At The Economist: punitive gods are our salvation, a comment by Philosophical Apprentice

Dominic Johnson in his book, ‘God Is Watching You: How the Fear of God Makes Us Human’ simply rehabilitates a not so soft determinism,that keeps appearing in the intellectual life of the world in ever new guises, but remains in service of tribalist political conformity: the fear of a punishing god is a ‘useful evolutionary adaptation’ in the pseudo-scientific jargon used by both Johnson and the writer at The Economist, to review the book awash in such chatter. And then this howler, in this maladroit review:

‘ Raping your neighbour’s mate might once have made evolutionary sense—spreading your own genes at little cost—but “in a clever and gossiping species, knowledge of selfish actions could spread and come back to haunt us” in the form of a furious husband or a village mob.’

When did ‘raping your neighbor’s wife once have made evolutionary sense’ ?

An example of Determinism’s Past:

One of the many dogmas of the Psychoanalytic Mythology was that the Superego acted as a kind of gatekeeper, or as a more highfalutin kind conscience: Freud was a great borrower and adapter of ideas, to put it mildly. That Superego acts as a mere place holder, the internalized punitive god, in the wake of the utter collapse of the the Freud Cult, although the True Believers still propagandize!

The notion of moral conscience as possible rejoinder to the scientism of Johnson’s book: for those interested in the idea of the evolution of conscience through  history  might consult ‘Moral Conscience through the Ages,Fifth Century BCE to the Present’ by Richard Sorabji:

Adam Smith’s contribution to Moral/Ethical conduct was ‘the impartial spectator’ as means to measure one’s conduct, against a possibly more objectified standard. The Theory of Moral Sentiments is quite long, so for convenience’s sake consult D.D. Raphael’s The Impartial Spectator, Adam Smith’s Moral Philosophy:

Mr. Smith’s is a centuries old methodology to ‘check’ your moral self-inquires , because we are talking about morality and ethics (an impossibility in the world remade using the Johnson Formulation, i.e. The punitive Deity is the sine qua non of ‘civilization’,rational calculation is beyond the reach of creatures determined by their ‘brains’, ‘minds’, ‘neural networks’, and the leaden cliche ‘hard wired’! )

We reach the end of the ‘review’ to find this rather unsurprising attack on Notorious Atheists Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris:

‘Mr Johnson does not seem a pious man himself. But unlike atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, he is not out to embarrass religious belief and chase its subscribers from the public square. The religious instinct is too deep-seated, he thinks. Instead, critics of superstition are best advised to work with the grain of human psychology rather than against it, finding more benevolent ways to satisfy human yearning for something “out there”. What form such an atheist religion should take, though, God only knows.’

Yet unmentioned is another Atheist, Jonathan Miller whose ‘Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief’ and ‘Atheism Tapes’ places him in the front rank of nonbelievers, but he lacks the advantage of being a radical ripe for a bit of useful fear mongering!

Philosophical Apprentice



About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.'
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