What is religion and how is it explainable?

Nov 21, 2014

By Georg W. Oesterdiekhoff

There are proofs that humankind has been religious since Pleistocene, perhaps already since its very beginning. Ethnography has documented that religion penetrated every tribal society and every archaic or premodern society. Religion seems to be much stronger and vivid in archaic societies than in the current world religions of Asia, America, or Europe. For example, the Australian Aborigines used to spend months of the year with religious practices and rituals. Religion and magic had a great impact on their everyday life. Religion seems to play a bigger part in societies staying upon lower stages than in those upon higher stages. In fact, there is not a single person to find in archaic societies who doubts in the existence of mystical forces such as ghosts, sorcerers, or divinities (Eliade 1974; Frazer 1994; Jensen 1992).

According to research of Febvre, there did not exist a single atheist in 16th century Europe (Febvre 1946). The first atheists appeared in France, intellectuals who were influenced by the philosophy of Descartes (Buckley 1990). A clandestine literature came into being in the end of the 17th century and moreover in the beginnings of the 18th century in France, where a small number of authors formulated atheistic ideas for the first time in history. Denis Diderot and Paul d´Holbach were the two most important atheistic authors during the 18th century.

Agnosticism and atheism spread from these origins in circles of scientists and intellectuals in the Western world to become a social movement during the 19th century. 41% of the leading scientists in the US were atheists already in 1916 (James Leuba), 93% of the members of the American Academy of Sciences were atheists in 1998 (Dawkins 2006; Oesterdiekhoff 2013a: 239). Roughly half of the Europeans or Japanese currently don´t believe any more in god and immortality of the soul, while 90% of people living in the developing countries are still religious (Bruce 2002).

A society, divided in believers, agnostics, and atheists, reveals a much weaker religiousness, in comparison to a society with 100% believers. Thus, religiousness in tribal societies is much stronger than in any kind of modern society. Further, atheism among the members of the American Academy of Sciences is deeper rooted than among the half of the peoples of England, Scandinivia, and Japan that is said to be atheistic today. Obviously, a psychological evolution has taken place, starting in the heads of a few intellectuals some 300 years ago, conquering now the most advanced nations and later on the whole world. There are estimations according to them there exist now some hundred millions of non-believers throughout the world (Oesterdiekhoff 2013a: 235-240, 2009a, b, c, 2015).

How can we explain the total absence of agnosticism and atheism in the premodern world and their emergence and spread since 1700? How can we explain religiousness and atheism basing on one striking theory?

Ludwig Feuerbach (1985) in 1841 explained religion as the childish nature of the humankind, manifesting the psyche of humans staying on childlike psychological stages. According to Feuerbach, the risen intelligence and grown maturity of humans might explain the emergence of atheism during the age of Enlightenment. He discriminated the “emotional man” of the premodern world from the “rational man” of the modern world as the fulcrum of the development of religion, science, and culture. He excellently demonstrated how single religious ideas and practices root in childlike mental characteristics.

Despite his celebrity nobody really followed his approach after his death. It would have been necessary to rely on child psychology and cross-cultural psychology in order to develop Feuerbach´s approach further. Successors should have had to show that children actually are deeply religious from their very nature, not in consequence of education and culture. Then, scholars should have had to show the resemblances of the religion of children and premodern man. Further, Feuerbach´s disciples should have had to evidence the childish anthropological or psychological nature of premodern man and the more mature status of modern man. Had his successors carried out this work, they would have accomplished the work and would have evidenced his early but brillant theory. The branch of religious studies would be able now to present a theory that explains both the full religiousness of the premodern mankind and the emergence of the weak religiousness, agnosticism, and atheism during the past 10 generations.

Not one expert in the field of religious studies of the past century did the work mentioned because nobody could ever imagine that children are deeply religious due to their developmental stage only. Many a scholars had even problems to understand the childlike nature of premodern man. Though, there had been many authors such as Heiler, Campbell, Freud, Jung, and Clodd who saw the resemblances but they did not followed the obvious traces. However, some most influential and distinguished scholars and schools emphasized the apparent resemblances between premodern and modern human beings, especially in the time span 1800 to 1945/1980. Yet they did not think that these resemblances could build the basis to explain the phenomenon “religion”.

Almost all classical authors of psychoanalysis and developmental psychology, many a classical authors of sociology, history, and ethnology, contributed to the theory of the childlike nature of premodern man. Among these approaches and works, the books of Piaget (1975) and Werner (1948) are especially impressive and plausible.

These books show that the psychological correspondences of children and premodern men cover all dimensions of logic, reason, perception, social understanding, morals, and political reasoning. Premodern man discriminates from the child by knowledge and experience but not by the psychological stage and by basic categories of reason and mind. The resemblances actually concern every single aspect and detail (Oesterdiekhoff 2009a, 1997, 2011, 2013a, b, 2012 a, b; Hallpike 1979).

Piagetian Cross-Cultural Psychology in the past 80 years has evidenced through more than 1000 empirical studies conducted in more than 100 milieus and cultures that adult humans from archaic, traditional, illiterate, and premodern milieus do not develop beyond the psychological stage of children while adult humans from modern societies develop some more developmental years and elaborate the adolescent stage of formal operations (Dasen 1977; Dasen & Berry 1974; Hallpike 1979; Oesterdiekhoff 1997, 2009a, 2011, 2013a, b, 2012 a, b, 2014, 2015; Piaget 1974).

Cross-cultural intelligence research has confirmed this result, too. Adults of premodern societies manifest IQ scores of below 75, in comparison to IQ scores of adults from modern, advanced nations. Even Europeans, Eastern Asians, and Northern Americans scored with below 75 a 100 years ago. Flynn effect is the name for the secular increase of intelligence during modernization. IQ scores of 50 match to the usual intelligence of children aged seven, scores of 75 match to the intelligence of teens aged 13 (Flynn 2007; Oesterdiekhoff 2011, 2012b, 2013a: 49-78). These are the empirical data that correspond to the data of Piagetian psychology, according to them premodern adults stay on childlike psychological stages while modern adults develop some 5 or even 10 developmental years further. The main causes to the divergent psychological paths and stages are school systems, primary socialisation techniques, media, and occupational systems.

The whole research branch „religion of the child“ of the past century has shown that children are deeply religious and modern adolescents manifest a decreased religion. K. Hyde (1990) and Goldman (1964) presented each an impressive compendium that cover the abundant data related, all evidencing the facts mentioned. Literally thousands of studies show that every child has elementary ideas of god, of prayer, of divine government of the world, of efficacy of magic, and of the immortality of the soul. Further, modern adolescents run through a religious development in which the original, magical, animistic, and concrete ideas and practices are becoming weaker and more abstract.

Already Piaget´s book on the worldview of children (Piaget 1975) demonstrated the correspondences of children´s and premodern men´s religion and worldview. It showed that modern children surmount this archaic worldview with 10 years at the latest, while premodern men adhere to this belief system all their lifetime. I have evidenced, upon some articles and a book that is to be published in 2015, that every element, which composes religions, roots in reason, mind, and psyche of children.

Every child believes, like premodern adults do, the world be an artefact, born in actions of persons and powers. Both groups surmise human or divine magic may create every occurrence and the run of history. Both groups believe in award and punishment both in this world and the other one. Children believe in god, ghosts, and in magic of their parents and of adult people (Oesterdiekhoff 2009a, 2013a: 215-240; Hyde 1990; Goldman 1964). Children by their sixth year regard parents and adults as being omniscient and almighty, as a kind of divinities (Bovet 1951; Piaget 1975; Goldman 1964; Hyde 1990). Children, older than six years, run then through a sceptical crisis. The grown mental abilities show to them restrictions that limit intelligence, capabilities, and knowledge available to adults. The children transfer then their religious feelings to the official and imaginary god of the adult culture, being the Bible God in the Western cultures. The preschool child shares with the stone age and tribal societies, with the ancient civilizations and with Christianity, the idea of the one, great god of heaven. Every premodern culture, including stone age peoples and agrarian civilizations such as China, India, pre-Columbian America, and the Meditarreanean, knows next to the cult of the god-father the worship of ancestors as a parallel cult. Ancestor worship concerns the adoration of deceased parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and former generations that dominate the life of their descendants from their place in heaven (Frazer 2010; Jensen 1992). I have shown that this core element of ancient religions stems from the mentality of the child before his sceptical crisis, of his religious attitude towards his parents before his seventh year of life (Oesterdiekhoff 2013a: 223-230).

Both children and primitive tribes initially have problems to imagine the death could completely annihilate the personality of the deceased. This capability is by no means self-evident but provides the attainment of certain abstractive cognitions (Anthony 1940). Further, children have a blooming fantasy and the power of wishful thinking. Therefore, they paint a life after death with concrete and colurful pictures (Goldman 1964; Hyde 1990). The fancyful ideas of the ancient peoples regarding hell and paradise root in this childlike mentality. The decline and annihilation of the belief in immortality of the soul, of paradise and hell, roots then in this evolution of the adolescent stage of formal operations (Oesterdiekhoff 2009a, b, 2013a: 236-240).

Children´s fantasy is also the source of the belief into myths and fairy tales. Children from 3 to 8 live in a world of myths and believe in sorcerers, ghosts, and witches (Blair et al. 1986; Dieckmann 1995; Hyde 1990, von der Leyen 1995; Werner 1948). Not only W. Wundt (1914) demonstrated that originally differences between divine myths and children´s myths did not exist. In fact, the belief in gods roots in myths and legends. Premodern man was capable to fancy such myths and to believe in them, too. Thus, religion and myths of gods stem from anthropological stages of children below their 8th year of life. Whenever adults grow beyond this psychogical age their mythological capability continually decreases or completely vanishs. Modern agnostics and atheists aren´t any more capable to believe in gods. Their developmental stage prevents them from understanding myths and legends as being reports (Oesterdiekhoff 2006, 2007, 2011, 2009a, b, c, 2013a: 232-236).

Henceforth, “full religiousness” (M. Eliade) is a manifestation of certain developmental stages of humans, whose anthropological summit remains on childish stages. Every central element of religion comes from psychological mechanisms, which are parts of children´s psychological stages.

Religious people of modern societies have then a weaker and more abstract religion than our ancestors had. The modern rest religions are by no means detached from psychological developmental stages but reflect transitional stages. Atheism and agnosticism clearly result from the gradual evolution of the adolescent stage of formal operations. Henceforth, the theology of Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Hans Küng, J. B. Metz, or J. Ratzinger reflects transitional phases of the psychological evolution. As there is no psychological phenomenon that is untouched by the laws of psychological development, as there is no religious phenomenon that exists apart from this evolution.

On the whole, developmental psychology delivers the key to a comprehensive understanding of religion and religiousness. Sociology, general psychology, phenomenology, and evolutionary psychology do not explain religion but decelopmental psychology does so. Child or developmental psychology explains religion, atheism, and agnosticism at the same time. To my opinion, developmental psychology is the searched theory that explains both belief and disbelief.


 

Dr. Dr. Georg W. Oesterdiekhoff, author of 25 books and 200 articles. Main research field: Reconstruction of the history of humankind basing on developmental psychology and elaboration of developmental psychology as the fundamental theory to the humanities and social sciences. Former positions: prof for sociology at the universities of Aachen and Erlangen-Nuremberg, visting prof at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogotá.


 

References:

 

Anthony, S. 1940. The Child´s Discovery of Death. London.

Blair, J. R. and J. S. McKee and L. F. Jernigan. 1986. Children´s Belief in Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, and Tooth Fairy. Psychological Reports, 46, 691-694.

Bovet, Pierre 1951. Le sentiment religieux et la psychologie de l´enfant. Genf.

Bruce, Steve 2002. God is Dead. Secularization in the West. Malden.

Buckley, M. 1990. Origins of Modern Atheism. Yale University Press.

Dasen, Pierre (Hrsg.) 1977. Piagetian Psychology. New York.

Dasen, Pierre and John Berry (Eds.) 1974. Culture and Cognition. London.

Dawkins, Richard 2006. The God Delusion. London: Bantam Press.

Dieckmann, Hans 1995. Die symbolische Sprache der Märchen. In: Wilhelm Laiblin (Hrsg.), Märchenforschung und Tiefenpsychologie. Darmstadt, S. 442-470.

Eliade, Mircea 1974. Death, Afterlife, and Eschatology. New York: Harper & Row.

Febvre, L. 1946. Le probleme de l´incroyance au XVI siecle. Paris.

Feuerbach, Ludwig . 1985. The Essence of Christianity. New York: Harper & Collins.

Flynn, James 2007. What is Intelligence? Cambridge, England.

Frazer, James G. 1994. The Collected Works of J. G. Frazer. London: Richmond.

Frazer, James G. 2010. The Belief in Immortality and the Worship of the Dead. 3 Vols. Tennessee, Memphis.

Goldman, R. 1964. Religious Thinking from Childhood to Adolescence. London: Routledge & Kegan.

Hallpike, Christopher 1979. The Foundations of Primitive Thought. London: Oxford Clarendon Press.

Hyde, K. E. 1990. Religion in Childhood and Adolescence. A Comprehensive Review of the Research. Birmingham, Alabama: Religious Education Press.

Jensen, Ad. E. 1992. Mythos und Kultus. Stuttgart.

Leyen, Friedrich von der 1995. Traum und Märchen. In: Laiblin, Wilhelm (Hrsg.), Märchenforschung und Tiefenpsychologie. Darmstadt, S. 1-12.

Oesterdiekhoff, Georg W. 1997. Kulturelle Bedingungen kognitiver Entwicklung. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Oesterdiekhoff, Georg W. 2006. Irrationale Denk- und Verhaltensweisen am Beispiel von Hexerei und Magie und ihr Stellenwert in der Kulturgeschichte der Menschheit. Sozialwissenschaftliches Journal, Jg. 1, H. 2, 79-104.

Oesterdiekhoff, Georg W. 2007. Ancient Sun Cults. Understanding Religious Rites in Terms of Developmental Psychology. The Mankind Quarterly, 48, 1, 99-116.

Oesterdiekhoff, Georg W. 2009a. The Mental Growth of Humankind. Norderstedt: Bod.

Oesterdiekhoff, Georg W. 2011. The Steps of Man Towards Civilization. The Key to Disclose the Riddle of History. Norderstedt: Bod.

Oesterdiekhoff, Georg W. 2012a. Ontogeny and History. The Leading Theories Reconsidered. In Cultural-Historical Psychology, 3, 2012a, pp. 60-69.

Oesterdiekhoff, Georg W. 2012b. Was Premodern Man a Child? The Quintessence of the Psychometric and Developmental Approaches. In Intelligence. A Multidisciplinary Journal, 40, 2012b, pp. 470-478.

Oesterdiekhoff, Georg W. 2013a. Die Entwicklung der Menschheit von der Kindheitsphase zur Erwachsenenreife. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.

Oesterdiekhoff, Georg W. 2013b.  The Relevance of Piagetian Cross-Cultural Psychology to Humanities and Social Sciences. In American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 126, No. 4, 2013b, pp. 477-492.

Oesterdiekhoff, Georg W. und H. Strasser. 2009a. Die Traumzeit der Menschheit. Warum Menschen an Gott glauben oder geglaubt haben. In Sozialwissenschaftliches Journal, Heft 2, 2009, S. 45-64.

Oesterdiekhoff, Georg W. und H. Strasser. 2009b. Glauben Sie noch oder wissen Sie schon? In Soziologie heute, Dezember 2009, S. 6-10.

Oesterdiekhoff, Georg W. (erscheint in 2014). Denkschrift zur Gründung eines Max-Planck-Instituts für Humanwissenschaften.

Oesterdiekhoff, Georg W. (erscheint in 2015). Traumzeit der Menschheit. Ursprung und Wesen der Religion.

Piaget, Jean 1974. Need and Significance of Cross-Cultural Studies in Genetic Psychology. In: Dasen,  Pierre und Berry, John (Hrsg.), Culture and Cognition, London, S. 299-310.

Piaget, Jean. 1975. The Child´s Conception of the World. New York: Littlefield, Adams & Co.

Werner, Heinz 1948. The Comparative Psychology of Mental Development. New York: Follet.

Wundt, Wilhelm 1914. Sprache, Mythus und Sitte. 5. Band, 2. Teil der Völkerpsychologie. Leipzig.

220 comments on “What is religion and how is it explainable?

  • The preschool child shares with the stone age and tribal societies,
    with the ancient civilizations and with Christianity, the idea of the
    one, great god of heaven.

    I was a child, and I have never had this idea!

    Both children and primitive tribes initially have problems to imagine
    the death could completely annihilate the personality of the deceased. … Therefore, they paint a life after death with concrete and colurful pictures. … The fancyful ideas of the ancient peoples regarding hell and paradise root in this childlike mentality.

    But, as a child I was not thinkink about death, hell and paradise – I have not been subjected to such terms in my life. I do not understand this. Does he speaks about children who are raised in religious environment, or what?

    Atheism and agnosticism clearly result from the gradual evolution of
    the adolescent stage of formal operations.

    What? I have never believed in god, my disbelief is not an result of gradual evolution.



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  • Modesti Nov 21, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    Atheism and agnosticism clearly result from the gradual evolution of
    the adolescent stage of formal operations
    .

    What? I have never believed in god, my disbelief is not an result of gradual evolution.

    The use of the word “evolution” is confusing here.

    It is actually talking about stages of child development in the individual, at which different types of though processes take place.

    I have not read Piaget’s 1970s papers, but I did some work in the 1960s which confirmed his experiments on the different child developmental stages.

    http://ehlt.flinders.edu.au/education/DLiT/2000/Piaget/stages.htm

    http://www.simplypsychology.org/preoperational.html

    http://www.simplypsychology.org/concrete-operational.html

    http://www.simplypsychology.org/formal-operational.html

    The point the comment is making, is that reaching the formal operational stage of development, where the capability for logical, abstract, reasoning, is reached, leads to mathematical and scientific capabilities which facilitate the move to agnosticism and atheism.

    It is very note-worthy that indoctrination processes fight this mental maturation, and exalt “child-like thinking”, as a virtue to be retained into adulthood!



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  • I have often pondered why every tribe of homo sapiens on the planet has developed religion. What is it about our make up that demands we attribute explanation to supernatural forces. The essay above gives some insight. But as we were emerging from Africa 200,000 years ago, there must some evolutionary survival advantage to tribes for this propensity to be passed on to modern humans. There must have been a positive selection pressure to produce humans that would believe. I’ve speculated that this may have been the ability to unite a tribe either under the threat or promise of salvation in battle but it doesn’t seem strong enough to account for what we see today. Have we been bred to be blind followers??

    Modern humans didn’t arrive in the Americas until 14000 years ago +/-. And yet there is a rich diversity of religions from north to south on both continents. New religions are being created all the time. Mormonism. Cargo cults in the Pacific. The gene is still strong in humans.

    I know the research presented above is supported by evidence. I just seems unrelated to my memories. Like Modesti, I can recall no time when I was ever religious in the modern term of the word. I do recall the usual childhood imaginings of ghosts and ghouls. Fairies and supernatural events. But I didn’t think this was religious. Just kids with imaginations. What gives me hope is the trend away from religion over time. Maybe the enlightenment will come to a full world wife fruition. One day. Probably not in my lifetime.



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  • David R Allen Nov 21, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    Hi David!

    You might find it interesting to look over the first (Flinders) link on my comment, and see how many juvenile thought processes you can recall from fundamentalist articles and posts.



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  • 5
    maria melo says:

    “Both children and primitive tribes initially have problems to imagine
    the death could completely annihilate the personality of the
    deceased.”

    “Further, children have a blooming fantasy and the power of wishful
    thinking.”

    what a wise interesting article to read, and fresh, since valuable ideas are more rare than what I would expect to read, unfortunately.
    I accept it as empirically correct that children have those “religious” stages, and I can even recall some of my ontological stages: as far as I remember that I had some “strong”wishful thinking as a child (with six years old, as I was missing my deceased father, and in fact both parents were kind of “divine” figures indeed, and perhaps I thought I could solve the problem with wishful thinking: if my mother told us our dad went to heaven, why couldn´t he come back? (so I called my mother in despair and told her I had seen my father coming back from heaven, was I testing my mother?
    Later on, with the age of 7 or 8, I once draw some wishful thinking design because I believed it would work out (but it didn´t of course), it was kind of those witchcraft’s I am afraid to mention, also in a very despaired situation (that hurted my feelings). In my teens, I have read about it, as far as I didn´t understand why did a psychologist adult could believe in witchcraft herself, and I have read about the explanation too.



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  • I think I find this mostly archaic bunk.

    I think if children are brought up not to consider invisible agents as a thing the idea dies almost at once. Yes agency detection works on the very simplest of cues, not on any elaborate inferential process, so there is an opportunity to inject substance into the ideas of invisible agency at four or five say. This (invisible agency) is just a hugely powerful explanatory cultural artefact perpetuated in the absence of better explanations by the hugely trainable nature of human children. We forget this remarkable trait at our peril. I wish I could still post the Victoria Horner link showing how chimps are smarter than kids, because kids will believe authority figures above the evidence of their own eyes and reason, whilst chimp kids don’t get bamboozled so.

    When I was very young I was protected from the idea of ghosts and always told these things didn’t exist. They were just made up for stories. I remember checking that burglars were just made up too. I had my first sleepless night that night….I never had any sense of invisible agency when young, that I recall.

    Kids don’t automatically know that invisible agency is not possible. Grown ups (outside the US) used not to understand why lots of things happen and urgently needed the reassurance that the unknown was, in fact, known. Just so stories fit the bill. Kids got trained in them. Even now ghost stories and godly stories abound and take a while to be put into rational perspective by kids (except in the US). (Need to find the links to that narratives research in children from a few months back.)

    Democritus and Epicurus got it right quite a while ago.

    This article overstates the substance of children’s toughts on these matters. But magnets are, even now, miraculous.



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  • Alan,

    Am I understanding what you said wrong? I took the evolution as being just that. That man/ ape must have only been able to reach only the first sensory motor stage and no further at some time in our evolution and then the next stage later and so on. These stages now happen through childhood and are a reminder of who we once were and how we developed, as it were.



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  • @OP – Already Piaget´s book on the worldview of children (Piaget 1975) demonstrated the correspondences of children´s and premodern men´s religion and worldview. It showed that modern children surmount this archaic worldview with 10 years at the latest, while premodern men adhere to this belief system all their lifetime.

    I think the time-scale here is nonsense! – unless by “pre-modern” the author is taking about Australopithecus or some other prehistoric ape.

    There is no evidence that modern men are intellectually much different to those of 5,000 or 10,000 years ago.

    I have evidenced, upon some articles and a book that is to be published in 2015, that every element, which composes religions, roots in reason, mind, and psyche of children.

    However, frequently religion does show forms of immature thinking and earlier stages of mental development, which has been atrophied by indoctrination and repression.



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  • Olgun Nov 21, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    Am I understanding what you said wrong? I took the evolution as being just that.

    As we know from embryology, foetal development follows evolutionary paths, and the psychological development may well do the same.

    However Piaget was talking about the mental development stages of modern children, from birth through to adulthood.

    We should remember that development is a continuity with no hard boundaries, and with variations between individuals.

    There is also evidence that significant numbers of humans (for various reasons), never achieve full development of abstract reasoning faculties, or connection of the features in the different stages which are required in understanding mathematics and scientific methodology.

    The links I posted give the simple basics, but if you Google Piaget there are more details.

    Some experiments are dubious, but the tests on conservation of number, volume, and reversibility, do work in showing the limitations in the thinking of infants.

    In fact the limitations of the understanding of conservation of volume in much of the population, is exploited by the designers of deceptive packaging, which creates the illusion quantities for sale are larger than they actually are, and larger than competitors products of the same volume!



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  • In my opinion religion was born at the same time when fear was born. (and people in Pleistocene were pretty scared. People as they grow, as they find out knowledge, become less and less scared)

    There are proofs that humankind has been religious since
    Pleistocene…

    I do not think that children are thinkink at all about death, paradise or hell, or some divinity unless parents or someone else introduce them to. For example I was not aware untill 15 year old, that a good laugh and party when I was 8 years old actually was a funeral of my grandfather, hahaah. To look at your parents as divinities is a conclusion of an person that has some inclination towards that kind of philosophy (of god). There are probably the same amount of children that did not see their parents as divine.

    Children by their sixth year regard parents and adults as being
    omniscient and almighty, as a kind of divinities

    I have not. They were real, they gave me feeling of being safe, and yes in my mind they knew everything. Children do not know that those characteristics are divine, actually, they are divine only for someone that exept existence of divine. For a child that characteristic is called safeness. We know that religious people find feeling of safeness in god (in their surogat father, their parent figure, papa=father). What every child is looking for, is a sense of safeness, of protection. As much as primitive tribe were. Didn’t Daniel Dennet explaine in Breaking the spell beginings of religion? It is about how we all in our fear, or insecurity look for outside agents, …cause of our fear in others. This children position in adults is a quest for safeness, and conscious rejection of responsibility. I do not like in this article this generalisation that all children have this thoughts about divine.



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  • 13
    maria melo says:

    As far as “religious” (or superstitious) individual stages may lead to religious institution, other individual characteristics of mental development and mental illness, sociopathic individual characteristics and cognitive limitations are brought up as a flow to the collective institution of “religion” too, differently from a more slight way which we are considering here: a benign developmental stage. Isn´t it?



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  • 14
    maria melo says:

    Interesting to remind that in a recent interview I am glad that Richard Dawkins considered individuals of the Islamic State, as those who decapitate al least, as sociopathic, indeed, individual characteristics, besides superstition itself, have variation (and I mean it as far as I am familiar with delinquent psychological evaluation, that reveal specific individual characteristics that lead to criminal behaviour).



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  • I do not like in this article this generalisation that all children have this thoughts about divine.

    Exactly!

    My suspicion (and I apologise for repeating it here) is that religion was invented incidentally with the advent of sophistcated language and the sudden advent of grandparents in flowering of the Aurignacian

    This was revealed in Caspari and Lee’s important paper of 2004 A 400% increase in the number of grandparents in family groups appearing quite suddenly from this period. The standard interpretation is given in Smith and Ahern’s book, “The Origins of Modern Humans: Biology Reconsidered.”

    Multigenerational families have more (and more knowledgeable) members to teach and reteach important lessons. We suggest longevity promoted the intergenerational accumulation and transfer of information that allowed for complex kinship systems and other social networks that are uniquely human.

    I think this is only partially true and may be in part exactly back to front. The point is old folk were allowed to die when they lost their utility and lost their self sufficiency. In the marginal existence of the hunyer gatherer such callousness is essential for survival.

    I suspect that with the advent of sophisticated language, old folk found a purpose, not just minding the kids, which had existed before. Now they became repositories of expressable wisdom. They could sing (as it were) for their supper even though they couldn’t gather it for themselves. The deer sometimes migrate along this or that route during droughts…or whatever.

    But wisdom is soon gone, all told and passed on. The trick is to have more “wisdom” up tour sleeve. Making shit up will still get you the meal. Songs and stories may be noble creations but “Just so” stories, believed, may take on a life of their own. Always having answers will keep you leisured and alive.

    Story tellers get their supper, but when they collude they can formalise this as tithes.



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  • 16
    maria melo says:

    I wish I could still post the Victoria Horner link showing how chimps
    are smarter than kids, because kids will believe authority figures
    above the evidence of their own eyes and reason, whilst chimp kids
    don’t get bamboozled so.

    I think this experiment of the researcher Victoria Horner has impressed Phil Rimmer (in more than one comment, by Phil Rimmer there is a reference to Victoria Horner´s experiment of the box).
    I think the experiment highlights how humans are dependent of learned behaviour, so that they may think that all procedures to obtain the sweet reward are important steps, while most of the chimps (not all) leap to the objective steps leaving aside “superstitious” imitation, to obtain the sweet.

    In a recent thread on RDF, someone has posted a link to the female dog “Chaser” on Science Nova where researchers interpret the desinterest behaviour of chimps (most in the wild) in our human cultural idiosyncrasies, even if they are the closest relatives that we have and that pointing as a gestural reference is natural in their world (as far as cultural behaviour and have idiosyncratic attempts too), chimps don´t care for our reference gestures and dogs, much more distant relatives care and figure it out as important to us.



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  • Modesti Nov 22, 2014 at 3:46 am

    In my opinion religion was born at the same time when fear was born. (and people in Pleistocene were pretty scared. People as they grow, as they find out knowledge, become less and less scared)

    I do not think that children are thinkink at all about death,

    I think in the past, with hunter-gatherers, or herdsmen, killing animals for food, along with high infant mortality rates, children had a much better practical understanding of death.

    paradise or hell, or some divinity unless parents or someone else introduce them to.

    In many modern societies, death is hidden from the population (apart from Hollywood versions), so children lack references to reality and are more vulnerable to myth-making fantasy.

    Ancestor worship, is understandable, as tribes lived by the technologies and skills, inherited from their ancestors, in the same way that modern science “stands on the shoulders of intellectual giants”, who worked out the key theories.



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  • 20
    Katy Cordeth says:

    As we know from embryology, foetal development follows evolutionary paths, and the psychological development may well do the same.

    Is that the ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny stuff? I thought this theory had been discredited.



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  • I was interested in noting that the researchers were reluctant to use the word ‘mourning’ to describe the reaction of the chimps. It made me realize that I didn’t even know what mourning really means with regard to human behavior either. Obviously it is a mix of anguish, wishing the dead person would suddenly return to life (i.e. normal activity), and puzzlement that they don’t, but it’s not a useful word since all it does is lead back to another set of questions as to what constitutes affection (in all its forms).
    But animal mourning, if that is what it is, does not bring us to religion. However much chimps may exhibit sorrow — collectively or individually — there is no evidence that they conclude from the death that the deceased is now elsewhere. So we return to the original question: what is it in the human psyche that posits/imagines this “elsewhere”? Chimps, presumably, don’t do that. So at what point did the human primate refuse to ‘let go’ of the deceased and leave them to decay. What event, in the outside world or in our chemical evolution, changed animal sorrow and puzzlement into imagination? Surely this is as critical a ‘step-up’ in evolution as the emergence of life in the first place.
    (Sorry if I am merely repeating themes that are discussed by others, or stating the obvious, but I am just working out these ideas now myself).



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  • For my clumsy attempt, it is at the point of complicated language. At a point where we have had empathy but have not been able to put it into words but then reach a point to answer the question ” Daddy where has mummy gone”? The male chimp in that video shows anger and is not able to fully understand the situation. What happens at a point where the others can give him a complicated answer but can only attempt a made up imaginary world that gives comfort.



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  • Whatever might explain the origin of religion, one thing is for sure, – science and knowledge (same thing) disprove its claims on an almost daily basis.

    IMO religion is based on ignorance, demands arrogance, thrives on poverty, (especially poverty of ideas), and is destined for oblivion as humanity educates itself further.

    Yes I know , a long way to go yet. But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.



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  • Despite his impressive reading list I think Oesterdiekhoff should have surveyed some atheist children before making assumptions about all childhood thinking. In my own case there were no underlying thoughts of an imaginary father figure or any form of agency at all. Nothing was attributed to magic; even the work of a magician was put down to skill and sleight of hand.

    By the time I started school and considerable effort was made to insert these beliefs, they did not naturally take hold. I had not been primed to accept this stuff so it was all a little bewildering. All through those primary years it never occurred to me to pray for anything.

    It would appear that this has been the experience of others commenting on this piece so perhaps a survey would be warranted. I’d find the results interesting.



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  • 25
    maria melo says:

    <

    blockquote>
    It would appear that this has been the experience of others commenting
    on this piece so perhaps a survey would be warranted. I’d find the
    results interesting.

    “All through those primary years it never occurred to me to pray for anything.”

    To pray? (kind of wishful thinking)

    Actually I searched for some reference on comments to pray, and I didn´t find any.

    In fact, the author of the article is a psychologist and everyone knows that developmental psychology has been based on empirical lab experiments and although human individuals may have variation among them (like any other species), this developmental psychology is called also genetic psychology. We may consider that not all children seat at the age of six months etc, but variation doesn´t make developmental psychology obsolete.

    To pray for good results at school was the experience of my husband actualy, but he is dislexic and pray didn´t result, so it is part of his skepticism (funny it seems).



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  • I have been an atheist for as long as I can remember but I prayed like hell the day I forgot to put away my stash of porn, before going to school, that my mum would not clean my room that day.



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  • As a child I never had any personal thoughts of God, gods or spirits, nor any sense of anything in me that would continue after I died, except for them being ideas in stories. Dying was only ever dying. My spiritual teens was part affectation as I’ve said before to improve attractiveness to girls, and was based on the idea that human intellectual constructs could in some manner, I explained to myself, become true. I didn’t know where morals came from, though. (Sorry yes I do. The best one’s came from my dad and my much older brother.)



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  • 29
    maria melo says:

    I remember once I have discovered porn magazines in my brother´s bed room (in a very high place, so I knew he´d throw things to be hidden in that place so that my mother wouldn ´t discover) that was coming from that street boys circle, actually children) it did´t impressed me at all, absolutely but there was not a slightest interest in for me either). Later on, it impressed in a negative way me (almost near to vomit in pre-adolescece).
    I know now that neurology can explain the difference among genders, including brain differences that lead to the difference.



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  • People in the third world looking at the material success of the developed world might conclude that the gods don’t like being sucked up to. They want to be left alone. Further the gods help those who help themselves. And prayer is extremely rude. It is begging. It is telling the gods their business, it is demanding special treatment. Don’t do it. It really pisses off the gods.



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  • @OP – How can we explain the total absence of agnosticism and atheism in the premodern world and their emergence and spread since 1700?

    Religious scribes, book-burning, and heretic burning, would account for a shortage of records, and a shortage of people proclaiming their lack of belief!



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  • . Hi Maria.
    Actually I searched for some reference on comments to pray, and I didn´t find any.

    I was using the absence of prayer as an illustration of my total lack of religiousity. Everyone prays, right? Well actually no. I’ve always wished for certain things to happen or not, but I have never been in any doubt that wishful thinking does not mean the desired outcome will come to pass.

    It’s difficult for someone coming from a faith background to comprehend though I can understand their thinking. When someone expresses some sort of faith in anything of a supernatural nature I feel sure that they must be aware at some level that this is not the case, and the reverse is probably true.

    It’s been suggested that atheists like myself are in denial or are simply rebelling against the status quo . It seems that Oesterdiekhoff held belief as a child and has been using information from people with the same childhood experiences. My contention is that children reared in an atmosphere completely devoid of such fanciful thinking see the world differently right from the start.



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  • Hi Phil. Dying was only dying for me as well. Things in my environment DIED. Plants, pets, grandparents, neighbours all died, but I wasn’t told they went to heaven. When the heaven concept was thrust upon me it didn’t stir any emotions. I didn’t have any visions of a lovely place filled with the departed. Even during my brief flirtation with religion in my teens, my thinking did not extend to a concept of heaven. That was too far-fetched.

    Mention of your spiritual era always raises a smile because on reflection I think I would have found that a distinct turn-off, though the pastel shirts would have worked. There was no future for any arch-conservatives either, as the ensuing battles would have made life impossible…..back in the day!

    Returning to the thread, real belief in fantasy elements such as fairies, ghosts, mischievous spirits, omens, portents, astrology, lucky charms, good/bad vibes and so on, did not feature in my youth in any way at all except as plot devices for stories or films. This did not mean that I had no imagination. I consider that I had an extremely rich imaginary life, in fact richer than others my age.



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  • I think I would have found that a distinct turn-off

    Very wise.

    As a gambit it was at once successful and utterly unsatisfactory.

    I’ve never had a moments doubt about being of the left, though, being simply wired that way. Right wing women simply didn’t exist in my sphere at the time, unless it was somebody’s unpleasant mother.

    Oh and prayer.

    Never ever. As a child at school (morning prayers!) this was unfathomable. More grownups’ nonsense.



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  • 36
    Lorenzo says:

    Interesting pamphlet, but I think it suffers from excessive, cheap universalism -as many commenters already noted.

    Im not in a position to recall what my Weltanschauung was when I was 5. My memory is particularly lacking. Thus any hypothesis might be plausible: from the religious nut in pocketable format to the fiercest antitheist -again, in pocketable format.

    A very early memory I have is about a discussion with my grandmother about the nature of bolts during a thunderstorm, which I would date to when I was between 5 and 7 years old. She argued they were sort of incandescent metal bits falling from the sky, I was really not convinced, and argued back that, if they were so, one should be able to find those bits of metal. So we agreed that they were made out of light and somehow produced by clouds crashing into each other -since no one could throw around light.

    I know this memory is reasonably accurate, since both my grandmother and I agree on it and, therefore, I’d be cautious to accept that all children are sort of natural religious nuts. I would accept a weaker statement, asserting that children tend to bridge their knowledge holes with imagination and a guideline they seem to hold is a maker-artifact explanation, and you can find this kind of bridging in very many religions. This might be because children are inserted in a world where many things are artifacts -and, I would argue, there might be an advantage for a species that learns by example to see the world as an artifact, thus subject to understanding and imitation; especially if that species survival depends on its ability to produce artifacts.

    Also I’m going to disregard the part where IQ is cited, as IQ is a very lousy method of measuring intelligence. We could even argue for hours whether we have a valid definition of intelligence, and having a solid definition seems to me a must have before breaking out the meter… And I’d prefer a meter that does not depend on practice, whereas IQ does.

    Another very interesting aspect is the sketch of the atheism’s history, which is plausible: the Enlightenment is the obvious place to see skepticism and critical thinking on the rise -may I also cite Kant, with his~ “have the courage to use your own reason”, and all the discussion of the growth out of mental minority and majority, which predates Feuerbach. But asserting that before there wasn’t a single atheist in Europe is a bit of a bold claim, especially if you keep in mind the complexity of thought of Cato the Censor, Seneca and similar. They may have embedded some religious terminology in their writings but I’m going to eat my own shoes if it turned out that Cato really believed there was a god named Jupiter and all the tales about him were true. Human thinking complexity doesn’t evolve very linearly. Technical skills are more linear, because of how our species works: by incremental refinement, we improve what our ancestors did.

    Where I agree with the article is that religion is a rather childish explanation of the world: where reason, equipped with knowledge, can’t reach, there goes human fervid imagination and fills the gap. On the contrary, I find quite… strange the absence distinction between institutionalized religion and the supernatural or paranormal explanations of the world, seen as an artifact -or a collection of artifacts!- that children give themselves. What christianity is and what the paranormal explanations of the world that a child may give himself can be expected to differ profoundly. They may tend to converge very quickly if the child is surrounded by christians, since we can all imagine the answers they’d give when the child asks for explanations, or submit her/his explanations to them.

    I could accept that a child’s model of the world might be analogous, to a certain extent, to an animist model, but I’d really have a massively hard time expecting a sort of arising christianity -or judaism, or islamism- in a child without christian external influences.

    In conclusion, this pamphlet is rather interesting, but suffers from a substantial absolutism which is dissonant with a scientific approach. All children are actually most children, or a given fraction of them, and so on. Also, there is a problem with the main theme: religion and religiousness are not defined here, which inevitably leads to some confusion. Those two aspects need, IMHO, fixing.



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  • Lorenzo Nov 23, 2014 at 7:16 am

    A very early memory I have is about a discussion with my grandmother about the nature of bolts during a thunderstorm, which I would date to when I was between 5 and 7 years old. She argued they were sort of incandescent metal bits falling from the sky,

    This could be some folk-law confusion with meteorites, which can reach the ground as bits of rock or metal, and are also streaks of light across the sky which can make shock-waves and loud bangs!

    I was really not convinced, and argued back that, if they were so, one should be able to find those bits of metal. So we agreed that they were made out of light and somehow produced by clouds crashing into each other -since no one could throw around light.

    Sounds reasonable!



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  • 38
    Lorenzo says:

    This could be some folk-law confusion with meteorites, which can reach the ground as bits of rock or metal, and are also streaks of light across the sky which can make shock-waves and loud bangs!

    Could be, but I suspect it had more to do with folk-tales picturing god in a bad mood and throwing things downstairs. And also the topic was very specific: thunderstorms and the lighting that comes with them… anyway, the point is that a young child was not accepting an implausible explanation on the basis of an observaion of reality, which is the seed of atheism and critical thinking.

    I’ve also been able to retrieve another memory, and this time one dated without any doubt before I was 6 years of age -I estimate between 4 and 5, for sure before I was even able to write.

    I was copying the illustrations out of an atlas of the human body -a book that is still to be found in my bookshelf- and, albeit being unable to write the explanation of what I draw (but that didn’t keep me from trying and I scattered some random letters on some lines over each page), I was entertaining the classroom by repeating what it had been read to me out of the atlas. A particularly vivid part of this memory is the page where the eye was reproduced, and I know that because I was particularly upset that I hadn’t been able to write the proper explanation although I was very fond of the subject at hand and well informed.

    It would be wonderful to retrieve the actual pictures I drew but I think I left them at school, as a present.

    This too I find inconsistent with the statement that all children are religious. Of course I must be cautious because my sample is of one individual and, worse still, that individual was me in a different time (which means: the memory is probably distorted) but… I’d really find hard to insert a child who tries his best to understand and repeat an atlas of the human body in a religious frame.

    I apologize for the contunal reference to myself but me, as a child, is the closest test subject I have and the one of whom I have the most information to the present day…



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  • Children are like sponges and they will soak up whatever solution is presented to them. Those children who are versed in the importance of asking questions and looking for their own answers, never accepting as fact until proven will immediately begin to do so. It is child abuse to present them with anything other than the truth of their or anything else’s existence. For example there is no damage to a child’s imagination to be told that there is no Santa Claus. In fact it frees their imagination and increases their sense of personal security and respect to be told that it is only folklore but they are free to use their imagination and play along with the tradition. To present myth as truth is degrading to a child’s personal development and only limits their imaginations.



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  • I apologize for the contunal reference to myself but me, as a child,
    is the closest test subject I have and the one of whom I have the most
    information to the present day…

    The best way I’ve found. I spent a long time thinking I was the only one that felt the way I did, on a number of things, only to find out that we almost all feel the same things in the same way.

    I am still in two minds about this religion as as children thing. Although I can’t remember believing in god, I still slept with only my nose poking out of the covers in case Dracula came to my room. I must have been twelve before I took the step to challenge my fear and finally discover I was safe. I realise that having gone through a war at the age of three and having to live two lives when we moved to the UK and the early black and white scary movies of Frankenstein, Dracular and Werewolf, we were allowed to watch, have something to do with it but I think this is what the article is saying. We are susceptible to these fantasies, maybe?



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  • Lorenzo Nov 23, 2014 at 7:58 am

    I’d really find hard to insert a child who tries his best to understand and repeat an atlas of the human body in a religious frame.

    I recall from my infant school days, asking my teacher how to spell “Cupressus” which was on a tree label in our garden. – She did not know what I was talking about.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chamaecyparis_lawsoniana
    Chamaecyparis lawsoniana (Lawson cypress) is a species of conifer in the genus Chamaecyparis, family Cupressaceae, native to Oregon and California.

    That was one of the early steps in recognising that adults were not “all-knowing”!



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  • 42
    Lorenzo says:

    What is it about our make up that demands we attribute explanation to supernatural forces. But as we were emerging from Africa 200,000 years ago, there must some evolutionary survival advantage to tribes for this propensity to be passed on to modern humans.

    Keeping in mind that what I have to offer is just an hypothesis which has not been really tested, I think that the driving force here is the explanation bit, leaving to the paranormal/supernatural bit the role of effect. That is: we are hard wired to look for explanations or, rather, to look for patterns we can learn by imitation. We are a tool making species, and our survival depends on our tool-making ability; I think it’s plausible to think that there may be an advantage to modelize the world as a big artifact -or a collection of artifacts- thus enabling us to try imitating it and learn from it.

    Have we been bred to be blind followers?

    Sadly, I think so. We are not cats*, we are primates, and primates are usually tribal animals. Certainly, Homo S.Sapiens is tribal. We primates live in groups which are led by one individual and, on the African plains, it’s beneficial to the group to follow without (too many) questions the alpha one. This alpha one is, of course, challenged from time to time, but that is to ensure the strongest possible leader, I suppose… If you want to really creep yourself out, watch the film “The Wave (Die Welle)”, which is based on a book which is in turn based on a real social experiment. You see how less you need to build fanatics -religion and ideology help, but they are not required.

    We are pack animals, and we must be constantly aware of that not to fall into the trap of following a leader without question. Religion and ideology, when institutionalized, exploit this human nature to a catastrophic extent.

    *Even lions are not properly pack animals. There is not aplha lion: the male is the protector of the pride, but doesn’t lead it. Forget the USSR: if you want to observe the closes thing to communism, you need to look at lions.



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  • 43
    Lorenzo says:

    We are susceptible to these fantasies, maybe?

    Oh, we are a lot. But that is not for the bad, is for the good -if you know how to use your imagination. And I’m referring, here, to what Einstains said about imagination. I’d hate to sound banal at this point, but many things are not good or bad in themselves, it’s how you use them that makes them good or bad. Use your imagination as a lead to probe the world and learn from it, then it’s a good thing. Use it to construct a pretend world and hook it up to the fear of death, and you have a bad thing.

    Someone has also been busy at classifying persons who spend a longer-than-usual time fantasizing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fantasy_prone_personality

    Although I can’t remember believing in god, I still slept with only my nose poking out of the covers in case Dracula came to my room. I must have been twelve before I took the step to challenge my fear and finally discover I was safe.

    Actually, there is a very interesting NOVA documentary about dreams (and nightmares), where an interesting thesis is presented: dreams (and especially nightmares) may give an evolutionary advantage because they are a safe training ground for the individual’s control centre. I think it’s called “What are dreams?”, if you want to look for it.



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  • 44
    Lorenzo says:

    This is an interesting memory you reported. And again, I’d have a hard time classifying it as a child exhibiting religious behavior rather than as a child exhibiting critical thinking

    That was one of the early steps in recognising that adults were not “all-knowing”!

    I can’t recall the details of the the transition for myself. What I do know is that I always had a real bad allergy against unexplained authority -and it might sound like a cool thing, but it may not be so, really, when took too far. So I’d expect that transition to have happened rather early for myself. I can’t recall anything specific about it, though.



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  • The heritable attribute that underpins religious thinking is most probably agency detection, i.e. detecting minds or independent actors, because minds are potentially dangerous and unpredictable. This is pre-verbal and runs fully back into animal cognitions too.

    The safe mistake to make in agency detection is the false positive. Of the two, mistaking a snake for a stick or mistaking a stick for a snake, the one making the latter error is the one to survive.

    Falsely detecting agency where non exists favours the anxious, and after the development of abstract thinking and language (possibly 50,000 years ago) it favours the idea of spirits and active malice in the universe. Religion grew out of spirit appeasement and superstitious habits as a means of reducing anxiety. It moved when it was seen as a political galvaniser of actions into its glory days of super tribes then managing the ant like dissolution of the self to achieve man as machine in agriculture. After axial age philosphers blew the whistle on it from 600BC, and only then, it started its dying phase, political control through flattery and “niceness” and Godly love for his chosen ones. All through this the false positive of agency detction and the hyper anxious has been favoured. Why would you not believe?



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  • Out of sheer laziness, I will simply say I agree completely with Lorenzo’s judgement of the article. Much too absolutist and full of generalizations and collections of other people’s generalizations. While it may contain some good observations and a few clever ideas, (and a lot that I agree with) it reads like many of the tracts I had to labor through in graduate school and which always felt like a big meal of all carbohydrates.



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  • Sometimes this statement of his atheism is deflected by the accusation that Edward Fitzgerald put words in his mouth. Here is a more recent and more honest translation, that probably gains by its artlessness. The real Omar Khayyam-

    “They say lovers and drunkards go to hell,
    A controversial dictum not easy to accept:
    If the lover and drunkard are for hell,
    Tomorrow Paradise will be empty.

    What of your entering and leaving the world?
    A fly appeared, and disappeared.
    Many like you come and many go,
    Snatch your share before you are snatched away.

    Drink wine, you will lie long enough under the ground,
    Without companion, friend or comrade.
    Take care you tell no one this hidden secret,
    ‘No lily that withers will bloom again’.

    Drink wine, this is life eternal,
    This, all that youth will give you:
    It is the season for wine, roses and friends drinking together.
    Be happy for this moment – it is all life is.

    Though you may have lain with a mistress all your life,
    Tasted the sweets of the world all your life;
    Still the end of the affair will be your departure –
    It was a dream that you dreamed all your life.

    My rule of life is to drink and be merry,
    To be free from belief and unbelief is my religion:
    I asked the Bride of Destiny her bride-price,
    “Your joyous heart” she said.

    I need a jug of wine and a book of poetry,
    Half a loaf for a bite to eat,
    Then you and I, seated in a deserted spot,
    Will have more wealth than a Sultan’s realm.

    Rise up my love and solve our problem by your beauty,
    Bring a jug of wine to clear our heart
    So that we may drink together
    Before wine-jugs are made of our clay.

    The year’s caravan goes by swiftly,
    Seize the cheerful moment:
    Why sorrow, child, over tomorrow’s grief for friends?
    Bring out the cup – the night passes.

    If we don’t clap hands together as one,
    We cannot tread down sorrow with our feet in joy:
    Let us go and be happy before the breath of dawn –
    Many a day will break when we breathe no more.

    When the drunken nightingale found his way into the garden
    He discovered the face of the rose and the wine-cup laughing;
    He came to whisper in my ear excitedly,
    “Seek out these, life once gone cannot be sought again”.

    The greatest poetry is not accessible to those without expectation of absolute loss.



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  • Lorenzo.
    You have raised some valid points. Childhood memories are particularly unreliable and it’s possible that fake memories have been inserted to fill the gaps in many instances. I was keenly aware of this tendency when relating scenes from my own storehouse of recollections. To the best of my knowledge, allowing for possible manufactured memories, thoughts from my childhood were as I’ve stated above.
    It does seem remiss of the author. I think sampling children from backgrounds of non-belief would have led to different conclusions, or at least more valid conclusions.



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  • 51
    AdOculos says:

    I was brought up as a child in an environment where religion was never mentioned as my parents did not believe in indoctrination or received wisdom.
    They were not atheists but were anti-theists and I was expected to make my own decisions regarding beliefs.
    I have never at any point believed in a deity and even from the age of five when I went to a C of E school and was immersed in religion I realised that I was an atheist.
    I do not therefore believe that religion is inherent in people.
    What I do believe though is that superstition is inherent in all higher animals and is the source of all religious belief.
    The studies of B.F Skinner have shown that pigeons will repeat behaviours that coincided with the delivery of food such as turning round three times.
    I myself will always enter through the same turnstile when watching my football team (even though I know it is complete rubbish ) for fear of ‘tempting fate’.
    I believe that this behaviour evolved as a survival mechanism in the sense that the brain will remember the consequences of good things and ignore the consequences of bad things due to the principal of reinforcement.
    This would would have helped in finding food or water in times of drought or famine.
    It would then be a short jump to associate the superstition with some form of higher power when there is no other explanation to fall back on.



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  • 52
    maria melo says:

    As we know from embryology, foetal development follows evolutionary
    paths, and the psychological development may well do the same.

    Indeed, developmental psychology is scientifically rigorous in it´s methology.
    And no, Piaget would be quite right in his reasoning, I would leave a reference, but I guess it is not free for dowloading and I myself didn´t read it (as I wish).
    I realised how “objective” developmental psychology is (I myself have attended twice to Dr. Kim Bard presentations).



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  • Interesting toning down of the bitterness of the Fitzgerald version, though Fitzgerald’s language is far more lush. I memorized almost all of it as an adolescent and it was my first step toward atheism. Then Bertrand Russell’s “Why I am not a Christian” finished me off.



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  • @OP – Ludwig Feuerbach (1985) in 1841 explained religion as the childish nature of the humankind, manifesting the psyche of humans staying on childlike psychological stages. According to Feuerbach, the risen intelligence and grown maturity of humans might explain the emergence of atheism during the age of Enlightenment.

    There is no evidence of historically recent, “risen intelligence”. Modern humans are no more intelligent than those thousands of years earlier.
    The emergence of science during the “Enlightenment” was due to the breaking of the monopoly of Catholic repression of knowledge by dogma, which had dominated the “Dark Ages”!

    He discriminated the “emotional man” of the premodern world from the “rational man” of the modern world as the fulcrum of the development of religion, science, and culture.

    Irrational “emotional man” is a feature of a percentage of populations. It is a false dichotomy to pretend that the division is between “pre-modern-man” and the present day.
    The absence of a clear definition of “pre-modern-man”, adds to the confusion, but the context suggests this is referring to relatively recent human history.

    He excellently demonstrated how single religious ideas and practices root in childlike mental characteristics.

    There are many examples of childish thinking in religions and their dogmas.

    Despite his celebrity nobody really followed his approach after his death. It would have been necessary to rely on child psychology and cross-cultural psychology in order to develop Feuerbach´s approach further. Successors should have had to show that children actually are deeply religious from their very nature, not in consequence of education and culture.

    Nope! That is Oesterdiekhoff’s OP misreading, inserting the a converse which “successors” rejected. Children are NOT, “very religious by their nature”, but religions ARE very child-like in their thinking.

    Then, scholars should have had to show the resemblances of the religion of children and premodern man.

    Backwards again! .. . . . . If they were preaching circular nonsense instead of researching science.

    Further, Feuerbach´s disciples should have had to evidence the childish anthropological or psychological nature of premodern man and the more mature status of modern man.

    … But only if they were “preaching disciples” promoting this circular thinking – which is in conflict with the actual evidence.
    Evidence merely shows where religious thinking has dominated societies, rather than showing any difference in the range of potential intellectual abilities in their individual members.



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  • Though I understand what the post wants to convey, I don’t agree (not fully anyway).

    The point is that Religion is a Social effect. Believing something is human and differentiates between each individual (proven by the first commenter). Religion, in becoming, works like a normal ‘team’ process. You have a group of people and they are set before a task, problem, or other. None have the direct solution for it, but one has an ‘idea’. The idea misses many fundamentals, like specific naming for objective parts used to solve the task or problem (Nowadays called ‘jargon’). Thus, that ‘thing’ (a rock) can be used to ‘open’ (hit it until it cracks) that ‘thing’ (nut which when it was found cracked by a drop, was edible), providing with food. From this, it works the same for intangible things, like why does someone die? why does the sun go down, why does it become warmer or colder. Rituals that take enough time between summer and winter, have ‘proven’ to be effective to bring spring and summer back. There isn’t really much about ‘pleijostene humans’ being religious. It is that humans want an answer to things they don’t understand and this causes people to follow others. This is NOT merely related to animism. Animism is merely a result of the ‘leader’ not being able to answer all questions.

    Now about the children (I had my share of study in child psychology), as the first commenter already mentions. The magical thinking that we have at age 2 until about 7/8, isn’t religious or related to seeing ‘supernatural’ sources in patterns. It comes from both the still limited sense of differentiation of a child with its surrounding (‘this is mine’, ‘stupid chair’, ‘it happened by itself!’) and the fact that it can’t mentally place causes and effects for larger causality yet. Some can, some can’t (I have a 5 year old, that sometimes fails to see the connection and a 3 year old that seems to understand connections in pretty much everything. Will see how that plays out). This is NOT the sense that an individual is ‘made’ the go through a religious process. IF an individual child seems to be ‘religously’ following, it is because the parent is A. using its authority to ‘seem’ as the answer. B. the responses of a child are misinterpretted by the parent as ‘religiously’ following, OR C. The child has been brought up by religious parents that act in all ‘rituals’ (behaviors around the child) from a religious (‘someone else is in control, so just do it like this’) point of view. I can go on, but this is my point for the moment.



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  • 58
    maria melo says:

    “The point is that Religion is a Social effect ”

    As far as children in the experiment box conceived by Victoria Horner- all children and some chimps, that I suppose are not in the wild-repeat all steps to obtain the sweet, not because one species is smarter than another-ethically all species, including human are the way they are-not because chimps don´t have even a more powerful memory, and not because children don´t know that the objective procedures would be three instead of 10 steps, but given the social importance that learning has to them- and it has for chimps too, but perhaps not in the same degree?

    Of course, even the language that we speak is a socially learnt, not exctelly a “universal grammar”.
    But in fact, what I was myself reflecting on is that I had magical thinking also (until I was 7/8), the same that we can figure out that cave men didn´t draw just because it was art, but because it may have had a magico-religious meaning of controling actions befor it happen) It reveals of course a cognitive limitation (I am glad I didn´t believe anymore on that “magico-religious thinking”)
    Of course religion itself is an elaborated institution that I believe not even all peoples may have in such an elaborate way -as they don´t have elaborate political institutions or other institutions, so whatever you mean by “social”, of course, including social, but also I consider correct that children may have magico.religious thinking (without indoctrination, naturally, as me).



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  • I saw a documentary on the experiment behind “The Wave” you refer to Lozenzo. Yes, it really creeped me out.

    But about 1/3 through the process the student subjects were going through I was shouting “NO!”, and could see where it was heading. Yet most of the students went on with it to the end.

    After watching the show, I started to understand why I had rejected religion very early in my exposure to it. Evidently I am not a conformist personality. Your bringing that experiment up in this context seems to me to be valid, and I suspect that I would not have survived in a tribal society.



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  • The reason human kids copied more faithfully is because they were less pre-wired than their chimp peers. They are the ones that had their brains tripling in size from age 0 to 18months creating un-wired associative corteces, that were subsequently pruned back with an exponential decay in rate through to puberty, when another bump in pruning occurs. Human kids are much less competent in movements and manipulations in their early years (compared to chimp kids) and particularly depend on accurately copying authority figures to recoupe this “evolutionary defecit”. Evolution may well have provided our much larger number of mirror neurons to cover the hugely overgrown infant brain problem.

    Though this is all about mechanical skills these, very much, can include superstitious rituals (hands together eyes closed) that become the substrate for more sophisticated training. Indeed being trained whilst most plastic and compliant creates the habit of being trained when you may be inclined to be less so. (The hard core religious are prodigious early trainers.)

    “Magico-religious” is putting conclusions in with the premise. Children’s mis-thinking is a combination of misfiring agency detection and simply undeveloped ideas about causation and how it works. The developing child will naturally make these mistakes of agency detection and causal mechanics until experience tells otherwise. It is quite wrong to assert these to be “magico-religious” as they, as yet, have no such purpose to be set to. Indeed they could go on to quite other expressions in other cultures. But, I propose, in a culturaly indifferent environment, these cognitive errors will mostly be corrected by experience. Cultural input, though, is from birth and most ferociously effective from 18months to 7 years. Conflicting concepts of agency detection and causal mechanics inserted at this time will do untold damage, unless strenuously mitigated later, with a post pubertal re-wire.



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  • Study of religion has been one of my minors and I am familiar with a lot of the readings that are listed as sources. But there is also the problem. They are all from the social sciences and reference eachother. People like Frazer did an amazing job but if we nowadays want to understand how religion evolved, we cannot use the psychology of the early 20th century and ignore all the quantum leaps made in natural sciences since then. This is one of the general problems I have encountered in the social sciences/humanities, where I already stick out because of being interested in those fields and think they are necessary to understand for social sciences,too.

    Also I kind of hate to tell the author that he’s flat out wrong in several parts. He is right about the etymological origin of atheism. But the concept did not appear out of nothing and was present since antiquity although it was mostly regarded as villain and was persecuted. The earliest one were heterodox Indian philosophers and later also in ancient Greece. I’m not sure about the exact names but there was something when I translated either Plinius or Cicero. I can ask the Classical Antiquity crowd tomorrow or you can try google (you should not necessarily just trust my words). I really have no idea to be honest how the author gets to that idea.

    Furthermore, I find the idea of whole populations’ thinking is because it corresponds to some idea of child developement. Sorry, but this is not scientific. I mean, some of the things are pretty obvious. Children hear there are such phenomena and take it for granted, often in quite literal ways. Evolution is no teleological thing, neither biological nor cultural evolution. You can make simple experiments on children that are taught no such idea but entirely materialist ways ( like done in many soviet-communist states) about that. I’m kind of baffled how it passed the quality control here, a site with enough biology and evolution knowledge.



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  • Jan Nov 24, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    I’m kind of baffled how it passed the quality control here, a site with enough biology and evolution knowledge.

    Hi Jan!

    Posting articles on this site for discussion does not imply approval or endorsement of their content.
    Some articles are deceptive creationist nonsense, AGW denial, quackery or just dubious or speculative.

    Where this is the case, they are usually analysed and errors refuted fairly quickly, but there is no “group-think” or party line here.

    Science, education and reasoning are all open to discussion, with backing evidence expected to support arguments.

    You make some good points, so I look forward to seeing more of them.



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  • Lorenzo, lions are most definitely ‘pack’ predators, and the male or males in the pride are the equivalent of your ‘alpha’ in primates. Not to mention there’s also a hierarchy of the females in a pride. And that just as male lions (usually siblings) in a pride form coalitions which primary purpose is to maintain their ownership of the females (and ensure the survival of their cubs), so do the females. In fact, there’s a level of power struggle between males and females, not terribly dissimilar to the queen-worker conflict in social insect colonies, which are by definition eusocial, i.e. true(ly) social. In primates, chimpanzees in particular, coalition formation within a social group, both the males – around the alpha – and the females – around usually an older female. This level of sophistication of social structure makes lions and chimps rather egalitarian than despotic. Communism in contrast is a mix of those two; on one hand there’s a presumed equality among individuals in the populace, on the other – there usually is a personality cult, usually with the person at the center of the social change to communism, but also with there successors thereafter. This personality cult can very well turn in to a truly despotic social organisation, e.g. as in North Korea.



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  • 66
    joyce.beck.9081 says:

    First observation: how does anyone know whether there were any atheists before 1700? Literacy, certainly in the UK, was almost exclusively confined to priests and other church officials, with a few secular officials involved in court record-keeping and accounting. The majority of the population was uneducated and obliged to put all their efforts into survival, with no interest or leisure to debate theology. So where would we find evidence of anyone’s doubts about religion?

    Second observation: Keeping your head, let alone your job, would make it dangerous to disagree with the prevailing dogma until relatively recently (it still is in a regrettable number of places). Keeping your atheist or agnostic opinions to yourself would surely be a matter of self-preservation?

    The debate is interesting, but it rests on knowing the opinions of people long dead, the majority of whom couldn’t, or didn’t, leave a record of their thoughts. So it seems to me there is a glaring lack of evidence.



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  • There have been critical thinkers since the dawn of civilization, people who questioned the supernatural posing questions like “Whence Comes Evil” and the Euthyphro Dilemma, to which religion never could offer a satisfactory answer. Here’s a good BBC series on disbelief:

    A History of Disbelief



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  • I would suggest that since mammals in general have a hard wired mother infant bond, and primates in particular have an extended variation of this crucial characteristic, that humans, by virtue of being essentially neotonous apes, retain this characteristic into adulthood and simply replace “mother,” with other all powerful protector/providers. Further, the kind of litter cohesion seen in the young is exapted into tribal/group manifestation. Together these juvenile characteristics provide the arena for religion to flourish.



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  • Fantastic series, Atheos. Thank you for reminding us.

    For those impatient go to 49 minutes and watch to the end.

    But go back and watch all three episodes later. It was a tour de force from Jonathan Miller, and frankly, got me started in caring about the problem of belief. Check out also the “Atheism Tapes”, the full interviews with his experts.



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  • 72
    Lorenzo says:

    I’m sorry but I have to disagree on what you say on the social structure of lions. I have never observed an apparent ranking among the lionesses -who form the stable core of the pride. You may consider experience as a ranking in itself, but I’ve never really observed -or came accross reports- of lionesses actually submissing to a dominant female.

    Males are expelled from their birth pride and then live a nomad life for a number of years. If they are brothers, they usually form a coalition. Then they take over a pride chasing off the resident male (or killing him, alongside his offspring) -and lionesses’ welcome party is usually not that friendly, at first. Then they go on mainly defending the pride (and its precious cubs) form other nomads and securing the hinting territory… but they don’t lead the pride. Prides have no clear leader, although I suppose more experienced lionesses may direct the hunt.

    As for complex hierachies, like those you find in packs of canids or among hyenas (hyenas actually closer cousins to felids than to canids), I have never seen track of it in lion prides. If you have some evidence of the contrary, please, let me know: I’m a big fan of the cat family and any new notion is welcome!

    Now, moving on to communism. What you saw in Russia was not communism, there’s a name for it: “stalinism”, from Stalin. A sole leader in charge is in fundamental contrast to the whole concept of communism. You should also keep in mind that, basically, communism applies to the means of production and states that those must be put under the direct control of the workers. Which, in itself, might not be a bad idea… Sadly, historically, this was never really put in practice and communism became an institutionalized ideology, with all the pernicious aspects that come with that sort of things.



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  • 73
    Lorenzo says:

    […] if you keep in mind the complexity of thought of Cato the Censor, Seneca and similar.

    Reading the comment left from Jan below, I noticed a terrible mistake in mine up here: it’s not Cato the Censor I wanted to speak about, it’s Cicero. There’s quite a difference.

    I apologize for the blunder.



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  • 74
    Lorenzo says:

    The heritable attribute that underpins religious thinking is most probably agency detection, i.e. detecting minds or independent actors, because minds are potentially dangerous and unpredictable. This is pre-verbal and runs fully back into animal cognitions too.

    This is an interesting point and I can very well imagine how it would accuont for all the fear-basesd shenanigans of religion. I must confess the history of religion is as far from my field of expertise as it can be, but I’d deem safe to assume that every religion has to lay its hands on fear -specifically, the fear of death.

    I’d expect most religion to have a whole domain dedicated to the “evil” spirits, which are infestant and out there just to make our life miserable in all possible ways. The devil in christianity is a wonderful example of that. Curiously enough, though, large catastrophes like pestilence and hurricanes are not sent from the devil, but from the good guy.

    Which brings me to the other domain I’d expect to find in every religion: the makers/dismakers of the world, who usually are considered to be (also) lifebringers -albeit capable of terrible anger, and thus to be reveerd. Again, in christianity, it’s god who sends all the big bad things that undo the world, not the devil. Only god makes. Thus, only god has the bragging rights to send you to judge you…

    We might be looking at two sides of the issue here…



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  • The devil is a very late creation. Slightly earlier was a single creator god as parent. For the most time as with the religious beliefs of recently observed hunter gatherers it was probably just petty spirits that needed apeasement (the unseen forces of misfortune) attracting most ritual activity. Creation myths were for fireside entertainment. In between ancient hunter gatherers (themselves maybe 30,000 years duration) and monotheism (2500 years tops) the spirits were upgraded to polytheistic gods (10,000 years perhaps) of time, place and attribute, requiring not just appeasement but curious acts of collective work, building temples and creating gathering places like proto-cities. This organising act caused in part and possibly in part was caused by, the advent of agriculture.

    What we know as religion now truly is its last and until now brief and most nakedly political flowering. It would be false to imagine it its defining mode.



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  • “…I’ve speculated that this may have been the ability to unite a tribe either under the threat or promise of salvation in battle but it doesn’t seem strong enough to account for what we see today. Have we been bred to be blind followers??”

    Religion probably offered an evolutionary advantage. It comes with an implicit hierarchy, an advantage in tribal society. Bonding in ritual behavior may have been an advantage. Certainly it must have been a death sentence to be shunned or excommunicated from ones tribe, this would not encourage independent thought.

    Fear, superstition and irrational extrapolation may even have been an evolutionary advantage i.e. …is that the wind I hear, or a tiger in the bushes? I imagine a tiger and run in fear. Whether or not it was a tiger, you are alive albeit you didn’t finish collecting yams and may perish as a result, but perhaps this superstitious imagination was selected for and credence was given to intuition over logic in the primitive brain.



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  • Also David,

    Regarding the evolutionary advantage of religion –

    let’s not discount the the advantage of ‘Knowing you are right and chosen or favored by the gods’. Can you picture the agnostic questioner laying waist to the infidels, raping and pillaging all that lay in his path?



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  • “Religion probably offered an evolutionary advantage.”

    Maybe – or maybe we were just infected by a really powerful meme/ set of memes a very long time ago, before we spread out of Africa most likely.

    It would be interesting to try to trace the evolution of religious memes. When were god/ gods added to the meme complex? When did the concept of an afterlife creep in? Punishment for “sin”? When was the faith meme introduced?

    I get the feeling that religious memes have been evolving to be better and better at spreading and “sticking” and more and more toxic to their hosts. Of the world’s major religions, it seems to me that the two most toxic are Islam (at no 1) and Christianity (at a close no 2). A few hundred years ago I think the ordering was reversed. Moreover previously (relatively) harmless religions such as Hinduism, and Judaism seem to have been evolving in recent times, picking up toxic intolerant tricks from the big 2.

    Perhaps if we understood what was driving the evolution of the memes, we might have a stab at putting a stop to it.



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  • 82
    Lorenzo says:

    The devil is a very late creation.

    Of course, it was just an example. I thought it was a rather good one because many people have familiarity with the concept, it’s particularly clear-cut, but you’re suppose to abstract from it…

    It would be false to imagine it its defining mode.

    Yes, to a point. Actually, we never did define religion as such and that’s bound to create confusion. I think we should to assume a degree of organization and beliefs which go beyond fairies and goblins (again, example: abstract from it) to speak of religion. I think it would be misleading to consider any supernatural belief a religion in itself. You can see this sort of “mistake” happening throughout the article above: children use fantasy to bridge the gaps in their knowledge, but that doesn’t mean they are religious nuts.



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  • 83
    maria melo says:

    Unthinkable to neutralize absolute relaxation during rem in humans, not in cats or dogs, just to figure out they were playing with a mouse, running or barking?



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  • 84
    maria melo says:

    Dr. Dr. Georg W. Oesterdiekhoff, author of 25 books and 200 articles.
    Main research field: Reconstruction of the history of humankind basing
    on developmental psychology and elaboration of developmental
    psychology as the fundamental theory to the humanities and social
    sciences.

    I wish I could quote a book I love so much (my own history Professor´s ), something like; with Piaget (and Darwin indirectelly considering his influence on Piaget for instance ) new perspectives were available to historians to make historical process more understandable, as if there were a collective ontological development of mankind (not Marx anymore or Hegel´s perspectives on the development of history).

    I don´t quite understand all the disappointment people seem to feel about the article, the opposite of what I feel about it, really.



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  • Maria I don´t quite understand all the disappointment people seem to feel about the article, the opposite of what I feel about it, really.

    The disappointment stems from the fact that the emphasis should be placed on the fact that religion is a childish interpretation instead of the implication that children are religious by nature.



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  • I don´t quite understand all the disappointment people seem to feel about the article, the opposite of what I feel about it, really.

    I am unimpressed by it, because it reflects an unspoken belief that culture has no effect on young children, that they somehow live in a world entirely of their own making. This is an adult fantasy mostly left behind in the twentieth century…except by Disney.

    I also think that quite a few of us here cannot see our own experiences in his accounts of childhood thinking.



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  • Hi Nitya,

    I’m struggling with this. Can we not say that the times in which religion was invented was generally a childish time, in thinking, except for those that stuck out like geniuses? Their understanding of science or even simple physics of the world?



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  • Olgun Nov 25, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    I’m struggling with this. Can we not say that the times in which religion was invented was generally a childish time, in thinking, except for those that stuck out like geniuses?

    I think past human populations for thousands of years had a diversity of individual levels of mental capability, as do present populations.

    The issue is which styles of thinking dominated those cultures and created the records of them.

    You only have to look as far as Vatican pronouncements over the last two hundred years, to see childish thinking in the same time period as the works of genius!

    (Parts of the Southern USA, have ranting preachers, the Ham and Hovind creation museums, AND NASA!)

    We do know of the absence of scientific progress, during the “Dark Ages” of Catholic domination in Europe, and the Islamic domination setting back and losing earlier middle-eastern science, technologies and art of the ancient Egyptians and Greeks!



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  • Hi Olgun. I think you could say that thinking of the times past was equivalent to that of childish thinking because they had limited tools with which to work. The problem is that people made stuff up to fill the void, and I’m not 100% sure that children do that. Maybe some children do but this is not my experience. My brain was mercifully uncluttered by religious interpretations and I didn’t make-up explanations.
    No doubt I began to question my parents at appropriate moments and I was satisfied with their explanations because I trusted them to give me the right answers. This is one aspect of the essay that I can relate to.



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  • Yes I can understand your personal expieience but the beliefs I have witnessed that seem to make its way ,through teens even,spread like wild fire. It would only take one imaginative mind to spread an “explanation” and without the social media we have today to quickly kill it off, then I can see how it would come about. Still thinking it through but am more on the side of the majority being only at the level of childish thinking.

    Ps. Although my parents had six children, we taught them about the facts of life.



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  • Hi again. Are we talking about teens or preteens? I recall coming to some pretty strange conclusions as a teen as I desparately tried to accommodate some religious thinking into my world view. It didn’t work for long and I eventually jettisoned these ideas.

    PS. The reason I tried on some religious thinking for size, was because I had joined a Christian fellowship group and also had a strong desire to fit in and conform to the societal norms.



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  • Well, confusing today’s teens with child like adults might have been confusing but I just used the way they communicate as an example only.

    It just seems so mixed up that childish questions have to be answered with an adult brain that knows no better than when he/she was a child. one of my sister inlaws ex boyfriends once asked me, after an argument with my sister inlaw about it, if not having a bath after eating was the right thing to do. They took the myth about not swimming after eating because you get cramp, even further and his entire family grew up with this idea.



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  • That’s what I was thinking.
    Also, India never seems to warrant mentioning- why?
    I remember finding out about this person: Ajita Kesakambali- while researching atheism before.

    He was alive 6th Century BCE.



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  • agreed. Its makes very sloppy assumptions. Surely it is more likely that mythical reasoning is the result of scientific ignorance . early societies had this (through no fault of their own and no intellectual inferiority) . Children are ignorant because they are not yet educated. Hence the superficial similarity. Religion filled the ignorance vacuum until the time true knowledge becomes available .



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  • Olgun.
    They took the myth about not swimming after eating because you get cramp, even further and his entire family grew up with this idea.

    That’s so funny! Just the logical extension I suppose……the bath thing, I mean.



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  • I found it worthwhile refreshing my memory of this series. I enjoyed the interview with Arthur Miller in particular. Another quote I found very appropriate was that part of the U.S. community was crying out for an Ayatollah.



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  • Glad you liked it too, Nitya. It’s good to know other wise humans have walked the path of disbelief before us. Here in the US, what can I say? Hopefully, the current trend of “exodus” from religion in younger people continues.



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  • Just to re-emphasise a point I made earlier, the cultural setting for children growing up with false positive agency detection and unrigorous causality mechanics will dictate how those failures will be applied. Paranioid cultures (and the USA has this as a secondary culture ready to surge into the gap if its religious culture expired), cultures that suspected, say, they were ruled by self-serving technocrats, for instance, would be fueled by these errors and children would grow up likely to attribute all manner of outcomes to malevolence from their smarter, technocratic government.

    This paranoia fully utilises the two cognive errors and is neither magico nor religious. Governments exist and “spooky” happenings are just high technological happenings or carried out by that other type of spook, a spy. (We call them agents!) Conspiracy theorism is exactly another false belief forming substrate that an adult may visit upon a child.



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  • My apologies if someone has already said this. I’m uncomfortable with identifying “premodern” religious adults with children – a contrived viewpoint distorted by contemporary theories of developmental psychology. The Pharaohs who built the monumental pyramids; the Athenians who built the Parthenon were not “children” by any stretch of the imagination though thoroughly immersed in beliefs in gods, spirits and superstitions.

    Oesterdiekhoff partakes of the attitudes of 19th century English missionaries who set out to civilize and Christianize the childlike natives of the British empire. The major difference is ironic. This academic is now equipped with a considerable sense of scientific superiority instead of the religious zeal he scorns. He seems implicitly besotted with stereotypes like the simple-minded savage clad in a loincloth who hunts small animals in the rain forest with a blowgun.

    Judging premodern “primitive” people from the perspective of contemporary science-educated atheism swallows biased assumptions hook line and sinker. Flawed perspectives and assumptions distort conclusions. (It is helpful to observe that “primitive” cultures and populations functioning in harsh environments (the Inuit for example) are much more complex and sophisticated than Eurocentric observers in previous centuries were inclined to entertain.)

    Without intending to contradict the valuable diverse insights into the human origins, the various and pervasive beliefs, purposes and practices of religion discussed on this thread, I would propose that religion emerged in part as a proto-science, an attempt to explain a baffling, mysterious, and, yes, frightening world by means which seemed totally opposed to science. Today we like to think of science and religion as polar opposites because belief in invisible supernatural entities is completely devoid of the experimental method applied to empirical evidence. We’ve refined this polarity in an ahistorical context. We lose sight of the fact that prescientific people did in fact use empirical evidence in remarkable ways. The saying, “man was an engineer before he was a scientist” provides a corrective truth. ”

    For an atheist today, religion has no explanatory power while science has the highest explanatory power humans can achieve. We are removing ourselves from times and cultures where indeed religion had [was believed to have] the ultimate explanatory power for people living. It answered all questions. Why am I here? , why are there devastating floods or droughts?, why do the crops grow or fail and cause famine?, why do my people succeed or fail in mortal conflict with enemies?, why do we die of disease or survive?, why do we prosper in trade, farming, warfare or fall into poverty and slavery?, what happens after I die and how can I assure a happy afterlife instead of suffering torment? How can I curry favor with the gods, spirits, etc. so that I , my family, friends and tribe have good fortune rather than miserable fortune?

    Science as a formalized discipline gained a small foothold about 550 years ago and a gained accelerating momentum over the last 300 years. The authority of science gradually displaced that of religion. Still great scientists like Isaac Newton and Galileo remained deeply pious Christians and believed that their discoveries actually proved the designing genius of [the Christian] creator God.

    Newton himself became an almost God-like authority in the 18th century, though religion consistent, with Newton’s Christian faith, still held the superior power over government, people and society.

    Throughout most of history, religion provided the initial motivations for scientific exploration of the natural world, though paradoxically nonsensical in content and authoritarian in methodology.
    In short religion asked many of the same questions that served as a launching pad for scientific investigations. Ancient temples were constructed on astronomical principals with portals framing the setting sun on the horizon at the winter and spring solstice. The pseudo-science of astrology developed with just-so stories but was based on considerable knowledge of the movements of planets and stars.

    Recognizing the dangerous pitfalls of overgeneralizing (but having to wrap up), religion in its earliest and developed manifestations incorporated, to a significant degree), many of the basic human ambitions of science: how to navigate and manipulate the environment consistently favorable to human interests and purposes drawing on foundational beliefs of how reality is grounded and actually works.

    Oesterdiekhoof’s biased hindsight conclusion that religious beliefs and practices represents humankind fixated with the psychological development of a young child resonates metaphorically with the privilege felt by scientifically informed nonbelievers in the 21st century. The substantive notion that homo Sapiens in previous centuries and millenia -for our 200,000 years on this planet- lived in societies of psychologically fixated “children” devoid of fully developed “psychological” adults is biologically, socially, culturally and PSYCHOLOGICALLY ABSURD!



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  • Melvin,

    I appreciate everything you say and what others have said in the same vein but I have to say that the people who built the pyramids were the masses. Those that designed and managed the project are different. Do you think religion was more important with the masses, and therefore uneducated (maybe even not able to be educated). There are conditions in which adults still have the brain capacity of children. Could that have been more prevalent in the masses, or some other equivalent condition? I am beginning to think that learned people don’t mix much with the type of people I have seen that fit the bill. I will even go as far as saying that whole areas seem to be inflicted with this condition but not all people of course.



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  • 103
    maria melo says:

    Child or developmental psychology explains religion, atheism, and
    agnosticism at the same time. To my opinion, developmental psychology
    is the searched theory that explains both belief and disbelief.

    I wonder why don´t most of the commenters that seem to be so disappointed would take on this, instead of trying to ask “what about atheist children?” If Nytia would not consider children as god believers why would it consider atheist children ?

    I developmental psychology thinks of species as a whole, not in polarized ways.



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  • Maria. The term atheist children was just a convenient way of labeling children who have not been subjected to indoctrination as such. Perhaps I could have used another, less loaded term. (innocent children?) I dont know, many a thought springs to mind. As Phil has mentioned on several instances, children absorb the culture of their families along with their mother’s milk.
    This should have been considered a variable and allowed for during the course of his observations.



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  • Now many anthropologists are rethinking the equation. For one thing,
    it is no longer clear that EQs flatlined back in the Stone Age. Recent
    studies of human fossils suggest the brain shrank more quickly than
    the body in near-modern times. More important, analysis of the genome
    casts doubt on the notion that modern humans are simply daintier but
    otherwise identical versions of our ancestors, right down to how we
    think and feel. Over the very period that the brain shrank, our DNA
    accumulated numerous adaptive mutations related to brain development
    and neurotransmitter systems—an indication that even as the organ got
    smaller, its inner workings changed. The impact of these mutations
    remains uncertain, but many scientists say it is plausible that our
    temperament or reasoning abilities shifted as a result.

    http://discovermagazine.com/2010/sep/25-modern-humans-smart-why-brain-shrinking



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  • Olgun Nov 26, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    RE Downsizing the human brain on your link.

    This is highly speculative.
    First we should remember the time scale mentioned is 20,000 years.

    Second, size is not everything.
    Birds have downsized their brains and everything else which reduces weight, but there is evidence that their brains became more efficient as they did so.



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  • There are conditions in which adults still have the brain capacity of children.

    I’m sorry but this is a truism that doesn’t stand up to inspection. As a good general rule, children of any IQ level are still taking in large quantities of semantic knowledge. Adults of any IQ have more or less stopped. The corollary of this is the externally observable rate of brain cell pruning going on, hard (or at least firm) wiring-in models of the world in kids but pretty much ceased in adults.

    A thirty year old may be as dumb as a ten year old, but you can bet he will appear relatively dumber still when the ten year old is twelve.



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  • Yes. I realise that it is speculative but it does add to what I said before. Not conclusive I admit but human conciousness did not happen to all over night so it fits for me that development into adult thinking must have evolved at different times also. Just my feeling on the subject.



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  • phil rimmer Nov 26, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    A thirty year old may be as dumb as a ten year old, but you can bet he will appear relatively dumber still when the ten year old is twelve.

    It’s a long time since I studied this subject, but as I recall, in those whose intellect develops longest, it declines slowest.



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  • Not sure if I phrased that properly Phil? Or I am not understanding you? If the brain stops developing at a much earlier stage, when still a child, then all that changes is the body into adulthood. The childlike thinking remains. Just wondering if this could have been a stage in our development?



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  • One possible reason for shrinkage is a reduction in cell size. This could be happening for reasons not unlike chip geometry size in computer chips. This achieves greater energy efficiency (brains are very expensive in energy to run) AND speeds up processes and data transmission.

    This latter is particularly useful to social animals like us. We do a lot of modelling of the world, and we make inferences about outcomes. The primative amygdala may give us a visceral response to an annoying individual causing us to raise a hand to strike, all without conscious thought. As the irritant information rises up through the executive layers in the pre-frontal cortex the outcomes of landing the blow are weighed up with inference after inference and a realisation, almost too late in the day, that striking your mother-in-law, could well be your last free act. A set of broadband data transmission cells called spindle cells rush this prediction back to the anterior cingulate cortex which is, amongst other things, a sort of error detector. It looks at the action, maybe already started, and its predicted outcome, a year in the spare room, and the raised hand smoothly continues up to run your fingers through your hair. This is the root of our new found civility.

    This fast error checking would work even better if inferences (high level processing) could be made faster themselves. not just brought back from the brain’s periphery quickly.

    Whales have huge brains comprising fewer cells than ours (big cells) with long delays through the processes. They have spindle cells, too, to rush those deeper thoughts back in time to be useful. They really need them. Whale sons-in-law might have a tough time else.



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  • My essential point is that an adult will have little capacity to progress, but a child will. The two intellectual capacities are not reasonably compared in any way. If a child makes no intellectual progress it is essentially because she is living in an impoverished environment (culture) not because of thinking in a similar fashion to a low neural plasticity adult.



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  • And to make more mature decisions rather than lashing out at the other kid that took your toy?

    One trick I use to get children out of the biting stage quicker is to take their finger and line it up with mine and ask them to bite my finger. Their upper teeth make contact with my finger and lower teeth with theirs. They bite with venom (not too hard) at first until the pain hits and the look on their faces is fantastic. A realisation that it probably hurts the person their biting. Some have to come back for a second bite to make sure. When I ask them to take a third bite, it usually is NO.



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  • And to make more mature decisions rather than lashing out at the other kid that took your toy?

    I’m sure such timely consideration for the consequences of your actions will be educational in training or self training, but I’m not sure how training out that initial visceral response happens neurologically. It feels like it happens (training, that is.) It might be that the inferences for given classes of situations get simplified, so they can process even faster, reducing the chance of any separate experience of actually having second thoughts.

    In the class of “irritating behaviour from close family” (your brain may decide) don’t even bother to consider the upside of landing a blow. Skip to the end. Stop.



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  • Nitya: “The term atheist children was just a convenient way of labeling children who have not been subjected to indoctrination as such.

    In the loose sense relevant to the discussion there is no binary opposition to the concepts of indoctrination and non-indoctrination; the former denoting “false” religious belief in a supernatural order and the latter denoting “true” nonbelief in a supernatural order (or positive scientific physicalism). “Indoctrination as such” is all there is regarding the way in which we acquire transmitted belief systems throughout the millennia and the centuries.. What we regard as “truth” is the way we have formed intersubjective agreement on what can be justified. When our reference peer group forms a consensus on “the way things are” we speak as if we have established a locus for truth. Even scientific findings, the product of empirical experiment and precise mathematical measurement are subject to the “truth as justified belief” caveat. For example, when Newton presented hie laws of motion, gravity, planetary motion, etc. they were widely proclaimed as the absolute truth about the ontological essence and pragmatic functioning of the universe. Subsequent research has not disproven the accurate application of Newton’s mathematical descriptions within in a limited context but new physical dicoveries about gravity, energy and mass, especially at the sub atomic level, the curvature of the space time continuum and so on have broadened our understanding beyond anything dreamed of in Newton’s natural philosophy.

    Returning to the objection to Oesterdiekhoff’s thesis, he extrapolates the expression that religious or supernatural belief takes in young children to adults presumably based on chronological measurements of psychological stages effectively “fixated” by immature (childish) brain development. Unintentionally Oester rests his argument on a specious contrast between “true belief’ and ‘false belief” thereby begging the argument with his privileged position of “knowing more” than a new Guinea tribesman, an ancient roman, a Spanish conquistador or, or even Newton and Galileo who believed fervently in God, divine intervention and prophecy.

    We all stipulate that our conclusions derived from observations, scientific experiments and findings, are necessarily limited to generalizations subject to exceptions and new findings. Within this intellectual ethic, I would observe that every culture and society throughout history, has a range of diverse and opposing belief systems. I believe it to be the case that children, adolescents and adults, however further broken down into categories, almost certainly express beliefs differently based on neurological-psychological development; but that beliefs per se firmly rooted for a period in a social system enjoying strong widespread consensus among king and commoner alike cannot *in themselves * be characterized as more or less “consistent” with either the mind of an adult or the mind of a child.



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  • That’s a good point Maria.

    First the piece does not rule out the role of culture entirely. It plays a role during a particular stage. Second the claim that children are in some sense innately religious is probably prone to misunderstanding i.e. probably more nuanced than a reading without being familiar with the supporting studies would suggest. And lastly the piece states that a lot of studies back the claim.

    Still, I bet there are loads of people that have already attacked the studies and given interesting reasoning for why this theory isn’t entirely sound.

    I think the cultural problem as presented here (I have not read every post) is answered in the piece itself though. At least merely reasoning that culture is everything does nothing to address the apparent evidence from studies that say yes culture plays a role, but at a particular stage and prior to that children display religious like thinking which is more general.

    My guess would be that a successful counter probably says something like it does too much while being itself overly complicated. In other words can we even explain this process which is supposed to itself be able to explain so much? Then how do we know what’s doing what work where etc? I wonder if it even makes sense to look for such a theory here.



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  • 117
    maria melo says:

    Maria. The term atheist children was just a convenient way of labeling
    children

    In fact the term atheist children is a secondary classification and seems too me quite inconvenient, for more for someone who does not accept it´s “primary” classification as “god belivers”. So would it make sense even a secondary one ?



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  • Children by their sixth year regard parents and adults as being
    omniscient and almighty, as a kind of divinities

    My 6 year old daughter definitely does not regard me as almighty or omniscient. If she did she wouldn’t complain about my farts or try and sneak sweets when I’m not looking.



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  • 119
    Lorenzo says:

    I wonder why don´t most of the commenters that seem to be so disappointed would take on this

    Well, this is a conclusion. If a conclusion turns out to be right but its premises are wrong, I’m more incline to consider statistics to be praised instead of who came to that conclusion. It is possible to get it all wrong and still come to the right answer -by chance.

    That said, I doubt developmental psychology can explain it all: belief and disbelief are very broad subjects and I’d expect to see genetics and biology, especially in their “evolutionary” flavour, involved.

    I didn’t have a problem with the author’s conclusion because I didn’t really regarded it as relevant, since I had several problem with the arguments on which that conclusion is based.



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  • 121
    bendigeidfran says:

    Ghost of a flea, ghost of a flea
    Now there is a picture not many will see
    Real in his head – it was virtually there –
    Real-yet-not-real, as both love and despair.



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  • Melvin.
    I believe it to be the case that children, adolescents and adults, however further broken down into categories, almost certainly express beliefs differently based on neurological-psychological development; but that beliefs per se firmly rooted for a period in a social system enjoying strong widespread consensus among king and commoner alike cannot *in themselves * be characterized as more or less “consistent” with either the mind of an adult or the mind of a child.

    I’m fairly confident that we’re in agreement on this point though I’ll admit to having read through the last sentence a couple of times.

    I’d lay money on the fact that almost all the respondents on this thread come from a conventional background; one in which the thinking does not stray to far from the thinking of the rest of the community. When one grows up in a family in which the thinking is very different from the mainstream, it leaves a lasting impression. I vividly recall aspects of my childhood and the way I thought at the time. I’ve also spent a large part of my life observing other children and trying to get into their head.

    Perhaps it would be better to categorise children into those imbued with a sense of agency and those who are not. The term atheist children is obviously a very poor choice, but being an atheist website…

    Hands up all those whose children grew up in non-religious families! I imagine most respondents would be in this group. By observing the thinking of children unencumbered by these notions one gets a better idea of the natural tendencies of a particular stage of development.



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  • 123
    bendigeidfran says:

    Oooh, I forgot where I was. Yes, the evo. Wel, forget perfection. Perhaps more helpful, forget sensible. Pleiotropy will get you all sorts of unfortunates. I wouldn’t have bothered with consciousness myself, but landed with it, I think I’d wire them to think each other alive. And if that meant they thought ants were alive too, I’d have to let it go. Being a frustrated mathamatician. Other things would appear alive also.



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  • 125
    maria melo says:

    Second the claim that children are in some sense innately religious is
    probably prone to

    I agree, perhaps more neutrality in terms of language is a need in psychology, and it would be reasonable.
    Actually, I have read about very nuanced religious institution among some peoples, the opposite of the idea that pre-modern peoples have more religious minds than modern, actually their cognitive structures are exactly the same, and we would not be talking about ontogenese, but instead about philogenesis.
    I could perhaps quote an anthropologist that refers that modern man, nevertheless using a sophisticated train, are as primitive as the modern primitives, (my memory isn´t that good toname the author of the quote, sorry).
    In fact pre-modern man did not in fact developed sophisticated institutions, nevertheless there seems to be always a sorcerer in each tribe (and soccer´s hunt too), even if they know their surroundings better than I know I own neighbors (they have “science” too).
    Religion, as I think, is a result of our cognitives structures development of course, nothing new here (a poor one I am afraid), or just due to indoctrination, imagination and our innate ability to get socialized.

    Anyway, I am not disapointed at all, at least, more than what I am with some comments on it.



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  • The cognitive errors that children make, and that adults may continue to make due to the bias a particular culture may exert, are too basic in nature to be counted religious or magical. Indeed the errors of false positive agency detection, and causal mechanics with gaps in, suit cultures other than religious cultures. I have pointed to paranoid conspiracy theory cultures as an example, but I failed to note that these cognitive errors will continue to serve as useful, indeed essential, irritants in our future secular cultures.

    Agency detection may have led us to discover any number of Paley’s watches but it has also led us to discover that global warming has a significant anthropogenic quality. And if only we could regain the knack elsewhere. If only we could see clearly the hand of mankind in every smallest detail of our world. Forrests brought low, deserts created millenia ago, down to the very structure of the soil around us. Agency detection of our own duff handiwork could be a useful reminder of how to to do better.

    Working with incomplete causal mechanics gives a pass to the frankly stupid ideas of creation, but it may better allow imagining our own creations. Invention is extraordinary, because you need to see the whole thing work in your mind though you haven’t got all the parts. Grownups who’ve grown up a bit too much, or conservatives, can’t do this quite so well. Somehow, “it can’t be”, because “it isn’t already” becomes an idea for them.

    These “errors” are very far from religious or magical. These “errors” take their multifacetted character from their environment, culture.



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  • perhaps more neutrality in terms of language is a need in psychology

    This is exactly the point. I called this paper archaic because it uses that mode of Freud or James, to work from the top down, creating a singular terminus for any investigation. This is exactly reflected in the loaded use of terms.

    By contrast, the cognitive errors approach (errors stripped down to the actual facts) I maintain, ends up carrying us to different destinations, dependent on their cultural context.

    Children are not free of culture at any significant formative time. Indeed, it is exactly the reverse of this. As children, they are at their most culturally sponge-like. Jesuits know this to our children’s cost.



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  • 128
    bendigeidfran says:

    Ultimately it is a projection of the self concept. If this were true, ‘god’ would agree with his projectionists. This would give us many ‘gods’, reflecting the ESS of evolutionary psychology. One generally finds that ‘god’ has not read very much of his own (slightlyunneccessaryforatelepath) literary works, but is pretty sure about sexuality. etc. He is generally more sure the closer things get to reproduction. Evolution has no possible explanation for this.



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  • 129
    bendigeidfran says:

    The rather obviously schizophrenic Mr. Blake made the mistake of not postulating minus ghosts-of-fleas to balance the reality equation. I think there may be quite a few under Switzerland. Where it’s dark. Upon their backs ad infinitum. Or maybe he could be a string-fleaist. And imagine a flea is really 11 fleas. Each an 11th of a flea. 11/11 =1, so 1 = 11. The maths would be impeccable.

    This is on-topic, because kosher results are interpreted through a broken prism. The framing is projected as is ‘god’. There are more creationists to question than we may realise. And the point is they can’t see it.



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  • Evolution has no possible explanation for this.

    And yet there religion is and has probably been for millions of years watching over us. It has given us a way to understand our consciousness when we were unable to really understand. It has created rules to keep us from danger and form morals that enabled us to live in large groups. It has enabled us to build great temples to gather around and use as fortresses and even great clocks to help evolve from hunter-gatherer to farmer. Are we that arrogant to claim all this for ourselves and not attribute them to the genome, this one thing that has been present from the very first life on earth. Is it too hard to imagine that this amazing part of us evolved a way to sense the outside world and adapt us to live in it, our very own inner god of intelligent design? Evolve to a point when it can finally say “You are old enough now for my second coming. Forget the myths of yesterday and realize the world as it is. Father Christmas was just a way to keep you warm at night and god was a way to keep you safe until now. Now you can know where the floods come from and can make plans of your own to protect yourselves”. There was a program on, a few weeks back, all about the moon. A scientific program in which it explained why the moon was so important to life, and it brought together the myth of the werewolf and the full moon into reality. The fact that people grew too confident with the light of the full moon and ventured out at night and either got attacked or had an accident, so we invented the werewolf to keep us safe. Those that did not believe perished. Given all this then we ARE born religious. It makes no sense to be born atheist against something that isn’t really there. There is no need to have a knee jerk aggressive reaction to something that has been such a massive massive part of our evolution. We can understand it and say thank you and move on. We don’t need it any more. Some mutation some time in our past was given the right tools to understand this and has passed that understanding on to us.

    I realize these are classic arguments dismissed long ago but it makes sense to me and even if it doesn’t, maybe like quantum physics its time we looked for a special theory on the workings of the genome.



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  • And yet there religion is and has probably been for millions of years watching over us…. etc. etc.

    Just so, but also like thus and thus in other societies, and it may also have been quite other given other environments.

    We agency detect (religion watching over us) and spawn a myriad unwarranted might-bes as a result. We invest meaning, understandably, though clearly falsely, that these things were meant to be. Our terminus is clear. Here and now.

    Working from the might-bes of facts, folk wisdom could have been entirely otherwise. The axial age of Democritus and Epicurus could have prevailed, but for happenstance. We could now be a thousand years kinder, without our wretched Dark Age, fearful of werewolves, shamans and their mental parasites…watching over us.



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  • I didn’t say it was the best that could have happened Phil. It is what happened and worked and so it stayed. Time to move on. Looking back at what might have been serves no purpose. Looking forward to what we can now achieve is my point. Evolution doesn’t always give us the best of everything. Takes time sometimes for it to work things out. Diversity is for that reason isn’t it?

    The Dark Age, its like asking someone who has had a hard life what they would change. They usually answer, “I am what I am because of my past”. Its really an insulting question. If it had been different for that person then they would never have been in a position to have that question asked of them. Thanks to that did NOT stay within religions boundaries, we have made progress when equipped to do so. It is nothing but speculation to say we could have done it sooner. IMO.



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  • we have made progress when equipped to do so

    Democritus and Epicurus existed. We had the potential for great progress two and a half thousand years ago but culture, and not cognitive errors, defeated us.

    If we do not learn from history and cling to our cultural blanket for warmth, when we need light, we may well find our progress thwarted again and again.



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  • Already accounted for them Phil. I still say they were geniuses amongst apes. They could not do it all alone or with few like them. Science needs many branches working together in order to succeed. Sorry, can’t passed that point. We struggle for years trying to invent something and then someone comes along and makes it simple or has the technology at his fingertips to make it happen. I was always annoyed when scientist used to say, ” we might have this in the next hundred years”. Always wondered what stopped them doing it now. As I grew up I realised there were power issues or lack of technology to make the lense and so on. The atom bomb would have been invented sooner as well I believe? God really would have had to help us if it we’re unleashed in the hands of our ancestors. Unless we were really as intelligent then, to the man, and I still don’t believe we were, then time has done all it can. IMHO.



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  • Already accounted for them Phil. I still say they were geniuses amongst apes.

    Absolutely not! They sat within a highly intellectual culture as generative of modern thinking as our own Enlightenment over 2,000 years later. It was nearly killed by parasitised other cultures and its last glimmerings nearly killed again in the twelfth century.

    Technology adoption is almost entirely a cultural battle. As I often argue, economic cultures can be the major roadblock to change.

    My point is entirely that we most often fail to see that culture is the problem. We fail to see its effects or get dewy eyed about it at inappropriate times. It engenders a fatalism that how it is is how it must be.

    Culture needn’t just happen to us. The Greeks had the most prodigious intellectual engagement with inventing new culture for themselves.



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  • Absolutely not! They sat within a highly intellectual culture as
    generative of modern thinking as our own Enlightenment over 2,000
    years later.

    And the apes won!!!

    Sorry phil. Off to the hospital. Will have it leave it there for now. Don’t start with the Greeks 😉



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  • Phil: Though you make many insightful criticisms of Oesterdiekhoff’s argument, I’m afraid you are likely mistaken in arguing against one of Olgun’s central points. As soon as you start posing counter-factual scenarios to historical events, you fall into the free-will fallacy of human agency. Henry Ford humorously branded history with the epigram: “History is just one damn thing after another.” But of course nothing that humans have done could have happened differently from what actually transpired because every phenomenon and act has causes which determine outcomes. Arguing that the potential absence or presence of causal factors in historical events could have produced favorable outcomes conducive to “progress” appeals to our intuition. We’ve all seen movies where the hero goes back in time and changes history. It’s easy for example to imagine that the American South could have been dissuaded from working slaves in order to advance the lucrative cotton economy of the region. The “unnecessary”and horribly destructive Civil War could have been avoided if the South listened to reason and abolished slave culture in favor of free labor. There is no need to go on. Voracious reading on the conflict will provide overwhelming evidence that secession and war -everything that happened- was inevitable and determined by actors whose actions were thoroughly determined by causes.

    I understand how faith in human reason extrapolated into the future equipped with the currently accumulated “miraculous” achievements in science and technology seduce us with the hopeful vision of standing on the threshold of infinite progress ushered in with advances (and extrapolated advances) in technology, Utopia built upon Utopia unsullied by greed, hate and conflict. Looking around at the world we live in today, I’m less optimistic that a Technocracy will bestow a panacea on our species.



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  • As soon as you start posing counter-factual scenarios to historical events, you fall into the free-will fallacy of human agency.

    Why study the past at all then? I am not rewriting the past. I am proposing a more perspicacious future based on more careful thought and the study of past events. Oesterdiekhoff’s analysis fails to nail the virtues and vices of cultures, which is a pity as they become the more tractable once societies realise that history is indeed another country where things are done differently and so too the future. For Oesterdiekhoff cultures are merely on some tram lines akin to growing up. This is fatalism of the first order, and as he has it, hinged on a false psychological premise, it is damaging to our idea of how free we are to operate.

    Cultures are too often given the automatic respect of the type Dawkin’s fingered as got by religion. This has the effect of setting them in stone. Cultures are bad and good, most notably in how they nurture the total potential of their members. We must learn to make the necessary value judgements on them. We must stop letting the tail wag the dog.

    Like the Greeks and the Scandiwegians I seek to invent the future not re-engineer the past.



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  • Sorry, Melvin.

    I am puzzled by all this talk of technology and technocracy. None of this relates to my position here one iota. If I once spoke of invention I intended social invention. Invention in its broadest terms. It is culture we are talking about. There is nothing of what I would like to see happen with regard to cultures be dependent upon technology.

    I spoke of technology only in response to Olgun. As you know I think most of our inventions are good to go. It is cultural intitutions need our attention now.



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  • It might be that religion develops for the same reason conning and lying develop. Humans exploit whatever ways they can see to take advantage of their fellows. Telling stories that are not true, and sucking people in to believe them is game all children play. The trick is to start plausibly and gradually make the story silly.



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  • It might be that religion develops for the same reason conning and lying develop.

    I like this idea. Religion is just another survival strategy and has the same pay off as conning and lying. Nice thought Roedy.



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  • Phil: “There is nothing of what I would like to see happen with regard to cultures be dependent upon technology.

    I spoke of technology only in response to Olgun. As you know I think most of our inventions are good to go. It is cultural intitutions need our attention now.

    I still detect Utopian ambitions in your view of cultural institutions and “social inventions” incorporating [technological-economic] inventions that are “good to go” determining an end point to history after achieving ideal outcomes for the universal health, education and welfare of homo Sapiens on a global scale. My own view places much more emphasis on the multiple conflicts between interest groups and social classes -“rich and poor” if you will- whether rooted in ethic, sectarian, corporate, national, etc. entities in the political-economic struggle for scarce resources in a world of 9 tp 10 billion by mid-century.

    I’m sure none of us would pretend to predict the future contingent on circumstances, developments and contingencies we can’t imagine outside of speculations about trends in progress or disaster both emanating to various degrees from scientific discoveries and technological innovation.

    A simple example, which caused flame wars on Richard Dawkins tweets and blog, was his recommendation that a woman abort a fetus diagnosed with down syndrome. Simply put, there is no consensus on how to implement the diagnostic medial technology on hand consistent with diverse values, and controversial cost-benefit analyses. A larger example would entail the U.S mission in Iraq and Afghanistan -extended wishfully to the Arab middle east in general- which envisioned regime change from dictatorship to democracy; from western hostility to western friendly relations through the projection of military power. Eclipsing humanitarian or ant-terrorist motives the preponderant purpose was to keep huge oil reserves in the region flowing to the U.S, the EU, and developed nations in order to sustain the life blood of their economies. We keep the faith in “cultural” changes which benefit and enrich “everyone” but I’m not sure there is any such comprehensive reality . Every change selects winners and loser not in spite of our good intentions but because of them.



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  • Sorry but I am imagining what a child emerging from childhood and realizing there is no real Santa Claus must be thinking…”what else has that trusted adult been lying to me about?” Let fiction be fiction, imagination be imagination, and truth be truth and raise a confident, intelligent child who enjoys the Santa Claus myth for what it is.



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  • The most pertinent question at any time is “what do we do now?” All my posts have at their heart Betterism and not Idealism. It is the core of my thinking on any and all policy making. These are strawmen all. Your detection of my thinking seems almost a mirror image of the truth.

    inventions that are “good to go” determining an end point to history

    What an horrific idea. There is always better than you or I can imagine. We might imagine tomorrow with fair accuracy but like the weather, the day after is less certain. “Good to go” is good enough for the present. We don’t (as you were once urging) have to hold back for even closer to ideal.

    Better is building more fairness into our culture to better exploit its talents. Better is trying to indoctrinate our kids a little less so they see more clearly than we did. Better is valuing these things more robustly against the barbarians at the gate and their culture and seeing these things as wealth that needs a little more protecting. Better is better understanding that cultures are actually our collective invention, not our fate.

    This is like controlling the weather of our cultural climate, when we can’t control the climate itself. We don’t actually know what cultural climate we may need in a thousand years, but if we diligently adapt its immediate expression day to day to day, we may get to look back with satisfaction at a job better done than otherwise.



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  • phil rimmer Nov 29, 2014 at 6:45 am

    inventions that are “good to go” determining an end point to history

    What an horrific idea. There is always better than you or I can imagine. We might imagine tomorrow with fair accuracy but like the weather, the day after is less certain. “Good to go” is good enough for the present. We don’t (as you were once urging) have to hold back for even closer to ideal.

    If there is one thing we should have learned from space programmes, modern astronomy, ans science in general, it is that “good-to-go” technologies, open up vast unanticipated areas of new knowledge.

    This is in stark contrast to the linear thought of religious dogma which closes down minds causing their incredulity and preconceptions, to reject new branches of learning and new evidence.



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  • “good-to-go” technologies, open up vast unanticipated areas of new knowledge.

    The unintended consequences of our actions, both good and ill, become the very grist for our creative mill.

    We thrive on unintended consequences as a species when healthy and unparasitised.

    The singular terminus of religious culture stifles such flowering.



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  • For Oesterdiekhoff cultures are merely on some tram lines akin to
    growing up. This is fatalism of the first order, and as he has it,
    hinged on a false psychological premise, it is damaging to our idea of
    how free we are to operate.

    I don’t think there is much difference in anything any of us here are saying about moving on but we are born with more restrictions than just the question of religion. We are born to know not to wonder too far from our parents when young. We are born to be loyal to them which then goes out to the greater community and to the world. We are born to explore and question. We send out feelers and those that touch something unsavoury recoil and those that don’t go on. All are designed to keep us safe and ensure evolution has the best chance of continuing and all are on a sliding scale of success. Nothing is certain not even the history that glorifies the past when all we have is the present to show for it.

    Time for another one of my children’s poems.

    More than Me

    I am a fold on the bark of a tree
    Take a close look at me

    I am a river
    A road
    A valley

    I am a crease on the skin of a tree
    Think of all the creatures that dwell in me

    I am a home
    A hide
    A sanctuary

    I am a windbreak
    A feeding trough
    A destiny

    I am all these things
    Because I am me.



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  • “The most pertinent question at any time is “what do we do now?” All my posts have at their heart Betterism and not Idealism.”

    No one could have said it better -“Betterism” at its best. This is proof positive we are all on the same page.

    I have been remiss in not making my answer to the question “what do we do now?” clear. Perhaps the “cultural change” I’m seeking is the most radical and at once the most retro. The foundation for change must be grounded in our recognition that we are an animal species that evolved into an omnivorous predator. For millennia religions have taught that we are created in the image of God uniquely separate from animals and divinely ordained with transcendent knowledge, power, and salvation – with the potential for infinite progress in this world and the next.

    Since religions reflect nothing more than human ambitions and aspirations, I believe we have contrived a secular version of a Godlike self-image jettisoning concerns with an afterlife. Our large brains combined with the ability to acquire and use language have yielded monumental achievements in science and technology which seem to imply miraculous power that transcends the animal kingdom by light years. As such We suffer not only from hubris but from a self-destructive illusion. We cannot “invent” ourselves out of the multitude of human problems -resource depletion, pollution, poverty, scarcity, conflict and so on. We must find our way back into ecological harmony within the natural environment. We’ve multiplied not only human bodies on the planet but also voracious appetites for infinite consumption. Advances in medicine, nutrition hygiene, and general living standards have reduced infant mortality to near zero throughout much of the world while sending life expectancy soaring into the 80s and 90s. The growing dominion of homo Sapiens has delivered an overpopulated planet crawling with a single and singularly toxic species. There are too many of us. If we do not recognize our own destructive impact, not just on some sentimental notion of “the environment,” but also on each other and make efforts to stabilize then reduce global population, we will subsist or perish in an unsustainable world regardless of how numerous and clever our inventions.



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  • Melvin Nov 29, 2014 at 3:45 pm

    We cannot “invent” ourselves out of the multitude of human problems -resource depletion, pollution, poverty, scarcity, conflict and so on. We must find our way back into ecological harmony within the natural environment. We’ve multiplied not only human bodies on the planet but also voracious appetites for infinite consumption.

    Putting it simply, – the asserted importance of individuals by means of conspicuous consumption, must be stopped!

    The greedy “political thickies” cannot be allowed to caricature expert ecologists, as “greenies” and use that as a “faith-thinker’s pretext to dismiss their expert advice.

    What we need to invent, is a coherent system of environmental management based on sustainable systems.



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  • We cannot “invent” ourselves out of the multitude of human problems

    Earlier inventions include justice, democracy, logic, philosophy, ethics, religion and non-religion, the stuff of culture. My thesis- it needn’t hold us in thrall.

    We must find our way back into ecological harmony

    No. Fantasy. There is no natural for us. We are conscious and decide as well as react. Nor was there ever ecological harmony. Malthus was proved right a thousand times before us.

    We may, however, come to invent an ecological harmony…



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  • Sweet poem, Olgun.

    If we were designed (sic) to have the tendencies you ascribe, I am happy for some but not others.

    For me loyalty upwards (child to parent, citizen [pre democracy] to state) is the moral inverse of what is needed. Children are indeed dependent, but not obliged. They asked for none of this. Children meet parental needs and the obligation is with the parents.

    Children are oxytocin bound to their mother (and vice versa), but they are also wired during their period of neural mayhem to accept direction from authority figures in general. (The fifth ape is the only one to trust non kin to child-minding duties.) Our kin detector circuitry is not much more sophisticated than Lorenz’s ducks and our outward loyalty to the wider group facilitates larger, non related groups, for sure but gross risks (as we now perceive them) exist as a result.

    Apart from a brief infanthood, the period we describe as childhood, except for the last few hundred years have been mostly a period of abuse and exploitation of children by todays standards. Childhood was invented essentially in England through the eighteenth century. In this period children (up until puberty) and at least in the homes of the middling classes, were indulged and educated. Spending on children became a major household expense, a toy industry started, the first children’s books published, and accounts of household life start to become familiar and a source of delight to us now but a source of horror to the visiting French at the time, for instance.

    A cultural invention happened, affording the time for many (then most) children to learn and play through their most formative years. I personally believe as a nation our playful and creative zenith was achieved through this means. I think that this start of a reversal to the natural dependency and obligation of children to their “elders and betters”, became fuelled because we started to notice that society seemed the better for it. Our investment in our children has, since, only ever grown.

    Culture, including artistic culture, helped establish our wonderful invention of childhood and its heightened privileges. It is doing another job with the invention of the teenager in 1950s USA. The investments seem higher with perhaps a little less return, but heigh ho, we’ll see where it leads in a generation or two.



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  • We cannot see ourselves for the destructive predators we are because of self-love. But when you are an egocentric member of a unique species bent not only on mere survival but flourishing in an affluent consumer economy how can you view yourself critically from an objective viewpoint? There are many intelligent and necessary steps we can take to cut back on consumption – recycle, conserve resources etc. but we can never cease to acquire the stuff of the good life. Trapped in self-interest and the imperative for self-gratification that extends to family, friends and sometimes even to some vague abstraction called humanity (numbering 10 billion), it is difficult to distinguish between living “sustainably” and denying ourselves the full richness of human experience necessarily partaking in the feast of western consumerism.

    I saw a report on the news about a Brazilian government agency tasked with protecting groves of trees in the rain forest from poachers. The footage showed a pert young woman with a yellow shoulder patch confronting some peasants hacking down trees. The peasants laughed at her admonitions, “our fathers and grandfathers have been harvesting trees for generations..this is our livlihood.” Doubtless the young ranger would return to her comfortable apartment in Sao Paulo, go out to a nice restaurant and then to a movie, all the while yammering about the “thickies” who can’t see the value of saving the planet.

    My point. We -the ranger, the peasant, all of us on this thread who live in the top 10% of the worlds socio-economic class are equally to blame. Of course it’s human nature to despoil the earth, to exterminate our enemies for profit, and stave off the hoards who covet our possessions, wealth and standard of living. It’s also human nature to point fingers at scapegoats for the damage we collectively perpetrate. We are what we are and, yes, we’ll do less damage if we cut back and live more sustainably. But here’s a final thought…Wouldn’t it help if there were less..a whole lot less of us taking a whack at the pinata called Planet Earth.



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  • Melvin.
    Wouldn’t it help if there were less..a whole lot less of us taking a whack at the pinata called Planet Earth.

    It seems rather unfair doesn’t it? Those who are the least to blame for the state of the planet are the most at risk! Once again we call the shots and we will probably be the ultimate survivors because we have the technology to improve our lot.
    I seriously doubt that a tribal lifestyle would be sustainable anywhere, once the population climbs to 9-12 billion.



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  • 156
    bendigeidfran says:

    ‘Psychological pleiotropy’ has been unhelpful. ‘Symmetry = beauty’ may mean good genes in a face, but don’t project this too far, and fall in love with the universe. Love is blind. You’ll see ‘deeply beautiful symmetry’ everywhere, even where it isn’t. There are numerous examples. Eager lovers will always project through the looking glass, rather than reflect on an ugly, broken mirror.

    And who would marry a schizophrenic? No, there is a ‘deep rational order’ projected and perceived. Perhaps a touch of schizophrenia, deep down, could be hidden by a pretty face. Truth is beauty, and beauty is truth quoth the hopeless biophiliac. This is not reason, this is love, and it’s not very good for considering god or spacetime. You’ll just get the REM statements ‘god is love’, or ‘the universe is god’ etc. These were coded for far more earthly reasons.



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  • And who would marry a schizophrenic?

    This is not reason, this is love…coded for far more earthly reasons.

    We are poets from the bard to Hallmark

    And Omar Khayyam our other mathemagician in this thread, conjuring culture’s sweetest and most enduring invention.



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  • Melvin Nov 29, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    I saw a report on the news about a Brazilian government agency tasked with protecting groves of trees in the rain forest from poachers. The footage showed a pert young woman with a yellow shoulder patch confronting some peasants hacking down trees. The peasants laughed at her admonitions, “our fathers and grandfathers have been harvesting trees for generations..this is our livlihood.” Doubtless the young ranger would return to her comfortable apartment in Sao Paulo, go out to a nice restaurant and then to a movie, all the while yammering about the “thickies” who can’t see the value of saving the planet.

    It sounds as if the pseudo-conservation is being run by thickies or “corrupties”! Serious policing is done by police or the military!

    Only an idiot or thickies, would accept the lame story about “our fathers and grandfathers have been harvesting trees for generations”. The tribal peoples whose land is being abused, were not employees of the illegal loggers “for generations”! The illegal loggers, use modern weapons, foreign funding, feckless corrupt governments, and desperate people from the slums, created by foreign colonialism/commercialism, to overcome the local forest dwellers opposition to their destructive activities.

    It is noteworthy, that where there are international “sanctions” against foreign export traders being involved, in Burma, they have some of the best preserved wildlife and forest in the world, with a local religion and culture of respecting nature!



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  • I refer you again to Hans Rosling.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-UbmG8gtBPM

    The big eco-catastrophe of catastrophes (and there will be quite a few in the next hundred years) will be Africa, which needs huge investment to facilitate the obliged behaviours we need.

    The big eco win is getting the 1 billion richest to accelerate the wind down in fossil consumption and resource waste and go sustainable. (And just as you imply.) This helps solve the problem in the fastest manner and creates a template of behaviours for the rest.

    Push people into better behaviour, if thats what you can do. I have spent decades of my life pulling them. This works. Engineering cultural change is tough stuff and when you push a big bunch of people they can go every which way. As with religion lay a path down from the giddy heights. Don’t back them up to a cliff and expect them to jump.

    (In eco damage per dollar spent, fancy restaurants are wildly better than MacDs. It isn’t spending money that is evil.)



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  • 160
    bendigeidfran says:

    What are we doing now? Saving ourselves? Wel, I can see why that might be popular. Malthus successfully proved geometric > arithmetic, but apart from little local difficulties he has been mocked by technology ever since. There is no binding commandment to remain in the current absurdly high energy format.

    With perhaps more tigger than eeyore – another ESS quirk – I might say this:-

    Up! the thirst for knowledge grew
    And branches joined made Tree anew
    There stood one Tree, in but one field
    And this reality revealed

    With object, instrument, and observer, all being somewhat within spacetime, I would first remove all falsely projected delineations in the tree of knowledge.



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  • phil rimmer Nov 30, 2014 at 4:59 am

    Push people into better behaviour, if thats what you can do. I have spent decades of my life pulling them. This works. Engineering cultural change is tough stuff and when you push a big bunch of people they can go every which way.

    One of the urgent issues in getting crowd co-operation, is tackling the rogue media!

    The tip of the iceberg, is the prosecution of rogue “News of the World”, and other rogue journalists in the “hacking scandal”, but the tackling of news fraudsters, and wilful liars, should be a priority.

    They will of course howl, “freedom of the press”, but that should not be confused with, “honesty or integrity of the press”!

    The difficulty is getting an honest enforcible complaints procedure set up, which will not be taken over by political propagandists, religious fumble-brains, or “politically correct” muppets!



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  • One of the urgent issues in getting crowd co-operation, is tackling the rogue media!

    We need a thread on this. This is huge, but complex…and urgent.

    I am phobic about moving in any way from free speech and every attempt at dirigisme will probably fail (at least in the US) through the perversity of conspiracy theorism. I am for adding voices and institutions that can argue from a position of exemplary expertise.

    I am pro BBC as some kind of public service, publicly accountable with clear standards. (The “balance” remit needs attendending to by reframing as “appropriate balance” for instance.) Who cares that it may skew a market? It has been a substantially stabilising influence on our…erm…culture. Here we can work on the standards of reporting, but here also a fantastic job is being done with the BBC’s support of rational, intelligent, informed and outspoken comedians.

    Clear errors of fact do though need addressing and a press complaints committee (for instance) ought to be active in demanding corrections be published.

    I haven’t thought about this anywhere near enough, I’m afraid.



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  • Thanks Phil. I know nurture is important. That is why I attempted poetry for my two sons. Simple children’s poetry designed specially for them to help understand what and why they were learning. To look closer, zoom in, and see more than just a tree, or themselves.

    I never lost sight of the fact that I did not have a blank canvas though. They were hard wired and not both the same way. My eldest has grown to be the man I always wanted to be and my youngest, despite all my efforts, a clone of me.

    I tend to think that natural childhood was there, as it is in the animal world, got lost and reinvented as you say. I can only see it as an extension of evolution though and not the free will that I think you are saying it is. Nothing escapes evolution, from the Big Bang on. I am not sure you are saying anything else and that is what I got from anything I read from RD as well. I don’t find that suffocating but I get the idea you do. Am I wrong?



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  • Its a principle, like all such that must turn its collar to the harsh realities of pragma, misunderstanding and the law. It is a fine principle as Jerry Sadowitz is a fine magician, social commentator and actor seen fairly recently on Sky.

    Saville’s now clearly deserved reputation was much talked about in the entertinment industry in my experience. But at the time most thought it gossip like much that was directed at other personalities. It is possible the gossip actually undercut the hard facts that made Sadowitz confident in his routine. I think it hugely brave of him if he had those facts and foolish if not.



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  • Seems much more than gossip when we look at this and Louis Theroux’ program with Saville (If you’ve seen it?). The war going on with the BBC, government and the police only makes me believe we are being conned.



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  • the free will that I think you are saying it is.

    I don’t believe in free will. I believe in freer will, that results when a person can introduce novelty and insight by virtue of being educated and widely experienced and caring to speak out, whilst others may simply parrot anothers thoughts as their own.

    Culture is deeply evolutionary in nature. I am a memeticist at heart though the concept is still pre-science and probably too hugely complex to appear as a science any time soon. (I have my plans though…) So in a sense I am entirely with you. Its just that we have genetically evolved to have cultures (uniquely trainable kids) to fast track evolutionary solutions to our cognitive requirements of revised concepts and values. We uniquely adapt to every available niche on the planet it seems, as the African diaspora unfolds. We learn as a species within a few generations how to survive in each.

    Oesterdiefhoff’s tram lines were genetic and his terms equally constrained (semantically narrow). A set of non-fruitful “memes”.



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  • “Push people into better behaviour, if thats what you can do. I have spent decades of my life pulling them. This works. Engineering cultural change is tough stuff and when you push a big bunch of people they can go every which way. As with religion lay a path down from the giddy heights. Don’t back them up to a cliff and expect them to jump.”

    Phil says it well and almost as poetically as bendigeidfran. The world turns and thrives because people get up every morning and do their jobs. The plumber fixing the leaky pipe, the electrician replacing faulty wiring, the truck driver delivering food products to the market, and Phil fighting the good fight in his own profession have all contributed to improving the quality of life that individuals and societies experience.

    “Engineering cultural change” seems indisputably what we do, yet subversive backlash lurks and just as often comes to the forefront. What used to be called “mass production” has become computerized and automated almost beyond belief with robots and sensors that put things together in 1/10 (or less) the time it took in 1960. Fuel-efficient trains, planes and automobile; [electrical] energy-saving appliances, lighting, heating and air conditioning – have lowered energy output costs and increased demand for large appliances, cars (SUVs and pickups), air travel, shipping and the like. We juggle the unexpected consequences that even as our machines have become more efficient and less polluting, they proliferate to growing middle class populations in the developing world and actually increase per capita demand for goods, services, and energy.

    And how do we confront the brave new culture that science and technology hath wrought? Do we order a counter-attack against ourselves -cancel that flight to see the grand kids, nix the power ski boat weekend at the local reservoir, forgo the scenic road trip in our mid-size car through wild flower valleys in spring? Should up-and-coming younger folks gather up all those fashion and Home Beautiful magazines with ads for Mercedes, Rolexes, leather shoes, silk dresses and suits and throw them into the fire. Should the upwardly mobile whiz-kid and his wife back out of escrow for the four bedroom, three bath, 4,000 square foot house with swimming pool, full landscaping, computer controlled central heating and air enhanced with ample appliances, lighting, communications, and entertainment center? (Sure the two boys can double up in the two bedroom cottage they buy instead). And…oh, Phil.. do you send the prime rib you ordered at the gourmet restaurant back to the kitchen taking the first bold step toward vegetarianism?

    I reiterate that we can’t see ourselves because we’re all swimming in the same water. No less than claiming to be the “rational animal” we are the “consumer animal.” We are trapped in our own biological and cultural evolution; in our own skulls, if you will. We are always conscious when we are consuming “too little” but further up the spectrum seldom conscious when we are consuming “too much.” Everyone on the planet wants to live well but more significantly the vast majority want to live better. Instead of trying to fill an infinite trough with infinite goodies for an infinitely growing population, it might be helpful to reduce the number of people feeding at the trough.



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  • Melvin Nov 30, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    We are always conscious when we are consuming “too little” but further up the spectrum seldom conscious when we are consuming “too much.” Everyone on the planet wants to live well but more significantly the vast majority want to live better.

    What is needed is an understanding that “living better” is not the same as “consuming more”!

    Instead of trying to fill an infinite trough with infinite goodies for an infinitely growing population, it might be helpful to reduce the number of people feeding at the trough.

    We could just educate people that advertised market hype put about by the fast-food obese, who are pigging their way into clogged arteries, or thrill-seeking their way into sports injuries in their efforts to get some exercise, or posing in gas-guzzling stretch Humvees, – is not “living better”!
    Those immersed in industrial, agricultural, and urban pollution, are not “living better” than those in calm rural environments, with clean air, fresh water, an adequate healthy diet, and modern heath care.

    Those drawn into third world slums by false promises of money and “a better life”, are not “living better”.

    There are many ways to live and enjoy “a better life”, without the stupid levels of wasteful consumption developed countries are engaged in at present.



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  • I am going to try a different tack, slightly on this question. I, and these are my definitions, split religion off from the questing of human intellect.

    The earliest humans tried to find answers to questions like “What is the big bright thing in the sky, and how does it move, go away and come back?”

    While we still ask those questions, we do it now with the accumulated knowledge that started with the best guesses of long ago, that typically involved enormous powers, soon to be gods. Animals were propitiated in “spirit” with images on cave walls so that they might be hunted. As technology increased, and, for example, the Egyptians had chariots, it was not long before Ra, the sun god had one too.

    All of this are the normal and believable, within the limits of the knowledge base of the time, answers to the unanswerable. We still do this, through the vehicle of modern science and the technology available to us. Different obviously to the knowledge base of the Inuit shaman, or the New Guinea tribesman, but the identical process.

    Religion on the other hand is to me the politicising and dogmatising of this traditional intellectual activity for the creation and protection of a political power base. It deliberately stifles further knowledge, which is unnecessary to it, and dangerous to it. Witness in support of this the numerous well documented attempts by religious authorities of pretty much all religions to stifle intellect, and crush where necessary those voices that advanced real knowledge.



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  • 172
    bendigeidfran says:

    One earthquake that won’t happen is an alternative scientific method. Extra-perceptional data is found by physics, but interpreted by biology. The deepest and most unfortunate projection error, that has held physics back a century, at the fundamental, is the wired-in presupposition – the faith – that one may ever see a single view. However far perception be artificially extended, only contrast may be discerned. The minimum one can ever see from within, and of, spacetime, is two views superimposed. This is qed, but the projected phantom lines between space, time, macro and micro, and rather a lot of emotional render, cloud the view.

    Earthquakes over centuries have increasingly more closely overlapped these two views (views through the ‘telescopes’ of empiricism), like a Venn Diagram. The circles are ‘irresistably’ close to the one perfect view. This is offensive to the projectors of beauty and order. It parses as blasphemy to say they can never be aligned.

    Outside of the circle is nowhere, never. Within the overlap is reality where science works. Outside of the overlap, but within the outer circumferences are the phenomena that will be seen, but not be real. These will be mere verisimilitude, ‘discovered’ ad infinitum, but do nothing.

    This is correct where spacetime holds logic as true. Projections beyond this line eg ‘creation’ research, ‘other’ spacetimes etc are invalid. This is to enter the hall of broken mirrors.

    And this is what happens when you pretend biology is not physics, and vice versa.



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  • Just lost a big post here. Finger slip and it was all gone.

    So, very briefly. Spending money isn’t the problem. As Alan notes. If resources were closed loop and we used the work/money that fell from the sky we could do these things.

    A Rolex doesn’t seem a problem, though….why a Rolex???

    Silk sounds pretty eco to me.

    A gourmet restaurant would be very unlikely to serve steaks, at least in the UK. Sweetbreads and other nose to tail yummies are more likely these days.

    My carbon footprint and that of my friends continues to decline. I see it increasingly in my kids and their friends. The consciousness to the consequences of their choices seems notably different to my day.

    I must also take issue with Alan on his bucolic pastoral vision. Just at the moment city living is much more eco and will get the more so for possibly the next fifty to hundred years. Full sustainability and the slow decline in populations will change this.



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  • “We could just educate people that advertised market hype put about by the fast-food obese, who are pigging their way into clogged arteries, or thrill-seeking their way into sports injuries in etc.”

    (For the record I live a pretty simple life). Promulgating personal values to encourage broader adoption of practices we believe will facilitate the healthy, virtuous, altruistic life at once collides with limitations and diverse personalities and begs questions all around. Others are different from “Me,” and I cannot control them with my values, interests and purposes. I cannot demand that a man who loves NASCAR and owns 3 muscle cars be “reasonable” like me and drop his interest and vicarious participation in the sport. (In fact, I see nothing wrong with his interests which have the potential on occasion to engage me. They are as valid as mine in the scheme of things.) Of course we should continue to support and “lobby” for lifestyles we believe are healthy, virtuous, nutritious, etc. but though we are willing to lead, most folks just won’t join the parade. We can change the system just so far with reforms then we have to pull away from ambitions of crowd control and let people splinter into multiple pursuits of preferred consumption and gratification, however “good-for-you” or “bad-for-you” we deem their choices. The advertising industry does indeed indoctrinate, persuade and mislead but we underestimate what may be its predominant power: Telling us what we want to hear.



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  • @Bardigeidfran 4:36pm

    Extra-perceptional data is found by physics, but interpreted by biology.

    We make the mistake (though less so amongst the megaminds) of seeking understanding, which as you illustrate and after the child’s fifth “but why”, we slowly realise is achieving nothing substantial.

    We may achieve an ever growing mastery of classes of knowledge as they link back to the same less and less. But as these coalesce, our metaphorical minds are left gasping in the vacuum.

    Mastery is doing the maths and making the perfect predictions. Understanding, the narrative, that confers value, may be a vain hope. In time though I suspect, though the mastered mystery will become simply familiar. Things fall, magnets can push, end of.



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  • phil rimmer Nov 30, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    I must also take issue with Alan on his bucolic pastoral vision. Just at the moment city living is much more eco and will get the more so for possibly the next fifty to hundred years. Full sustainability and the slow decline in populations will change this.

    While there are balances in the length of utility pipes, wires and roads to individual properties in urban and suburban areas, one of the major problems with cities, is that individuals have very little scope for green life-styles. Flats in particular have very little open air storage space, or scope for outdoor exercise or activities.

    I grow a lot of our own fruit and veg and compost waste on site, because I have a sufficiently large garden to do so. I also have room to dump posts, stakes etc. from our own trees in odd corners until they are needed.
    This means zero miles for transportation of these items.

    I suppose I am fortunate in living about 6 miles from the city centre, six miles from a major shopping mall, half a mile from the nearest farm, and a hundred/two hundred yards or so, from the village shops, post-office, chemist, dentist, doctor and garage.
    We also have several buses per hour as public transport.

    We also have a community centre, a football field, some pubs and two churches!



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  • But this is exactly why agriculture is moving to the city, particularly with startups in Pacific Rim countries, Japan, China, Singapore and also Norway. (Research programs everywhere though including in Cambridge.) These take on various forms of vertical and 24 hour farms utilising hydroponic and aeroponic water and nutrient management systems. These use land very very efficiently and work well with CHP installations. (Only planned so far, but using waste heat and C02) Super efficient 24 hour lighting (my interest…products for second quarter next year) net two to three times the yield per growing space and 3D volumes get total land use down to 10% to 3% . The enclosed nature of these operations make pesticides needless. Water usage down as low as 5%/plant. And zero transport costs to mass markets. Decades of playing are starting to pay off. Though green leaf only as yet new dwarf varieties of crops are being fitted to this mode of growth. The growth (sic) of my little sector (lighting) is projected to be spectacular ($4.5bn) in the next five years.

    The net logistics within cities for work, living and play are an eco win everytime for city dwellers.

    But sign me up for your bucolia (?) too.



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  • 180
    bendigeidfran says:

    Ach Pip, you’re not trying. I shall return to reading Everett again, who correctly removed the projected phantom line between macro/micro – these ‘gods’ get everywhere – but, not noticing he was staring at a broken mirror (else the empiricism be circular), and with perfect maths, fell right through the looking glass.

    Thanks for having me.



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  • And it came to pass that Alan’s was a voice crying in the wilderness…
    “Interesting as it is, I think we better leave this for another discussion as we are getting off topic.”

    And if the flock be lost, it shall be the sheepdog who brings them home…(JC Sheepdog)
    “I am going to try a different tack, slightly on this question. I, and these are my definitions, split religion off from the questing of human intellect.”

    We’ve all beaten our hobbyhorses to death. JC offers a thoughtful comment worthy of consideration.



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  • 182
    maria melo says:

    Oesterdiekhoff became now in my books to read in future list. I am going to read “Ontogeny and History” and “The Steps of Man Towards Civilization”.
    Thanks of the interesting article !



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  • 183
    Michael says:

    I have long considered that one’s person development parallels the development of our society. Extending this to the limits, and viewed from the personal, one’s death is the end of the world. Viewed from outside the person, the difference is obvious. This is the basis of Theology.



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  • 184
    MartinRDB says:

    The author presents an attractive hypothesis, which really deserves more robust evidence to stand up. The account of child psychology seems to veer towards pop psychology. Not that this means the idea might not have value.

    Any discussion needs to be clearer about what ‘religion’ and ‘atheism’ mean, otherwise we could simply asserting a truism that primitive cultures did not have a scientific understanding of natural phenomena. A has been noted above, even if there were no pre 17th century atheists, the Euthyphro dilemma was widely known so atheistic thought was present. Strands of atheistic thinking, such as that of William of Ockham, were also prevalent in the middle ages. Moreover the concept of religions has changed over human history, often towards a less material notion, in ways that may or may not support the thesis of the article.

    To look at links between child psychology and religion, I would like to see more evidence of how children’s minds make sense of their experience. It seems possible to me that they typically have an ability to slide seamlessly between fictional and non-fictional narratives, but I would need to be convinced that this characteristic was a feature of pre 17th century adult society.



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  • Any discussion needs to be clearer about what ‘religion’ and ‘atheism’
    mean, otherwise we could simply asserting a truism that primitive
    cultures did not have a scientific understanding of natural phenomena.

    I can’t help but take a minor exception to the prevalent idea that “primitive cultures” are in fact really all that “primitive.” I have a passing familiarity with pre-technical cultures in New Guinea, and in the Canadian Arctic, and to a lesser extent in Australia.

    By the time an individual in these cultures attains full tribal rights and recognition within his tribal group, he or she has undergone an education that is at least the intellectual effort of a modern post graduate degree.

    It is based on tribal knowledge, hunting and gathering skills, the making of tools at a high level of skill, and while it is based on empirical rather than theoretical scientific knowledge, it is done without written notes or formal lectures. A modern student would find it a daunting task indeed.

    For the bulk of the time that humanity has existed, it worked. The unanswerable questions went into the “too hard” basket, and were attributed to the workings of a “god.”

    It was the development of agriculture that fractionated society into farmers, to grow the crop and herd the animals, administrators to distribute it, artisans to create the storages and community infrastructures, and a military to protect and expand the tribes territory, and a priest caste to explain the unexplainable questions, to which they claimed the answers.



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  • 186
    maria melo says:

    To be clear about what “religion” may be, I would consider that symbolic thinking along with superstition (not exclusively human both) and developmental psychological stages – from a-dualism to a more clear differentiation of inner and outer causation), may lead to “religion”, in fact historians may not know too much about time that left a few traces, but certainly those features existed in pre-history, from the first art, to the first currency… or more simply because of endoculturation-culture becomes part of one´s mind as far as individuals are strongly conditioned by culture.
    I leave it for you to think about what “atheism” might be, but I don´t think that god disbelieve makes a clear distinction of whether there is no superstitious thinking, as far as I know people that are not really god believers but they believe in re-encarnation, tarot, etc, while in fact some people whom I know, as “god believers” are less superstitious.

    Any way, I never thought of myself as other´s negation, I would prefer to label myself accordingly to what I may be, and not what I am not (as humanist rather than “atheist”).



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  • 187
    maria melo says:

    “Atheists bore me because all they ever talk about is God”
    Heinrich Böll

    Nobel literature laureate quoted by a catholic priest in a recent tv Debate that gathered a scientist, a catholic priest, a jew, a muslim and an evangelist clergy woman (and an atheist).
    Indeed.

    “When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief, by nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.”
    ― Jiddu Krishnamurti

    well, it seems that I find it “violent” too to label myself that way, I will not sum up what I am by saying I am an “atheist”.



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  • maria melo Dec 14, 2014 at 11:25 am

    “Atheists bore me because all they ever talk about is God”
    Heinrich Böll

    Classic projection!! Which god????
    Wasn’t it preachers who rant on about their god, and claim, “atheists are boring”, when atheists respond having been inflicted with this? (Conversations are bound to be boring, when one party has their hands firmly over their ears!)



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  • To be clear about what “religion” may be, I would consider that symbolic thinking along with superstition (not exclusively human both) and developmental psychological stages – from a-dualism to a more clear differentiation of inner and outer causation), may lead to “religion”,

    But, but….

    I thought you were defending Oesterdiekhoff and his view that children’s thinking was religious in nature???

    Surely an analysis that identifies false positive agency attribution and an undeveloped understanding of causal mechanisms far better explains all the related cognitive errors we see, with religious thinking being just one aspect, by being framed at a more basic level, (and, incidentally, a level that psychological investigation has now found more rigorous)?



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  • 190
    charles says:

    Is adventurous ‘spirit’, or predisposition, possibly a genetically coded motivator in all living things? The inquisitive infant, or “premodern” man, finding connections and relationships, and where none are sensed, created by evolving imaginations.. and the “senses” of concepts.. (abiotic evolution) ..(These are questions ? )
     
    If so it could initiate a lot of questions that might have “logically” reasoned answers.
     
    One being to “explain” why all expansions and movement of people and ‘animate “things” ‘  -like ants and slime molds, adolescents, celibate mystics and scientists.. go searching, If it were not only for access to resources, but also to appease another fundamental “inner drive”.  The seekings..   -for beliefs, truths, joy, fulfillment, sexual mates.. might not be so simple as our past ‘logic’ has led us to accept. Even seeking “explanations” might have genetic as well as evolutionary origins.
     
    Like: Why am I doing what I’m doing?  I am “unaware” of any fundamental need to choose to be on this little South Pacific island..  in the midst of not knowing what I’ll be doing next.. or writing these paragraphs.. (and enjoying the “adventure”)!  It is certainly not “economics”, or healthier foods, or a mate, or to escape some hidden oppressions of a serene Swiss valley.  Why did Cook, in his wanderings around the world try to land here in 1774?  What was the point..?  As if logic is what determined “the point”. Expectations of wealth? He eventually died for it.. what ever it might be.   And today’s political/economic/religious extremists? .. Really now, is dying -to reach one’s ‘heaven’ or future life- that great a “reasoned” motivation?  Something, I think a bit more fundamental, is the motivator of human behaviors – and that all other ‘reasons’ are but rationalizations, created to provide justification in the minds of reasoners, -just a bit of memetic evolution. And thus begot the gods.
     



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  • 191
    maria melo says:

    I would not feel comfortable commenting on author I have never read -yet.

    Remember I agreed that language should be more neutral, instead of thinking children as “religious”?
    I am not even sure if I may think “pre-modern” man as more “religious”.
    I will certainly try to read the author.
    (I have a book whose author dedicates his entire life academic career to study Piaget´s thought, taht may be interesting too).



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  • 192
    maria melo says:

    The author I ´ve mentioned quoted Piaget´s: when it comes to reason about human paths (or choises concerning existencial meaning I suppose) reason alone, without philosophy isn´t just enough.



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  • 193
    maria melo says:

    Trying to figure out the “true” meaning of the quoted sentence, judging from it´s source which is an author that was not religious, and knowing the priest who quoted the sentence: NOPE, he isn´t absolutely bored with all “atheists”, in fact, he gives value to some eminent intellectual “atheists”, as far as humanists, what surprises me in fact.



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  • “Cārvāka (Sanskrit: चार्वाक), also known as Lokāyata, is a system of Indian philosophy that assumes various forms of philosophical skepticism and religious indifference…..The Cārvāka school of philosophy had a variety of atheistic and materialistic beliefs. They held perception to be the only valid source of knowledge…..Cārvākas denied metaphysical concepts like reincarnation, extracorporeal soul, efficacy of religious rites, other world (heaven and hell), fate and accumulation of merit or demerit through the performance of certain actions. Cārvākas also rejected the use of supernatural causes to describe natural phenomena…..Cārvāka emerged as an alternative to the orthodox Hindu pro-Vedic Āstika schools, as well as a philosophical predecessor to subsequent or contemporaneous nāstika philosophies such as Ājīvika, Jainism and Buddhism ….The earliest documented materialist in India is Ajita Kesakambali, a senior contemporary of the Buddha (sixth/fifth century BC). The basic tenets of Cārvāka philosophy, of no soul and existence of four (not five) elements were probably inspired from him……Cārvāka was a living philosophy up to the 12th century AD after which this system seems to have disappeared without leaving any trace. The reason for this sudden disappearance is not known.”….http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cārvāka



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  • "Ajita Kesakambali…….Living about the time of the founders of Buddhism and Jainism, Ajita Kesakambali was one of the earliest people in recorded history to deny the existence of gods, spirits, souls, a non-material realm, the afterlife, reincarnation, absolute moral values, and karma. He was a major influence on the Indian school of philosophy known as Carvaka…..Though he denied the existence of absolute morals, he does not seem to have abused people or even sought his own pleasure, for he was an ascetic: he chose to be abstinent from “worldly pleasures” like alcohol and sex……I often wonder what it must have been like to be just about the only person on the planet who didn’t buy into superstitious nonsense…. He may have been a skilled debater because he was known as “the unconquered.” Also, he seems to have had contempt for his colleagues: 'Ideas like generosity are the concepts of a stupid person. He who speaks of their existence, his words are empty and confused; a cry of desperation.'…… http://commonsenseatheism.com/



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  • 197
    maria melo says:

    That said, I doubt developmental psychology can explain it all: belief
    and disbelief are very broad subjects and I’d expect to see genetics
    and biology, especially in their “evolutionary” flavour, involv

    belief

    and disbelief are very broad subjects

    Indeed, what I admire is the simplity of someone that tries to explain others with suimplicity, far better that the explaining nothing.

    Indeed, as the author I´ve mentioned that dedicates all his academic career to study Piaget, Piaget himself dedicated his entire life to figure out wha scientific though is, not only he has made a good attempt as far as he attempted too too explain it´s “opposite”.



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  • The phenomenon of religion is not so simple as child vs. adult reasoning. Even with science you still have what I would call “religious thinking”… the desire to cling to popular beliefs; the willingness, even eagerness, to accept a “universe full of magical wonder”; the worshiping of “great men”. I see this happening every day, in children and adults alike. Few are willing to question the authority of established science, even though many MANY questions remain unanswered. There is a tendency to “jump on the bandwagon”, so-to-speak, when it comes to issues of the very large, the very small, and the very far away — which are all-too-often explained as: “not adhering to the laws of physics”. Any truly scientific mind should recognize this as impossible. And yet, we are all-too-willing to accept that truth is more magical than fiction; where, to my mind, it simply indicates there is some aspect we do not yet understand. The Big Bang, Dark Matter, and Dark Energy are prime examples of what I am talking about. A rational mind — a TRULY rational mind — would look at our current understanding of these phenomenon, and say: “This doesn’t make sense.. We must be missing something”. But there is little of that going around the American Academy of Science (or any other academy, for that matter). What you invariably hear when you question any of the ‘established’ sciences’ is the same sort of resistance that Galileo, Newton, and so many others would have been familiar with; though, today you’re not as likely to be burned at the stake. So at least that’s something. But it does show that religious thinking is anything but extinct in this modern age.

    Religion arises more from wanting to be part of the community, than from anything else. That’s how it can stand in the face of proof. There is much safety in numbers! It has been my experience that most of the religious people I have met (which I acknowledge have been mostly Christians) DO NOT actually believe in the god they pretend to worship. This is evident by their willingness to go against his laws and commandments. Were they “true believers” I would expect them to be very afraid to do so. But this is not the case. They are merely members of a social club, engaging in the rituals which mark them as “good people” in the eyes of their fellow members, and afford them political and financial opportunities as a result. This is the way it has always been. And this way of thinking dominates the scientific community just as much as it ever did any religious one. It is the nature of the social beast to adhere to the politically correct. And politics and religion are just two sides of the same coin, as far as I am concerned. I’m sure that most religious texts will bear me out on that.



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  • David Dec 19, 2014 at 10:05 am

    The phenomenon of religion is not so simple as child vs. adult reasoning.

    When dealing with fundamentalists, the parental authority figures are VERY prominent!

    Even with science you still have what I would call “religious thinking”…

    Not really! Accepting claims without evidence on “faith”, is the very opposite of scientific methodology.

    the desire to cling to popular beliefs; the willingness, even eagerness, to accept a “universe full of magical wonder”; the worshiping of “great men”. I see this happening every day, in children and adults alike.

    This certainly does happen, particularly among those lacking scientific education.

    Few are willing to question the authority of established science, even though many MANY questions remain unanswered.

    Science has its own classification system for evaluating probabilities.

    Speculation, hypothesis, theory, and observational facts and measurements.

    There is a tendency to “jump on the bandwagon”, so-to-speak, when it comes to issues of the very large, the very small, and the very far away — which are all-too-often explained as: “not adhering to the laws of physics”.

    Scientists are very critical of each other and will enhance their reputations by unmasking errors or flawed procedures in earlier work.

    Any truly scientific mind should recognize this as impossible.

    Most human minds are not well enough informed to know what is possible or impossible. That is why we have peer-review processes for claims to be investigated and checked by experts in a particular field.

    And yet, we are all-too-willing to accept that truth is more magical than fiction; where, to my mind, it simply indicates there is some aspect we do not yet understand.

    There are many things many people and most of us, do not understand, but a lack of personal understanding is no basis for disputing the work of others.

    The Big Bang, Dark Matter, and Dark Energy are prime examples of what I am talking about.

    These are classified hypotheses, so I don’t see a problem with a provisional understanding on that basis, until further clarification is discovered by repeated investigation and testing.

    A rational mind — a TRULY rational mind — would look at our current understanding of these phenomenon, and say: “This doesn’t make sense.. We must be missing something”.

    Even a rational mind is incapable of forming a realistic conclusion unless it starts with soundly researched evidence which is consistent on test. Much of science works everyday in the technologies of the real world, so is not in doubt.

    But there is little of that going around the American Academy of Science (or any other academy, for that matter).

    This is simply wrong! Science does not work like that.

    What you invariably hear when you question any of the ‘established’ sciences’

    Only if you read the posings of the scientifically illiterate press, rather than peer-reviewed journals or articles based on these.

    is the same sort of resistance that Galileo, Newton, and so many others would have been familiar with; though, today you’re not as likely to be burned at the stake.

    The resistance to Galileo was from theistic thinking, not scientific thinking!

    It is a common flaw made by wish-thinkers who pretend that because science does not know everything, it knows nothing!

    You seem to picking up ideas from dubious sources which do not even understand the basics of scientific methodology!



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  • David Dec 19, 2014 at 10:05 am

    And this way of thinking dominates the scientific community just as much as it ever did any religious one.

    The unifying social aspect of “the scientific community” is critical logical thinking and depending on reputably sourced evidenced studies which are subject to constant re-testing. This has NOTHING to do with cosy feelings of religious communities or the compartmentalisation and cognitive dissonance of their beliefs.

    It is the nature of the social beast to adhere to the politically correct. And politics and religion are just two sides of the same coin, as far as I am concerned.

    Poilitical ideologies certainly have religious aspects in their nature, in their thinking and in their adherents.

    I’m sure that most religious texts will bear me out on that.

    Assumption is the mother of error!
    Religious texts are a very unreliable source of historical information. Their scribes constantly make up new versions of “history”, which make their followers look good, along with a few miracles and “retrospective predictions” for the gullible.

    In dependent historical sources, frequently contradict religious accounts, or confirm that they were written hundreds of years after supposed events.



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  • David Dec 19, 2014 at 10:05 am

    And this way of thinking dominates the scientific community just as much as it ever did any religious one.

    Absolutely not!

    When a scientist publishes flawed or dishonest work, other scientists will test their work for repeat confirmations and call them out!
    Religions just carry on and form a new sect!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-30534674

    A Japanese stem cell scientist at the heart of a scandal over false claims and fabricated research has resigned.

    Dr Haruko Obokata published supposedly ground-breaking research showing stem cells could be made quickly and cheaply.

    There were irregularities in data, no other group in the world could repeat her findings and her own university concluded it could not be done.

    In a statement Dr Obokata said: “I even can’t find the words for an apology.”

    The work was investigated by the Riken Institute, the centre that conducted the research, and was retracted by Nature in July, amid concern that some of the results had been fabricated.

    Dr Haruko Obokata was later found guilty of misconduct.



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  • Religion arises more from wanting to be part of the community, than from anything else.

    There is an aspect of that. But the political aspect of religion (a major factor of its parasitism) depends on being an in-group with a very clearly defined out group. This aligns it with other ideologies in that respect. However, a simple desire for community only, is more realised in joining a bridge club or a group of bird watchers or choir or….

    Religion is as much (and ften more) about not wanting to be part of the out group. And consolation and ending questions and shutting the kids up….

    I think your case is wanting…



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  • I’m writing this after the massacre of the 132 children in Pakistan.
    The problem with religion is a deep one but I believe religions came into being due to the butterfly effect many many years ago when man was still very primitive.
    Basically man brought an imaginary god into existence out of fear of death and wishing for something better and so religion was born. Now man fights over who has the best imaginary friend and wants to force everyone else to believe in this magical imaginary god.
    There is also the promise of living for ever in paradise after you die. Man is so misguided, sheep, that’s what most people are, following the flock because it’s comfortable and the thing to do to be accepted.
    We live in paradise right now, when we die there is nothing so let’s make the most of life while we have it even if it’s a somewhat miserable life it’s far better than oblivion. Definitely no welcoming virgins for Muslim terrorists, sorry.



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  • Mark Dec 19, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    Definitely no welcoming virgins for Muslim terrorists, sorry.

    Have you not heard the joke about the suicide bomber who achieves martyrdom, and is promptly locked in a room with 72 geriatric nuns!



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  • 206
    maria melo says:

    Hope no one would like to reduce science as “factual”, these comments seem to me too pessimistic.
    Well in fact, you´d just need to take a look at the link I have published before as reference to figured it out that in fact that happens (however the link may is available to download, I guess there was free acess at some time)

    That said, I doubt developmental psychology can explain it all: belief
    and disbelief are very broad subjects and I’d expect to see genetics
    and biology, especially in their “evolutionary” flavour, involved.
    (by Lorenzo)

    Interesting pamphlet, but I think it suffers from excessive, cheap
    universalism -as many commenters already noted.

    Quoting from a book which I plan to read;

    “Knowing the world means having it a minimal description, ie, unified; means identifying similarities and formulate universal laws. In this sense, the unity of science would be the central cognitive task of science itself “

    The book is from a Portuguese Philosopher, Olga Pombo. The philosopher Wittgenstein himself pursued the same ideal of science´s unity (which I sincerely doubt that the commenter has).



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  • 207
    maria melo says:

    link (perhaps you´d be interested in translating the page)

    I met the author Olga Pombo at those academic meetings about science and religion debates, as far as guest of tv debates of the same kind.
    She looks to me enough intellectually trusty, so I plan to read her book.



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  • 209
    Lorenzo says:

    Knowing the world means […]

    A whole lot of things. Among them there’s also Pombo’s statement, with which I do not entirely agree. As broad as scientific theories are, and as much as they allow us to predict and fabricate, there’s no theory of Everything. This is, curiously enough, mostly due to a) scale and b) complexity of the chosen system. This phenomenon is called “field of validity” and it’s an absolutely keystone contept for science (intended mainly as the body of working knowledge). And it’s also one of the neatest separation between science and religion: the first has the awareness that there won’t be a theory which gives a valid and practical description for every system in the universe*, while the latter is positive that said theory exist -not only: it sells itself as the pantheory.

    Desipite this embedded granularity, science (again, mostly intended as the body of working knowledge) is a unity. Or rather: a continuum -you can’t have one part of it and completely disregard the rest without missing vital information about your subject matter. I would challenge you to draw an indesputable border between Maths and Physics, Physics and Chemistry, Chemistry and Biology, Biology and Neurology, Neurology and Psichology. Just to follow an obvious line -but there are many branches in this tree. This is why I deem very unlikely that a complex psychological phenomenon can be explained solely by a specialization of a field! And it’s also why young Earth creationists make no sense starting from the word “young”.

    There’s another keystone concept in science (here, intende both as the method and the body knowledge it produces), which is: every measurement is statistical in nature and, thus, it has an uncertainty attached to it. This means that science not only isn’t exact in the strongest meaning of the term, it has no hope to be exact. And, because it is willing to accept this intrinsic limitation, it is able to be predictive and to make the knowledge it produces work. For this very reason, you can make many things using inlfexible, monolithic “is” in your statements (philosophy, politics…) but you don’t make science. At least, you don’t make good quality science. That’s my original beef with Oesterdiekhoff’s article: too many granitic “is” flying around.

    *This does not mean that a GUT is impossible: it means that said GUT will work brilliantly where it should, but classical Quantum Mechanics Physics, the MO theory in Chemistry and Evolution by Natural Selection in Biology will be just as valid and brilliant instruments as they are now, where the GUT would be way too cumbersome or even mathematically inadequate to describe those systems -example: try calculating the trajectory of the Earth around the Sun using QM and tell me if you survived the experience.



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  • 210
    maria melo says:

    “Before the men could easily be divided into ignorant and wise, in
    more or less wise or more or less ignorant. But the expert can not be
    subsumed by any of these two categories. Not a wise because formally
    ignores all that does not enter in their specialty; but it’s not an
    ignorant because it is a “man of science” and knows very well the tiny
    portion of the universe in which it works. We will have to say that it
    is a wise-ignorant – very serious thing – because means that it is a
    man who will behave in all matters that ignores, not as an ignorant,
    but with all the arrogance of those who, in his specialty, is a wise
    “(Ortega Y Gasset, 1929: 173-174)..

    It seems you name a “theory of everything” ironically I guess.
    Hope you can live well with your irony. Good luck.



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  • 211
    Lorenzo says:

    It seems you name a “theory of everything” ironically I guess.
    Hope you can live well with your irony. Good luck.

    What’s your point?

    Ortega Y Gasset, 1929: 173-174

    You find this sort of reasoning (albeit less sophisticated and more “defensive” than in your philosopher) also in people such as pastor Ted Haggard who, featuring in Dawkins’ documentary “The God Delusion”, ended a dialog with our professor this way:

    But you see, you do understand, you do understand that the issue right here of intellectual arrogance is the reason why people like you [referring to Richard Dawkins] have a difficult problem with people of faith. I don’t communicate an aura of superiority because I know so much more: “and if you only read the books I know, and if you only knew the scientists I know, you would be gread like me”. Well, sir, there could be many things that you know well and some other things you don’t. And as you age, you will find yourself wrong on some things, right onto some other things. But in the process, please, don’t be arrogant.

    I’d suggest you watch the full dialog from the documentary itself: it’s to be found on YouTube. In the full film, it happens around the 24th-25th minute.

    If you ask me, this kind of utterances are passible of some Fox-and-the-Grapes-ish and please-leave-me-alone-ish interpretations, to be exceedingly gentle. Even if they come way better branded than Haggard’s one.



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  • 212
    maria melo says:

    I was being too literal I am afraid, and not poetic nor metaphorical.

    If you´d think that you´d like to

    That said, I doubt developmental psychology can explain it all: belief
    and disbelief are very broad subjects and I’d expect to see genetics
    and biology, especially in their “evolutionary” flavour, involved. (by
    Lorenzo)

    Welcome to the real world.
    Perhaps you´d like another reference ?



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  • 214
    Lorenzo says:

    Welcome to the real world.

    I’m afraid I’m back to the question what is your point? Which is not rethorical. I think you disagree with me -rather deeply, indeed. But I do not really know on what you disagree and how -even if at all

    Perhaps you’d care to explain what you don’t like about that phrase of mine you quoted three times now? Please.

    Again: it’s not rethorical, it’s a real question and I would really appreciate to have your answer.



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  • 216
    Lorenzo says:

    That’s kinda funny: usually, when I’m asked for my point, i just make it -again, if I already did.

    What about repeating those words? Come on, that’s just a copy and paste job.



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  • 217
    Michael says:

    Over the last 20+ years I’ve been able to read, somewhat insatiably, religious material from all points of view and from every mainstream and not-so-mainstream religion. I’ve searched for all the reasons why my decision to walk away from religion was wrong.

    Over time, I came to understand that we as emotional beings, and most religions for that matter, cling to 3 things so desperately that they control everything we do.

    Hope – As a being stumbling around in this place, the only thing we’ve ever really had to move us forward is hope. I truly believe that we’ve unfortunately mislabeled our need to believe things will be better, will work out, will change…our hope is this feeling that manifested itself into this being we’ve unwittingly named God. “God” is just a name we’ve created over time due to a need to feel our “Hope” will transcend us. That our hope will influence the world around us without our work or deeds because we’re too tired, sick, hungry, poor, etc. and feel too hopeless to try anymore.
    Community – We have always been tribal and pack animals. We have to feel part of a pack, clan, tribe, state, group, etc. to feel loved or feel meaningful. We need to be part of something to feel we have protection, that we have hope or simply that we will survive. Organized religion provides this community that lives through generations. It comes easily because it’s almost a gift, if you will, that your parents give you when they drag you to church. While this somewhat indoctrination of children is where my major dissension lies with organized religion; it is not exclusive to religion alone. Tribes, clans, etc. through history have fought to the last member because they were born into, say, the Hatfield’s or McCoy’s.
    Acceptance – While this is part of community, acceptance into a group, clan, tribe, etc., through ritual and rights is as old as our species. Rights of manhood, Blossom of a Woman, The first hunt, Baptism, Circumcision, etc. We jump through large trials and tests of our faith (hope) to complete these acts of…well… acceptance. To be accepted is to be safe, fed, be part of a community, to feel confident in your survival, to find a mate and above all…to have hope.

    All 3 of these items are heavily intertwined. However, when you step back and look at things from the perspective I’ve personally come to understand; it all makes perfect sense. And it just leaves me feeling really sad knowing how many ways it has been manipulated over millennium.



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  • I got so bored of reading this drivel

    Surely we all realize that man is not religious and none ever invented a religion.

    Surely we all realize that what we call religions were the best thoughts, the best cosmology (in the sense of science or understanding the world we live in including ourselves) from the best thinkers of the day.

    Surely we all realize that polytheism beat animism because it made more sense and that monotheism beat polytheism because it made more sense. It was all science written by the Dawkins’ of the day.

    Surely we all know that science is nothing more than “common sense writ large”, “trial and error elimination”, “standing on the shoulders of giants and seeing further”. It is nothing to do with how many white lab coats you have.

    You fail as a scientist when you hang onto an explanation when it has been contradicted by the facts. “Truth is correspondence with the facts”.

    What we call religions are failed explanations that the church (this church or that church) will not let go of because selling the explanation had been the most lucrative business. Look at Vatican City or Hampton Court or even your local vicarage. You can make a living selling potatoes, a better living selling medicine but the best living of all was selling heaven.

    Man is not religious and none ever invented a religion. The church invented religion to keep the money coming in.



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  • The battle to join is that religion makes us moral. The sciencey truthy thing is a beast already slain and cut into a billion pieces, twitching their last, yay, as we put them into little pots. “Science truthiness” in religion is the outer wall defending an inner “authority” about morals. And this latter is the more extensive validater of the political leverage religion will always seek.

    It is not so clear a battle, though I think it quite as right and twice as needful.



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  • Guys, atheists, what is the reason, you forgot, that the biggest atheist trial collapsed in the 20th century? Communist society became a mess, didn’t give anything to people. Yes, religion, which tries to turn on religious ceremonies is dead, and yes, dead religions like Islam, or dead so called Christian dead churches can be dangerous to freedom. However there are spiritual laws which is working the same way as laws in the realm of the existing world, and you don’t understand, and can’t explain these spiritual laws. This is the real challenge not the one you like mocking things you don’t understand.



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