Sunday, November 26, 2006

What Does Technology Have to Do with Religion?

Not much, I would assume, but others are drawing closer connections. The cover story of this month's high-tech bible Wired and much of the magazine's content was about "The New Atheism" and its spokespeople. It featured interviews with provocateurs like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennet. Many in the movement have apparently found each other via the Internet, and like other subcultures, they have built online communities based on their collective absence of faith. There's an interesting analogy to be made between how supposedly incomplete or unfulfilled atheists are coming out of the closet and demanding inclusion with the experiences of gays and lesbians in earlier decades.

Defenders of the faith are using technological theories as well. Today I heard a sermon by James E. Grant, who used arguments from "neurotheology" to defend the biological basis of religious belief. Much of Grant's language came from the biofeedback movement of the sixties and seventies, which in turn borrowed theories from the study of "cybernetics" that applied post-War information theory to the homeostatic mechanisms of the body and of the psyche as well. (See the work of famed atheist and MIT professor Norbert Wiener, the founder of cybernetics, for more.) As someone from a family with a long history of religious mania among its more dysfunctional members, I'm not sure that I buy Grant's argument that religious faith is more adaptive than its absence.

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