A Superscientific Definition of ‘Religion’ and a Clarification of Richard Dawkins’ New Atheism

Apr 9, 2015

Credit: Wikipedia

By Raphael Lataster

Published in Literature & Aesthetics (Volume 24, Issue 2, pp. 109-124) in the December 2014 issue.

Description

I interviewed Richard Dawkins, and analysed his writings and public interactions, in order to ascertain if the view that he is ‘anti-religious’ is correct. As part of this, I attempt to provide a definition of religion – building on Schilbrack’s recent effort – that would satisfy both laypeople and scholars. I also consider related issues, such as whether Dawkins and his New Atheist colleagues need to prove God’s non-existence. I discover that Dawkins is far more respectful towards religion than is usually thought, and that there are opportunities for New Atheists, Old Atheists, and religious liberals, to work together.

Read or download this freely available open access journal article here.


Raphael Lataster is a PhD candidate and tutor in the Department of Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney.

 

147 comments on “A Superscientific Definition of ‘Religion’ and a Clarification of Richard Dawkins’ New Atheism

  • Roedy: Religion is empirical claims by a large group of people that are presumed certainly true without evidence.

    Lataster: religion being forms of life predicated upon the reality of the superscientific.

    This business of proving god does not exist is a bit of irrelevant philosophy. Only in the realm of math where you start with postulates, can you prove non-existence. You can’t even prove the non-existence of Santa Claus, no matter how much evidence you can come up with to his bogosity..



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  • 2
    aroundtown says:

    “That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.”
    ― Christopher Hitchens

    Pretty much sums it up as regards religious proofs. I very much appreciate that opinion from Hitch, it gets to the core of the argument with aplomb and brevity. It is ludicrous to believe that fairytales can compete with reality on an equal footing.



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  • Oh dear ! Our worthy author seems to have lost himself in a sea with choppy waves, of words. He seems to have difficulty defining religion. How about this:

    Religion : Organised superstition.

    From where I look, both Buddhism and Scientology fit. As do the Cargo Cults, and all the other ones I know about.

    But then I am evidently not as clever as our worthy author.



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  • I have a particular dislike of people who think that using words that most people have never heard of makes them appear clever. I could perhaps have ploughed through a bit more of that article if the verbosity hadn’t eclipsed the message.



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  • Western intellectuals idea of Buddhism is skewed by the fact that their knowledge is skewed by either only have read philosophical Buddhist texts, or only having heard Buddhist teachers speaking to a Western audience..

    Many schools of Buddhism, as actually practised and lived by ordinary people, are full of Gods, deities and Protectors who can be both worshipped and adored. The highly popular Pure Land schools and the deity protecters of Tibetan buddhism being good examples.

    This is because of the idea that individuals have different needs and blockages, and the teachings need to adapt themselves to these needs in order to better guide them towards realisation..

    The difference between Buddhism and other religions is not the absense of Gods, but the fact that the notion of Gods is a mere expedient, a tool so to speak to be used only if necessary

    BTW, i am not a Buddhist so do not ask me to defend this position..



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  • This is a good discussion, but I am unpersuaded by the need to move from superempirical to superscientific. Nor am I persuaded that the definition of religion must hold for the one that turns out to be a universally undeniable truth, in fact, I should expect it to lose its tag. The religion of an isolated tribe, if universally accepted within it, say, would not internally be identified by a word meaning anything like religion, but by a word more akin to facts or knowledge or culture. The word “religion” is only needed when there is knowledge of a choice.

    I also don’t understand why there isn’t a little more meat on the bone and the substance of the thing broached more openly. If it fails to catch all “religions” in its net, then maybe quasi-religion is a better term for these?

    So: A superempirical hypothesis about the nature of existence, reflected in personal and cultural values and behaviours.

    Does this include Libertarianism? You know, I think it might….

    I’ll read on.



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  • @OP – As part of this, I attempt to provide a definition of religion – building on Schilbrack’s recent effort – that would satisfy both laypeople and scholars.

    Religion can clearly be defined as:-
    “A memetic mental delusion, that unevidenced notions and rationalisations based on them, give explanations of physical reality, or offer guidance on how to deal with reality”.

    that would satisfy both laypeople and scholars.

    Scientific definitions have nothing to do with satisfying popular opinion or philosophical cults.

    I also consider related issues, such as whether Dawkins and his New Atheist colleagues need to prove God’s non-existence.

    Suggestions of a requirement to use negative proof fallacies in debate, is an indication of the irrationality of those making such claims. – An open and shut case in a rational debate.



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  • @OP – link –

    This superior definition recognises that the substantive aspects of religion can indeed be empirical,

    The pseudo-superior notion that “substantive aspects” of delusional fantasies in general, can have “empirical properties” (beyond those observed by neuro-psychology), is pure assertion.
    The claim that they have any “substantive aspects”, is also pure assertion.

    and can indeed be, in principle, correct.

    So drawing ANY conclusion from this is self delusion, not rational deduction.

    It is the classical theist “We can’t rule out” the remote possibility that some of the vague, self-contradictory, religious claims MIGHT be correct! – So they could at some time, just POSSIBLY be empirically observed by 101st flying pig squadron, of the Martian space-fleet!



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  • @OP – link –

    This definition thus does not unjustly rule out the possibility that what is considered a religion might be true, though it would still entail a different classification if it were.

    This is just double-negative vague waffle, speculating about the nature of unspecified delusions.

    And while the former definition assumes that all elements of religion are beyond our senses, this altered definition allows that they might not be.

    Standard gapology! – Let’s pretend our delusional notions are undetectable; – but that WE have somehow detected them, – so they might not be undetectable after all!!



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  • Rolling these two aspects up and allowing for its accretion with spurious other aspects, some of which may contain good enough truths I would get-

    A religion to be so, must contain at least one superempirical hypothesis about the nature of existence, where a choice of such hypotheses are known, the which becomes reflected in personal and cultural values and behaviours.



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  • I’m not sure I find your definition of religion universal. Some use it to explain reality as you say, and use it as a guide. Others clearly don’t. I think you might be oversimplifying something by seeing it only in terms of rational reasoned thinking when it clearly has a huge emotional component.

    I’d be inclined to say a belief system used to satisfy human needs for things like justice (a good or bad afterlife depending on behaviour or karma) and to alleviate grieving (an afterlife which means those we loved are still around) initially also a good explanation for natural phenomena in the absence of any other knowledge (now obsolete as a reason). Human needs then hi jacked by individuals with a thirst for control and the nous to con others by pretending to have special contact with whatever Gods provide them and reorganised to suit.

    Religion declines fastest the presence of social justice after all, not rational thinking, nor intelligence nor education.



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  • Alice
    Apr 10, 2015 at 9:05 am

    I’m not sure I find your definition of religion universal. Some use it to explain reality as you say, and use it as a guide. Others clearly don’t. I think you might be oversimplifying something.

    In order to cover the whole diverse spectrum of religion it needs to be simple, including only those things they all have in common.

    by seeing it only in terms of rational reasoned thinking when it clearly has a huge emotional component.

    There is certainly an emotional component, which is hi-jacked by religions but I am not convinced it is exclusive to religions.

    I’d be inclined to say a belief system used to satisfy human needs for things like justice (a good or bad afterlife depending on behaviour or karma)

    Many religions are far from delivering this, although many claim to be monopoly providers. There are plenty of non-religious philosophies which satisfy human needs.

    and to alleviate grieving

    it has been my experience at religious funerals, that the priests are primarily concerned with promoting their faiths, and any alleviation of grieving is just a tool to that purpose.
    Humanist funerals are more the celebration of the life of the deceased, and appreciation of their legacy of intellect and wisdom to their bereaved family and friends.

    initially also a good explanation for natural phenomena in the absence of any other knowledge (now obsolete as a reason).

    I would say “plausible” rather than “good”, when religious myths are gap-filling the unknown!

    Religion declines fastest the presence of social justice after all, not rational thinking, nor intelligence nor education.

    I think we need rational thinking, intelligence which is allowed to develop, empathy, and education, to achieve social justice.
    Social justice is most notably lacking, in areas with more fundamentalist the local religions.
    Dogmatic faith-belief, is the diametric opposite of rational thinking and usually represses social justice in its efforts to ingratiate its self with powerful elite rulers.



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  • @Alice

    I’m not sure I find this definition universal either. I think many folk religions and recent confabulations like Scientology fail at some of the tests.

    Of the various thought experiments possible we might perhaps best imagine how in a society a religion might evolve into existence and at what point it becomes a religion as it accumulates more and more attributes.

    To capture an “essential attribute”, I propose, is the ideal when coining a concept.



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  • Simple still needs to include the whole spectrum as well. The vast majority of known religions promise some kind of afterlife and rewards/punishments therein based on behaviour. The need for closure and justice is obviously important to humans otherwise they would not pursue cold cases. That holds as true for atheists as believers. The difference being we have no final built in justice system if someone who harms us escapes earthly justice. That is comfort I’m sure.

    Humanist funerals are better I’d agree. But they do not and cannot offer the ‘meet again’ illusion. That’s why I’m sure religion has also declined as life expectancy has increased. It is far less painful to say goodbye to a ninety year old who has lived a full life than to say goodbye to a child who has never had the chance to live or experience things. The sense of waste must be acute. Either way grieving is not just what happens at the funeral.

    I’m not sure there are any earthly philosophies that can offer those very specific comforts because they are not real. If there were than I suspect religion would have declined years ago and there would be no such thing as an intelligent believer.

    As scientific explanations I’d agree religion offered plausible rather than good early scientific explanations. But that didn’t mean they weren’t clever explanations, nor logical in their time and context. Used as explanations today however they just illustrate how dumb some of us humans are now we have the explanations.

    As for your last point I think it’s more complex and you assume religion causes lack of care rather than vice versa. I’m not so sure. In the UK we have a fairly well developed welfare and health system and there are no clear links between intelligence, education and belief. If anything the established churches are the home of the fairly well educated middle classes. The poorer and/or less educated tend not to be religious in any meaningful sense. Certainly not dogmatic. Likewise Europe. In both areas indigenous religion is declining and belief, where it persists, is generally less dogmatic and more gentle.

    In the US that whole social welfare system is largely absent and there is a link between education and belief. But that would also logically be a link between income and belief and the need for help. And over there belief borders on lunacy.

    As the US is clearly as technologically and intellectually developed as Europe and has access to education, the only difference is in the degree of social justice and care for the disadvantaged. I still hold that the emotional component is more important than the intellectual/rational one. I’m sure we both know rational, intelligent believers who compartmentalise their beliefs. And both know intellectually challenged folk who don’t seem to believe in anything. I’m guessing the harsher life is the greater the emotional need. Regardless of intellect.



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  • 16
    maria melo says:

    I would better subscribe a structuralist analisis of all aspects involved (that´s what structuralism proposes), which are quite a lot, of course, not a single one..
    Instead of “superscientific” I would rather suggest only the word SUPERSTITION (as far as I like the funny game of words of Daniel Dennett).



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  • To attempt to define religion scientifically in terms of its belief system misunderstands the whole import of religion. Religion cannot be reduced simply to a mistaken doctrine or theory. The fact that God does not exist, or that the axioms of its belief system are irrational, is ultimately neither here or there in attempting to understand religion..

    Religion is a way or form of life. A cultural, historic, socio-economic and psychological phenomena. It is not an attempt to do bad science, which can be corrected by pointing out the logical or scientific faults of its tenets, to think this is the case is one dimensional and, when taken to the extreme, fatuous.

    To understand, and if you so wish to counter it, religion first must be analysed and comprehended as a lived experience, not as a bad theory about the world.

    “Christianity is not a doctrine, not, I mean, a theory about what has happened and will happen to the human soul, but a description of something that actually takes place in human life. For ‘consciousness of sin’ is a real event and so are despair and salvation through faith. Those who speak of such things (Bunyan, for instance) are simply describing what has happened to them, whatever gloss anyone may want to put on it.”
    ― Ludwig Wittgenstein

    This is not to deny you can turn many people from religion by scientically showing them the nonsenses of religious axioms, but to do that the person you ” convert” has to be in the “right” place in his lived experience.



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  • Steve
    Apr 10, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    To attempt to define religion scientifically in terms of its belief system misunderstands the whole import of religion. Religion cannot be reduced simply to a mistaken doctrine or theory.

    “Religion”, as such and as a feature of human societies or individuals, is by the very generality of the term limited in what can be defined, which applies to the whole range the word describes.

    That is why I gave a simple definition, as it applies to individuals – here;-
    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/04/a-superscientific-definition-of-religion-and-a-clarification-of-richard-dawkins-new-atheism/#li-comment-174834

    The fact that God does not exist, or that the axioms of its belief system are irrational, is ultimately neither here or there in attempting to understand religion..

    It is virtually impossible to understand “religion” other than as a delusion. – We could extend the definition to include social interactions, but such extensions rapidly become specific to particular religions and particular cultures.
    Gods do not exist, but even stating that “God does not exist”, presumes denial of a monotheistic deity, so fails to address polytheism or pantheism.

    Religion is a way or form of life. A cultural, historic, socio-economic and psychological phenomena.

    So as such, each needs to be considered on an individual basis, but once we do that it becomes evident, that each individual, has (at least to some extent) their own version of the delusion. That is the nature of faith-based delusions. They vary from individual to individual, and can be self-contradictory within individuals and/or cultures.

    It is interesting to try to consider what the thousands of various religions have in common. There seems to be little beyond a social grouping based around a delusional concept.



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  • Your definition again misses what religion actually means to people and what it actually is.

    For most people their religion has absolutely nothing to do with explaining physical reality, the question often never seriously arises, again to think so is a one dimensional way of looking at religion.

    Religion is inexorably intertwined with their and their communities lived experience, culture, history and way of life. The fact that, scientically speaking, religious axioms are delusional does not make these religious forms of life themselves delusional, people do not live a delusion, it is just like any other way of living , it is real and a lived experience, and not simply a delusional belief system ,and billions of people live these forms of life where religion is, so to speak, a integral part of their being in the World.

    Its importance is as socio-politico-cultural phenomena etc, not as a misguided attempt to understand the world. It is the practice of religion which is important, the “explanation” of physical reality it gives can be any old nonsense, and is not the main issue.

    Religious groupings, mainly, are not based on delusional concepts, they are historic political cultural formations. To think they only exist as a consequence of belief systems is to totally ignore history, they arose politically etc not as a result of delusion.. Religion is primarily a political problem, not a problem of valid or invalid interpretations of the nature of reality. I fear only intellectuals or scientists could think the importance of religion is in its theories about the nature of reality.



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  • Steve
    Apr 10, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    Your definition again misses what religion actually means to people and what it actually is.

    Not really!

    For most people their religion has absolutely nothing to do with explaining physical reality, the question often never seriously arises,

    . . . . and yet we keep hearing “god-did-it”, as an explanation of physical reality. – usually from people who have no idea what they are taking about, but know-it-all anyway.

    again to think so is a one dimensional way of looking at religion.

    This looks like a tunnel vision view which fails to recognise the universality of “physical reality”!

    Religion is inexorably intertwined with their and their communities lived experience, culture, history and way of life.

    Indeed so – the physical reality of their lives.

    The fact that, scientically speaking, religious axioms are delusional does not make these religious forms of life themselves delusional, people do not live a delusion, it is just like any other way of living ,

    The point is that when they base their life decisions on delusions, it does make their lives delusional. They put lots of effort into promoting the god-delusions in the hope of an afterlife reward which is pure illusion.

    it is real and a lived experience, and not simply a delusional belief system ,

    Living a life based on delusions does not make the experience any less real.

    and billions of people live these forms of life where religion is, so to speak, a integral part of their being in the World.

    They do – to the severe detriment of many.

    Its importance is as socio-politico-cultural phenomena etc, not as a misguided attempt to understand the world.

    God-did-it is the pseudo-answer which inhibits the search for real knowledge. It is a fake understanding of the world, which often blocks out real understanding – which then causes danaging misjudgements. .

    It is the practice of religion which is important, the “explanation” of physical reality it gives can be any old nonsense, and is not the main issue.

    It is a distraction which keeps the servile, servile, and often leads them to believe that if they just keep putting up with the abuses they suffer, there will be an imaginary better life waiting for them. Filling their heads with “any old nonsense” as core beliefs in life, makes their errors the main issue.

    Religious groupings, mainly, are not based on delusional concepts, they are historic political cultural formations.

    History shows that they are an integral part of political cultural formations, deeply rooted in the tribalisms of competing social groups.

    To think they only exist as a consequence of belief systems is to totally ignore history, they arose politically etc not as a result of delusion.. Religion is primarily a political problem, not a problem of valid or invalid interpretations of the nature of reality.

    I am sure the propagandists would love to hear you say that. Religions and religion-like ideologies are what generates easily manipulated sheeple armies with god(s) on their side. Political support for irrational dogmas in conflict with human interests, is the curse of humanity.

    I fear only intellectuals or scientists could think the importance of religion is in its theories about the nature of reality.

    The flawed methodology of “faith thinking”, effectively means that religions have no (scientific type) “theories of reality”. They just have delusions of pseudo-reality and dogmas unrelated to reality – as is often illustrated by their denials, in their clashes with science.

    While intellectuals and scientists recognise this, those immersed in their wooo, can’t see the wood for the trees.



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  • The question of “”theories of reality” is of little interest to the vast majority of people, who happily live their lives without bothering much, if at all, about such questions. The fact that it is a preoccupation of people who frequent these types of forums does not make it a major issue for the rest of mankind.

    Religion is a form of living, not an intellectual pursuit. To say the actual life experiences of billions of people are delusional is both pretty pointless and a tad arrogant. Next time I see my Muslim next door neighbours I will inform them their lives are delusional, they are always up for a good laugh!

    .



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  • I think you neglect the evolution of religion and what remains in its “DNA”. Folk religion was and is entirely bound up with a theory of reality, of what is causal and what serendipitous. We crave causality because it gives us the opportunity for more traction in a given sitution. We mistake preferentially sticks for snakes, rather than the converse, in part because finding agency means we avoid complete randomness, especially if we can read intention or understand from experience how minds work (What do fathers do? What do mothers do?).

    Whether rebirth, bad karma, or forgiveness or damnation, daily lives are still governed by the religious theory of reality and its implications on causality. The religious need to know, because “ethics” and “morality” flow from it.

    Its not like the religious theories of reality cannot, at base, all be contained in a few sentences.



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  • True, but again the main import of religious dogma in people’s life is not that of any “theory” of reality or causal understanding of physical reality, the importance is in the guidance ( not saying it is right!) or rules of how to live your life. It is the moral aspect, the cultural and religious norms, and the prescriptions of accepted behaviours and how you should live your life which have the force, not the theoretical interpretations of physical reality.

    And these religious behavioural and moral prescriptions do not operate in a vacuum, they are intertwined with the specific historical, political, cultural traditions and situations in which they operate.



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  • Its not like the religious theories of reality cannot, at base, all be contained in a few sentences.

    Religion is a moving target. A Medusa. A bit like herding cats. I’m not sure it is actually useful to try to write one definition for religion. A broad simple definition like “Religion is a belief in the supernatural” is a fine shotgun definition but because religion is so diverse, when you start to get down to the quantum level examination of a particular religion it is not adequate. It’s almost like each religion, to be accurate, requires a tailor made definition.

    I don’t particular care how religion is defined. Some or all of the above would be useful. I prefer to focus more on the “Tradesmen’s” view of religion and its consequences. Try to limit or negate the harm. There endeth the sermon.



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  • Religion is primarily a political problem, not a problem of valid or invalid interpretations of the nature of reality. I fear only intellectuals or scientists could think the importance of religion is in its theories about the nature of reality.

    Not for me. Not why I’ve been here for 8 years.

    Religion is primarily a moral problem, as I see it. Were religion as free to grow and evolve as other ideologies, like politics, in fact; were they all driven by the enlightenment as Quakerism, say, then we would have no problem. But too often religion is not at all like politics or enlightenement thinking. It commands moral authorship in the face of evidence or popular whim and that moral authority is hinged on its model of physical reality, a father/creator, say, of absolute definitional goodness.



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  • Religion is a moving target.

    This is why a good simple definition to identify the pathogen, whatever its many spurious and varied accretions and parasites are, is valuable.

    My definition, works (in my mind at least!) and gives a strong response with those religions I worry about, excludes the simple ignorance of isolated societies and starts to exclude those religions that grow out of their worst attributes.



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  • Steve
    Apr 10, 2015 at 5:56 pm

    True, but again the main import of religious dogma in people’s life is not that of any “theory” of reality or causal understanding of physical reality, the importance is in the guidance ( not saying it is right!) or rules of how to live your life.

    Scientific methodology provides the best models we have of physical reality. Religions use the flawed methodology of “faith-thinking” (belief without evidence or proof). It therefore follows, that their dogmas and ruling are not reality based, so are at best random decisions rather than decisions based on evaluating the situation and weighing up the balances of interests of the various parties.
    In other words religious so called morals, are impositions on people of delusion based notions being substituted for realistic altruistic decisions.

    It is the moral aspect, the cultural and religious norms, and the prescriptions of accepted behaviours and how you should live your life which have the force, not the theoretical interpretations of physical reality.

    It is their incompatibility with reasoned altruistic objectives and incompatibility with accurate evaluations of physical outcomes, which makes them so damaging.
    Dogmas, and dogmatists, usually neither know nor care about the interests of humans, or the physical outcomes of their actions. If it’s the “Lord’s will” damn those humans and their suffering. (If they have to be burned at the stake to save their “souls”, so be it!)

    They usually don’t even know where of when the dogmas were invented. – That’s the ignorance, over confidence, and unreality of “faith”!

    The god-delusions are just pseudo-knowledge replacing a more accurate understanding of reality. The fact that dogmatists don’t recognise these as formal theories, makes no difference to the fact that they are driven by delusional false data, false images, and false confidence, which keeps them from better considered decision making.



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  • Humanist funerals are better I’d agree. But they do not and cannot offer the ‘meet again’ illusion.

    Families re-united after death is a mid-Victorian conceit (and absent earlier) according to “Death in England” (1999, Jupp and Gittings.) Not a common factor in most of religious experience. We shouldn’t be too parochial in seeking a definition.



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  • Steve
    Apr 10, 2015 at 5:56 pm

    This seems avery strange claim.

    True, but again the main import of religious dogma in people’s life is not that of any “theory” of reality or causal understanding of physical reality, the importance is in the guidance ( not saying it is right!) or rules of how to live your life.

    So what you are saying is that dogmas give “guidance” – mapping out a way through life – but without any theory or physical understanding of the landscape! – The blind leading the blind!

    It is the moral aspect, the cultural and religious norms, and the prescriptions of accepted behaviours and how you should live your life which have the force,

    So that’s fine! The Aztecs had cultural and religious norms of capturing people for human sacrifice – prescriptions of accepted behaviours and how they should live their lives which have the force, – nothing to do with physical effects on people!!

    not the theoretical interpretations of physical reality.

    No none of that theoretical physical suffering stuff – just “dogmatically moral” without reference to physical reality!

    I hope this helps you to think through what you are saying!



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  • Science, the understanding of physical reality, has nothing to do with morality, science is neither a metaphysic or a moral code.

    You grammatical confuse the semantics of the term “physical”. An incorrect theory of the Physical ( capital P ) which is a scientific theoretical usage of the term, has no equivalence with the usage of physical ( with a small p) as the effects of actions on people, which is a common sense ordinary usage of the term physical, and needs no theoretical understanding of “laws of the Physical” . You do not need to know how the nervous system works to know a punch hurts, you do not need to know thermodynamics to boil a kettle. The Aztecs were fully aware of the physical and mental effects of their sacrificial actions on people, it was to terrorise and kill people. To suggest that religious people are not fully aware of the physical and mental effects of their actions is daft.

    If the moral codes of religious societies were random and against the interests of humans then those societies would not thrive and would collapse.. Evidence shows they have thrived and that billions of humans happily accept them and choose to live by them. The ten commandments for example, in the main, are totally reality based and not random dogma, and are fully consistent with “evaluating the situation and weighing up the balances of interests of the various parties”.

    And for the four hundred and umpteenth time I am not denying science provides the best models of physical reality etc nor am I saying religion is hunky dory etc etc etc etc.



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  • Science, the understanding of physical reality, has nothing to do with morality, science is neither a metaphysic or a moral code.

    Hi Steve,

    Perhaps, but science is a method we can use to measure reality and morality at some point needs to map to reality. If you are deciding slavery is bad, you do so because the evidence tells you that all races are alike and it is therefore important to treat them equally. Religion (usually) on the other hand is only too happy to forever label in and out groups, in and out foods, in and out sexual positions etc. This muddies any reasonable discussion based on zero evidence. This is religions rely on accepting the authority of a figure you can not know exists. Thus the basis for much of your beliefs will be trapped at a moment in history and in a particular culture.

    To take the ten commandments for example. For a start which one? I believe there were 3 in the Bible. second the first few are to do with having god as your only god don’t blaspheme etc. No universal by any means, in fact these set up in and out groups very well because they define people who do not follow these as apostate. Commandment 4 deals with keeping the sabath. We know from elsewhere in the Old Testament that disobeying it requires stoning to death hardly universal or helpful most of the billions you site should be stoned to death. The 5th honour your father and mother. Well I would have thought that would depend on who your mother and father were. If your father was Stalin? A child rapist? A wife beater? Should I not then ignore that commandment. Thou shalt not kill, unless the person is from some other tribe in which case you are commanded to kill them, their women, their children except their girl virgins whom you are allowed to keep as your sex slaves. Thou should not commit adultery? Well this one for example is used to condemn homosexuals, they cannot marry thus are guilty of adultery, likewise a women who is a victim of an abusive husband or even a widow is often considered under this commandment an adulterer so again useless unless given further clarification which we could have done without the commandments anyway. Thou shall not steal. This is useful although I hazard a guess that there is no culture on earth that couldn’t or did work this one out for themselves. Thou shalt not covert the neighbours wife. This one is very interesting. a) I am not allowed to find her attractive? Ridiculous. Any action you might take such would have in in you shall not commit adultery so what’s the harm? unnecessary. It also shows rather well that the neighbours wife was considered property so your converting her was a sin against her husband not against her, this is sexist also. Thou shall not covert your neighbours goods/ ass. Again my neighbour has a nice car and I’m not allowed to think that is a nice car I wish I also had a nice car? Whom does this hurt? If I steal his/her car then I am already covered by commandment on stealing so really out of the ten on 2 or 3 are universal and only do not kill and do not steal are useful (as written), in addition to this these were considered wrong long before the commandments were written and have been universal to all cultures anyway. In addition to this 7 out of 10 Christians couldn’t give you more than 4 of the commandments anyway.



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  • The ten commandments for example, in the main, are totally reality based and not random dogma, and are fully consistent with “evaluating the situation and weighing up the balances of interests of the various parties”.

    Actually, the first five are threats from a god. They are in no way reality based. They are irrational dogma. The second half are just commonsense rules for tribal living. They are reality based. They fall straight out of evolution. That is, individuals in tribes that followed these commonsense rules, get to pass on more genes.



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  • David,

    Agreed, was only trying to counter the argument that All religious precepts are random and illogical, and show that they can be rationally based on reality.

    Just gave the ten commandments as an example, never having read the Bible I have no idea what the first 5 are, I always thought they were alll fairly simple , thou shall not kill etc. should have checked my source!.



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  • Reckless Monkey,

    Thanks , saved me from googling what the 10 commandments actually are.

    To rephrase my argument in Dawkinspeak, Religion is perhaps the most successful meme in history, basically it works very well in practise, to do that it cannot be totally irrational, illogical and not based on reality etc etc otherwise it would not have survived.

    I agree with all examples given of the stupidness of religion and could add many more..

    All I am trying to do is counter the one dimensional ideas that religion is merely a mistaken epistemology, or that it is not rooted in any way in Reality ,( reality being the lived experience of people the form of life people actually live, not Reality-as-physics) its power cannot be reduced to matters of mistaken Dogma.



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  • As you say, some of the commandments are explicitly parochial (one god, no blaspheming). In actual fact they all are if interpreted correctly: “Thou shalt not kill”, for example, should be understood as “Thou shalt not kill a fellow Hebrew” etc This is why it is entirely compatible with all the war and genocide that goes on elsewhere. It doesn’t count if you steal from or kill someone in the out-group. The NT was revolutionary because JC was overturning/obsoleting the OT and saying “Hey guys, it’s not enough to not just kill Hebrews. You’ve got to stop killing Gentiles as well.” Crazy loon.

    A 21st century educated Western atheist has a lot of impulse control by comparison with an uneducated iron age peasant. You’ve got to see “Thou shalt not covet…” as a sort of head-them-off-at-the-pass precautionary measure. Otherwise, once young David starts eyeing his neighbour’s wife and fully appreciating her charms, he’s one step nearer to slitting his neighbour’s throat. (I believe something like that is recorded in the OT, by someone supposedly heroic?)
    Whereas many of us in the 21st century might do a bit of discrete coveting from a distance, and only a few throwbacks go the whole hog and start killing and raping.



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  • Steve
    Apr 11, 2015 at 4:31 am

    Agreed, was only trying to counter the argument that All religious precepts are random and illogical,

    Even the random and illogical can be right by chance on occasions.

    and show that they can be rationally based on reality.

    When they are, it is usually because they have been belatedly copied from other people who worked them out using objective rationality. Faith-thinking is not capable of working out anything rationally or based on reality, with any level of reliability, but regularly plagiarises other people’s rational conclusions and then claims they were arrived at by “faith”! Retrospective “predictive prophesies” are another feature of this.

    Just gave the ten commandments as an example, never having read the Bible I have no idea what the first 5 are,

    That is the problem with picking up woolly rosy spectacle assumptions from the faithful.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ten_Commandments
    I am the Lord, your God.
    Thou shalt have no other gods before me
    Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image
    Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
    Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.

    I always thought they were alll fairly simple , thou shall not kill etc. should have checked my source!.

    That is why you are in conflict with people here. You have some compartmentalised rosy image of “religions”, picked up from the self deluded, rather than understanding the dogmas and consequences of actions based on them, which others here have studied objectively.



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  • I found this article pretentiously boring; it defines next to nothing.

    I think I can describe religions in a paragraph.

    Religions were and remain human constructs, invented in an attempt to explain that which at various times was inexplicable, almost all of which has now been explained by means scientific inquiry. Therefore, they do little more nowadays than infantilize, create hypocrites, and provide quick-fix comfort on rainy days. All of which renders them useful to shysters, financial, manipulative and political, who prey on the insecurities of the vulnerable, some of whom become infatuated by their dogmas, in the name of which they are induced to carry out atrocities.

    How am I doing?

    But, what about the Archbishop of Canterbury et al I hear you cry; I think they’re catered for in the second sentence of the said paragraph.



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  • Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the reply,

    I agree with bits of what you are saying. My father in law for example is an Anglican Minister, He’s a lovely bloke and he cares a great deal about his congregation and he would argue as you do that his religion is a lived experience and mostly it serves him fairly well, so I would like you not want to break it down to a simple religion bad atheism good. I think that humanism is better in many respects but does not yet have all of the infrastructure that religion has built up for itself when it was the only game in town. I would think that atheism if it spread further would begin to form many and varied communities and social functions that are currently filled by religion. In addition as a former religious person myself I understand the mind set and the attraction.

    Back to my father in law. While as I said the religious filter which he lives his life has its benefits it does create certain problems. Politically he finds himself on the right even though his social tendencies are on the left, so he votes against his instincts in many areas. He also had blinkers on in relation to issues like gay marriage, euthanasia which I cannot discuss rationally with him (that is I’d be perfectly willing to accept a different point of view other than my own but he can only offer religious prohibitions), he takes offence and any discussion is shut down if I push for a logical reason. So a society running on the fumes of religion can find itself held back massively or real issues and causing real harm as a result. So from my perspective if I found out tomorrow that I had an incurable tumour and this would result in the last months of my life with say a grapefruit sized tumour pressing against a bundle of nerves it would be the religious like him that would stop me from making preparations to have a means of peacefully ending my life at a point of my choosing. Note. I have no problem allowing him to choose to stay and suffer but his particular interpretation of scriptures means he thinks I should not be allowed to choose my exit. This in spite of over 70% agreeing that this should be a free choice. This means 70% of terminally ill people in this country that wish to have this option available to us are discriminated against because the voting is sufficiently close enough that the 30% will always be able to block any legislation getting through.

    This type of thing is what concerns me about religion in general. The insistence on enforcing its views down my throat on the basis of scriptures they do not take seriously in most cases. How do we have a discussion about issues around religion when many of the religious refuse to budge in-spite of never examining their own beliefs? In short I think all ideas need to be up for negotiation and areas like euthanasia should not be decided in a secular society on the basis of minority views however strongly felt. Religion has been arguably the most successful meme of all time but it should be questioned and challenged so that what survives in time is that which is of value to us all.

    Regards



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  • All I am trying to do is counter the one dimensional ideas that religion is merely a mistaken epistemology,

    The fact that religions might co-opt reasonable ideas has little to do with the nature of religion…what we are trying to define here. The injunction, “don’t eat the shellfish”, may well have been good advice when given. The problem is entirely that the holy books enshrine a view of how reality actually is. Those parts of the text concerning a creation narrative and an account of the reasons for the way things are fixes just about everything.

    These shellfish are OK to eat now, but can we change? Not a bit of it. Religion is a rock that anxious people cling to. Its moral dogma is rarely an algorithm that we can use to compute real world and novel situations because it was designed by parochial solipsists and simple dos and donts sufficed. Moral injunctions given flow from a spiritual/dualist view of reality, hopelessly thwarting a proper moral discourse even today in the proto-theocracies of the USA, various Middle Eastern countries and beyond.

    In northern Europe we do see a sunnier aspect to this. Quakers do provide a moral algorithm, “use your own conscience (OK your god-given inner light) to decide whats right and wrong and live your life doing this daily and acting upon it”. My point here is that religions open to the idea of self determination and with less and less dogma are simply ceasing to be religions. Many Quakers declare as agnostic and apart from some flowery language are indistinguishable from humanists, though they may have a more consistent moral record….

    Defining religion as necessarily including attributes that the non-religious have is to fail to acknowledge properly a very specific mode of thinking essential to them. Were all religions to let go of that single “mistaken epistomology” then they would become simply social and political lifestyle/ideologies open to reason and evidence with a much greater rate of change and with far more permeable boundaries.

    They cease to be religions and become indistinguishable from culture.



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  • Steve
    Apr 11, 2015 at 4:56 am

    All I am trying to do is counter the one dimensional ideas that religion is merely a mistaken epistemology, or that it is not rooted in any way in Reality ,

    That is the mistaken assumption you have uncritically picked up from the PR images of religions which they promote.

    ( reality being the lived experience of people the form of life people actually live, not Reality-as-physics)

    Physics is not some remote fragmentary academic subject detached from material reality.
    It is the explanation of the workings of all of reality from subatomic to cosmological scales – including the chemistry and interactions of life! Other sciences (such as social sciences) are specialist subdivisions of this joined up understanding of the laws of nature.

    its power cannot be reduced to matters of mistaken Dogma.

    But it can – once you study the specific dogmas and the in-tribe actions, based on the dogma.
    That does not mean that religions cannot effectively be spread, by murdering heretics and intimidating populations, to force the mistaken dogmas upon them in the name of “morality and righteousness”!

    The dogmas usually require denial of reality! That is why there are Hindus “purifying” themselves in the toxic chemical waste and raw sewage of the River Ganges, and the Vatican indoctrinates followers in the perversion of science and reasoning.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church_and_evolution#Pope_Pius_IX

    “9. Hence all faithful Christians are forbidden to defend as the legitimate conclusions of science those opinions which are known to be contrary to the doctrine of faith, particularly if they have been condemned by the Church; and furthermore they are absolutely bound to hold them to be errors which wear the deceptive appearance of truth.” (Vatican Council I)

    “10. Not only can faith and reason never be at odds with one another but they mutually support each other, for on the one hand right reason established the foundations of the faith and, illuminated by its light, develops the science of divine things; on the other hand, faith delivers reason from errors and protects it and furnishes it with knowledge of many kinds.” (Vatican Council I)

    159. Faith and science: “… methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.” (Vatican II GS 36:1)

    Once unevidenced rosy woolly notions are discarded, and actual evidence is examined, the dogmatic defence of unreality, and denials of reality, becomes obvious.



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  • A Superscientific Definition of ‘Religion’ and a Clarification of Richard Dawkins’ New Atheism

    Perhaps a translation from the theistic hype into objective language, can deal with this!

    A Pseudo-scientific Definition of ‘Religion’ and an Obfuscation of Richard Dawkins’ New Atheism.

    Fixed!!



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  • So refining the definition further to inject the rock-like character and adding in the idea of alternate hypotheses about the nature of existence being either made up shit or evidenced based –

    “A religion to be so, must contain at least one nominally immutable, superempirical hypothesis about the nature of existence, where a choice of such hypotheses are known (empirical or superempirical), the which becomes reflected in personal and cultural values and behaviours.”

    And yes. I do expect a stony silence.



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  • Poor RL. After a very clear endorsement of RD’s character and stance on religion, I think “obfuscation” is unduly harsh, not to say unwarranted, whatever you think of his definition of religion.



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  • Steve
    Apr 10, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    Science, the understanding of physical reality, has nothing to do with morality, science is neither a metaphysic or a moral code.

    But without the predictive abilities of science no objective judgements can be made about the outcomes of actions. Dogma slaves don’t need to understand outcomes or damage to other people. – (It god’s will so no further thought is required.)

    You grammatical confuse the semantics of the term “physical”. An incorrect theory of the Physical ( capital P ) which is a scientific theoretical usage of the term, has no equivalence with the usage of physical ( with a small p) as the effects of actions on people,

    The error is yours. The meanings are the same. The difference is only one of depth of understanding vs superficiality.

    which is a common sense ordinary usage of the term physical, and needs no theoretical understanding of “laws of the Physical” .

    A very superficial understanding, in no way refutes the in-depth understanding which includes the superficial one.

    You do not need to know how the nervous system works to know a punch hurts,

    You do need to know the superficial effects. – Again a superficial understanding is no basis for challenging an in-depth one.

    you do not need to know thermodynamics to boil a kettle.

    Again – only a superficial understanding is required, but this IS a physical process in the real world, and those who refuse to objectively understand the real world will fail – as those do who try to boil a kettle on a small stove in the open in an icy wind” Reality does not go away because people can’t or won’t understand it. The physics remains the same.

    The Aztecs were fully aware of the physical and mental effects of their sacrificial actions on people, it was to terrorise and kill people. To suggest that religious people are not fully aware of the physical and mental effects of their actions is daft.

    I did not say that they were unable to make observations. I said following their pseudo-moral dogmas meant they did not care about the consequences to the victims.

    If the moral codes of religious societies were random and against the interests of humans then those societies would not thrive and would collapse.

    Self replicating religious memes are about replicating the religions, – the humans are merely the tools used, and their welfare/survival/ starvation/ health etc. is only relevant to the propagation of the religion.
    That is why many religions are against contraception and promoting poverty and starvation in the already over populated areas.

    Thousands have been killed or maimed in religious wars, with some religions eliminated in genocides and persecution, by more aggressive expansionist competing religions.



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  • Hi Reckless Monkey,

    Again I am not denying any of the adverse effects of religion, even in good people like your father in law.

    My point simply being the “fight” against the adverse effects of religion is primarily political, not epistemological.



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  • My point simply being the “fight” against the adverse effects of religion is primarily political, not epistemological.

    No. The worst of the religious are politically intractable because of the rooted and defining character of their epistomologies. Dawkin’s plan to expose the great unlikelihood in their claim to authority is entirely valid. Education (which will directly attack epistomological certainty) is the cure, politics is the band-aid.



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  • Phil,

    I do not disagee with you, religions do have specific mistaken epistemologies which have consequences in the behaviour of its adherents. All I am saying that the power and influence of religion does not primarily lie in these mistaken dogmas, they could be anything, the power is political, cultural, historical, psychological etc. Religion permeates through the life of people in many complex ways.

    To define religion as an mistaken epistemological venture is partially correct, but it is far from a full definition.

    Many religious injunctions do not necessarily logically arise from the basic dogmas, they arise from cultural practices already existent in the originating or interpreting societies. The dogma is used to authenticate the injunctions e.g it is the word of God so do it.

    No specific moral injunctions or behavioural injunctions automatically arise from the supernatural premise of God. One could logically say God is aloof and mankind can do what they want. The moral injunctions and prescriptions of religion are man made ( never forget God does not exist, so cannot stipulate anything!) and arose in specific historic circumstances , and are reinterpreted as historic circumstances change.



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  • never forget God does not exist

    Never forget, the religious do not know this.

    Never forget that they believe in an afterlife and often a final judgement. That global warming is in His hands. That “you were a Catholic the moment dad came”. That we are powerless. That morals are Godmade.

    You offer no point of traction to elicit better behaviours from them except a political force majeur.

    The scriptural and Magisterium literalist backswing is our major problem now. We need to refine our educational programs to undercut this new development. We need to re-address the problems of epistomologies like never before.



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  • Alan4discussion,

    Phyics explains neither morality or religion . Again you gramatically confuse physical material “reality ” with the lived “reality” of human life.

    None of my points are meant to deny the powers of science, or promote the irrationalities of religion.

    We are going around in circles, talking about different subjects, there is little point in continuing.



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  • No specific moral injunctions or behavioural injunctions automatically arise from the supernatural premise of God.

    But the superempirical hypotheses about the nature of existence are never limited to just this in those religious that give us cause for concern.



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  • never forget God does not exist

    This is the argument I use when arguing against literalism and that-

    “a religion as lived is what its adherents say it is”.

    We must never undercut the desire for schism in a religion. This is when epistomologies mutate and stand a chance of becoming more benign. Our problem, though is the backswing.



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  • Steve
    Apr 11, 2015 at 8:56 am

    To define religion as an mistaken epistemological venture is partially correct, but it is far from a full definition.

    It is the glorification of flawed thinking processes, which allow the deluded to believe anything they like, (including self-contradictions), which is at the root of the problems.

    Many religious injunctions do not necessarily logically arise from the basic dogmas, they arise from cultural practices already existent in the originating or interpreting societies.

    The dogmas have simply accumulated over time by a succession of preachers using their illogical, glorified, flawed, faith-thinking processes, to accumulate dogmas.

    The dogma is used to authenticate the injunctions e.g it is the word of God so do it.

    This is the flawed thinking of sticking a badge of pseudo-authority on to personal opinions. It is common in the theist quote mining of expert authorities to misrepresent their statements, and in claims that theist assertions are “TRrrooly scientific”!

    No specific moral injunctions or behavioural injunctions automatically arise from the supernatural premise of God.

    These are just made up as the religions go along – The OT Jews were polygamists with a relaxed attitude to sex – as were the Greeks and Early Romans. All the homophobia, sexual repression, and promotion of celibacy, was invented during the centuries of development of the Xtian Church. The theist monopolising of marriage was an even later development.
    The historical records show Xtian sexual obsession and sexual repression, were invented by various religinuts who have since been designated as “saints”!

    “God” is just the “authority” badge stuck on to the dogma to con the sheeples who don’t bother with history. – (It’s all the wuuurrrrrd of god – no need to look any further, or notice it was made up by Paul or Augustin!)



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  • Phil,

    Again not denying the importance of education in showing people the mistakes in religious epistemology, and not denying it can work and have value and should be done as a ongoing matter of urgency

    However giveing everyone a good secular modern liberal education. does not mean everyone will end up thinking like a secular liberal, the highly educated young people going to Syria evidence this.



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  • Steve
    Apr 11, 2015 at 9:52 am

    Again not denying the importance of education in showing people the mistakes in religious epistemology, and not denying it can work and have value and should be done as a ongoing matter of urgency

    However giveing everyone a good secular modern liberal education. does not mean everyone will end up thinking like a secular liberal, the highly educated young people going to Syria evidence this.

    You really are indulging in wish thinking here!!!

    Do you seriously think that secular liberal education leads to Islamic fundamentalism, when the obvious causes are the Islamic teaching in mosques, in the home, online, in the media, or in faith-schools?



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  • However giveing everyone a good secular modern liberal education. does not mean everyone will end up thinking like a secular liberal

    Indoctrination when very young is the nut I would most like to crack. Sadly, we have few decent (moral!) mechanisms to tackle it. Training when very young is hugely important in human infants, like no other primate. (See the work of Victoria Horner, showing our unique acceptance of counterinuitive material from authority figures when very young.) So far indoctrination is only accessed through education and generational increments in accepting critical thought as ultimately valuable and that it can only truly happen in the unindoctrinated.

    Besides, I don’t want everyone to think like me. Not-at-all!



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  • “If you knew it was the case that, without the fear of God,
    human society would collapse, would you still reject religion?”

    Sadly, Dawkins has the data for that hypothetical already.

    As epidemiologists(!) Wilkinson and Picket in the Spirit Level show, the least religious countries are numbered amongst the most equal, the most thriving, on nearly all measures of welfare, health, crime and wellbeing.

    I think a better hypothetical is needed to get an unbiased judgment.

    There is plenty written on how altruism evolves, not least by Dawkins himself. Try Pinker “The Better Angels of our Nature.” and Frans De Wals “The Age of Empathy” for a primatologists perspective.



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  • Chengde
    Apr 11, 2015 at 10:00 am

    “No belief without evidence”, your new atheism is convincing, like sounding the new death-knell of religion, with web power.

    Theists seem to have no problem dismissing all gods except their own due to a lack of evidence.

    When the believers defend faith with Scripture,
    you dare them to “walk on water” or “turn water into wine”.

    Part of evidence is knowing the sources of accounts – it is usual in the nature of “faith” that believers have no idea where their “scriptures” originated.

    When they count the moral good religion brings,
    you attribute enough wars and scandals to the Church.

    Most of “the good, religion brings”, is just common human altruism and decency. The moral superiority is largely self deception. The statistic show that the religious are are less law-abiding, less honest and less moral than atheists.

    When they’re lost for words, or deeds, and God is laughed at,
    you accept applause as a matter of course, like being reason itself.

    Did you have a particular god which is being laughed at? Most of their claims are ridiculous.

    However, let me ask you a hypothetical question:
    “If you knew it was the case that, without the fear of God,
    human society would collapse, would you still reject religion?”

    There is no evidence that human societies collapse from a lack of any particular religion. Many Buddhists have no beliefs in gods, and many tribal peoples worship nature rather than deities.

    If you say “yes”, surely you would see how irrational you were – worse than cutting off a man’s head to treat his headache.
    A rational person, as you firmly claim to be, has to say “no” –
    doesn’t this mean faith could be justified without evidence?

    This is simply a contrived argument of no substance.

    Reason has two functions: seeking truth and weighing expediency.
    If we can’t tell if it’ll rain, we’ll carry an umbrella as a precaution.
    Since “God’s existence” can neither be proved nor disproved,

    Ah! The old negative proof fallacy, and false dichotomy of not offending a god! The problem is which ones would you prove or disprove? Some are claimed to be very vengeful if upset, and there are thousands to choose from! There are no “default gods”. – There is no evidence for any of them.

    it’s reasonable for man to discipline himself with the imagination, which wasn’t a “delusion” that happened to occur in all cultures, but a spiritual organ driven by the evolutionary need to coexist.

    The neuro-psychologists are aware of the spiritual areas of the brain where imaginary god-delusions dwell. The shared delusions certainly could help with tribal bonding, but are becoming obsolete in the modern more rational world.

    Without the simple idea of the-Almighty-for-good-and-against-evil, what could have turned a race of jungle animal into a moral being?

    Given the evidence of a greater likelihood of the religious being involved in criminal activities and being involved in inter-religious wars, moral beings are more to do with human fellow feeling in communities than the divisive tribes within tribes of religions.
    Fair legal systems and codes of conduct, provide better options than threats from imaginary gods.

    True or not, the great invention of man’s “second heart”
    deserves Nobel returning to history to award his best prize!
    Yet, your atheism is a delusion blind to the 2nd function of reason,

    Atheism is not blind! It just does not recognise the delusional images in the minds of others as being material features of the real world. – Of course theists can recognise the false images of religions other than their own – but unlike atheists, they miss recognising their own indoctrinated one that was deeply rooted into their early development as children.

    risking human extinction to depart from the evolution you advocate.

    Human extinction is much more likely from the actions of fundamentalist, science-denying politicians, than any fading out of supernatural beliefs in the light of real knowledge.
    However, there is no doubt, that religions evolved as part of the developing power structures of primitive tribal groups and societies.

    Yours sincerely, – An agnostic-who-explains-religion-with-evolution

    You seem to only be agnostic about one god of the thousands which have been/are worshipped.
    How did you choose that one?



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  • Chengde
    Apr 11, 2015 at 10:56 am

    Could you please tell me who has asked the question, and what Dawkins’ answer is?

    Richard Dawkins has written much about evolving reciprocal altruism (within species and across species), in various books.

    I suggest you read a copy of his first best-selling book, “The Selfish Gene”, pages 183 -188, pages 202 -233, p229, and p295.



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  • Could you please tell me who has asked the question, and what Dawkins’ answer is?

    As stated your hypothetical is very weak because it is counterfactual. Dawkins has already stated that given appropriate and sufficient evidence for a god he would be obliged to believe it true. This is a point of honour for all who espouse the scientific method, scientist or not.

    Given that Northern Europe and Japan were a disastrous wreck from insufficient God fearing (and God not proved per your intention), I suspect if properly epidemiologically demonstrated as the cause, all those of a scientific mode of thinking including Dawkins would be obliged to accept the fact, but many would be thinking how they could use fear more rationally, as the disbelieving rational would not “enjoy” the behavioural benefits that the dullards, irrational and incurious would gain.

    Robocop comes to mind…

    The god-fearing Americans don’t muck about on this fear thing. They do both. A quarter of the planet’s prisoners are American citizens.



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  • ” Do you seriously think that having a secular education leads to Islamic fundamentalism?”

    i said or implied absolutely no such thing whatsoever.. Please read what I wrote objectively , rather than responding to what you think some imaginary science denying “opponent” is imaginarily saying to you.



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  • Steve,

    Its a rhetorical device.

    Alan is pushing you to make more of this-

    However giving everyone a good secular modern liberal education. does not mean everyone will end up thinking like a secular liberal

    which says just about nothing…

    How many? What percentage do you think?



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  • Steve
    Apr 11, 2015 at 9:17 am

    Physics explains neither morality or religion .

    Humanist morality is essentially codes of conduct recognising and balancing the interests of various parties.

    Theistic “morality” is about mindlessly implementing dogma to propagate a religion.

    If we regard “morality” as respecting human interests, then scientific predictions of outcomes are required in order to make an informed judgement. It is possible to make unscientific irrational or dogmatic judgements, but these will not serve the interests of humanity except by chance.

    There are of course different definitions of “morality”, and while humanists will regard morality as respecting humans, dogmatists will define “morality” as promoting dogmas.

    Again you gramatically confuse physical material “reality ” with the lived “reality” of human life.

    The problem seems to be that your concepts of science seem to come in isolated fragments in little boxes.

    All of “reality” is made up of atoms, forces and energy, organised at different levels of complexity. Human life is just one specialist area of evolutionary biology and ecology, which is a larger specialist subdivision of physics.

    None of my points are meant to deny the powers of science, or promote the irrationalities of religion.

    What your points do, is to deny the continuity of the scientific studies of physical reality, by pretending the parts are in isolated subjects (a bit like the way sciences were taught in fragmentary parts 50 years ago).
    Modern science is joined up across all scales and across all scientific subject areas.

    the lived “reality” of human life.

    The “lived reality of human life” is dealt with in the sciences of anthropology and sociology which are sub-divisions of biology.

    the irrationalities of religion

    The irrationalities of religion, are dealt with superficially in the study of logic and fallacy.
    The supernatural claims of religion are tested (and regularly refuted) using conventional sciences, while the in-depth understanding of the working of god-delusions and faith-thinking, are studied by neuroscientists and psychologists.

    “We have found a neuropsychological basis for spirituality, but it’s not isolated to one specific area of the brain,” said Brick Johnstone, professor of health psychology in the School of Health Professions. “Spirituality is a much more dynamic concept that uses many parts of the brain. Certain parts of the brain play more predominant roles, but they all work together to facilitate individuals’ spiritual experiences.”
    Johnstone says the right side of the brain is associated with self-orientation, whereas the left side is associated with how individuals relate to others. Although Johnstone studied people with brain injury, previous studies of Buddhist meditators and Franciscan nuns with normal brain function have shown that people can learn to minimize the functioning of the right side of their brains to increase their spiritual connections during meditation and prayer.

    In addition, Johnstone measured the frequency of participants’ religious practices, such as how often they attended church or listened to religious programs. He measured activity in the frontal lobe and found a correlation between increased activity in this part of the brain and increased participation in religious practices.



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  • Steve
    Apr 11, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    However giving everyone a good secular modern liberal education. does not mean everyone will end up thinking like a secular liberal, the highly educated young people going to Syria evidence this.

    ”Do you seriously think that having a secular education leads to Islamic fundamentalism?”

    i said or implied absolutely no such thing whatsoever.. Please read what I wrote objectively ,

    So could you say how I should objectively read “young people going to Syria” (to join ISIS) as meaning something other than them being led to Islamic fundamentalism, and that this is in some way connected to “secular liberal education”?

    Do you mean that secular education does not make students 100% resistant to indoctrination, and that this is some sort of flaw?

    rather than responding to what you think some imaginary science denying “opponent” is imaginarily saying to you.

    Perhaps you could clarify just what you are saying.
    I thought my points about mosque and family indoctrination, were more relevant to the Syria issue.



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  • 68
    aroundtown says:

    I would be the first to admit that I’m not the sharpest knife in the kitchen, but that doesn’t mean I cannot think, and that is a gift to all who try. I find that in many instances it is best to go back to basics so I will offer up a tool that most agree is a help. The dictionary, and I will provide the description that serves us most accurately when we ponder ourselves within our surrounds when it comes to what is “REAL”.

    It amazes me when religious practitioners wave their magic wands and try to rework the books and/or ideas that no longer make sense in this day and age to their followers, you would think these people might question why the “all mighty on high” forgot something and now his/her/whatever earthly fold need to correct the tidbits that are not matching up in the modern world. Ironically they seem to accept the fables of old against modern empirical proofs that are right in front of them, and that is most unfortunate.

    reality
    /rɪˈælɪtɪ/
    noun (pl) -ties

    1.
    the state of things as they are or appear to be, rather than as one might wish them to be

    2.
    something that is real

    3.
    the state of being real

    4.
    (philosophy)
    that which exists, independent of human awareness
    the totality of facts as they are independent of human awareness of them See also conceptualism Compare appearance (sense 6)

    5.
    in reality, actually; in fact

    Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
    © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
    Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012



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  • “Reality”: The speed of light is about 186,000 miles per second (300,000 kps), regardless of where the observer is or how fast he is travelling. That being a constant, it means some mind bending stuff about clocks running slower and rulers shrinking in the direction of travel, as the speed of what is being measured, approaches that of light.

    Christian apologist William Lane Craig doesn’t like relativity, but too bloody bad for him ! Without it, his sat-nav phone app wouldn’t work !



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  • Hi Steve,

    I’d have to agree with Phil on this point, there is no political reason not to allow gay marriage for example other than to appease the religious. From a scientific standpoint homosexuality is just something that happens to some people, they have no more choice in their sexuality that I do in mine. But because someone in the bible writes that homosexuals deserve death, then 2000 years latter no amount of rational discussion can be had on the issue.

    The reason the religious right wing wish to have political power is so they can enforce their ideology on the rest of society including the other strips of the religious. To my way of thinking and I’d suspect you’d probably agree with me here all religious people should want a secular society so that no one religion can gain dominance over all others.

    I’d agree that people tend to make their religious beliefs conform to their politics so a right wing conservative will choose to ignore the more hippy moods of Jesus and emphasise the hell fire and brimstone elements and the left wing Christian does the inverse. I’d argue though that both are limited by what thoughts are available in scriptures and its hard to completely ignore what is in the bible instead they attempt to put it into context, which is often a dishonest exercise. So my father in law is as I said left leaning in many of his policies and if he was not religious I’m sure his natural empathy would extend to wishing gays had equal rights. However because he truly believes in the bible and Jesus, he cannot completely ignore what it has to say about homosexuals, so he contextualises homosexuality, love the sinner – not the sin. He doesn’t seek to stone them to death but he sides with the right wing governments in defence of marriage. When debated about this he get very offended when I point out the divorce conditions in the old testament, the sex slaves, concubines, multiple wives etc. none of which fall into his idea of traditional Christian marriage which is a myth biblically speaking. So he like most Christians on one hand wishes to hold out a welcoming hand to homosexuals (provided they remain celibate) but still considers them to be under the influence of a great evil, and hence will not support gay marriage, so they remain second class citizens. His politics is limited by his religion. I know from his other views (not related to religion) that if not for religion he would vote left, not right.



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  • Many religious injunctions do not necessarily logically arise from the basic dogmas, they arise from cultural practices already existent in the originating or interpreting societies. The dogma is used to authenticate the injunctions e.g it is the word of God so do it.

    Hi Steve,

    FGM is a good case in point the practice pre-dates Islam. The question is why does it persist? If I put a microphone next to a speaker the slight background static or any noise from the environment if picked up by the microphone however quite is amplified by the feedback loop. A loud squeal ensues. So to that extent I’d agree, politics, personality, culture all feed into the loop, and you could fix the problem by either moving the speaker, moving the microphone, turning the volume of the speaker down or the record level of the microphone down.

    Trouble is religion by its nature tried to hold the microphone and speaker together, it tries to eliminate either move, it tries to get the culture to conform to the holy book and tries to read the holy book in a manner that conforms to those in power within the culture. So while ever women are considered less than men we will see these types of practices. As soon as sufficient numbers in a culture no longer consider women inferior the practice will stop quickly. I cannot change the history or socio-political situation of people quickly, but I can challenge them to consider their holy texts. I can force them to go to their holy texts and read them will clear light and confront the cognitive dissonance. That is the only power I personally have, thus here I stand, I chose to ask them to move their microphone back away from the speaker.



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  • say goodbye to a ninety year old who has lived a full life

    When I talked to the elderly near death, they have either asked for help dying or have said they will be greatly relieved to get it over with.

    As you get older, everything stops working properly. You are in more and more pain. There are more and more limitations on what you can do. You have only a little energy each day. This general discomfort is not obvious to the casual observer.



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  • It is virtually impossible to understand “religion” other than as a delusion. –

    We tend to look at religion from the point of of view of the delusion. Consider it from the point of view of who sells and maintains and benefits from the delusion. Religion is thus a CON. What makes it different is the outlandishness of the promise.



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  • Chengde,

    Have you read his book? Many of his answers are there for you you needn’t have written this series of strawmen you could have got the word from Richards mouth.

    “If you knew it was the case that, without the fear of God,
    human society would collapse, would you still reject religion?”

    the least religous societies are the most peaceful, this may be a coincidence but I don’t think so. So if I could prove to you that removing religion would make societies better who you stop believing? Richard himself has answered this direct question many times, his answer was essentially he is interested in the truth aren’t you?

    Since “God’s existence” can neither be proved nor disproved,
    it’s reasonable for man to discipline himself with the imagination,
    which wasn’t a “delusion” that happened to occur in all cultures,
    but a spiritual organ driven by the evolutionary need to coexist.

    A bit hard to tell what you actually mean here. I think you need to google the word delusion. It sounds like you are trying to say that evolution has provided us an organ which we need to exist. Well for starters the organ in question is your brain (were the delusions can also exist). It is a multifunction learning computer which can and does often come to the wrong conclusions about a great many things indeed. Evolution needs only to be good enough. What makes us different from most of the other animals is our ability to project into the future to imagine what might happen. This ability allows us to invent gods. However if your hypothesis is true, religion is needed for survival of individuals (evolutions works on individuals not on groups) then it is refuted by the fact that many atheists survive into their old age. Best you could say is religion can give a survival advantage but as many northern European countries show this is not needed and in fact there is a better way – thought!

    Without the simple idea of the-Almighty-for-good-and-against-evil,
    what could have turned a race of jungle animal into a moral being?

    Thought + empathy

    What can turn peaceful people into animals – ask ISIS they’ll show you one way. Ask the Catholic church who hide their paedophile priests while promoting hatred of homosexuals, Ask the Wesbro Baptists who picket the funerals of soldiers.



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  • Hi Stafford Gordon,

    I found this article pretentiously boring; it defines next to nothing.

    I found it somewhat hopeful, I agree it goes around in circles but it does gently refute the many inaccurate labels thrown at Dawkins, this is a hopeful sign from a religious scholar. Not that anyone will listen to him.



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  • True, but you omit the meaning of the term when used in phrases as “lived reality” or thr “reality of life”

    ——a thing that is actually experienced or seen, especially when this is unpleasant.
    plural noun: realities
    “the harsh realities of life in a farming community”
    synonyms: fact, actuality, truth, verity
    “the harsh realities of life”———

    “Reality” as an lived experience as distinct from “reality” as that which exists independent of human or physical phenomena etc.

    In this instance you do not commit the grammatical error conflating the different semantic values of the term ” reality” , instead you just ignore the experiential meaning.

    The “reality” of my life is not that I am a collection of atoms etc, the “reality” of my life is paying the mortgage, feeding the cat, hoping the dread never comes back etc etc



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  • Steve
    Apr 12, 2015 at 6:22 am

    “Reality” as an lived experience as distinct from “reality” as that which exists independent of human or physical phenomena etc.

    That is your misconception. There is no “reality independent of physical phenomena” “Reality” is the sum total of all the physical phenomena. Human, experience and perception included as they also work using “physical phenomena”, through our senses – sight, smell, hearing, touch, thoughts emotions.

    In this instance you do not commit the grammatical error conflating the different semantic values of the term ” reality” , instead you just ignore the experiential meaning.

    There is no “experiential meaning” independent of physical reality. We are physical organisms.

    Your compartmentalised semantics, have no bearing on the reality of the continuous spectrum of physical reality across all scales and all levels of operation, from sub-atomic to astronomical.

    The “reality” of my life is not that I am a collection of atoms etc,

    You are a collection of atoms and molecules, interacting with each other and with the outside environment – including other people.

    the “reality” of my life is paying the mortgage, feeding the cat, hoping the dread never comes back etc etc

    All of which operate by the physical reality of interacting atoms and molecules, energy systems, and forces. – Everything from the biochemistry of the previously living cells in the cat-food, to the electricity in the banking systems which pay your mortgage, the sunlight which brightens your day, and the biochemistry of the workings of your brain.

    Fears and thoughts also work on electro-biochemistry and can be disrupted by pharmaceutical products alcohol etc.

    http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/synapse.html

    For every action you can take, there is an area of science which has studied it – from the biology and medical studies of human bodies and human societies, to buildings, water supplies, energy systems, tools, furnishings, transport systems, and communication systems.

    There are no “experiences” or processes, on Earth, the Solar-System, or the galaxy, which are independent of physical reality. Everything works using atoms, energy and forces. E = MC².



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  • To explain to my bank manager the “reality” that I cannot pay my mortgage in terms of me, being a collections of atoms which themselves are a configurations of quantum fields etc etc although true, is not a sensible or useful kind of explanation to give to my bank manager.

    To explain in terms of the “reality” of my having lost my job is sensible and a useful explanation

    I was making the very simple SPECIFIC point that you were grammatical conflating two different senses of the term ” reality”., to point thisout is not to deny the “reality” of science.

    A very simple and very specific point I would have thought, so I am not sure why you go off on one saying that I am denying scientific explanations and ignoring the nature of “Reality” blah blah blah. When I actually said nothing of the kind.

    For the billioneth and umpteenth time I am not denying science or scientific explanations.To point out that the word “reality” can have different senses in different contexts is not to deny
    Anything about science.

    Cannot you understand it was a simple grammatical point?



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  • Steve
    Apr 12, 2015 at 8:35 am

    Cannot you understand it was a simple grammatical point?

    I understand perfectly what you are saying, but the point is not “grammatical” it is semantic.

    It is your denial that the specific part of physical reality which is interacting with you is only a part of the greater physical reality of the universe.

    Of course you give a bank manager explanations at an appropriate scale, level of complexity, and relevance to your situation, but they remain in the larger context of the physical workings of the universe. You and your bank manager are a specific part of “reality”, not some separate “reality”.
    You and your bank manager work on Earth, in Earth gravity, using physical technologies, physical buildings with physical inter-actions with the rest of the human population.

    The point I thought I had made clearly is that the study physical realities is (for the convenience of human cataloguing) divided in to specialist subjects (such as banking, housing, Earth’s climate, or psychology), but is part of a continuous whole system of atoms molecules and forces at a vast range of scales, which make up our physical reality.
    No small part can be isolated and claimed to function independently or be separate from the whole.

    The compartmentalised unwillingness to recognise the continuity or the overlapping of subject areas, in no way refutes interconnectedness of the whole system.
    You may see your own experiences as something separate, but they are interconnected to, and interacting with, everything else by the laws of physics, regardless of your choice of semantic shut-off points beyond which you do not look.



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  • Chengde
    Apr 12, 2015 at 9:54 am

    You know that you haven’t answered my question, nor has Dawkins.

    Perhaps you did not understand the answers given.

    If you identify specific items where the answers are not clear to you, they could be further clarified.



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  • You know that you haven’t answered my question

    But I very particularly have in my last post to you. Very, very clearly. I also allowed it to be my guess of what Dawkins would say, and evidenced why from similar hypotheticals he has always supported evidence against his own current views.

    It is now your turn to say, “Well if Dawkins did think that then…” and make your point.

    It is, though, hugely unlikely Dawkins would answer such a counterfactual hypothetical and you would do better to find something stronger in support of the utility of the idea gods. Much discussion is given to belief in belief and by Dawkins too. If you beefed that up to propose, say, that society would not have reliable long term stability without it you might tease out a bit of a discussion…



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  • The discovery of evolution by means of natural selection has revealed more about ourselves and our relationship to the rest of life on Earth than any other, and in doing so has rendered almost all the questions posed by theists redundant; the reason they persist in asking them is that they are just not listening to the answers.

    If they made the effort they could find the answers to just about all their questions in the pages of innumerable excellent and accessible volumes by experts in the scientific fields pertaining.

    I sometimes wonder how many people brought up within religious traditions do in fact know the answers but are fearful of revealing as much.

    As to the question of how it all kicked off, no one knows, but some fairly smart cookies are working on it I believe.



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  • it is not a question of semantics, it is your misuse of grammar, the correct applicationof semantics.

    “Reality” meaning physical reality, and “reality” meaning lived experiences, as in the realities of life, are correct a d valid semantic uses of the term.

    Your mistake is to grammatical confuse the two by thinking they are equivalents. They are not refering to two different and seperate ” realities” they are refering to reality looked at from different logical and conceptual levels.

    That is all I am saying, nothing to do with the ultimate nature of life the universe and everything. All the rest is you making up things you think I said, and then taking these to argue with yourself. I feel you might win that argument!



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  • Steve
    Apr 12, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    “Reality” meaning physical reality, and “reality” meaning lived experiences, as in the realities of life, are correct a d valid semantic uses of the term.

    Sorry Steve, but you just don’t get it!

    Your mistake is to grammatical confuse the two by thinking they are equivalents.

    Far from thinking they are equivalents, I have repeatedly stressed, that the “lived experiences”, of individuals, are a tiny geographically and temporally tiny part of the greater reality of the universe.

    They are not refering to two different and seperate ” realities” they are refering to reality looked at from different logical and conceptual levels.

    The area viewed at a particular scale and time, which is limited by the sensory perceptions and cognitive abilities of individuals, is part of the continuity of the greater reality of the universe, regardless of the personal limiting boundaries of an individual view.

    That is all I am saying, nothing to do with the ultimate nature of life the universe and everything.

    The laws of physics in the ultimate nature of life and the universe, work throughout the known universe, so the “realities of lived experiences”, of any living individuals, and their possible available options, are determined by these laws, – including the operation of their brains, – and so have everything to do with their operation.



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  • can’t rule out.

    I don’t see why. We happily rule out the possibility that the boiling point of water is actually 200 degrees C. We happily rule out the possibility of a 1000 meter whale. Deities are even less probable.



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  • Roedy
    Apr 12, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    We happily rule out the possibility that the boiling point of water is actually 200 degrees C.

    Being a little pedantic – we need to be a bit careful on that sort of Earth sea-level “Normal temperatures and pressures” claim.

    http://www.whoi.edu/main/topic/hydrothermal-vents
    Hydrothermal fluid temperatures can reach 400°C (750°F) or more, but they do not boil under the extreme pressure of the deep ocean.



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  • The experience of seeing can be different from the reality of what is actually there to be seen e.g. the experience of filling in the blanks, or not seeing what is directly in front of us. A person that claims the experience of seeing is not identical to the reality of what is there to be seen, has not committed themselves to a denial of materialism.

    In the same way I don’t think Steve’s claim that the experience of living can be different from reality as explained through science, constitutes a denial of materialism, or an inaccurate compartmentalization that we should strive to overcome.

    For one as we learned from the example of sight there can be a real difference between our experience of reality and reality, even though it’s “stuff” all the way down. Secondly as we learned from the banking example, the distinction is just darn useful.



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  • You know that you haven’t answered my question, nor has Dawkins.

    Chengde,

    I have attempted to answer your questions. If I am mistaken the polite thing to do is to engage in a debate with me or correct my points. Simply stating I and Dawkins have not answered your questions seems to simply be an evasive tactic on your part, perhaps you might like to reflect on why you might be trying to avoid addressing anything specific. Perhaps I have misunderstood your questions if so then you may need to re-state them in a different manner so that I understand them better. Or perhaps you just wish to engage in a Nah, Nah, Nah you’re all atheist poopy heads level of debate.

    I’m not particularly bothered which, I probably have resorted to each of the above levels of discussion in the past, I try to avoid it now but I can’t claim to be holier than anyone in that regard. I ultimately wish to sharpen my arguments through having them challenged, and thus gain further understanding and knowledge.

    So I have a couple of questions for you to answer.

    You claim Dawkins has not answered your questions:

    My response is he has Phill has provided direct page references I’d add the tv show he made decades ago on empthay here. This directly addresses your point on human society collapsing in absence of religion which I summarised as thought + empathy.

    Have you read the books sited or watched this video Yes or No.

    If you have then please reference your rebuttals to specific pages or sections of the books sited or particular parts of the timeline of the video I have linked to.

    Most of your other questions have been addressed by Dawkins in the God Delusion. You may not agree or be satisfied with his answers but he has answered them.

    But I’m willing to take another shot a bit more directly.

    “If you knew it was the case that, without the fear of God,
    human society would collapse, would you still reject religion?”

    Yes I would reject it under those circumstances because I would have no choice. I do not choose to believe or disbelieve I can only believe if I have sufficient evidence. Thus far no sufficient evidence for a god exists. Thus I could not believe even if a gun was held to my head to make me do so, I may wish to but I could not. Let me give you a similar situation to yours that is non- religious so you can see the fallacy in your argument.

    A bunch of gun toting neuroscientists break into your house and hand cuff you preventing your escape. They have developed a device that attaches to your head and reads your thoughts with 100% accuracy. They then place in front of you a apple and tell you that unless you believe it to be a iguana they will shoot you. Can you make yourself believe? Clearly it is in your best interests to do so, you want to but I simply could not. Even if I could it would not make the apple and iguana and my belief would therefore be false, a delusion.

    A rational person, as you firmly claim to be, has to say “no” –
    doesn’t this mean faith could be justified without evidence?

    A rational and honest person will just say what they actually believe and won’t waste time trying to believe something for which there is no evidence. The ration person has no choice but to go where the evidence leads. If the evidence is not there the rational person has no choice but to consider that possibility unproven.

    You are also making the mistake of smuggling in your particular beliefs. Could not the Romans or Greeks have used exactly the same argument you use about your god? Without their respective gods interference how could their societies have thrived for thousands of years? Or the Nose Gods or the Gods of the Australian Aboriginals – whom by the way have the longest lasting culture on the planet (over 40 000 years) so if I was to choose on the basis of rationality from any of the competing beliefs I’d be choosing the Rainbow Serpent because they existed in a hostile environment for much longer than Christianity has existed. But I don’t believe in any because there is no evidence. This means I need to consider the God/s hypothesis unproven and any successes or failures of human culture just that human.

    Reason has two functions: seeking truth and weighing expediency.

    You have failed on the first, and thus have no hope of weighing any sort of expediency of on the basis of the first. My challenge to you is to prove the truth of your claims.

    Without the simple idea of the-Almighty-for-good-and-against-evil,
    what could have turned a race of jungle animal into a moral being?

    This is simply a failure of imagination and observation on your part. It is in my own best interests to cooperate and treat those around me with respect and dignity. I am typing to you on a keyboard using components mined out of the ground, refined, turned into plastics and metals, even just this cheap keyboard is far beyond my capabilities to obtain the raw ingredients from nature and turn them into anything useful, let alone the computer which it is attached to, the power grid it is powered from the house that stops it from shorting out in the rain. In short I rely on everyone around me to cooperate and trade for me to survive. If the postman thought he could be shot by random householders at any point he would not bother delivering the mail. It really isn’t rocket science to notice this. All of my behaviours are rational, none require me or anyone else to believe in a higher power, either fear of hell or hope of reward to drive my behaviour.

    However right now people are having their heads hacked off for holding slightly different religious beliefs to some other people, right now small girls are having their clitorises cut off because of the religiously promoted belief that women are not equal to men, right now the Catholic Church is moving and protecting paedophiles to maintain and protect the power of their church and because their beliefs (in part) have lead to the sexual distortion of their priests though the requirement of celibacy. Right now people are artificially having their agony extended because the religious can not allow the terminally ill to end their lives with dignity (no matter what the person in question believes). Want to find a civilisation in which people treat each other like animals your best bet is to find one that is theocratic, that has a large adherence to religious dogma.

    Now hopefully this gives you enough to work with – hopefully you can have a better shot at addressing my answers. Look forward to it.



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  • If they made the effort they could find the answers to just about all their questions in the pages of innumerable excellent and accessible volumes by experts in the scientific fields pertaining.

    Support Nitya’s endorsement. Maybe there are two species of Homo on earth. Sapiens and Denialensis.



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  • In the same way I don’t think Steve’s claim that the experience of living can be different from reality as explained through science, constitutes a denial of materialism, or an inaccurate compartmentalization that we should strive to overcome.

    I profundly disagree with this attitude. Reality is the sum total of the experience and the stimulus. At every moment of the day we should be aware of this. The attitude is the very root of material denialism, that an experience, in some sense, merely IS.

    Self reflectivity has only ever benefitted us. When we got a pre frontal cortex and an anterior cingular cortex and could observe the earlier parts of ourselves, our primitive “bash him” knee jerks from the amygdala, then acting upon it, telling us to hang on a bit, thats when we began our civil and moral lives.

    With language and science and society we have created another virtual cortex to observe, analyse and qualify our individual cortical outputs. Until we can all see into our own workings as a daily commentary on our actions and thoughts we will treasure our own thoughts and observations above a deeper truth. It is a wonderful new guard against solipsism and a reminder of the contingency of our own brains in development and operation.



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  • Sean-w,

    Yes, was just trying to make the very grammatical simple point the word “reality” can have differing uses at different logical levels of explanation, explicitly talking about use of the word not the way of the world.

    Bewildered how from making that simple grammatical point we get to me splitting reality into two, inventing dualism., denying matter blah blah. Blah.

    Have heard of the confirmation basis but this is something else entirely! To think that ,to say there are different levels of explanation, and that the scientific one is not always the most pragmatically useful ( paying mortgage), is an attempt to deny science , invent dualism etc is bizarre..

    And I always thought it was turtles all the way down ( and please no one come back and tell me I am talking anti-science Turtlism and that turtles are made of atoms Etc etc)



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  • @Steve

    I have no problem that words are used in casual and convenient ways provided that they are indeed seen as an

    inaccurate compartmentalization that we should strive to overcome.

    (Not your phrase, I know.)

    Supernatural thinking started as a casual and convenient mode of accounting for a comprehensive causalism. Even now our language gives intent to objects where none can possibly exist. We would do better to find more accurate words. What will happen is that every time we so misapply a word it will become a jest or a further comment. Every time you say, “the reality is the mortgage” you will realise that “my imperative is the mortgage” is more truthful but in saying “the reality is the mortgage” you are adding the observation that so imperative is it that your cognition is somewhat skewed by it. I think this is often how the phrase is used.



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  • Sean_W
    Apr 12, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    The experience of seeing can be different from the reality of what is actually there to be seen

    This is known as cognitive bias or illusion.

    e.g. the experience of filling in the blanks, or not seeing what is directly in front of us. A person that claims the experience of seeing is not identical to the reality of what is there to be seen, has not committed themselves to a denial of materialism.

    Unless they claim that the inaccurate imagined image, is not just an image, and insist that it is the underlying reality.

    Once the image is claimed to be “reality” in the face of physical counter evidence, it is indeed denial of material reality. – (a feature well known in the various conspiracy theories and fundamentalist religions.)

    What I understand as being said by Steve is: “The features which affect my personal vested interests, are a much bigger more important or total ‘reality’, than the actual underlying physical reality”.

    While it is quite proper for people to attend to their personal interests, asserting that a warped image of reality is actually “reality”, is an error, and claiming that those correcting the error, are offering confused language, is just psychological projection (mirror-imaging).

    or an inaccurate compartmentalization that we should strive to overcome.

    There is clearly a compartmentalised cherry-picked bit of “reality” with personal impacts, which is out of all proportion in these arguments.
    The egotistically perceived priority bubble around individuals, is only a disproportionate distorted image of reality.

    Anyone seeking objectivity, should certainly strive to overcome this inaccurate compartmentalization in their understanding of reality.

    Neither the individual, the Earth, nor the Solar System, is the main feature and centre of the universe!



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  • Phil,

    It is not really an ” inaccurate compartmentalism”, either, it is no compartmentalism of the world at all.

    It is simple saying that when we say the “harsh realities of life” we are talking on the logical and conceptual level of mortage paying, feelings of dread, feeding the cat etc not on the scientific level of atoms and molecules etc. and to tell the bank manager this assemblage of atoms has no money to pay the mortgage on another assemblage of atoms is neither useful or a particularly sensible thing to say in this context of the use of the term or word “reality”.

    The fact that it is”stuff” all the way down is taken for granted and not in dispute.

    Alan4dis ussion,

    What I understand as being said by Steve is: “The features which affect my personal vested interests, are a much bigger more important or total ‘reality’, than the actual

    Nope I am absolutely saying or implying no such things , and have made no statements to that effect, just made a simple point about the use of words. Again you are arguing with an imaginary opponent!



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  • Sadly, (mostly for others) when it comes to word useage I’ll split hairs all day long.

    It is utterly clear you think reality is stuff all the way down and that language has colloquial and contingent meanings. Here, where we are discussing personal religious “realities” we should be clear how far down they go. Here of all places we should use speech clearly and carefully. The religious in their cognitive dissonance love the idea of “realities” (plural). When we say “this is the reality” we are also shutting off any accessible stuff beneath. “The reality is my mortgage” says very much less about reality than even we are prepared to think. It is shutting down the prospect of downsizing, of renting, of plucking up courage to leave your lousy job, your lousy wife and feckless kids, the lousy town. It is a jest about the breadth and depth of reality. It is become a singular personal thing.

    Why should you or I care about this? Well, solipsism is bad all around. Misunderstanding the jest of a singular personal “reality” can stop us stepping back and seeing the bigger picture and more fully understanding the problem. It is a very specific filter to our future thoughts.

    Daily I try and improve the clearness of my language and believe part of our problem (especially here!) in tackling the religious is simply that language spans strict professional speech through to wonderful, elastic poetry. Reality (all that there is to be sensed or infered about existence) and reality (my current most pressing concerns) deserve separate words. The religious use this muddle of meanings in colloquial speech all the time in their various apologetics.



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  • I’m not sure that is universally true Phil Rimmer. Religion clearly does evolve and change. Hundreds of different branches of Christianity for example. Loads of different interpretations of Holy books.

    For example last week there was a programme on Christianity and attitudes to sex detailing the fact there is absolutely nothing about it in the New Testament until you get to Paul writing at a time when they were expecting the end if the world.

    Polygamy features strongly in the Old Testament changes for the New Testament.

    Abstinence as an ideal added on later by various adherents such as St Augustine. Nicked largely from Greek ideals rather than NT ones.

    Followed by a bit of women hating added on later to shift blame from those finding abstinence difficult. And I’m sure it’ll continue to evolve and change even more in next weeks episode.

    So religions do seem to evolve and change. Often in line with societies changing ideas.

    I’m not sure what you mean by moral problem. All religious texts are a mixture of attitudes from nasty to nice, often contradicting each other. Religion isn’t the moral problem it’s which bits individuals choose to emphasise that is. Not all religious thinking is based on moral authority either as you shift from the extremists to the more thoughtful you see a marked shift in the accompanying morals. Quakerism is as much a religion as Salafism yet they couldn’t be more morally different.



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  • Don’t ethics and morality flow from believers back into the religion as well? Apart from extremists and literalists religious morality and ethics seem to mirror the rest of societies for a large number of believers. What is seen as ‘moral’ behaviour has changed for most believers in line with society. Religion adapts because it’s made up of people from those societies.

    Likewise religious theories of reality in most cases are adapted for religion. Very few believers now use religion to explain reality, it really doesn’t seem to be what concerns them. It is, as Steve suggests, only forums like this that seem to think it does or should.



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  • Religion clearly does evolve and change.

    Yes but crucially not as fast as politics, say. Its evolutionary processes can only come about through painful schism. In appealing to absolutes it denies evidence driven changes to dogma. Only once you have the breakthrough idea in Quakerism of individual moral authorship (because God made you to have the facility) do you get a freeing up to evidence and a proper moral process. (The 1963 Quaker paper on sex and sexism was well ahead of the moral curve.)

    This is why I think a definition of religion should less strongly identify (say) Quakerism as a religion. That it has in some sense (through previous schisms) finally absorbed enough rational and evidence based thinking to lose most of its religious character to become something like humanism with some quaint language. Quakers, mightn’t like not being described as a proper religion, but they’re a tolerant lot…mostly.



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  • Don’t ethics and morality flow from believers back into the religion as well?

    Nowhere near enough. And sadly with the new fundamentalist backswing, people are ceding moral responsibility to others all over again.

    Catholics are undeniably way more moral than their church. Sadly it is the intitution that has acquired the politcal clout.

    Apart from extremists and literalists religious morality and ethics seem to mirror the rest of societies for a large number of believers.

    Though the Vicar of Dibley is very nice and the (real) Reverend Richard Coles one of the most compassionate individuals on the planet, again his Institution is 50 years behind on many moral aspectics. One day the C of E might become dogma free.

    Very few believers now use religion to explain reality,

    You are not an American, plainly. There is little to fuss over in much of Europe, but much of the rest of the world is parasitised by religion and particularly by its core epistomologies of godmade morals, original sinners, the saved and justice to come.



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  • Alice
    Apr 13, 2015 at 7:37 am

    Don’t ethics and morality flow from believers back into the religion as well?

    They do, but usually belatedly against a rearguard action the religious leaders.

    Apart from extremists and literalists religious morality and ethics seem to mirror the rest of societies for a large number of believers.

    Many just go with the flow, but that unthinking approach can be very dangerous where political and religious ideologies are taking over their societies.

    Phil mentions “The Vicar of Dibley”, but the “Vicar of Bray” is perhaps a better description.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Vicar_of_Bray_%28song%29

    What is seen as ‘moral’ behaviour has changed for most believers in line with society. Religion adapts because it’s made up of people from those societies.

    Unfortunately this is frequently a fudge of reality and dogma. Realism with a bit of nonsense mixed in, simply becomes slightly more credible nonsense.

    Likewise religious theories of reality in most cases are adapted for religion.

    Religions don’t have any (scientific) “theories of reality”. They just have faith-based assumptions.

    Very few believers now use religion to explain reality, it really doesn’t seem to be what concerns them.

    It is the gullible acceptance of unevidenced views, without concern for checking evidence which causes many disputes and damage. Numerous religious wars have been, and are being, fought, over whose delusional view is the “correct” one!

    Once the scientific methodology of experimental testing of ideas is rejected in favour of believing on “faith” (belief without evidence or proof), it becomes possible to believe an assortment of anythings with each individual choosing whatever they feel they want to believe.



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  • alan4discussion,

    <<<<<Cannot you understand it was a simple grammatical point?
    There is a rather strange use of the word “grammar” in your posts with reference to “physical reality”.

    (Grammar) the meaning of a word by reference to its function within a sentence rather than to a world outside the sentence. – http://www.thefreedictionary.com/grammatical+meaning>>>>>>>>>&gt;

    What strange use of the term grammar.? Please give example.

    Grammar is the rules governing the use of words. I simply pointed out the word ” reality” has different usages or functions, a purely grammatical point with absolutely no factual implications.

    BTW,,

    Your highlighting of “rather than a world outside the sentence” is a grammatical muddle as well. This is not a factual referencing to the “world outside the sentence” as in your beloved physical facts, but a logical referencing to emphasise that grammar is a purely linguistic concern, and is not concerned with the “world outside the sentence” i.e the meaning of the sentence as it refers to the world. Grammar is only concerned with the logical rules for using words, not their meaning, which is semantics.



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  • 106
    Lorenzo says:

    Religion is: “forms of life predicated upon the reality of the superempirical/superscientific”

    I’ve got some major problems with such a definition.

    1) It seems to concentrate too much on the private beliefs and practices of the single individual while, it seems to me, a collective and social component to those beliefs must be present.

    2) It seems too broad: it seems way too suitable to encompass forms of superstition and even psychiatric disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder. I would hardly call those “religion”. Also, because of 1), it completely oversees something that all religions do: boss you about using those beliefs as a handle.

    3) I strongly object to the prefix “super-“: it is loaded because it implies some sort of superiority. This is really not the case. I’d substitute that prefix with something more neutral, like “non-” or “a-“, if I wanted to keep this definition.

    ~~~

    Ultimately, this definitions, like the vast majority I’ve come across, is too broad.

    A late evening attempt of mine could be:
    Religion is a set of postulated beliefs and (thus) rituals shared by a community which can be used to manipulate the general behavior by one or more individuals.



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  • 107
    aroundtown says:

    There is something playing out here that I will touch on because I feel it’s relevant. We have an endearment for our champions like Shakespeare who catapulted our language and drama to greater heights but there also was born an ability to confuse and complicate ourselves with the advancement.

    One can observe a tree and simply see its beauty and that is a wonderful, there are also those who are stirred to understand all there is to know about it within its confines like respiration, photosynthesis, decay, etc. etc., and thirdly comes the individual that may become so stirred that they convince themselves that it had to come from a god.

    We have the ability to become quite floral and wax rhapsodic with language but it serves us to remember our basic realities as concerns ourselves generally. Trying to understand the world scientifically, devoid of superstition, is the tool that has brought us the most advancement and enlightenment, and the arts, in all their beauty, has been the cherry on top.

    But I would add this, those who convince themselves that supernatural concepts are interacting with them in the real world have fallen prey from our abilities to ponder above and beyond the actual world we live in and that is the troubling fact. The worst aspect of this is when they close their mind to any other information once they have taken that “leap of faith” and the road back to reality at that point becomes difficult.



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  • 108
    Chengde says:

    Phil/Alan/Reckless Monkey,
    My question is hypothetical but very clear: “If you knew it was the case that, without the fear of God, human society would collapse, would you still reject religion?” It is not asking where morality came from (so Dawkins’ discussions about altruism is not an answer to it), nor about whether such collapse will happen or not (though even you wouldn’t deny that human beings could be such an animal). The condition “If you knew it was the case…” has forced you into answering the qustion based on the hypothesis, unless you change the definition of “quesion” and “answer”.
    Everyone can see it’s a totally legitimate question. If Dawkins refuses to answer it by saying he is only interested in truth, that would be like a student saying he is not interested in the examination question.
    To my knowlegde of Dawkins’ books and TV debates, this question had not been put forward to him before, never mind being answered. Yes, he said he would believe in God if there is evidence for him to do so. You can see that this statement is consistent with his principle of “no belief without evidence”; whereas, if he said “no” to my question, it would mean he accepts that faith could be justified without evidence, therefore the principle he had is wrong.
    I know that “God’s existence” is human imagination, but it is such a great imangingation that you can’t disprove it, which gives the reason for believing it in terms of the second function of reason (weighing the expedience). This is not like being forced to believe “an apple to be an iguana”, but about believing in something that is possible – even Dawkins acknowledges the possibility when he called himself an agnostic – to avoid the possible collapse.
    Just as there was an evolutionary reason for each phisical organ coming to existence, what could be more reasonable to use evolution to explain the fact that all cultures had developed religion? When man had reached the stage to coexist, religion, as a spiritual organ (like the second heart) became neccessary. Its function may have declined with the civilisation progress, which has developed other means of morality (such as education and the rule of law), wouldn’t it be more dignified to show some respect to even an appendix that was historically significant?

    An agnostic-who-explains-religion-with-evolution



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  • Chengde

    My question is hypothetical but very clear: “If you knew it was the case that, without the fear of God, human society would collapse, would you still reject religion?”

    I suspect that if Mr. Dawkins somehow gained access to a time machine and saw that the abandonment of religious belief lead to a future in which all people do is murder and eat each others brains, upon return to the past he would refrain from his previous criticisms of religion. I doubt he’d become religious him self. He might advocate for more liberal types of religious belief. But you’d have to think him some kind of heartless maniac to ask, even with foreknowledge, would you let the world burn just so you could bash religion?

    Your question more simply put is “would you consign millions of people to death so you could continue to be a stubborn, big shot”? If he hasn’t been asked your question before it’s probably because most interviewers would think it rude.

    Now time travel excluded, if Dawkins is reticent to answer hypothetical’s like yours it’s probably because the question it’s self is expressly designed to reaffirm it’s own premise. Regardless of whether that premise has any basis in reality. They’re just not very good questions because they don’t really advance anyone’s understanding of the world we actually live in.



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  • The question of “”theories of reality” is of little interest to the vast majority of people, who happily live their lives without bothering much, if at all, about such questions. The fact that it is a preoccupation of people who frequent these types of forums does not make it a major issue for the rest of mankind..

    You mean like antivaxers, anti lgbtq etc? Our concern is nota important because they aren’t worried about it?



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  • The question of “”theories of reality” is of little interest to the vast majority of people..

    I must admit I glaze over and don’t complete reading many of the posts on this discussion. But that’s probably because philosophy is quite a few pay grades above me. I look on it as a contact sport for the brain. Most of it splitting quantum size differences. Sometimes saying stuff that is very profound. So much so, that even I can understand it. Like Bertrand Russell when he said, “Most people would rather die than think. And most people do. ” I can understand this one. And this particular one has inspired me to think, or at least give thinking a read hot go. I suspect I’m more your tradesmen sort of philosopher. I tried to fix it if it is broken. Or shoo away the bad guys.

    Horses for courses. Go for it guys, but it does through to the keeper with me.



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  • Dandare,

    Nope I did not say or imply that ” our concern is not important because they are not worried about it”, you said that, I said or implied no such thing.

    To simply point out the fact most people are not greatly interested in such things is all I said, nothing more.



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  • Chengde,

    I hope you agree I fully answered your question. Corroborated, copper bottomed evidence is to be believed.

    Just as there was an evolutionary reason for each phisical organ coming to existence, what could be more reasonable to use evolution to explain the fact that all cultures had developed religion?

    But countless scientists have explored and continue to explore this idea. I simply think you need to read a little more.

    A little bit of psychology. B.F.Skinner discovered that animals (including humans) can have their behaviours modified by training, associating either a nice or nasty stimulus with approved or disapproved behaviours (carrot or stick) respectively. The carrot approach is called positive reinforcement and the stick negative reinforcement. Both he found worked, but what he discovered also is that positive re-inforcement worked better and for longer. Evolution appears to have identified this also and the later the development in social mamals, for instance, the greater is the use of positive reinforcement techniques (social grooming and the like triggering the calming/bonding neurotransmitter oxytocin) and the less is the use of negative reinforcement of fear of, say, the alpha male figure (and its squirt of the unpleasant/aversive neurotransmitter cortisol.)

    Total tyrannies are effective in creating externally well behaved societies like North Korea but at great costs to the subsequent flourishing of those societies.

    In earlier days, through the invention of agriculture, from 10,000BCE onwards, it was undoubtedly the case that in a reciprocal process, a fearsome singular god was crafted to help unite people and get them to trust others to do their bit. (Farming was the first real division of labour [apart from obvious gender related tasks] involving critical timing, skill and execution….technology!) But though it contained sticks, carrots were essential also. The trouble for monotheistic religion is that the bulk of its carrots and sticks, a civil, stratified society with justice immediately administered (and not deferred!) were fully available outside the religion as from 600BC the Axial age philosophers demonstrated.

    Thats, evolution for you. You may be 2,600 years too late in your hypothetical! As Wilkinson and Pickett demonstrate (in just the way you intend) the more carrots and the more equally shared the more the society gains in robustness and flourishing.

    Forgive me, I suspect you are quite young and have had a good idea. Keep having these good ideas (and keep reading) and don’t be discouraged if thousands have thought them before. You’ll have the one that really stumps everyone someday.



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  • Indeed. That people are mostly indifferent to the constitution and founding principles of governments or judiciaries doesn’t mean that their lives as law abiding citizens are not intricately bound to the consequences of them.



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  • Alan4 discussion

    However giving everyone a good secular modern liberal education. does not mean everyone will end up thinking like a secular liberal, the highly educated young people going to Syria evidence this.

    The clause, ” educated young people going to Syria” is, as I specifically state, evidence of my main premiss ” that giving a secular education does not make people think like a secular liberal”.

    To take it to mean I am saying secular education leads to fundamentalism is bizarre to say the least. Your imaginary opponent would come up with something much better.!



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  • Just to be clear here, amongst the many theories of reality held by a religion are theories about the definition of Good or Evil. That a “Good” Creator can only utter Good, and her utterances define Good, is as much a theory of reality as any other creation theory.



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  • Chengde
    Apr 13, 2015 at 11:33 pm

    Phil/Alan/Reckless Monkey,
    My question is hypothetical but very clear: “If you knew it was the case that, without the fear of God, human society would collapse”,

    This hypothetical is a bit like a hypothetical engineering question:

    “If all the concrete turned to cream cheese, would the motorway bridges collapse?

    The answer is of course yes – but this has no relevance in the real world.

    would you still reject religion?”

    I would reject the cream-cheese hypothesis, and point out that many religions do not include a concept of a “god”.

    It is not asking where morality came from (so Dawkins’ discussions about altruism is not an answer to it), nor about whether such collapse will happen or not (though even you wouldn’t deny that human beings could be such an animal).

    It if is talking about the moral coherence of societies, then altruism is certainly a feature. There are of course many social animal societies which show no evidence of gods.

    The condition “If you knew it was the case…” has forced you into answering the qustion based on the hypothesis, unless you change the definition of “quesion” and “answer”.

    You have concocted a hypothetical question in a fantasy world which does not exist, so any answer is pure speculation.

    Everyone can see it’s a totally legitimate question.
    If Dawkins refuses to answer it by saying he is only interested in truth, that would be like a student saying he is not interested in the examination question.

    That is purely your assertion. It could just be that he is not interested in debating cream-cheese bridges.

    To my knowlegde of Dawkins’ books and TV debates, this question had not been put forward to him before, never mind being answered.

    It does seem to be a ridiculous counter-factual question, which most would consider not worth asking. Societies without a god or gods, do not collapse, and there is no evidence that a fear of gods is necessary for the functioning of societies.

    Yes, he said he would believe in God if there is evidence for him to do so. You can see that this statement is consistent with his principle of “no belief without evidence”; whereas, if he said “no” to my question, it would mean he accepts that faith could be justified without evidence, therefore the principle he had is wrong.

    Not at all. Recognising practical effects (including those of irrational thinking), on societies is making decisions on evidence.

    Just as the “irrational” instinctive behaviour of European Honey bees is suicidal against Japanese Giant Hornets, thus causing their populations to collapse when attacked.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_giant_hornet

    Societies can certainly collapse because of “faith” in failed mechanisms and failed ideas – as happened to the Aztecs.

    I know that “God’s existence” is human imagination, but it is such a great imangingation that you can’t disprove it,

    Far from “disproving” them, the neuroscientists are busy locating the physical places in the brain and the operations of god-delusions.

    which gives the reason for believing it in terms of the second function of reason (weighing the expedience).

    The fact that religions have been historically used to manipulate cultures – often to the great detriment of the population – is not in dispute. This is not a reason to accept having our societies manipulated by religions, or thinking that religions are necessary.

    This is not like being forced to believe “an apple to be an iguana”,

    It really is! People with religious delusion can believe anything is possible.

    but about believing in something that is possible –

    You have jumped from a fantasy hypothetical to an unjustified assertion.

    even Dawkins acknowledges the possibility when he called himself an agnostic – to avoid the possible collapse.

    The collapse is a figment of your imagination.

    Just as there was an evolutionary reason for each phisical organ coming to existence, what could be more reasonable to use evolution to explain the fact that all cultures had developed religion?

    Except that your use of the term “religion” is undefined, despite some comments referring to a God. Religions involve a huge diversity of beliefs and functions within cultures. There is no such thing as a “standard religion”.

    When man had reached the stage to coexist, religion, as a spiritual organ (like the second heart) became necessary.

    Human ancestors coexisted, long before they evolved into men or even evolved into mammals.
    While religions clearly have some functions within some societies, there is no evidence that they are necessary.

    Its function may have declined with the civilisation progress, which has developed other means of morality (such as education and the rule of law), wouldn’t it be more dignified to show some respect to even an appendix that was historically significant?

    Why? (The human appendix was historically significant in our evolution, but mine was a problem and surgically removed years ago. It has never been missed!)

    An agnostic-who-explains-religion-with-evolution

    You still have not answered my question as to which of the thousands of gods with their contradictory claims, you are agnostic about!
    ( Your’s seems to have a capital “G” and be male.)



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  • Steve
    Apr 13, 2015 at 9:26 am

    (Alan – earlier comment) – There is a rather strange use of the word “grammar” in your posts with reference to “physical reality”.

    (Grammar) the meaning of a word by reference to its function within a sentence rather than to a world outside the sentence.http://www.thefreedictionary.com/grammatical+meaning

    BTW,, Your highlighting of “rather than a world outside the sentence” is a grammatical muddle as well.

    Sorry Steve, but your “grammatical muddle word interpretation denial blinkers”, seem to work even on dictionary definitions!

    (Alan – earlier comment) – There is a rather strange use of the word “grammar” in your posts with reference to “physical reality”.

    What strange use of the term grammar.? Please give example.

    I thought your own earlier example to which I referred, was obvious:-

    Again you gramatically confuse physical material “reality ” with the lived [physical] “reality” of human life.



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  • I understand the concern with “super”, but this is simply following the lead of supernatural. I rather imagine superempirical as something imagining itself better than it is. And that is the point, really. Those coining such ideas actually intend this superiority. We should be clear in exposing their unempirical overreach.

    I think your definition a little too broad maybe encompassing animal rites activists (meat is murder so lets hurt someone and brag about it) and shot-drinking youths (drunk is good so lets hurt ourselves and brag about it).

    The latest version of mine-

    A religion to be such, must contain at least one nominally immutable, superempirical hypothesis about the nature of existence, where a choice of such hypotheses are known (empirical or superempirical), the which becomes reflected in personal and cultural values and behaviours

    I actually think all that is needed…



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  • 120
    bendigeidfran says:

    It looks like you’re trying to crowbar a sentence into a word. A poet can do this quicker than a philosopher, but consensus will require sentences. The word will then be diluted, even self-refuting, and the concepts unzip as previously, in the minds of the readers. I actually think it is a waste of effort, like Esperanto. It works the other way.

    What did Pinker say on this? I can’t remember. And who mentioned WLC? The three letter emetic. There’s a codon for you.



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  • Again you gramatically confuse physical material “reality ” with the lived [physical] “reality” of human life. (The square brackets are yours not mine, and it is you committing the same grammatical error again! Lived reality does not have to be physical, again you conflate and try and force the 1st meaning onto the 2nd meaning).

    Yes correct use of the word grammar, because you confuse the 2 different applications of the term reality,.

    That when it is used meaning physical reality when the associated explanatory grammar are scientific terms like atoms, molecules

    With that when it is used to designate a lived experience, and associated explanatory grammar is terms like paying the mortgage, the worry about those feelings of dread, feeding the cat etc.

    To conflate those two seperate meanings and levels of conceptuality and explanation and then, bizarrely, somehow come to the conclusion that the different levels of conceptually are in “opposition ” to each other is your problem, not mine , and is due in this instance to you being bewitched by language..



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  • It looks like you’re trying to crowbar a sentence into a word.

    Nah. It works the other way. You’re looking at it backwards. The word is religion and we are trying to get a sentence out of it that means the same…..but not two sentences or we’re disqualified. So, Bardi, you the poet. No pressure. Nil desperanto. Coin us some rachengeld. Religion is….

    Pinker said lots of rude words recently in “Stuff of Thought”. When I was young I was scared glimpsing the stuff of my own insides in the butchers. I have a similar queazy feeling now looking so closely at the “stuff of thought”. It all fits so slitheringly together.



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  • Everyone can see it’s a totally legitimate question. If Dawkins refuses to answer it by saying he is only interested in truth, that would be like a student saying he is not interested in the examination question.

    He has not refused to answer it he answered it in full in his book the god delusion, read it!

    In short he addresses the question by saying even if religion was found to be of some benefit he would still not believe it because it is not true. A belief can have a positive benefit and be false. Even if as you suggest it was essential for us to believe it, it would give no, zero, zilch support that it was true. If you want to find out if an argument is flawed turn it around and see if it is equal valid given a different set of circumstances (in other words would the opposite be true also) so here is your argument spat back at you. What if it was discovered that holding no faith in anything was the only way for the humans on the earth to not descend into anarchy. Would it not be rational to never take anything on faith. See exactly the same as yours with a different spin. You first have to establish that society will collapse without faith. You have not done so so your argument is not even wrong.

    I know that “God’s existence” is human imagination, but it is such a great imangingation that you can’t disprove it, which gives the reason for believing it in terms of the second function of reason (weighing the expedience).

    I can imagine a great many things here’s one:

    There is a Green cosmic blob of transparent jelly (lime flavoured) that feeds on Quantum energy and craps out solar systems.

    Does my ability to believe it or your inability to disprove it make it likely to be true? Or useful? Clearly not.

    Imagination is necessary for us to project what might happen tomorrow, this allows us to store food for winter, imagine new tools and weapons, invent ways of making fire etc. It also allows us to invent gods. This does not mean gods are necessary just because we are capable of imagining them. In fact it could mean the exact opposite.

    Its function may have declined with the civilisation progress, which has developed other means of morality (such as education and the rule of law), wouldn’t it be more dignified to show some respect to even an appendix that was historically significant?

    No it is dignified to treat history with the respect of looking at it as accurately as I can, warts and all. This means I will happily acknowledge both the good and bad that may have occurred as part of religion. Mostly bad by the way. It also means that I should question any dogma presented before me, if it is useless I can disagree with it and still acknowledge its existence. I can acknowledge the existence of the Catholic Church, even admire some of its buildings and art and music commissioned in its name but still hate that it was done by stealing from the poor. I hate what NAZI Germany stood for but as a fan of aviation think the Me262 was a remarkable aircraft. What’s more I can actually go and see one in a museum, I don’t have to take its existence on faith.

    An agnostic-who-explains-religion-with-evolution

    I think you may need to read a little more about evolution before you make this claim. You claim their is a religious organ. Please point me to it. Evolution works by changing the bodies of organisms please point me to the religious organ and show how it evolved.



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  • How about, Religion is the commitment to a form of life following a series of non-evidence based tenets, which attempt to resolve the actual problems of life by reducing them instead to being problems about interpreting the tenets of the Religion itself.



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  • I see where you are going with that. I think reducing problems to one of interpretation is certainly a characteristic of ideologies, possibly made stronger where what is to be interpreted is less distinct. All problems are reduced to the singular trick of “reading it right”.

    Whats nice about this is the way it opens the door to spectacular parasitism by the shamans who claim they can see clearly to read.



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  • Hi Steve,

    I think that’s a fair definition. It’s a testament to the flexibility of the human mind that this method of living ones life can actually be useful to some people, the knots they have to tie themselves in the remain consistent with contradictory scripture and what the real world is showing them is incredible. I remember at 15 realising the Mormonism was BS and so too was likely God and after about 60 seconds of shock/terror feeling a wave of relief as my unnecessary guilt fled, followed but the realisation that life just got a lot simpler.



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  • Steve
    Apr 14, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    At the risk of repeating myself multiple times, i’ll have one more go at explaining this.

    Again you gramatically confuse physical material “reality ” with the lived [physical] “reality” of human life. (The square brackets are yours not mine, and it is you committing the same grammatical error again!

    Grammar is about sentence construction not content.

    Lived reality does not have to be physical,

    All “reality” is physical and material. The only non-physical pseudo-reality, is the religious fantasy of “immaterial” essentialism.
    Even psychological effects work by physical neurological processes.

    again you conflate and try and force the 1st meaning onto the 2nd meaning).

    Reality is a continuous physical scale of matter energy and forces, across scales from subatomic to astronomical.
    As previously explained but denied, to assert that there are 2 different meanings within the continuum of the reality of space-time is COMPARTMENTALISM.

    Yes correct use of the word grammar, because you confuse the 2 different applications of the term reality,.

    There is no confusion. I have clearly stated the physical scales of human activity are within the vastly greater and vastly smaller continuum of scales of physical reality.

    That when it is used meaning physical reality when the associated explanatory grammar are scientific terms like atoms, molecules

    Grammar is about sentence construction. There is nothing unclear about my sentence constructions.

    With that when it is used to designate a lived experience, and associated explanatory grammar is terms like paying the mortgage, the worry about those feelings of dread, feeding the cat etc.

    All of which happen by the movement and interactions of atoms. molecules forces, chemistry and biochemistry, at a human scale of magnitude.

    To conflate those two separate meanings and levels of conceptuality and explanation

    The illusion of two separate meanings is COMPARTMENTALISATION of segments of reality, at particular scales of magnitude. from the full range of the continuity of space-time.

    and then, bizarrely, somehow come to the conclusion that the different levels of conceptually are in “opposition ” to each other

    The human level of scale, is a section from the middle of the total range of magnitude of the space-time continuum.
    The assertion that there is an opposition rather than an overlap, is entirely a confused concept of yours, due to the discontinuous concepts you have of physical material reality.

    is your problem, not mine , and is due in this instance to you being bewitched by language..

    You really should have another look at the definitions of “grammar” and “psychological projection”!



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  • Alan4discussion

    <<<>>>>

    Grammar is not just that, it is the rules governing the use of language, a simple point you are seemingly unable to comprehend. Google it and please learn about the complexity of Grammar rather than rely on simplistic notions.. It is in the “grammar” of the different applications of the word “reality” that your mistake lies.

    <<<<<<Lived reality does not have to be physical,

    All “reality” is physical and material. The only non-physical pseudo-reality, is the religious fantasy of “immaterial” essentialism.
    Even psychological effects work by physical neurological processes.>>>>>

    For the billionth and umpty ninth time we all agree it is stuff all the way down, no one is saying any different apart from your imaginary opponent.

    And again here you commit your grammatical error in pristine purity, confusing the grammatical use of the word reality as in “lived Reality” where the use of the word referring to the whole of the space-time continuum or “physical reality”. The two usages are not in conflict with each other, they are just different usages

    <<<<>>>

    I am in no way asserting there are 2 different meanings within the continuum of space time or within “physical reality”, you make all this up. All I have done is point out the word ” reality” can have grammatically correct different uses, a simple grammatical point with absolutely no metaphysical or meta- theoretical implications about “compartmentalising space-time or whatever.

    <<<<<<<n. I have clearly stated the physical scales of human activity are within the vastly greater and vastly smaller continuum of scales of physical reality.>>>>>

    Indeed and no one has been disagreeing, apart from your imaginary opponent.

    <<<>>

    That the word “reality” has different usages is a fact of how people actually use the word, it is not an illusion.

    To think that the second usage ,”lived reality”, is a scientific or metaphysical compartmentalisation of the first usage, that of ” physical reality” ,is just you committing the same grammatical error again, conflating the two distinct usages which operate on different conceptual levels.

    <<<<<<<>>>>>>>of the space-time continuum.

    i have no such discontinuous concepts. “lived reality” is not a Scientific or logical or metaphysical or conceptual division of “physical reality”. It is a separate, distinct and valid use of the word, “reality”



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  • Alan4discussin”
    “Grammar is about sentence construction”

    Nope, syntax, a part of Grammar, is about sentence construction.

    Unfortunately you seem ignorant of these issues, please Google “Grammar” and read the articles so that you understand what it is.

    You might then perhaps have gained some new knowledge enabling you to, hopefully, comprehend the grammatical error you repeatedly make in confusing and conflating the different grammatical uses of the word “reality”, as in “physical reality” and the “realities of life”



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  • New Atheism, old atheism, old wine in new bottles.

    Dawkins works indirectly for Satan. Satan is real. Satan is the ruler of the world, this is why our rulers are satanic.



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  • I greatly enjoy Dawkins’ books, as a lover of science and a practicing psychiatrist. My favourite Dawkins book is The Ancestor’s Tale, followed by the Selfish Gene.

    A side to this issue of religion, which has been discussed to some degree–but not enough, in my opinion–is the following:
    1) the mystical beliefs of religions or mythologies are obviously fictions (although many do unfortunately believe literally in them), yet many of these beliefs could be reasonable foci for contemplating some kind of ethical or social issue. This is an idea probably best expounded by Joseph Campbell: myths (i.e. religious beliefs or fictions) are personified metaphors with some kind of theme to be appreciated. If one takes the metaphor literally, this obscures any apprecation of its value. In this way, religion could be secularly appreciated as a type of scholarly study of literary fiction.
    2) the metaphors themselves can be adapted and updated using contemporary progressive knowledge about ethics. For example, the change in the character of “God” through the brutal old testament, towards the new testament, could be understood as reflecting a historical progression in human ethics, which is then projected out onto a mythical deity. In fundamentalist religion, it is often considered objectionable to allow that “God” could actually change or “evolve” or learn to become more ethical. But if we consider an atheistic practice of religion to allow for a view of “God” as a metaphor for an ethical ideal, projected psychologically as an externalized personification, then we could allow for this metaphor to change and adapt as we develop improved moral behaviour. I am reminded of Pinker’s excellent book on the history of violence, demonstrating that improved morality (as evidenced by declining rates of all forms of violence) is an inexorable trend through all of history; religious ideas themselves could theoretically adapt to this, and become more consistent with science, by ridding itself of mysticism, while still keeping modified positive elements, such as beautiful architecture and music, a positive community, regular ethical reflection, and encouragement of healthful meditative practices. The term “God” could evolve into a simple metaphor for goodness, and disappear seamlessly into the language as the dogma or literal belief dissolves, akin to phrases such as “By Jove, you’re right!” or “for heaven’s sake” or “thanks, you’re an angel!”
    3) In psychiatry, I appreciate that there are many similar fictional beliefs which the mind can create. Whole systems of therapy can be established which take such things literally. For example, the interpretation of dreams, or arguably the entire psychoanalytic theory. Yet, there are components to these practices which can be helpful, not because it is possible to literally “interpret dreams”, but because the vivid personal experience of a dream can act as an anchor or framework on which to reflect about almost any ethical or personal issue. The vividness of the memory adds to its motivic significance. Almost any image in a dream could be associated with almost any life theme. So we can use the mind’s capacity for vividly experiencing mythical phenomena, in a quasi-delusional sense, to obtain a therapeutic benefit at times. If one truly believes, in one’s heart, that the dream or the myth is “real” (akin to Santa Claus), then the therapeutic effect can be greater. This is the challenge — to find a way to keep this therapeutic effect, that the mind can produce, while not literally falling into irrelational belief. I think we can be instructed by how children do think of myths such as Santa Claus or the tooth fairy — we can have a gentle, playful view of them, maybe have a sincere respect for the idea embodied in the myth (such as being generous), and even in the historical figure (St. Nick — or Jesus), while not literally believing in magical sleds that race across the world distributing presents.

    One reason I think it is important to consider keeping religions, but modifying them secularly, is because there is such a rich cultural infrastructure, with beautiful architecture, art, music, together with family histories and memories (e.g. graveyards, births, weddings, etc.), also a church could offer supportive community, opportunity for meditation, and a contemplation of contemporary ethical issues. There could even be a gym for the kids to play basketball in a wholesome environment. So we could keep the infrastructure, just drop all the literal fictional belief. Keep the ethics and altruism and music, and drop the dogma.



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  • 134
    Imperius says:

    All religions contain some core “revelations” or experiences of gnosis first experienced by their prophets. You can label those experiences superstition and delusion, but somehow they continue to interest people. If you’ve ever had an experience of gnosis yourself, via any method (prayer, meditation, fasting, “vision quests”, drugs, rituals, artistic creation, sports, martial arts, etc.), then you probably won’t be so quick to dismiss the religions that have grown up around them. If you haven’t had such experiences, but still insist that it’s all superstition, then perhaps you are being tyrannized by your own rational mind, and need to break free of its mental prison.

    Mystics have long know that sober rationalism is only a small fraction of our psychological makeup, yet since the (so-called) Enlightenment, it has tried to totally monopolize discourse in Western civilization (at least until psychologists like James and Freud starting questioning it, and the psychedelic/esoteric revolutions threatened to demolish it). If you can realize this, and develop some humility in labeling other people’s beliefs “superstition”, you’re probably halfway to your own gnosis and prophethood already…



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  • Why are you so incurious about those experiences? I have found them fascinating to study and hugely revealing of our mental processes and their import to culture and creativity. Yet you will treat them as sacred and learn nothing from them.



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  • 136
    Imperius says:

    I’m more curious about them from the inside — what they feel like, not what readings they produce in scientific instruments. I would rather treat them as sacred than analyze them to death in a lab, because that approach destroys the magic of the experiences. And human beings simply can’t live without a sense of magic, wouldn’t you agree?



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  • Newton did not unweave the rainbow. If it is broken for you by someone else looking inside and finding something more marvellous about humanity and why we are the way we are, then you treasured a feeble fantasy, not even a strong one. How bizarre to think a reality is broken thus.

    Keep your magic. I’ll take wonder every time.



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  • 139
    Imperius says:

    It’s funny that you mention Newton, considering that he himself spent much of his later life trying to “unweave the rainbow” — delving into biblical prophecy, alchemy, Kabbala and other mystical interests. Newton was a religious mystic, as was Einstein — rational, brilliant scientists, but also inspired mystics. As were Socrates, Leibnitz, Decartes, Bohr, Schrodinger, Tesla and many other great rationalists and scientists.

    So even among the great idols of rationalism and scientism, the mystical, transcendent impulse reveals itself. If science severs its connection to this current, as some of our hyper-rationalist atheist friends appear to want to do, then I’m afraid it may lose its most important source of inspiration, knowledge and power — science will become barren, like scientistic civilization, and begin to die.



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  • Newton was a man of his time. None were irreligious around him though he spent his time trying to de-mystify a lot of Christian thinking. He was one of the first to dismiss trinitarianism and we could reasonably describe him as a unitarian.

    He was also, though a nasty piece of work (and cruelly unkind to Robert Hooke who explained to him that planets moved in ellipses and not circles), trusting of the “wisdom of the elders”. He was somewhat aspie we might say now, entirely solipsistic and inclined to think that all great minds were as scrupulous and truth seeking as he. He couldn’t believe this weight of material (mostly charlatanism) could not have meaning and provenance. He slowly got to work through a lot of the charlatanism in Christianity, paring it down to something more rational, but there was so much alchemy to get through and some of it seemed to work (the chemistry part). Master of the mint, the prospect of making gold would have brought glory quite beyond the wealth he would have little use for. He was hugely vain…



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  • Imperius
    Apr 24, 2015 at 6:48 pm

    You do seem to exercising those cognitive bias blinker somewhat to excess!

    So even among the great idols of rationalism and scientism, the mystical, transcendent impulse reveals itself. If science severs its connection to this current, as some of our hyper-rationalist atheist friends appear to want to do, then I’m afraid it may lose its most important source of inspiration, knowledge and power — science will become barren, like scientistic civilization, and begin to die.

    I’ll just check on the great achievements of “mystical, transcendent impulse” – Yep! Trip happy hippies, and shaman!

    and now “barren” science:-
    . . . . . . electricity, water supplies, high productivity agriculture, modern medical treatments, SAT NAVS, global navigation, INTERNET communications, space-probes to the outer Solar-System, rovers on Mars, cosmology of the galaxies and the universe . . . . . . .



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  • 142
    Imperius says:

    And here alan reveals the myopia and pathology of the hyper-materialist, as if everything of value can be measured in technology, numbers and physical construction. Who do you think produces the great art, literature, spirituality and even much of the science that gives life value for most of us? They’re mystics, hippies and shamans, friend!



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  • Steve
    Apr 16, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    Alan4discussin”

    “Grammar is about sentence construction”

    Nope, syntax, a part of Grammar, is about sentence construction.

    Oh dear!
    You still don’t get it, that a part of something (part of anything, part of grammar, part of reality) is included in the greater whole.



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  • Garth
    Apr 24, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    A side to this issue of religion, which has been discussed to some degree–but not enough, in my opinion–is the following:
    1) the mystical beliefs of religions or mythologies are obviously fictions (although many do unfortunately believe literally in them), yet many of these beliefs could be reasonable foci for contemplating some kind of ethical or social issue.

    I think this sort of contemplation is useful, but prefer the likes of Aesop, where possible links to mysticism are avoided and the fictitious nature of the stories is obvious.



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  • Thanks for the response; I see what you’re saying. I’ve attended some contemporary religious services (as part of a pleasant social tradition) in which the sermons have less and less reference to mysticism. References to religious texts are more analogous to contemplating a scene from a novel or folk tale, and reflecting on ethical themes. Aesop’s fables on their own are pretty limited in their scope, in terms of literature. Religious texts can at least be viewed as interesting literary works.
    So, some corners of “religious” practice are already becoming more secular–it is continued memetic evolution. The evolution is towards a religious service having a social, altruistic, and community bonding role, a setting for ethical reflection, but with less dogma. In this sense, scientific rationality, as it inexorably accumulates, becomes a memetic selection pressure. The extinction of the entire religious infrastructure would seem wasteful though–there is much beauty and positive potential allowed for by the architectural structures and other aspects of traditional practices.
    But other corners of religious practice, of course, are maintaining or even entrenching further irrationality, extremism, and mysticism etc. I think efforts such as of this website should focus on these corners, and be careful not to alienate the “social or humanistic church attendees” who are already naturally becoming more rationally atheistic. If this site itself is perceived to be simply an angry rant against all religious infrastructure, it could cause unnecessary polarization and delay the progression of optimal growth of non-religious memes.

    This reminds me of other aspects of political change (for example, reducing pollution). If anti-pollution lobbies are framed as an angry rant against big business, for example, the anti-pollution movement may get substantially slowed down, because those in big business will likely be turned off. If one can frame the issue in a way that attracts the largest number of those in the population (in the pollution example, we can see a positive example of some right-wingers in the US embracing solar power, in a sort of libertarian motivation), then the atheistic meme has the highest chance of growing most rapidly in all corners of the population.

    In the religious example, I think posts like this one are very, very important, as they have the potential to appeal to those who are not already atheistic to begin with–thus it optimizes the growth of memes for rational thinking, while at the same time allowing for a gentle replacement of vacuous religious awe with a kind of Einsteinian or Carl-Sagan-esque awe for nature.



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  • 146
    maria melo says:

    My point simply being the “fight” against the adverse effects of
    religion is primarily political, not epistemological.

    If religion makes claims about the physical world it would be fair to consider as though as if it were of epistemological concern too, despite theology is not anymore in the field of any area of knowledge (perhaps literature, psychiatry, psychology, etc.) and lost it´s central position as it had in middle ages.
    Politically, religion isn´t either relevant since kings made themselves more powerfull, nor ethically, as far as we are ruled by secular system of laws.
    It could be of epistemological concern too as far as people are capable of doing retarded claims as the Earth is 6 .000 OBVIOUSLY. Not to mention that education is relevant to social life (political relations among people living together). BUT i tend to agree: mainly it is political, with all the concerns the words carries (just because no one would take ignorance seriously).



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  • 147
    iWill says:

    As a computer programmer, I used to hold the opinion that programmers shouldn’t use some of the more cryptic or powerful features of programming languages because it makes it hard for later programmers whose job it is to modify the program if they are not familiar with those features. Then I realised this wouldn’t work. How far should you go in restricting the use of the language? By restricting the use of the language you may make it impossible to implement needed features in the program. The same goes for human language. Suppose I took issue with your use of the word “verbosity”. Should I discount what you say because I don’t understand this word? The more you restrict the language the fewer ideas can be expressed. For a concrete example of this see the book “The edge of the sky” written by Dr. Roberto Trotta using only the 1000 most commonly used English words. ( http://www.amazon.com/The-Edge-Sky-About-All-There-Is/dp/0465044719 )
    The answer is — as it is also with creationism — EDUCATION.



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