The philosopher George Santayana was a Catholic atheist, if you can imagine such a thing. According to Bertrand Russell..., William James once denounced Santayana's ideas as "the perfection of rottenness," and one can see why some people would be offended by his brand of aestheticism: a deep appreciation for all the formulae, ceremonies, and trappings of his religious heritage, but lacking the faith. Santayana's position was aptly caricatured: "There is no God and Mary is His Mother." [pp. 514-515]Then, Dennett confesses to somewhat the same predicament:
But how many of us are caught in that very dilemma, loving the heritage, firmly convinced of its value, yet unable to sustain any conviction at all in its truth? We are faced with a difficult choice. Because we value it, we are eager to preserve it in a rather precarious and "denatured" state—in churches and cathedrals and synagogues...keeping alive traditions, rituals, liturgies, symbols, that otherwise would fade. [p. 515]Personally, I don't get it. I just don't feel anything for the traditions, rituals, liturgies, or symbols of religion, and I was amazed to read that Dennett doesn't feel the same way. (I wondered whether he was being disingenuous.) He even includes an Appendix with the musical score for a song that he used to sing "when I was a child, around the campfire at summer camp, at school and Sunday school, or gathered around the piano at home":
Tell me why the stars do shine,Dennett seems to have had an exceedingly sentimental childhood. My experience, even of Sunday school and summer Bible camp, wasn't like that, either in fact or in memory.
Tell me why the ivy twines,
Tell me why the sky's so blue.
Then I will tell you just why I love you.
Because God made the stars to shine,
Because God made the ivy twine,
Because God made the sky so blue.
Because God made you, that's why I love you. [p. 523]
I much prefer my wife's emended needlepoint:
Who plants a seedBut I recognize the author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea again when Dennett goes on to say:
Beneath the sod
And waits to see
Believes in DNA
But hasn't there been a tremendous rebirth of fundamentalist faith in all these creeds? Yes, unfortunately, there has been, and I think that there are no forces on this planet more dangerous to us all than the fanaticisms of fundamentalism...Is there a conflict between science and religion here? There most certainly is.I must add that Dennett suggests a zoo for religious heritage not only to protect us from religion's dangerous elements, but also to preserve it "because it was," as we preserve all sorts of archaeological and historical artifacts. Religious and other cultural artifacts are unique and, like species of nature (which, in a way, they are too), once lost, cannot be re-created.
...My own spirit recoils from a God Who is He or She in the same way my heart sinks when I see a lion pacing neurotically back and forth in a small zoo cage. I know, I know, the lion is beautiful but dangerous; if you let the lion roam free, it would kill me; safety demands that it be put in a cage. Safety demands that religions be put in cages, too [emphasis mine]....
...the deliberate misinforming of children about the natural world. According to a recent poll [early 1990's], 48 percent of the people in the United States today believe that the book of Genesis is literally true. And 70 percent believe that "creation science" should be taught in school alongside evolution. Some recent writers recommend a policy in which parents would be able to "opt out" of materials they didn't want their children taught. Should evolution be taught in school? Should arithmetic be taught? Should history? Misinforming a child is a terrible offense. [pp. 515-516]