they could explain much of the falsity of religious beliefs in a theistic way (although Dawkins would not like to do so). Similarly, we need not stop believing that there is a world, and that it is largely as we think it is (that flat-looking ocean really is wet and full of fish).

There are nice parallels with science too. Our brains have evolved (atheistically or theistically) so that we postulate on certain kinds of things, e.g. enduring particles with constant intrinsic properties. To what extent would a Naturalistic account of such postulating undermine belief in the scientific theories that are written in terms of such particles?

who said...

...that was a different, more fictional Stephen :)

i said...

To tell the truth, it was the same Stephen (the Law man) but in the wrong place (since there it made sense of the following quote of him); but if, in virtue (or vice) of being in the wrong place, it implied that I was Stephen then that would, if not simply a false ascription, be a more fictional Stephen, one invented for the purpose of continuity (without falsity) with that quote. (Simple really.)

who said...

...the point is, even under theism we are also political animals. Few theists believe that all Popes were perfect. We can have bad theists as well as bad atheists. Maybe we believe there are fewer of them on average or something like that.

Paul P. Mealing said...

You are right Wombat.

Consciousness makes the question meaningful, which is why I framed it that way. A universe without consciousness doesn't make sense to anyone.

Regards, Paul.

who also said...

...and there are irrational scientists. Bad theists are a problem for religion, but irrational scientists are a similar problem for science, especially when there is irrational agreement amongst them. It means that while science is in general a good thing, some of what actual science says is poo-poo. (Examples that are current are controversial.) The philosophical question is to determine how much scientific poo-poo there is. Unfortunately, Dawkins is clearly intent upon adding to it instead.

anticant said...

What is the scientific poo-poo you claim Dawkins is peddling?

The Celtic Chimp said...

I kind of thought Dawkins dodged the question a little on this one. I think he makes a lot of sense describing the possible mechanisms by which religious belief might arise and propogate but I don't see much explanation about why religious beliefs and belief of that nature i.e. supernatural/dieistic in particular should arise.

wombat said...

celtic chimp - How vs Why.

Isn't that whats the Darwinian approach is all about. There isn't a "why". Just lots of competing "how"s.

Ron Murphy said...

CC

I think RD stopped short on the basis that he (and everyone else) doesn't know. But then he doesn't need to know the detail in order to make the main point of the chapter, that current theory is sufficient to explain theistic belief and its development in our species, without the requirement that there actually be a God behind it all.

RD quite often refers to 'truth' and 'facts' in a way that many theist critics latch on to, to make claims that he and similar atheists are being dogmatic, or that 'science' is a religion - as if, if that were the case, that then RD would be in no position to criticise equally dogmatic theists. They seem to miss the irony that if indeed both positions were equally dogmatic there would simply be two equally poorly argued and evidenced positions.

But of course this isn't RD's position. He often states, as he does in his TGD book, and more recently on his TV programme on Darwin, that his position is 'all but 100%' certain - the evidence for God and arguments for God are so weak, and evidence and arguments for alternative explanations for reqligious belief and religious experiences are sufficiently strong, that there is no good reason to believe in God.

anticant said...

Quite, but it is rarely possible to reason cocksure credulous believers out of their faith.

Dawkins vs. Palin on prime time TV - now THERE'S a thought!

The Celtic Chimp said...

Discussing the mechanisms by which religious beliefs (or potentially any other kind of unfounded beliefs) arise is not even close to the same thing an explaination for religious belief itself. Specifically religious belief that is.

wombat said...

CC - I take it you mean trying to isolate which particular mechanism is responsible? Recognizing, of course, that it may in fact be none of the ones suggested by RD.

I strongly suspect it may be some combination of most of them or possibly different ones at different times. Probably different subsets apply to different sorts of religion and different types of believer (strong belief or "belief in belief").

Plenty of research to be done if you can get a grant and some decent test subjects...and get it past an ethics committee as well of course.

anticant said...

Surely there's already an abundance of research and reflection upon this, going back to Frazer's "Golden Bough" and beyond.

Is not one potent factor humanity's need to make sense of the mysterious? In prehistoric times, divinities of various kinds were dreamed up to explain otherwise unaccountable events and phenomena.

During the past 400 years, more scientific thinking has progressively shrunk the realm of the mysterious, but the ultimate mystery of how we came to exist and - in some people's opinion - the need to find reasons for our existence, remain unexplained.

This still leaves plenty of scope for irrational thinking, as is abundantly demonstrated on Stephen's blog.

wombat said...

anticant -

The research to date has, I think, been largely observational rather than experimental. plenty of records of cults developing, anthropological studies etc. but not too much of the experimental stuff until fairly recently. For sure we have years of hard science investigating the truth of the believers claims about the real world but not a great deal in practical terms on how they actually come to believe nonsense. We have plenty of theories but I don't see anything which enables me to examine a believer and say with much confidence "the person holds this irrational belief because of x, and we can prove this by administering this test" and more usefully to follow up with a prescription for a course of treatment which will make it go away.

We don't even really know if it is entirely preventable, if not curable.

The parallel here is with smoking surely. We have known it's bad for most people for a good while. We suspected for much longer but deluded ourselves, sometimes helped by many of the same arguments in favour of religion ("millions of others do it". "my doctor does it", "it feels good"). I think the expression "smokers cough" had been around well before laboratory tests started in earnest.

anticant said...

Why do we need to know WHY people believe nonsense? This strikes me as nonsense.

wombat said...

Why do we need to know...?

So we can try to stop them doing it of course.

anticant said...

I don't think it's "of course" at all. You seem to assume that if we, the "rational" people, explain to the "nonsensical" people why they are being nonsensical, they will stop.

This is a total non sequitur.

What we have to do is to combat the nonsense, and curb its ill consequences as best we can. If we wait to do this until we know "why" people believe it, we won't get anywhere.

I don't care "why" Islamic fundamentalists believe that Allah is telling them to fight infidels: I simply wish to stop them damaging me and us.

wombat said...

Anticant

I don't assume or even think it that likely that merely explaining things is going to be the whole solution. I am simply of the opinion that armed with better knowledge of the causes and processes which contribute to this formation and maintenance of this family of irrational beliefs we will be better able to intervene in effective and humane ways. I am not calling for inaction simply being aware that acting in ignorance is at best less effective and at worst counter productive.

Kyle S said...

Why think that these processes that generate irrational beliefs found in religion only apply to religious believers.

How are we supposed to disgtinguish between beliefs generated by rational thought, and beliefs generated by this faulty mechanism that has been conferred upon us by evolution.

However, if we all have this tendency to form irrational beliefs then doesn't what Dawkins is saying undermine his own beliefs just as much as they do the theists?

Stephen Law said...

Hi Kyle S

We are definitely going to have to do this Plantinga stuff at some point!

vv sorry about delays with posts. I am having a total nightmare with work....

The Celtic Chimp said...

Anticant,

why do we need to know the WHY of anything? What exactly strikes you nonsensical?

I would imagine the heart of the reason for belief in the supernatural is the response to a keenly felt need. This is undoubtedly partially the need to explain the unexplained. If this were the sum of it though we would likely have a lot more scientists and lot fewer religious believers. I suspect mortality and our unique ability to understand its inevitability is the real driving force behind religion. We don't want to die and we don't want our loved ones to die. We do and they do. We need to feel better about this.....I know...GOD...heaven etc. etc. etc. So you could say that religion is not born of the desire to explain what don’t understand, it is instead born of the desire to explain away that which we understand all to well. Would it be going to far to suggest that religion is nothing more than embellished existential cowardice?

anticant said...

Yes, that's probably true. Death is the great taboo of our modern "civilisation" [a question-begging term!]. We all need a philosophy of dying as well as a philosophy of living.

At 81, I know I shall die quite soon and I have been living with a couple of more specific terminal illnesses for the past four years. I am not bothered about being dead, and will deal with any "afterwards" - if there IS an afterwards - as best I can when I get there.

I am, though, very concerned about the manner of my dying, and have done my best to ensure that it will be in a well cared for atmosphere. I visit a Marie Curie Hospice regularly, where I get wonderful support from the staff and meet other patients. None of them are keen about dying, but their attitudes to it vary. I have seen some stoical - even serene - run-ups to death, and known others who were very frightened, while being as brave as they could in the face of it. I do my best to use my counselling skills, and such philosophy as I can muster, to help my fellow-patients to keep as cheerful as we can, and you might be surprised at the amount of laughter there is during our weekly social get-togethers.

Reverting to the issue of "Why?" my own view is that it is an over-used question which is sometimes useful, but is often trotted out and pondered over fruitlessly when it would be far more to the point to ask "What?", "Where?", "How?", "Who?" etc.

For instance, in the current financial meltdown it is far more urgent to ask oneself "what is happening?" and perhaps "What should I do with my money?" - a question I've been asked increasingly frequently in recent weeks - than "Why is it happening?"
[The answer to that is fairly obvious: namely, that for far too long bankers and financial institutions have recklessly encouraged millions of people to borrow money they couldn't afford to].

~WTS~ said...

Conjecture - please provide evidence that atheism is a trait of the "fittest."

"Bullshit beliefs" - the lack of professionalism makes it very difficult to take this poster seriously.