Being an atheist isn’t bad for your mental health, new study says

Apr 22, 2015

Image: REUTERS/Chris Keane

By Tom Jacobs

Is being a believer beneficial to one’s mental health? That’s the conclusion of much psychological research, which points to both the social support of belonging to a congregation, and the stress-reducing qualities of knowing that a larger force is looking out for you.

But a newly published study challenges those beliefs. Analyzing answers provided by a large and diverse group of participants, it finds “secular and religious adherents have similar levels of mental health.”

“The impaired mental health stigma against secular [individuals] is, at the very least, an exaggeration,” write Jon T. Moore of the Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Palo Alto, California, and Mark Leach of the University of Louisville. Their research is published in the journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality.

Responding to the fact that past research on this topic has “largely excluded secular participants,” Moore and Leach used online forums to create a pool made up of a wide variety of believers and non-believers. Their sample of 4,667 people (which skewed young, with a mean age of 27) consisted of atheists (who made up 37 percent of the total), agnostics (19 percent), Christians (11 percent), “spiritual nonreligious individuals” (10 percent), Buddhists (three percent), Jews (one percent), and a smattering of adherents to other faiths.

All filled out a series of surveys that measured, among things, the importance of religion in their lives, and their level of “existential dogmatism.” The latter was determined by where they landed on a seven-point scale ranging from “Absolutely certain God exists” to “Absolutely certain God does not exist,” with “God’s existence or nonexistence is unknowable” in the middle.


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345 comments on “Being an atheist isn’t bad for your mental health, new study says

  • 1
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    Wow! New scientific study shows that the earth is not flat!!

    Seriously though… I’m not disputing the value of the article but the choice of words for the title could not have been more akward and vaguely insinuating.
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  • @OP – But a newly published study challenges those beliefs. Analyzing answers provided by a large and diverse group of participants, it finds “secular and religious adherents have similar levels of mental health.”

    I think that would depend on the social abilities and affiliations of the irreligious, and the nature of the religious organisations to which followers belong.
    I don’t think either group can be lumped together.

    “The impaired mental health stigma against secular [individuals] is, at the very least, an exaggeration,”

    I think this would only apply where they were a minority of dissenting individuals trying to break away from a repressive cult to which their social circle belonged.
    Such a situation would adversely affect those people.
    A similar stressful situation would exist, where a minority religion was under attack by a majority one.
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  • It must depend on the religion. I can’t imagine someone CofE would get very stressed about the dogmas and moral teachings of their church, whereas Islamic State, or some of the looney Christian sects, might be a different matter.
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  • I never considered the notion of whether “being an atheist is bad for your mental health,” however there is scientific evidence that supports that being religious is beneficial to your health and well being, including mental health.

    Professor Andrew Sims, author of ‘Faith Delusional’ and former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, backs up the claims of the benefits conferred on society by Christianity…“The advantageous effect of religious belief and spirituality on mental and physical health is one of the best-kept secrets in psychiatry and medicine generally. If the findings of the huge volume of research on this topic had gone in the opposite direction and it had been found that religion damages your mental health, it would have been front-page news in every newspaper in the land.”

    Sims cites as evidence the American Journal of Public Health’s major meta-analysis of epidemiological studies on the psychological effects of religious belief:

    “In the majority of studies, religious involvement is correlated with well-being, happiness and life satisfaction; hope and optimism; purpose and meaning in life; higher self-esteem; better adaptation to bereavement; greater social support and less loneliness; lower rates of depression; lower rates of suicide and fewer positive attitudes towards suicide; less anxiety; less psychosis and fewer psychotic tendencies; lower rates of alcohol and drug use and abuse; less delinquency and criminal activity; greater marital stability and satisfaction…We concluded that for the vast majority of people the apparent benefits of devout religious belief and practice probably outweigh the risks.” (Professor Andrew Sims, Is Faith Delusion?: Why Religion is Good For Your Health, London, Continuum, 2009)
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  • RonHill
    Apr 22, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    lower rates of suicide and fewer positive attitudes towards suicide;

    These rather look like contradictions, where dogma prejudges the situation.
    While suicide brought on by depression, is a poor substitute for help and support, many here would see assisted suicide for the suffering terminally ill, as a positive option which is often denied to them by theocratic legislation and prejudice.

    less anxiety; less psychosis and fewer psychotic tendencies; lower rates of alcohol and drug use and abuse; less delinquency and criminal activity;

    Strange that there is a greatly higher percentage proportion of religious believers in US jails when compared to the percentage of atheists!

    greater marital stability and satisfaction…

    Does that just mean people are forcibly kept in failed marriages, by obstructing divorces, in order to accommodate dogmas?

    We concluded that for the vast majority of people the apparent benefits of devout religious belief and practice probably outweigh the risks.”

    This looks very much like the biased view of someone with his own circular thinking!

    (Professor Andrew Sims, Is Faith Delusion?: Why Religion is Good For Your Health, London, Continuum, 2009)

    . . . . and his “faith” promoting agenda! Wish-thinking with rosy blinkers, in place of evidence, is a regular feature of “faith based” judgements.

    “Good” is usually defined as: “In compliance with the dogmas of my religion”!

    As I said in an earlier post, it is a mistake to bundle all faiths together under the badge “religion”.
    There is a huge diversity of religions, ranging from fairly benign and culturally supportive, to heavily abusive, exploitative, and destructive, cults.

    These linked groups probably don’t find benefits from devout religion.

    http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2015/02/isil-video-execution-egyptian-christian-hostages-libya-150215193050277.html

    ISIL video shows Christian Egyptians beheaded in Libya

    A scrolling caption in the video referred to the hostages as “People of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian Church”.

    Speaking in English, a fighter from the group said the beheadings were revenge for “Muslim women persecuted by Coptic crusaders in Egypt”.
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  • @Alan,

    “As I said in an earlier post, it is a mistake to bundle all faiths together under the badge “religion”.
    There is a huge diversity of religions, ranging from fairly benign and culturally supportive, to heavily abusive, exploitative, and destructive, cults.”

    I am glad to hear you say that. I agree 100%.

    “Strange that there is a greatly higher percentage proportion of religious believers in US jails when compared to the percentage of atheists!”

    I find that interesting and informative, and thank you for that fact. Why do you think this is? Is it possibly because prisoners have a sense of remorse? Or is it that they have no other source of hope? I think it would be a fascinating study to conduct, and actually an easy one that could be done in the form of a questionnaire…

    Alan, thank you for the reply, as I read every word, and gave your comment thought…
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  • Vicki, I don’t understand. If the study shows that religion is beneficial for someone’s health and well being and happiness, then what could be the cost? Isn’t happiness and fulfillment in the goal in life for the secular humanist?
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  • RonHill
    Apr 22, 2015 at 6:17 pm

    I think it would be a fascinating study to conduct, and actually an easy one that could be done in the form of a questionnaire…

    The US had until recently not compiled proper figures as some other countries have, and these figures are quite old. They are what has previously been available.

    But when it comes to more serious or violent crimes, such as murder, there is simply no evidence suggesting that atheist and secular people are more likely to commit such crimes than religious people. After all, America’s bulging prisons are not full of atheists; according to Golumbaski (1997), only 0.2 percent of prisoners in the USA are atheists — a major under representation.

    Ricky Gervais @rickygervais
    If all the Atheists & Agnostics left America, they’d lose 93% of The National Academy of Sciences & less than 1% of the prison population.

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  • Happiness and fulfillment are such subjective words. For that matter, I guess “goal” is, too.

    What benefits you most from your religion, Ron? I’m not taking a survey or anything, just curious. With some, it seems to be the comfort here in this life. For others, it’s the reassurance that when they die, it won’t be the end. Those are the two main answers I usually get.
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  • More up to date figures are: –

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/07/16/what-percentage-of-prisoners-are-atheists-its-a-lot-smaller-than-we-ever-imagined/

    Of the prisoners willing to give their religious affiliations (and that’s an important caveat), atheists make up 0.07% of the prison population.

    Not 1%.

    Not even the 0.2% we’ve been using for so long.

    Atheists constitute an even smaller percentage of the prison population than we ever imagined. (That includes prisoners whose affiliations were unknown. If I used Golumbaski’s method, the number would be 0.09%.)

    In addition to that, Protestants make up 28.7% of the prison population; Catholics, 24%; Muslims, 5.5%; American Indians, 3.1%. I’ve put together a bare-bones spreadsheet with these numbers here — feel free to do with that what you will.

    Keep in mind that these numbers only cover prisoners who self-reported their religious identification. They don’t represent all prisoners in the system. We will likely never have perfect numbers… but neither did Rod Swift.

    We’re also only talking about prisoners in the federal prison system — about 218,000 people — not all prisoners in America.
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  • A new study says that being an Atheist isn’t bad for mental health? And who the hell did the research for the “study”? I just can’t believe that right in the middle of the second decade of the 21st century some one may be saying such rubbish. When I managed to get rid of the Roman Catholic school I went to, at the age of 15, I began to notice that my mind was getting healthier as time began to erase the idiocy that was planted in my brain and that they called “dogmas”, it takes some years to free yourself of the religious nonsense that has been injected into your mind as if it was a drug, but in the end when you manage to “clean” your brain you realize that your mind is more perceptive and can analyze things more easily. No, friends, is religion that keeps our minds sick.
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  • If I am doing something dangerous and believe it is up to me to care for my safety, I am obviously much safer than someone who does something dangerous and believes they have a safety net which does not exist.

    Imagine the great Wallenda performing in the dark, lied to that there is a net. He might feel more relaxed, but he would be no safer.

    Imagine a chemist lied to the that the chemicals he is dealing with are harmless.

    Imagine someone having sex who believes a prayer will prevent conception.

    Religious people are arguing that betrayal is beneficial.

    Obviously you make the best decisions when you have the most accurate information.
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  • Heroin and crystal health make some people feel’happy, ‘ and manys a junkie has told me that my values are ….well I won’t type the word they used, but you get the picture.
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  • RonHill
    Apr 22, 2015 at 6:21 pm
    .
    Vicki, I don’t understand. If the study shows that religion is beneficial for someone’s health and well being and happiness, then what could be the cost?

    I think the point is that this study looked through bias blinkers at cherry-picked issues and personal preconceptions, as was explained in my earlier post below.

    The Sunday “Happy-Clappy” congregation are full of joy: – until they go back to the poverty and misery, caused by their repressive, dominating, anti-science, dogmatic, religious culture.
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  • I can’t see how simply being an atheist could be anything to with having opposite tendencies to anything in the last paragraph. I had a little read of some of his quotes from the book. It seems he is trying to back up his own claims and his own personal take on christianity as if his particular way of thinking about it and his own reasons for having faith are somewhat superior to why others might have faith. I can also see how being a non-believer in the states can be quite stressful and isolating having lived there.and seeing the volume of absolute shite you have to put up with,everywhere from the TV to just driving down the street,amongst other things,so,its having to deal with this stuff as a non-believer that may not be so good for your well being,in my opinion,because its perpetually irritating,regardless of the fact,that if you’re a non-believer in some other countries and tell someone,you might just get killed or go to prison for it. He also makes the claim that word “delusion” is now a psychiatric term,as if “they” now own it. So,this is a book I would dismiss as being quite biased in its approach.I wish I could go into more detail,but I have to get on with my day 🙂
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  • I think being an atheist actually improves one’s mental health. I know it did in my case. No more being angry and combative with others for not believing what I was desperately trying to make myself believe. No more cognitive dissonance believing in a ‘loving god’ who demanded His love be returned on pain of eternal torment. Yep, ditching that nonsense definitely improved my mental health.
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  • 20
    RonHill says:

    “The Sunday “Happy-Clappy” congregation are full of joy: – until they go back to the poverty and misery, caused by their repressive, dominating, anti-science, dogmatic, religious culture.”

    The above study I quoted above would seem to scientifically dispute that statement. Do you have any evidence to back up that claim?
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  • 21
    RonHill says:

    “Explain how deceiving yourself knowingly is good for yourself.”

    That’s a good question alf200, so I thought I would allow an atheist to perhaps answer that question for you…

    From the book “Philosophers without God: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life,”(edited by Professor of Philosophy at UMASS Louise M Antony,) atheist Georges Rey wrote an essay called “Meta-atheism: Religious Avowal as Self-Deception, and what he has to say here may answer your question:

    “I should emphasize that I don’t mean to particularly smug or self-righteous about my hypothesis, or pretend to be very much less self-deceived than the next person. Self-deception and other discrepancies between our real and avowed attitudes seem to me quite widespread, may be unavoidable, and are often entirely salutary and benign (nothing like a little self-deception to keep an otherwise querulous family together!). Paradoxical though it may sound, I can think of a number of areas in my own life where I regularly practice self-deception (though, for it to be effective, I mustn’t dwell on the fact for too long). I might well turn out to be self-deceived even about my own atheism – explaining why I still like all that Bach – and perhaps about this meta-atheism as well! My point would remain that there’s still a level at which I, like everyone else, nevertheless know better. Of course, some cases may be more benign than others, an issue I’ll address at the end.”
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  • 22
    RonHill says:

    PBrain, I think we could call any study that produced results we didn’t like as biased, but that would only be an opinion, and opinions that are not supported by evidence are perhaps not to be totally discarded, but are surely not as valued as those opinions that are supported by evidence….
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  • RonHill
    Apr 23, 2015 at 12:59 pm

    Hi Ron,

    You really should look up some of this stuff for yourself.

    “The Sunday “Happy-Clappy” congregation are full of joy: – until they go back to the poverty and misery, caused by their repressive, dominating, anti-science, dogmatic, religious culture.”

    The above study I quoted above would seem to scientifically dispute that statement. Do you have any evidence to back up that claim?

    You have one study which seems to have been conducted by someone with biases and preconceptions, leading to some of the errors I have pointed out.

    If you look for numerous “Happy Clappy” type congregations, you find many of them in impoverished communities in the Southern US and in Africa.

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/142727/religiosity-highest-world-poorest-nations.aspx

    Each of the most religious countries is relatively poor, with a per-capita GDP below $5,000. This reflects the strong relationship between a country’s socioeconomic status and the religiosity of its residents. In the world’s poorest countries — those with average per-capita incomes of $2,000 or lower — the median proportion who say religion is important in their daily lives is 95%. In contrast, the median for the richest countries — those with average per-capita incomes higher than $25,000 — is 47%.
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  • RonHill
    Apr 23, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    “Happiness and fulfillment are such subjective words. For that matter, I guess “goal” is, too.”

    @Vicki, Indeed they are subjective words, as are most emotions. Also, things like beauty and peace are subjective.

    Perhaps if I come in to add a little science here!

    They expressions of personal reactions and evolved feelings generated, by others or the environment.

    They almost seem outside the bounds of materialism,

    The universe is material. Living organisms are made of material atoms molecules and energy.
    Magical claims are no substitute for real knowledge of the workings of the brain and the endocrine system

    as if there is something more than chemical reactions responsible for such subjective feelings….

    Neuro-psychology and hormonal effects are how brains and bodies work, and interact.
    While the details are not fully understood, the basic understanding of interacting molecules and electric circuits is well understood.

    Neuroscience For Kidshttp://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/synapse.html
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  • @ Alan4discussion

    Perhaps if I come in to add a little science here!

    Boy, you sure know how to take the glitter out of a subject!

    Neuroscience For Kids? Yep, that’s about my level (and no, that wasn’t sarcasm).

    Thanks!
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  • Ron
    Apr 23, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    @Alan

    I am not so sure that wealth and socioeconomic status are directly proportional to happiness and fulfillment.

    I don’t think that was the point of the figures. They were simply an approximate measure of poverty.

    But then again, poverty certainly isn’t something to be striven for either…..

    Poverty as a feature associated with religiosity.

    It is a poverty of mind and attitude, which affects poverty of cultures.
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  • Vicki
    Apr 23, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    @ Alan4discussion

    Perhaps if I come in to add a little science here!

    Boy, you sure know how to take the glitter out of a subject!

    Understanding how it works, should not down-grade the ambiance of emotional reactions.

    I find that the facts that I understand how microphones, speakers, and musical instruments work, along with the biology of human ears and nerve cells in the brain, – has no adverse effects on an enthusiastic audience, when I take up front-man position playing and singing in a band. – Especially if they have some alcohol affecting their synapses!
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  • We are born pure and only know reality and that’s how our brain works until people try to introduce mystical rubbish and the brain has conflict… if not checked could lead to breakdowns.
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  • It cannot be healthy for anyone’s mental state to be convinced by others that pure fantasy is not only fact, but divine truth, and then treated as a loony minority for failing to see the point. “You don’t believe in God?”
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  • We are born pure and only know reality and that’s how our brain works until people try to introduce mystical rubbish and the brain has conflict… if not checked could lead to breakdowns.I am an Atheist and don’t allow my mind to divert to fairytales for answers.
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  • Peter
    Apr 24, 2015 at 5:15 am

    Hi Peter,

    It cannot be healthy for anyone’s mental state to be convinced by others that pure fantasy is not only fact, but divine truth, and then treated as a loony minority for failing to see the point.

    The psychology has been known for a long time and is often quoted on this site.

    http://www.spring.org.uk/2012/06/the-dunning-kruger-effect-why-the-incompetent-dont-know-theyre-incompetent.php
    The reason for the Dunning-Kruger effect seems to be that poor performers fail to learn from their mistakes.

    The proposed solution is that the incompetent should be directly told they are incompetent.

    Dunning-Kruger Effect

    Unfortunately the problem with the Dunning-Kruger effect is that incompetent people have probably been getting this type of feedback for years and failed to take much notice.

    Despite failing exams, messing up at work and irritating other people, the incompetent still don’t believe they’re incompetent.

    Indeed, many of them suffer from “illusory superiority”, because they are too stupid to know they are stupid, and too ignorant to notice the existence of the areas of knowledge they are lacking.
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  • Odalrich
    Apr 22, 2015 at 7:29 pm

    A new study says that being an Atheist isn’t bad for mental health? And who the hell did the research for the “study”?

    i think the only reason for this “study”, is to counter the preached, and uncritically swallowed nonsense, that religions improve your heath and happiness.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-32443396
    Switzerland topped the third annual World Happiness index produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), an initiative under the United Nations.

    It was closely followed by Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Canada.

    Togo, Burundi, Benin and Rwanda, with civil-war wracked Syria, were least happy.

    The World Happiness Report examined 158 countries and is aimed at influencing government policy.

    The study bases its rankings on data from the Gallup World Poll and takes into account variables such as real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, corruption levels and social freedoms.
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  • 35
    Anthony says:

    In my experience, most atheists who engage in these kinds of debates use question-begging style and speak as if they are intellectually superior, to a degree that is equal to or greater than the question-begging and superiority of religious believers who take part. There are many kinds of equalities between persons of both sides. Not only mental health, but also cliquishness, divisiveness, narcissism, and most other significant features of human experience. Morality is also a significant issue, as individual happiness is not the only important consideration. Talk of “mental health” begs the question that what is “healthy” is measurable primarily as a trait of individuals. But, individuals are, among other things, units within society and relationships. Religion’s influence on sociality is mixed and complex, just as atheism is. The broader point being, what exactly is gained by becoming an atheist? Perhaps, that is not a straightforward issue? Perhaps, the gains are situational in every case; and there is not really simple argument to be made for either side.
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  • 36
    Anthony says:

    Suppose you want to argue that, okay, what is gained by atheism is that one is then not lying to oneself. Depending on how this argument is worked out in terms of the details, it typically also involves a kind of question-begging, or simplistic use of cases. Of course, there are many believers who “believe in” something because others have told them to do so or have fed a belief structure to them. But, then there are those who have had what theorists of religion call “mystical experience”; or put in less theoretically loaded terms, have personally experienced the presence of divine beings. Of course, you can then argue that, okay that means this person must have some kind of mental problem. However, depending on how exactly you go about operationalising what it means to have X type of mental problem, such a claim also presumes a lot about cases one probably has not personally had the chance to witness or study. The broader point: religious experience is extremely diverse and comes in numerous degrees. A good deal of discussion by atheists in these kinds of discussions tends to treat religious belief and experience as if it falls under a simple, general type. The assumption that a belief involves self-deception is overly simplistic or requires more elaborate argumentation to support it than is usually given, no matter what definition one uses for the concept of “deception.”
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  • Anthony :

    The broader point being, what exactly is gained by becoming an atheist?

    Well I’ve always been an atheist so it would be difficult for me to describe that feeling of liberation when a believer throws off those religious shackles on his/her mind, and is free to look at reality from a non-supernatural point of view.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 24, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    A good deal of discussion by atheists in these kinds of discussions tends to treat religious belief and experience as if it falls under a simple, general type.

    If the religious thinking comes under “faith” (belief without evidence or proof) as a process, that is a clear category which is quite distinct from objective, evidenced scientific reasoning.

    But, then there are those who have had what theorists of religion call “mystical experience”; or put in less theoretically loaded terms, have personally experienced the presence of divine beings. You can argue, okay that means they have some mental problem.

    Quite often these are well known symptoms of medical conditions:- oxygen starvation, toxic inhalations, drug use, drug side effects, epilepsy, fever, etc.
    There is nothing loaded in these terms, even if the individual is unaware of the medical reference materials.
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  • 39
    Anthony says:

    In regard to what is intellectually called “mystical experience,” is it difficult for someone who has not actually had the experience to convince a believer that their arguments are really valid. The reason for this invalidity is that the person making the argument probably does not really understand what the believer is really talking about. Part of the legacy of the Scopes Trial and secularism debates in western societies is that you have two main sides artificially set up in opposition to each other, mostly talking past each other while having to pretend to actually be talking about the same thing. It is similar to a lot of political debates where there are “two sides.” The atheist can still argue that, well, if you have a view which cannot be rationally debated then the view itself is irrational. This is one tenet of modernism. However, one could also argue that the atheist is irrational for requiring that there has to be a debate and a “decision.”
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  • 40
    Anthony says:

    Your reply here is exactly the kind of question-begging I am talking about, as you are generalising about the causes of something which is, in fact, extremely diverse. What I am challenging you to do is to use your own commitment to scientific process and actually look at the real diversity of religious experience globally. Unless you are willing to address this psychological and cultural diversity, meaning, in reference to numerous typologies, then I would not consider your approach to be scientific. One of the problems here that is widespread is the substitution of medical simplification for anthropological perspective of the actual diversity of the subject matter. This medical simplification is problematic because it ignores really meaningful cases and tends to draw extensive conclusions from very narrow kinds of research focus.
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  • 41
    Anthony says:

    Regarding the issue of “faith” vs. scientific process; this is a very tired and old discussion. Scientific process also requires faith in various beginning points and epistemic standards. These standards change historically and will continue to do so. This change might be progressive, but what it leads to is often something radically different. If someone has an experience which they cannot explain based on what has been handed down to them from scientific sources, is it irrational for them to attribute it to some other kind of cause?
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  • 42
    Anthony says:

    “Quite often”; I would substitute “sometimes,” given that I am working from anthropological and psychological diversity of types.
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  • 44
    Anthony says:

    I really do feel a certain special respect for atheists which is greater than that for agnostics who kind of stand in the middle. Atheism, to me, is a kind of belief structure which involves a kind of commitment and sincerity which is reminiscent to me of my religious experience of God. I have felt that secularism involves a kind of constraint to speak and think a certain way, following certain rules without having those rules fully justified down to their historical source. This is “secularism.” But, atheism on the other hand, is a kind of belief. Our minds are designed for belief, it seems to me; authenticity is about believing something despite the impossibility of fully exhausting all other possibilities.
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  • 45
    Anthony says:

    I believe this is a word game. If someone has an experience which they cannot explain given what they have received from scientific sources, then they attribute this to a kind of cause which an atheist labels as “supernatural,” this is also evidenced confidence.
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  • 46
    Anthony says:

    There are many people who have developed a certain secular position with regard to language who argue that it is more rational in such a case for that person to simply say “I don’t know what happened.” However, I would argue that this is an arbitrary requirement placed on social expression and personal cognition which actually may not make sense from the point of view of being able to get on with other life activities. In such a case, it might actually be a greater cognitive burden to be resolutely atheistic. Also important is that these kinds of experiences are quite common and come in numerous forms. It is not actually scientifically valid to argue that in “every case” they are caused by some kind of distortion or illness; the types are simply too many to simplify in this way. Shared social knowledge also enters in, and interpersonal confirmation takes on many culturally specific practical forms.
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  • Anthony :

    In regard to what is intellectually called “mystical experience,” is it difficult for someone who has not actually had the experience to convince a believer that their arguments are really valid.

    But there again, my non “mystical experience” of the presence of the supernatural, is surely just as compelling ? My non-belief is just as strong as your belief. That’s where the scientific method comes in, and “mystical experiences”, largely go out the window.
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  • 49
    Anthony says:

    You have here pointed to the heart of the problem. It goes this way: you are assuming that what is rational in this case is to limit one’s beliefs to what can demonstrate compellingly to others within a certain kind of rule-governed public forum. The problem is that rationality actually ends up being reduced to a kind of public sales work. Your non belief is only compelling to you, since you have not had the mystical experience. It is compelling to me because I have had it and I cannot find any way to explain it using your ontology. The core question is: compelling to who, and under what conditions? If you argue something simplistic like: to a rational and inform public, this actually ends up dumbing thinking downward rather than making it more intelligent, because again, access to compelling sources of confidence are extremely diverse and distributed different between different persons.
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  • 51
    Anthony says:

    You have here pointed to the heart of the problem. It goes this way: you are assuming that what is rational in this case is to limit one’s beliefs to what can demonstrate compellingly to others within a certain kind of rule-governed public forum. The problem is that rationality actually ends up being reduced to a kind of public sales work. Your non belief is only compelling to you, since you have not had the mystical experience. It is compelling to me because I have had it and I cannot find any way to explain it using your ontology. The core question is: compelling to who, and under what conditions? If you argue something simplistic like: to a rational and inform public, this actually ends up dumbing thinking downward rather than making it more intelligent, because again, access to compelling sources of confidence are extremely diverse and distributed different between different persons.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 24, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    Your reply here is exactly the kind of question-begging I am talking about,

    You seem to be making an unsupported and confused assertion of “question begging”.
    Begging the question, or assuming the answer, is a logical fallacy that occurs when the conclusion of an argument is used as a premise of that same argument; i.e., the premises would not work if the conclusion wasn’t already assumed to be true

    as you are generalising about the causes of something which is, in fact, extremely diverse.

    I am not.
    I named specific conditions and medical symptoms which give rise to delusions/hallucinations, which are commonly described as religious visions or experiences.
    Perhaps you have never heard of the effects of oxygen starvation, shamanistic use of sleep deprivation and psychedelic drugs, or side effects of medications.

    What I am challenging you to do is to use your own commitment to scientific process and actually look at the real diversity of religious experience globally.

    That is far to vague to be a coherent study.
    Claims of supernatural experiences need to be examined individually on the basis of the evidence, as I have done in previous discussions.

    Unless you are willing to address this psychological and cultural diversity, meaning, in reference to numerous typologies, then I would not consider your approach to be scientific.

    You seem to be making confused assertions about what is scientific methodology, on a science website populated by a large proportion of scientists. If you have specific evidence please present it.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 24, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    Regarding the issue of “faith” vs. scientific process; this is a very tired and old discussion.

    It keeps going around because of the slow learning of those who have not mastered evidence based logical reasoning.

    Scientific process also requires faith in various beginning points and epistemic standards.

    Scientific methodology takes objective observation, experimental evidence, and (frequently multiple) independent confirmations of results, as its standards in which people can place confidence, and fellow specialists can further recheck experimental results and observations, if required, to produce a consensus of expert opinion.

    It bears no resemblance to “faith” in individual subjective perceptions.

    These standards change historically and will continue to do so.

    This looks like an empty assertion. – Can you give an example of the above methodology changing in recent decades?

    If someone has an experience which they cannot explain based on what has been handed down to them from scientific sources, is it irrational for them to attribute it to some other kind of cause?

    The limits of individual understanding, lack of education, or lack of capability in researching information, is not evidence of anything, except the limitations of that individual.

    Asserting supernatural magic is just gap-filling to cover-up ignorance.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 24, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    Part of the legacy of the Scopes Trial and secularism debates in western societies is that you have two main sides artificially set up in opposition to each other, mostly talking past each other while having to pretend to actually be talking about the same thing.

    That is simply not so.
    The scopes trial was an example of “faith-thinking wish thinking”, being soundly defeated by evidence based science and reasoning.
    That creationists don’t listen to evidence and will sit in denial, pretending the false dichotomy of two sides :- (“their view and the other wrong one”), is well known.
    Scientists make no pretence of talking about the same fanciful pseudo-science as creationists in general, and Young earth Creationists in particular. To scientists this is laughably incompetent and simply ignored as irrelevant to their work. (21st century astronomers take a similar view of Flat-Earthism)

    It is similar to a lot of political debates where there are “two sides.”

    There simply are not “two sides” in the modern world. There is the scientific evidence confirmed thousand of times all over the world, and there is long refuted nonsense, which falls apart as soon as it is examined in detail.

    The atheist can still argue that, well, if you have a view which cannot be rationally debated then the view itself is irrational.

    If a view is not based on clear reasoned thinking (or objective observation) it is irrational by definition.

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/irrational

    *: not thinking clearly : not able to use reason or good judgment*

    *: not based on reason, good judgment, or clear thinking*
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  • Anthony
    Apr 24, 2015 at 5:09 pm

    Your non belief is only compelling to you,

    Scientific methodology is designed to guard against individual cognitive biases and preconceptions.

    since you have not had the mystical experience.

    As I explained earlier, medical researchers have conducted numerous studies on the causes of hallucinations and “mystical experiences”

    It is compelling to me because I have had it and I cannot find any way to explain it using your ontology.

    If you described the symptoms and any extraneous factors, the example could be examined, and checked against medical diagnoses.

    Perhaps some information would help identify the causes:-

    Hallucinations involve sensing things while awake that appear to be real, but instead have been created by the mind. – http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003258.htm
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  • 57
    aroundtown says:

    However, one could also argue that the atheist is irrational for requiring that there has to be a debate and a “decision.”

    I would offer the opinion that there has to be engagement and I will provide the reasons why it is so important.

    First I would provide the view that cultural norms and mores of the ruling societal class sets the tone for their communities and country. It is only logical that you will encounter push-back should you engage in proposing alternate behavior/ideas which do not fit the existing model. The 60’s are a classic example where a large segment of the populace defied the existing model and the consequences were immediately apparent, they were subject to ridicule for trying to be different. The misbehaving youth (in the eyes of the older generation) were essentially pushing the ruling class out of their comfort zone and they didn’t care for the challenge. Most would likely agree though that after all the tumult that ensued, forward progress was enjoyed by both classes, those who fought against change, and those who pushed for change.

    The bigger problem with this type of upheaval is cultural collision between races, an example would be the American Indians and the Caucasians who wished to push them out. This type of conflict is not so much about conflicting ideals, as it is about acquiring what they possess, often played out by force. We should never lose sight of our propensity to be animalistic as regards our ingrained desire to expand our territory. That will be a continuing problem for sometime to come, and severely exacerbated by limited resources. I needed to inject that perspective too, since it’s also in play.

    Anyway, getting back on point, the attempt to ostracize moral descent is a common tactic that is used to keep people in line and push them back into the fold so they can march to the beat of the drum, and not make waves that threaten ideals they hold dear. The obstinate stance to protect outdated perspective that a large segment of the populace deem worthless can still be difficult to eject. This ebb and flow tide of social change has been playing out for centuries and forward movement is eventually accomplished but it is a slow process, and unfortunately it’s a trail strewn with the lost hopes of those who’ve bucked the system and lost. Change comes, but some do not get to enjoy it as it took to long to achieve the pivot. It goes without saying that many attempts have been made to install reasonable discourse into the main but this desire for change is always filtered through old dogma of the the ruling class , so progress, if it is achieved, is excruciatingly slow.

    Getting to the point, the Elephant in the room, or King Kong problem if you will, is religion has been the dominant social condition within the majority of the world for a very long time and attempts to sufficiently challenge it’s entrenched dominance has held back the opposing model of rational discourse and free thought for far to long. People have paid with their lives to challenge it, and they are losing their lives to this day. How can we sit back and continue to let them steer the ship for everyone, when it is essentially a course to no where. They stand at the helm of the ship spouting the proposition that their course is the only possible direction to go, but it is a course that only brings confusion and cluttered thinking..
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  • Anthony
    Apr 24, 2015 at 5:09 pm

    You have here pointed to the heart of the problem.

    It is only a problem for the irrational trying justify whimsical notions.

    It goes this way: you are assuming that what is rational in this case is to limit one’s beliefs to what can demonstrate compellingly to others within a certain kind of rule-governed public forum.

    That is what rationality is!
    It is a process of deduction (individual or shared) which extrapolates from physical evidence to describe reality.

    because again, access to compelling sources of confidence are extremely diverse and distributed different between different persons.

    Confidence of individuals is no guide to the accuracy or reliability of their views.
    In fact it is often the very opposite.

    Charles Darwin, (“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge”)
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  • Hi Anthony, we have had people post here through the years that were religious for many years and say they had many (what they thought of at the time) “spiritual” experiences. Thinking about these experiences in retrospect as atheist, they attributed them to a kind of self hypnosis. That’s not to say that they’re right and your wrong, but you’ve said in several post that’s it hard for people who haven’t had mystical experience to understand. Well these people at least had them and came to a different conclusion then you.
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  • 60
    aroundtown says:

    religion has been the dominant social condition within the majority of the world for a very long time and attempts to sufficiently challenge it’s entrenched dominance has held back the opposing model of rational discourse and free thought for far to long.

    Wanted to be sure my opinion read correctly, I meant to imply – religion has been the dominant social condition within the majority of the world for a very long time and “unsuccessful attempts” to sufficiently challenge it’s entrenched dominance has resulted in the model of rational discourse and free thought “being pushed to the side” for far to long.

    Important distinction that had to be clarified. Sorry for the muddled initial attempt.
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  • 61
    Anthony says:

    Hi, there are numerous kinds of situations where perception and knowledge has been epistemically valid for persons and they have had to attribute to causes not understood by science. For example, ESP situations, knowledge of future events that turn to out happen exactly has sensed, awareness of others’ disposition across large distances, etc. Here, a scientific account might eventually come about, but at the present the person who actually lives through this situation must resort to other explanatory frameworks.

    Another range of experiences have to do with the sense of the presence of God or direct and immediate grasp of the metaphysical nature of reality. Here, the problem with the response of an atheist is that the atheist does not comprehend the specific manner in which these experiences are convincing for the one who has them. Not grasping this specificity, it is impossible to offer an adequate rational argument about why this experience should not be taken as epistemically valid. Here, the problem is philosophical and cannot be responded to purely on the grounds of certain “data” regarding the causes thought to apply to certain kinds of experiences. The knowledge had by the person who has the experience is categorically of a different type than the kind had by someone who is studying this experience externally. The very nature of the data is different. Being inside the black box vs. being out of it provide a fundamentally different vantage point.
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  • 62
    Anthony says:

    The point here, from an epistemic, philosophical point of view, is that you MUST first really understand the experience before you can comment on it’s validity as a source of knowledge. Otherwise you are commenting from a blind position. Now, there was mention about studies which have been done on certain kinds of mystical experiences and have determined a specific kind of physical causality to have been involved. Here, first, that a certain physical causality contributed does not necessarily rule out the epistemic validity of the knowledge that the person has a result. Second, there is an assumption here that these studies exhaustively address all those experiences that persons have had throughout history which are mystical in some sense. Here, the actual diversity of experiences and their types are concealed by the simplicity of the conclusions drawn from certain laboratory cases. The best you can say, based on laboratory cases is “assuming that the same factors are involved in another given case, then it is possible or likely that certain causalities are involved.” One must include this “if” clause in order to validly make use of existing studies. There is a much more logically precise way of wording the latter point but I do not have the time on hand right now to work it out. But, I am hoping the general point is seen.
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  • 63
    Anthony says:

    I think you are probably assuming that use of Occam’s Razor is part of rational public debate. Clearly it is not possible for scientific process at any given point in actual time to completely explain certain kinds of events with absolute certainty, nor is it possible to rule out all other possibilities. Even the most rudimentary philosophy of science cannot possibly argue that deductive reason provides an exhaustive account for why one should adopt a given scientific theory. If you were to try to argue this I would say you are blind and quite irrational. Purely deductive reason alone cannot give us even give us the law of gravity. Positivist philosophies deal with this problem by dictating that that rationality requires that one must take the explanation that requires the least number or most naturalistic set of assumptions, or simply say “I don’t know for sure.” Here, discourse ends up being relatively homogenous and alternate explanatory frameworks are subtlety prevented from being considered, unless one is in a situation of major paradigm shift. The assumption, unstated, is that scientific process as well as public debate which uses it, should be conservative, defaulting back to a certain kind of discussion. These are all assumptions which, in practice, dumb down public discussion rather than making it more enlightening.
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  • 64
    Anthony says:

    Having another vantage point here does not mean that someone has simply another opinion. It means they have different cognitive resources and data to go on; although it might not be possible for others to recognise the data they have. It is a bit like having gone somewhere and seen something but not being able to prove it because one didn’t have a recorder on hand.
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  • Anthony

    For example, ESP situations..

    No evidence.

    awareness of others’ disposition across large distances,

    No evidence

    Another range of experiences have to do with the sense of the presence of God

    No evidence

    it is impossible to offer an adequate rational argument about why this experience should not be taken as epistemically valid.

    No evidence.

    The point here, from an epistemic, philosophical point of view, is that you MUST first really understand the experience before you can comment on it’s validity as a source of knowledge.

    No. I don’t have to understand the experience. There is no requirement for a MUST statement. The fact that someone doesn’t understand something, or there is no explanation, currently, is never an excuse to invoke a cause that requires the laws of physics to be suspended, or broken, which your explanations require. You are doing what all religious have done, from the very first species Homo, who imagined a reason why a tree fell across his path just after he passed. WTF. We’ve been bred by millions of years of evolution to do just this. You are doing it now. You attribute an event, to a cause that is not possible in physics. You are doing what most of the 7 billion people on the planet do, invoking a “God” explanation when there are readily available scientific explanations.

    Remember, there no mysteries in the universe, just some unanswered questions. But the fact that there are unanswered questions, that may never be answered, is never an excuse to invoke a supernatural explanation. That’s just lazy thinking. You need to have the courage to be able to say to yourself, “I don’t understand it, but god didn’t do it.”

    There are plenty more errors of judgement in your post, but this is enough to dispense with your notion. The question is, do your have the intellectual courage to override your evolutionary brain desires, which you put on display here, and embrace a rational mind to cope with the modern world.
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  • Clearly it is not possible for scientific process at any given point in actual time to completely explain certain kinds of events with absolute certainty, nor is it possible to rule out all other possibilities.

    This is wrong. Sure science doesn’t know the complete answer to all questions. It may never know any answer. And the use of the phrase Absolute Certainty is an indication that you are not across the scientific process. Science rarely achieves “Absolute Certainty”. It achieves measurable probabilities, some of which are quite high, like the limit on the speed of like, but science never achievers “Certainties”.

    Science can “Never Rule Out all other Possibilities” But it can assign probabilities to alternative explanations, based on the body of work that science understands. Your solutions all involve the breaking of the laws of physics. It has never happened. For your explanations to be valid, requires a god, who has a switch, which turns on and off the laws of physics, to achieve things like ESP, or miracles, or any other currently unexplained event.

    Why.

    Why would god do this. Why would god sit around for 13.7 billions years, letting the laws of physics run things, then when on an obscure galaxy out of billions, which contains billions of stars and even more planets, decide that one life form can perform miracles, for which this god will flick the switch, when required.

    A ridiculous position.
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  • 67
    Anthony says:

    I strongly appreciate the concept of engagement and having been emphasising this term myself for many years in regard to these kinds of issues. However, there are also some problems in how you frame the engagement. First, as I mentioned above, one of the main problems is that “religious belief” is a category that is simply too broad and general to serve as a basis for a an overarching set of conclusions or attitudes. “Religion has been the dominant social condition…” I take it you are talking about “institutional religion” and, within this, certain kinds or examples of institutional religion. There are numerous other kinds: “defuse religion,” although this term is also still a bit too ambiguous, new age, spiritualism, as well as non-secular thinking which is not exacting with regard to what “beliefs” are involved. Here, we are still locked into western cultural categories. It is not clear that Daoist practice in Taiwan is “religious” in a western sense, but it still seems to be related to “religious experience” in some sense. There are a lot of god talked about by Daoist people, but belief in a god’s existence is not really key to the practice. The issue of “exist or not” is not really important in this case. Zen practitioners do not specifically talk about having to believe in a god but they do often place their attention on the qualities of specific divinities while meditating; same for numerous Indian yogic practices. Now, the atheist in the debate will most likely make a very general remark at this point, saying that what we are talking about here is “not religious” in the sense used in the debate as he has framed it. Or, perhaps it is religious in one sense but not in another. I think these kinds of discussion become word games carried out for the purpose of protecting a certain kind of public intellectual position. The entire debate from the very start was framed in overly general terms, which is why these problem eventually come about. How about, instead, not framing a public position in such broad terms? There are all manner of unforeseen intellectual risks involved in making broad claims and then insisting that your position is a “rational” one while it relies on broad generalisations.
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  • 68
    Anthony says:

    I am asking for a kind of speech with regard to religious people which is less condescending. Also, a kind of debate which is more attentive to the complexity of the category of “belief.” Many religious people do not “suspend the laws of physics” in their belief. One could argue, in fact, that most religious language does not do this, as it assumes a certain view of the pragmatics of cognition and language. Or, a potential less strong position would be that, at least, some religious language does not do this. It is a cultural bias to assume that beliefs must be subtractive or mutually exclusive in what is actually meant by them or how the language is used. Again, more respect for what “religious belief” is actually about.
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  • 69
    Anthony says:

    Atheists within these kinds of debate tend to argue in a style that is like bullying. Bullying in the same manner as that used by some kinds of religious leaders. The terms of the debate do not allow certain kinds of experience to even be recognised. Are you familiar with the Movies “Contact” and “Interstellar”? In both cases, the protagonist experienced something in no uncertain terms which was outside of accepted scientific knowledge of their time. Because of lack of material admissible as evidence in public forum, neither could have their experience validated and as a result they are epistemically isolated. The stronger case is the character in Interstellar, who, in no uncertain terms, communicated with his daughter in 5th dimensional space. Such an event would be treated as supernatural by current discourse, but it did not violate a physics corrected for new understandings which may be developed at some time in the future. He was isolated because people back and home did not believe the account given by him or his daughter for how she gained knowledge regarding the quantities needed for developing artificial gravity. Have you considered that, for persons who have experienced something that current science cannot explain, become isolated by science-oriented persons and public discourse since they have no means of proving what happened? You can argue, of course, that there is no evidence or that you are not convinced. This does not change the fact someone has experienced something which they do not believe they can explain using current science and that atheist type discourse serves to isolate this kind of person (leaving them only religious or new age people to support them). You may say that this is a fantastic scenario; dreamed up, etc. At some point in the future of physics, this kind of discussion will seem quite ordinary.
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  • I am asking for a kind of speech with regard to religious people which is less condescending.

    This depends of the properties exhibited by the “Religious Person”. These are spread across a spectrum from benign to genocidal. So my response will be commensurate with the threat. The world desperately needs rational evidenced based people, not just re religion, but across all decision making. If someone is making irrational decisions that are a threat, I will go after that person, all guns blazing. My conversations with “Ron”, a christian, in this forum were a delightful exchange of views. Kay on the other hand was a member of the American Taliban and represented a clear and present danger to the future of the planet. Sun Tzo. No your enemy. So the Richter Scale of Condescension is decided by the mind of the religious person, not me.

    Also, a kind of debate which is more attentive to the complexity of the category of “belief.”

    The quality of a “Belief” is measured against by evidence. All religious belief has no evidence. Therefore all religious belief is irrational. So the response will depend upon the nature of the religious person putting up the statement, not the religious belief, which is a constant.

    This is 2015. Religion should be practiced by consenting adults in private. It should no longer has any privileged position in decision making. It should no longer have an automatic seat at the head table. It can no longer be tolerated as a decision making paradigm on any matter, especially world politics. Believe in your gods by all means. I don’t care. Practice your religion. Impose it on no one else, not even your children. And leave it behind at the church door. It has no valid place in decision making anymore. But if you try to impose what you think your imaginary god wants you to do, onto anyone else on this planet, (Wife and children included) you step over the line.

    An irrational position cannot be a baseline for decisions.
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  • 72
    Anthony says:

    If rationality is limited to logical deduction only, it cannot even support the concept of gravity. cf. philosophy of science. If you mean something inclusive of limited sorts of induction, you still cannot get the concept of evolution. Most significant findings require numerous other kinds of reasoning, and occasionally inventive concepts.
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  • Such an event would be treated as supernatural by current discourse, but it did not violate a physics corrected for new understandings which may be developed at some time in the future.

    This is where we part company. If in some future time, science comes up with new information we didn’t have, we can act on it then. But to act on it today, with the only justification being that science might explain it tomorrow, doesn’t hold water.

    A rational evidenced based person accepts what we know, don’t know and may never know. Their view follows the evidence, and changes as the evidence changes. There is no evidence for any spirituality of any colour. A rational evidence based person moves on. In the future, if some evidence emerges that supports some aspects of spiritualism (A huge glad bag BTW) then I will follow the evidence. But I don’t accept your argument that I should show any respect to a person who lives their own life by religious dogma, and imposes that dogma if they could on every other person on the planet (The nature of religious pyramid selling).

    The fact that we don’t know an answer to something, should not be a reason for any angst. It’s a non issue. We don’t know. Speculation in the absence of evidence, which includes making serious real world decisions, is not viable option in 2015 It may send us extinct.
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  • Anthony,

    This thread is a broad discussion about issues around athieism and religion.

    . Any general discussion about ANYTHING must, by definition, involve broad generalisations, so to complain about the use of broad generalisations is in fact to complain about any kind of broad or general discussion on any topic,

    If you want a discussion about a specefic thing like Zen,( who incidentally do not meditate on deities, maybe you were thinking of Tantra) then we can have a discussion on Zen, but to complain about the use of broad generalisations in a general discussion is to miss the point of this type of discussion. The fact that there are always exceptions to the generalisations is irrelevant to the general argument.
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  • 75
    Anthony says:

    Hi, I do ethnographic research on Zen practice in Asia and it does, in fact, involve meditation on deities in many cases. Zen in Japan does not do this much but is more common in Chinese traditions. The broader point I am making is that the very format of this kind of discussion tends to render an unfair characterisation of what it is about; the generalising format is complete unfair. There is a parallel here to a very broad tendency on the part of certain public persons to generalise in this manner in public talk. Thus, my point is not affected by what you have said. You cannot fairly, rationally, have a debate about “religious belief in general” because it is not generalisable in the needed manner. Conclusions must be about more specific phenomena. It is like arguing that “politics is bad” or “people cause problems.” there is no real content here.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 25, 2015 at 12:49 am

    Hi, there are numerous kinds of situations where perception and knowledge has been epistemically valid for persons and they have had to attribute to causes not understood by science.

    If it is not understood by science, it is highly unlikely to be realistically understood by anyone else. Even illusions and delusions are understood by science to a considerable extent.

    Anthony
    Apr 25, 2015 at 12:53 am

    The point here, from an epistemic, philosophical point of view, is that you MUST first really understand the experience before you can comment on it’s validity as a source of knowledge. Otherwise you are commenting from a blind position.

    It is highly unlikely that individuals will understand the physical basis of their own delusions unless they have studied the medical literature.

    Now, there was mention about studies which have been done on certain kinds of mystical experiences and have determined a specific kind of physical causality to have been involved.

    In other words the claims of supernatural involvement .have been shown to be false

    Here, first, that a certain physical causality contributed does not necessarily rule out the epistemic validity of the knowledge that the person has a result.

    This is a statement of the Negative Proof fallacy!

    A negative proof (known classically as appeal to ignorance) is a logical fallacy which takes the structure of:
    *X is true because there is no proof that X is false.

    Or

    You do not know what X is. Therefore we do.

    There is no “epistemic validity* for fantasies in the brain providing knowledge of external reality. The asserted notion itself is a fantasy.

    Being inside the black box vs. being out of it provide a fundamentally different vantage point.

    Being inside a delusion vs. being out of it, provides a fundamentally different vantage point. The outside one is objective recordable, and open to analysis, the inside one subjective, transitory and subject to confused memories.

    There is a much more logically precise way of wording the latter point but I do not have the time on hand right now to work it out.

    I think you will have your work cut out, trying to turn a logical fallacy into a logical argument!

    But, I am hoping the general point is seen.

    The point is that human cognition works on biochemistry – hormones, and electrical circuits in the brain. – The interactions of molecules to create impressions, which can be objective or can be illusions or delusions.

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

    Objective observations are repeatable by individuals and by others. illusory delusions are not. Not even with the same psychedelic drugs.

    Despite various people clinging to claims, no evidence has ever been produced that mystical delusions are anything but wish-thinking and fantasy.

    All claims are either unsupported or have been explained away by natural causes.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 25, 2015 at 4:11 am

    Atheists within these kinds of debate tend to argue in a style that is like bullying. Bullying in the same manner as that used by some kinds of religious leaders.

    In evidence based rational arguments, facts have a habit of “bullying” fantasies out of existence, regardless of how beloved the fantasies may be to some clinging individuals. That is how reality works.

    At some point in the future of physics, this kind of discussion will seem quite ordinary.

    The laws of physics also “bully” people who think their delusions can over-ride science. – as those high on happy delusions find out, if the try to walk off the roof of a high building in the expectation that some “new physics”, will replace the law of gravity.

    You are back with the Negative proof fallacy again!
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  • Anthony
    Apr 24, 2015 at 4:55 pm

    I believe this is a word game. If someone has an experience which they cannot explain given what they have received from scientific sources, then they attribute this to a kind of cause which an atheist labels as “supernatural,” this is also evidenced confidence.

    “My fantasy is reality, because I confidently believe in the delusion” is an individual personal opinion – NOT confirmed evidence of any external process!
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  • Anthony
    Apr 25, 2015 at 5:09 am

    You cannot fairly, rationally, have a debate about “religious belief in general” because it is not generalisable in the needed manner. Conclusions must be about more specific phenomena.

    Indeed so; – as I pointed out earlier.

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/04/being-an-atheist-isnt-bad-for-your-mental-health-new-study-says/#li-comment-176293

    It is like arguing that “politics is bad” or “people cause problems.” there is no real content here.

    There is plenty of specific content with supporting linked information, but you have simply ignored it, and continued with verbose generalisations, rhetoric, fallacies, and unsupported assertions.
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  • In evidence based rational arguments, facts have a habit of “bullying” fantasies out of existence…

    I endorse Alan4D’s post. We are in a stage of evolution where we need Alan4D type reasoning, and don’t have the luxury of Anthony’s view. If we don’t embrace rational evidence based decision making, were are odds on to go extinct. We don’t have the time to be nice to religion anymore, or any other irrational world view.
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  • We don’t have the time to be nice to religion anymore, or any other irrational world view.

    We should always find space in our lives for respect and tolerance towards those whose views we disagree with. It’s a sign of maturity as a civilisation.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 25, 2015 at 4:24 am

    If rationality is limited to logical deduction only, it cannot even support the concept of gravity. cf. philosophy of science.

    Of course it needs objectively collected and checked data at the beginning of the deduction process.
    Without this input the logic just produces “fantasy self-consistent-castles-in-the-air”!

    If you mean something inclusive of limited sorts of induction, you still cannot get the concept of evolution. Most significant findings require numerous other kinds of reasoning, and occasionally inventive concepts.

    Nope! – Speculations can suggest areas for scientific investigation, but “other kinds of thinking”, being substituted for scientific reasoning, is just doing the calculations with the fail-safe and error correction, turned off!
    The consequential levels of reliability of the conclusions in such circumstances have been repeatedly shown to plummet to the levels of random chance or zero!

    Navel gazing, incorporates no new data about external reality.
    Only objective inputs can do that.
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  • We should always find space in our lives for respect and tolerance towards those whose views we disagree with. It’s a sign of maturity as a civilisation.

    Not if they are about to end that civilization. Not if they represent a threat to my grandchildren. Ewan. Do you have any idea what the world will be like if we continue as we are. If we continue to make decisions based on greed, whim, religion and just plain chance. We have planet that can support around 1 billion, people, currently with 7 billion people, expanding to 9 to 12 billion people. That sir, is a Ponsi scheme. So no. I have no respect and tolerance for the irrational of this world. Lift your game or stand on the sidelines. I’ve got a planet to save.
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  • Anthony,

    If generalising is ” unfair” then your generalised comment ” that generalisation is unfair” is itself unfair. To take your point at face value would lead to the senseless conclusion that no general discussions are meaningful.

    And you first mentioned Zen not Chan, the two although closely related are not the same. I am ethnically Chinese, so your ethnography is my culture.
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  • Anthony, why aren’t you interested in why people have these experiences? Just there, just then. I have been present during just such experiences and I have also watched over the months and years as such experiences have been assimilated, interpreted owned and disowned. Why are you happy to take accounts of them in such a passive and at face value way? These accounts are truly fascinating and revealing of our interior lives. Understanding that personal accounts of an astonishing experience can only be given in terms of the materials with which the experiencer is familiar should alert us to the partial nature of experiencer accounts themselves.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 25, 2015 at 4:22 am

    Condescending reply.

    Medical analysis of reality – for those who wish to study specifics!

    No answer from you of any substance, or questions on any of this information?
    I thought you said you were researching the subject!

    Perhaps that’s why you continue to be unable to explain it in terms of science!

    Anyway you mentioned Buddhism and meditation, so here is some more information on how that works.

    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.
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  • We should always find space in our lives for respect and tolerance towards those whose views we disagree with. It’s a sign of maturity as a civilisation.

    Toleration of and politeness towards individuals are the marks of civilisation. Respect is cheapened by its universal and thoughtless application. It must ever be earned.
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  • Ewan
    Apr 25, 2015 at 7:02 am

    We don’t have the time to be nice to religion anymore, or any other irrational world view.

    We should always find space in our lives for respect and tolerance towards those whose views we disagree with.

    There is a world world of difference between respecting a person, and pandering to ridiculously flawed asserted views.

    In collective decision making, wrong answers need to be identified and corrected. – As is repeatedly shown in accident investigation reports.

    It’s a sign of maturity as a civilisation.

    Persistently asserting wrong answers, and contradicting correct ones, in the face of solid evidence, is a sign of immaturity!

    It is the use of scientific methodology and logical reasoning for the benefit of the community, which is a main sign of maturity in a civilisation and healthy thinking.
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  • Respect is cheapened by its universal and thoughtless application. It must ever be earned.

    It is already earned through our common humanity.

    Showing no respect towards others is always an easy option; it means that those others have no claims on you and you have no responsibilities towards them. You needn’t accord them any rights; you needn’t even treat them as fully human. Human history is littered with the tragic results of such an attitude.
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  • You needn’t accord them any rights;

    I’m only too keen to give due regard to the rights of others. Need you even ask? Is it my intention to extinguish democratic or civil rights say? This is precisely the intention of toleration. Whether I respect them as individuals or not I will tolerate the excercise of all their rights. Your implication that I might think otherwise is the very issue of the palpable disrespect between us. I am not fully respectable to you on the maatter of rights.

    Maybe when I fight for your rights of free speech (as I would) specifically so you could be heard I might earn from you a little of the real McCoy, none of that trick homonym stuff.
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  • 93
    Lorenzo says:

    Showing no respect towards others is always an easy option; it means that those others have no claims on you and you have no responsibilities towards them.

    You can still respect someone and grant her the full array of human rights but still be totally free to call her opinion idiotic if they are so.
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  • Rather than a starting point of no respect towards others until it is earned, I would prefer one of the respect due to a fellow human until it is lost.

    The things that divide us as humans are dwarfed by those which we have in common. Our natural beings tend to focus on the former but civilisation helps us recognise and appreciate the latter.
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  • You can still respect someone and grant her the full array of human rights but still be totally free to call her opinion idiotic if they are so.

    That’s true. But when you are commonly characterised as being mentally ill or with a lifestyle that involves child abuse then you might start to feel that your basic human rights are starting to come under threat.
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  • Respect has two meanings-

    a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

    and

    due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others.

    I have no intention of using a powerful word for a trivial task, when I can form a clearer phrase involving tolerance. No confusion and it shows a deep commitment to rights despite the non-respectable (big meaning) nature of some others.

    I would prefer one of the respect due to a fellow human until it is lost.

    Toleration and politeness is the more honest. I always start with the greatest of hopes for building respect. Many others are more grudging. This is a personal trait and cannot be mandated and achieve any honesty in the exchange.
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  • 97
    Lorenzo says:

    But when you are commonly characterised as being mentally ill or with a lifestyle that involves child abuse then you might start to feel that your basic human rights are starting to come under threat.

    May I ask you how?
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  • May I ask you how?

    I suppose a simple example would be that any evidence of child abuse in my background would immediately result in me losing my job as a teacher. So when respectable public figures link bringing children up in a religious faith with child abuse, I start to get a little nervous.
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  • Ewan wrote: …with a lifestyle that involves child abuse then you might start to feel that your basic human rights are starting to come under threat.

    Children deserve respect too. Religionists imagine abusing kids to be a “basic human right” of their punitive lifestyle. Xians demand respect and quote scripture in support of violent parenting (and schooling) and frequently blame their victims when prosecuted for child rape.

    Atheism promotes mental health generally and is especially protective against sex abuse, which is usually perpetrated by those raised biblically. In fact conservative religiosity is the second highest predictor of which parents are likely to assault their kids sexually. Over 90% of child rapists are conspicuously religious, as Abel and Harlow reported. Catholic clergy exemplify this problem globally, religiously.
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  • Ewan
    Apr 25, 2015 at 10:11 am

    May I ask you how?

    So when respectable public figures link bringing children up in a religious faith with child abuse, I start to get a little nervous.

    In the world of reality, does that not depend on the particular religious faith.

    Polygamous Mormon leaders with child brides come to mind,

    http://www.todayschristianwoman.com/articles/2007/may/i-grew-up-in-polygamist-family.html

    Paedophile priests being moved around and hidden from the authorities.

    Anti-science fundamentalists obstructing their children’s education!

    Witch-hunting preachers?
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  • 101
    Anthony says:

    Sorry that I break the thread here; the link for reply was missing.

    Steve wrote: If generalising is ” unfair” then your generalised comment ” that generalisation is unfair” is itself unfair. To take your point at face value would lead to the senseless conclusion that no general discussions are meaningful.

    And you first mentioned Zen not Chan, the two although closely related are not the same. I am ethnically Chinese, so your ethnography is my culture.

    Reply: Let’s not misread each other. I was referring specifically to the concept of “religious belief’s as being a phrase that does not led to generalisations. Please re-read my comment to see this and place it in context. I did not say that generalisations are not possible about anything. If this were so I would not be able to study religious practices in specific places, as one must at least provide some generalisation about what practices entail in a space time and place. The point, again, is only that “religious belief” is too broad a concept. When claims are made about certain kinds of group hypnosis, mental states, etc., with specific context provided, then generalisations are often meaningful.

    About Chinese situations, I am sure what you are getting at. I appreciate that you are ethnically Chinese. The point was not too be taken too far out of context. I have attended and taken part very deeply in numerous Zen/Chan groups and traditions in Taiwan, which is quite different from mainland China. There is a certain overlap with other Buddhist traditions in which meditations on deities are incorporated. What is very significant is that Zen is the quintessential tradition in which the point is not whether someone “believes in” something or not. It really doesn’t matter if you “believe in” that entity. What matters is contemplating its qualities, and then undergoing meditative effects. Disbelieving is also beside the point. I think we all learn something significant from Zen: namely, that debates about whether you should believe something or disbelieve it are, equally, uninteresting from a health standpoint. Just do something; meditate on the god, or meditate on something else. Your choice. Both, believing and disbelieving can be equally entrapping or equally liberating, depending on a lot of specific personal variables.
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  • 102
    Anthony says:

    First, you are assuming that ESP-related causality is supernatural. Here, there are numerous kinds of intellectuals who suggest or believe that future science will offer an explanation for it, where physics will have gone through some changes to fit new findings. Assumptions of linear time or of physicalism is not shared by all modern ontologies. Second, your characterisations of what “god” is doing or not doing are mostly related to Christian/secular discussions in western cultures. Numerous religious ontologies outside of this do not create this kind of problem. I do not need to orientalise Daoism or Zen in order to make this point; these are only two among many. Further, is very likely that the positioning of Christian views in such a way that they appear to conflict with science is also partly an artefact of a very long history of conflict with western intellectuals, partly staged as part of western enlightenment interests. Christian experience itself has not always taken these kinds of assertion as the really significant part of trust/practice. Contemporary liberal Christianity and new age also, equally, do not.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 25, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    What is very significant is that Zen is the quintessential tradition in which the point is not whether someone “believes in” something or not. It really doesn’t matter if you “believe in” that entity. What matters is contemplating its qualities,

    If something does not exist, it does not have any properties!
    Any “contemplating is just like “contemplating” fiction.
    Any thoughts on the Klingon Language?

    and then undergoing meditative effects.

    Meditating can be relaxing and allow reflection on earlier experiences and thoughts, but it is not going to provide any new information on the world around us.

    Disbelieving is also beside the point.

    I would have thought that believing we are contemplating matters relevant to reality, rather than basking in emotional responses, would be relevant to our view on the use of our valuable time.
    Disbelieving erroneous claims and avoiding collecting misconceptions, is also an important issue in maintaining a quality of life and a sound relationship with physical reality.
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  • 104
    Anthony says:

    The phrase “navel gazing” is the quintessential condescending reply. This does not display understanding of what said person has actually done or experienced. If you were to actually offer data about what a number of specific believers actually do in their lives, where the specific content of their daily experience and insights come from, then your point would be more convincing.
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  • 105
    Anthony says:

    It might be that our conversation is really orthogonal. I have been replying to what I see as one assumption in this forum: that “religious belief” comes into conflict with science. This would a stronger claim than that it provides no information about physical reality. The former assumption would entail that many kinds of religious traditions and practices treat assertion of a specific being, with a kind of quasi space-time kind of existence or something like this, as a significant part of what they do. And further, that these asserted existences require some kind of space-time that is radically different from the one posited by physics. Here, I am arguing that this is only obviously true of specific religious people, not entire traditions and not all traditions. In many cases, it would be a non-issue. In other cases, consonance with science is not difficult. One may further wonder if current physics is really the absolute gold standard for judging every single kind of belief; given interest among intellectuals and in various cultures in the possibility of ESP, space-time anomalies, etc. For Christianity, the conflict with science has come about partly due to a history of conflict with secularism, as well as political histories, in which Christianity itself has been internally transformed into a more conflictive type over time. The effect of this is that whether a believer actually is saying something conflictive with science or not depends on a lot os circumstances; whether their tradition is so is likewise situational. If someone says something that sounds conflictive with science and then after a short conversation they are more than willing to consider a range of scientific claims alongside their beliefs, is it really fair to treat their beliefs as anti-science? My response here comes from a number of directions at once, while the general point is just that the assertions of this kind of forum are often too knee-jerk in nature when locating their perceived opponents within society.
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  • 106
    Anthony says:

    Regarding the issue of meditation and contemplation, you could take a look at some of the numerous studies and theoretical works on meditation practices in the psychology and cognitive science fields; or more topically about meditation traditions. I think our understanding of the point of contemplation might be different. It is often part of advanced meditation. About Klingon language, well its interesting for group therapy if you need to release some anger. Is that what you were talking about? Sorry, but that comment about Klingon seems to really get away from the point. About something not having properties: this is not a difficult problem. If you sit down and actually contemplate a being of some kind, the qualities are part of the experience of it. It might be a projection of some part of yourself or it might be “external.” Here, the point of the meditation is not to figure out whether it physically is “out there” or not.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 25, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    First, you are assuming that ESP-related causality is supernatural.

    That is the normal meaning of the term.

    Here, there are numerous kinds of intellectuals who suggest or believe that future science will offer an explanation for it, where physics will have gone through some changes to fit new findings.

    The physics does not need to “go through any changes”!

    We already have sensory systems beyond the direct perceptions of human biology, working on known physics.

    LIDAR, multi spectral scanners, microscopes, cat- scanners, magnetic resonance scanners, Neural-Interface Technology, radio, Xray telescopes, radio telescopes, gravitational sensing, infra-red imaging systems, sonar, false-colour imaging systems, etc.

    Assumptions of linear time or of physicalism is not shared by all modern ontologies.

    Then you revert to the woo-magic which denies the physical material nature of the universe, but pretends that this counter-factual speculation has some credibility, despite an utter lack of evidence or scientific basis.

    not shared by all modern ontologies.

    It can be quite comical, but rather pathetic, when those clinging to ignorant “immaterial” woo-magic, try to make predictions about the future of scientific discovery somehow confirming their ill-informed wild speculations.
    Especially when they demonstrate a lack of knowledge of the solidly based science, which has already solved the “imponderable mysteries” they highlight, or where scientific views are very unlikely to change by more than very slight adjustments.

    “This may turn up contrary to scientific evidence, because I wish it would”, really is a poor argument.

    Personal ignorance of science, is not carte-blanch to make up any fanciful notion which may be credible to the poorly informed.

    There are soundly based speculations about the future of science, but those come from scientific research, and informed scientists, not from mystics playing with semantics!
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  • one of the main things I sense about public atheism is its condescension towards human experience

    Not from me. Nor from a great many atheists who are fascinated by the qualities of human experience especially in relation to the formation of personal meaning, the sources of personal values and how and indeed if we may cultivate and share these. What is astonishing is the indifference of the religious to any sort of meaningful introspection about their experiences, settling everytime for a first order cultural account of such things and caring not one jot that the content of these experiences can be neatly coloured in blocks onto a map of the world.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 25, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    I sense about public atheism is its condescension towards human experience; a real enjoyment of making fun of common people’s thoughts and practices. I cannot really get into this part of it.

    It really has nothing to do with atheism as such. Scientists debunk false claims regardless of if they are made by religions, quacks, mystics, astrologers, global warming deniers, moon-landing deniers or whatever.

    Mockery is a perfectly legitimate response to those who persistently assert erroneous claims in the face of reason and evidence and pose as presenting their personal opinions as “superior” to expert scientific studies.

    Demanding respect for unsupported assertions and speculations, while failing to engage with the evidence presented, does not earn respect.
    Scientific evidence is assembled by the hard work of very large numbers of experts over long periods of time.
    Introspective speculative personal opinions don’t even come close in intellectual standing.

    Those who show no respect for world leading expert scientific opinion, are in no position to act offended when their own very limited attempts are dismissed by those well informed on the subjects which they have not even studied even at a basic level and won’t even look at.

    In science, refuted claims are discarded.
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  • I think you missed my point. If claims are valid because they are based upon personal experience, who’s to say that I am not Napoleon, – if I claimed it ! Personal experience is notoriously untrustworthy which is why scientists keep an eye on what the others are doing. Science works, it keeps the sat nav in your phone accurate. Personal experiences are just that, personal.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 25, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    Here, the point of the meditation is not to figure out whether it physically is “out there” or not.

    Scientists and science, do not exclude aspects of brain or body function from their studies.
    (They look at all aspects.)

    To do so, would be like excluding the nature of sound-waves, the functioning of musical instruments, and the biology of the human ear, from the study of music.

    Science looks at the big-picture, including the parts some people won’t, or don’t want to, look at.
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  • For Christianity, the conflict with science has come about

    because it has no mechanism to generate test and improve fruitful hypotheses about life, the universe or anything.

    There is no problem with current physics not because it is 100% correct but because it is the product (100%) of a process, utterly universal in applicability, the scientific method.

    Until the religious can stop thinking dogmatically that they have the answer to their questions sewn up and in the bag, they may be stuck forever with the thing someone first thought of.

    Want to find God? You’d have a better chance going with science and corroborated evidence and a fewer preconceptions. Its not the rationalists who are closed down…
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  • Anthony
    Apr 25, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    If someone says something that sounds conflictive with science and then after a short conversation they are more than willing to consider a range of scientific claims alongside their beliefs, is it really fair to treat their beliefs as anti-science?

    The problem is that many of their beliefs are anti-science – with some also anti-reason.

    My response here comes from a number of directions at once, while the general point is just that the assertions of this kind of forum are often too knee-jerk in nature when locating their perceived opponents within society.

    That is your misconception, which fails to recognise that scientists use scientific methodology not ” knee-jerks”, in evaluating such claims.

    when locating their perceived opponents within society.

    It is very easy, when “perceived opponents”, are on record persistently incompetently disputing and ignoring, scientific evidence. No knee-jerks involved.
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  • Anthony seems to use the word “condescension”, or derivatives thereof, often, when referring to the so-called atheist view. He ignores the science presented by Alan4 and others, as if it was unimportant. An unwise choice IMO.

    Oh wouldn’t the philosophers just love to create whole universes with mere words !

    The rest of us have to deal with realty as it presents itself. No detectable God, only natural explanations for most things. The unknown of course , in no way provides evidence of the supernatural.
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  • Anthony,

    But you can still have a general discussion about religious belief. As for the Zen, I will sit.

    More importantly earlier you said

    I sense about public atheism is its condescension towards human experience; a real enjoyment of making fun of common people’s thoughts and practices. I cannot really get into this part of it.

    Could not agree more . Ethnographically looking at western culture , particularly American, the way some militant atheists and scientismists arrogantly and contemptuously dismiss the lives and experiences of billions of people is a mirror of the fundamentalist religious view of atheists. Two tribes engaged in a irrational war, which to an outsider seems a cultural and political war more than anything else.

    Ironically these militant atheists, forever and correctly extolling the values of evidence based reason, ignore all the evidence showing the positive effects religion has had on the lives of millions of people. They illogically ignore the fact that the nonexistence of God makes absolutely no difference to the benefits religion has given to people and equally illogical seem to think that if people mistakenly believe in the existence of God this means that all their subsequent thoughts and actions are also deluded.

    At this point I have to point out that I am an atheist and fully understand the powers of science so please no rants on how science can explain why cats do not really have 9 lives.
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  • Hi Anthony, if your premise is that someone has to have had a mystical experience to comment on the subject, then it’s kind of pointless to come to an atheist website and bring up the topic.

    And people are free to call experiences they don’t understand supernatural. I don’t think anyone is talking about criminalizing the idea.
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  • Ironically these militant atheists, forever and correctly extolling the values of evidence based reason, ignore all the evidence showing the positive effects religion has had on the lives of millions of people.

    Belief in the power of belief has been debated here many, many times. It is not ignored. But given that the main atheist complaint is the religious control of many societies or parts thereof, on the basis of a supernatural authority, any incidental merit claimed for their unlikely beliefs is mostly besides the point.

    Most evidence offered for the relative merits of belief has rather suffered a reversal of late now that the merits are increasingly demonstrated not to lie in the beliefs per se but the need not to be part of the despised out-group.
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  • 118
    Lorenzo says:

    So when respectable public figures link bringing children up in a religious faith with child abuse, I start to get a little nervous.

    It depends on what that religious upbringing involves, really.
    The request of participation in a few substantially harmless rituals? No, really not abusive… boring perhaps, but not abusive.
    Genital mutilation or sectarian violence as a noble thing? Then yes, that is abusive, very much so.

    In conclusion: unless you have done something unspeakable to your children, related to religion or not, your job is safe.

    As a side note: discrimination (or much worse) based on beliefs and ideas is something horrible and idiotic. I’d hate to see it done against anyone, atheist and religious alike. If someone ever lost her job only because of her faith, I’d defend her to the last of my words. I hope everybody here agrees.
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  • Phil,

    The significance and power of religion, positive and negative, lies more in the cultural, psychological and political rather than in just not wishing to be part of a despised out-group , although of course that can be a factor.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 25, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    The phrase “navel gazing” is the quintessential condescending reply.

    What a quintessentially condescending evasive reply!

    http://spiritofmaat.com/magazine/june-2013-midsummer-solstice-issue/navel-gazing-101-a-mini-meditation-seminar/
    .The Navel Chakra – a quick primer
    The primary way that the body generates its own prana (energy or chi) is through the navel chakra and your breath. As you breathe in there are two vortexes located at your physical navel; one in front and in back. With each breath prana is drawn through the back and front vortexes of the navel chakra into the core of your body.

    This does not display understanding of what said person has actually done or experienced.

    I asked you for details in an earlier post and gave you a link to a medical website describing various forms of vision.

    You offered no details or evidence, but also described that comment (Alan4discussion
    Apr 24, 2015 at 6:25 pm), as “condescending”.

    If you were to actually offer data about what a number of specific believers actually do in their lives, where the specific content of their daily experience and insights come from,

    The claim was yours! Why should I be expected to provide the data you are withholding? I have already provided links to a medical website and a science article on hallucinatory visions and on Buddhist brain management, and suggested a form of the navel gazing meditation you mentioned, but you have produced no response apart from making strange claims about reasoning, gravity, “What is understood by science”, non-belief, atheism, and condescension.

    then your point would be more convincing.

    The point was yours, but you have yet to supply any details or evidence. I have provided you with possible examples and asked you to give details.

    You had an undisclosed experience and you expect other people to accept your rejection of scientific explanations of these while you refuse to make constructive or coherent comments on the science or the examples given.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 25, 2015 at 1:10 am

    Having another vantage point here does not mean that someone has simply another opinion.

    I think it does.

    It means they have different cognitive resources and data to go on;

    or more accurately they have delusions of imagined hallucinatory “cognitive resources”, as described in medical publications and shaman studies.

    although it might not be possible for others to recognise the data they have.

    Although such data is readily available in published papers.

    Ryan1306
    Apr 25, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    Hi Anthony, if your premise is that someone has to have had a mystical experience to comment on the subject,

    I know people who have had mystical experiences and they told me which psychedelic substances they took to achieve those when they were describing them!
    Those substitute chemicals replacing neurotransmitters at synapses, produce impressive images.
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  • 122
    Anthony says:

    “The religious” here refers to which persons? Which groups or cultures? There is no question that some of most profound disciplines of contemplation have come from or been inspired by religious traditions of one sort or another. Here, again, is the simplification of religious people, which also entails a kind of condescension.
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  • 123
    Anthony says:

    This is a somewhat idealised account of scientific practice. The actual history of science also includes situations where refuted claims are not discarded. The concept of refutation is also not entirely clearcut, in terms what its specific conditions and usage. At best, refutation comes closest to being straightforward within “pure” sciences.
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  • 124
    Anthony says:

    Again, our concerns might be orthogonally related, meaning, we might be talking past each other. My point is that when you say something generally about “religious belief,” you make use of an overly broad category of human practices and disciplines. Some “religious” practices involve meditation and contemplation, in which it is not really relevant whether some specific being exists or not; thus it is misleading to say that there is something here which conflicts with science. The main point I have been trying to make throughout most posts here is this: that it is simply unfair to claim that something so broad and complex as “religion” or “religious belief” is problematic from a scientific point of view. There is little question that some of the practices and beliefs contained therein do not conflict with scientific claims, and consonance between their goals is not hard to come by.
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  • 125
    Anthony says:

    This kind of forum could have a more positive and productive interaction with persons who are not straightforwardly atheist, if there were a concerted effort to precisely define the family of assertions or belief-states that are being opposed. Something other than “religion” or “religious beliefs,” which are simply too broad; to be replaced by a concise set of characteristics of assertions, etc. Must one exclude only claims of the existence of deities, or also metaphysical claims of various other kinds, such as those of transcendentalism, tantra, Chinese medicine, etc.? If other metaphysical claims are excluded besides the above sort, does this include claims that are intentionally aimed at incorporating scientific views but move beyond them? Are practices of contemplating divine characteristics but without existential assertions included here? etc.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 26, 2015 at 8:56 am

    This is a somewhat idealised account of scientific practice.

    Science makes no claims that its operators are perfect, but it has built-n safeguards in its methodology, and persists with seeking new evidence which confirms, up-grades, or refutes previous srudies.

    The actual history of science also includes situations where refuted claims are not discarded.

    Or at least not discarded for a while, until details are clear!

    The concept of refutation is also not entirely clearcut, in terms what its specific conditions and usage.

    It is absolutely clear cut when claims fail and subsequent work proves earlier claims flawed or dishonest.

    At best, refutation comes closest to being straightforward within “pure” sciences.

    Any field for science can have incompetent or dishonest claims refuted.

    That is the difference between science and religious claims.
    Faith-groups regularly cling to flawed beliefs for decades or centuries in the face of clear cut evidence. (eg the RCC and Galileo)
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  • 127
    Anthony says:

    Also, what exactly is the nature of the critique aimed at metaphysical claims of these sorts; especially where such ways of thinking specifically aid in the use of personal disciplines such as meditation, etc.? Is a proponent of atheism someone who opposes metaphysical assertions in principle, or just assertions that are used for “religious purposes” (one also needs to define what that is). If the opposition is to all classes of metaphysical assertion, is there any difference between atheism of this kind and logical positivism (Carnap, etc.)?
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  • The significance and power of religion, positive and negative, lies more in the cultural, psychological and political rather than in just not wishing to be part of a despised out-group , although of course that can be a factor.

    What are the cultural and political boons of religion you imagine that aren’t immediately oppressive to the non religious?

    What psychological boon elevates Russia (psychologically!) over Denmark?

    What magnification of The Good has religion disproportionately achieved over the new secular states building it in to the very fabric of their societies?

    I often praise the Quakers here, just to prove that religion can be excercised in a morally exemplary fashion, had the religious a real mind to. But for most (particularly in the US where half of claimed church attenders lie about the fact) religion is a box to tick to exonerate them from the daily due diligence of moral decision making thriving societies need. Yet the religious so often flatter themselves they are Quaker-like….. Ah yes one of religion’s greatest personal psychological boons, removing moral concerns whilst reassuring you you are assuming them. Lauding the very idea of charity (giving with added personal feel-good) rather than recognising the very need for it represents a societal failure thereby shoring up a powerfully selfish and notably unequal country….What’s not to like?
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  • 129
    Anthony says:

    You are definitely right, to point out that not all public atheists are condescending. To say that would be very unfair, a kind of stereotype of persons. There is a certain brand of public atheistic critique, however, that comes across as condescending. One focal feature of this is talking about religious people as if they were all one type; this is talking-down because it overlooks the subtlety of people involved in religious practices; that they each have their thinking, experience, flexibility, etc. But, yes, “atheists” are also equally subtle and varied in their thinking.
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  • 130
    Anthony says:

    Hi, thanks for the input and well taken. But, one thing. My understanding about the benefits of religiously-sourced practices is that as they become more and more explicitly secularised, the effects are also changed by this. This happens as the issue of existence of non-existence of something becomes more and more the issue on the table; and when one is sitting there praying, etc., one is also thinking about this issue. If it were not made into such an issue, there would not be such a perception of difference. I have concerns about just how rational it is for atheists to place so much emphasis on the issue of whether something exists or not, and about the making of claims of this kind. If there are other problems with religion, I would feel more supportive to placing emphasis on these aspects rather on the use of existential claims. If you had to characterise the main concern/motivation behind taking an atheistic stance, for you, what would it be?
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  • Anthony
    Apr 26, 2015 at 9:00 am

    The main point I have been trying to make throughout most posts here is this: that it is simply unfair to claim that something so broad and complex as “religion” or “religious belief” is problematic from a scientific point of view

    You have made this claim of unspecified unfairness previously. Unfairness is a subjective view of biases, not a view of accuracy.

    It has been explained that there are unreliable thinking processes (belief on faith) which are common to many religions, and the psychology of their followers.

    The fact that there is a diversity of religions, is not a reason to dodge the issues where specifics are involved.

    As has been previously said, if you want to make a case for your views on meditation and visions, present the evidence.

    simply unfair to claim that something so broad and complex as “religion” or “religious belief” is problematic from a scientific point of view

    This is just a silly evasion of the real issues.

    Many religious claims have huge problems with credibility, because of their contradictions of firmly established scientific evidence.

    Those who deny the contradictions, usually only demonstrate their lack of understanding of the science, and frequently their lack of understanding of the religions as well.

    Vague denials are pointless without specific examples being analysed.
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  • I always exclude non-theistic Buddhism in my accounts of religion. The recent thread on defining religion has my account of what I think it to be. Non-theistic Buddhism is entirely atypical of the Abrahamic faiths and represents a sincere attempt in its day at intellectual honesty being truth driven rather than dogma driven.

    But now we have dealt with your diversion.

    Atheists belittle human experience….

    No we don’t.

    Your turn…
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  • Anthony,

    It would oppose most if not all metaphysical propositions, especially if they were about the nature of reality. As Wittgenstein remarked “the trouble with most metaphysical propositions is not that they are right or wrong, but that they are nonsense.”

    However many of the things you mention such as meditation, Zen and tantra do not usually make metaphysical assertions about the nature of reality, instead they are techniques and ways of behaving generally orientated towards recognising and modifying mental habits. As you say they form a distinctive group of practices within what is here overgeneralised as “religious belief”.

    Other tenets of religion are not metaphysical and in conflict with science. For example the central concept of Buddhism, Pratītyasamutpāda which is usually translated as Dependent Origin, is neither metaphysical or in conflict with scientific methodology, being one of the first statements of the universality of cause and effect.
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  • 134
    Anthony says:

    I think much of what I said here is consonant with what you said. Thus, maybe not much to talk about really, except the last question. Also, its good to sit 🙂
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  • 135
    Anthony says:

    Steve,

    What you say here about dependent origination seems fair. But, this being the case, I have often wondered what the fuss is about “secular Buddhism”. Why is there a concern that, perhaps, one needs to make buddhism more secular, given that even the usage of divine qualities in meditation ultimately is a kind of skillful means, and not necessarily something on a par with an unscientific claim. On this point, I suspect that many religious traditions are, at root, something more like skilful means; not necessarily something that is primarily about making unscientific existential claims. Perhaps one kind of religious practice that comes particularly close to being overtly nonscientific would be creationism, but this is an offshoot of contemporary fundamentalism and is not something that has existed for a long time. With regard to Wittgenstein, I think it is important to understand that metaphysical language, like everything else, is part of a language game; linked with social practice; and that its local pragmatics must be understood before one has good reason to denounce it. We could debate about how to read his talk of “nonsense,” after looking at language as a practice rather than as a set of abstract logical assertions. Admitting, public atheism is also a meaningful practice of one kind. 🙂
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  • Phil,

    I said positive and negative. I do not deny the negatives, but then again I do not refuse to see the positives.

    I am aware there is a political struggle going on in your country and others with the secular pitted against the religious but that should not blind you. Many religious people, not just Quakers, have thanks to following their religion, led by any standards exemplary lifes and have unselfishly helped and benefited all around them. Many religious people, guided by their religion, have also spewed forth venom and hate and caused untold damage.

    Do you find the Archbishop of Canterbury oppressive? The Dalai Lama? My local Iman who spends most his life involved unselfishly in charitable works? Are the Salvation Army intent on world domination ? Have all religious folk ” removed moral concerns whilst reassuring themselves they have assumed them”.?

    Are all the billions of religious people all tarred with the same broad brush?
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  • 137
    Anthony says:

    Hmm, the edit function just timed out. I was trying to write: not sure what you make of highly elaborate models of energetic response (chakras) in Buddhist, tantric, and Chinese medicine practices. In meditations I have found these very precisely map physical and cognitive/emotional response; sometimes to a surprising degree. But it is very hard to use models of this kind in a predictive way since almost all the data is experientially private. This privateness requires us to use models which are metaphysical, to some extent. Often metaphysical models lead to scientific research, and these mutually inform each other. Very strictly Zen practice in American and Japanese forms try very hard not to use any of this, and for a reason. But, coming back to the concept of dependent arising, one could argue that this concept is subtlety metaphysical (I meant to change this before the edit function turned off). It is so, by making a universal negative claim: that there are no independent causes. What to make of this? The broader point is that, even in Zen, a little bit of metaphysics is indispensable for the practitioner.
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  • Anthony,

    As Wittgenstein regarded all language as a practice I am pretty sure he meant nonsense in all and every sense of the term. All metaphysics is by definition not scientific.

    The forcible intrusion of religion into the secular world is the main reason of the wholesale condemnation of religion you find here and elsewhere. Despite my standing up for some aspects of religion I am in full accord with fighting against the forcing of religion onto the civil world in all societies across the world. If religion were so to speak just a matter for consenting adults then not many would rail against it. The conflict is not metaphysical but primarily social and political blah blah my usual stuff etc
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  • 139
    Anthony says:

    Comment by Steve: The forcible intrusion of religion into the secular world is the main reason of the wholesale condemnation of religion you find here and elsewhere.

    I see what you arguing for. But, I do not see religion as always having been intrusive. In many cases, it simply builds upon and elaborates local cultural practices of other “secular” kinds. There have been studies of Taiwan religiosity which show that religiosity increases with increased educational level and young age. This is the inverse of typical expectations within a secularisation model of modernity. One reason this happens is because religiosity in Taiwan is seldom experienced, framed, or treated as something conflictive with scientific claims or views. This is so, even in highly traditional practice settings. For the connections between religiosity and personal lifestyle, liberty, social activism and volunteerism in Taiwan, one can look for example at the research by Richard Madsen at San Diego. The reason for the anti-religious leaning in mainland China is because of the very intensive social effects of Communism, and not because of modernity in general. Many traditional kinds of Chinese religiosity, on the whole, are very close to peasant cultural practices and is often hard to clearly distinguish from them. The reason that many westerners experience a strong conflict between secular and religious views is because of the role of the Christian church as the central political power in early Europe, and its usage by political powers since that time as a pawn within political projects of various kinds. There are also many other historical cases of religious and political power being locked together; the reason for this might have to do with the way in which religious practices often mirror very deep-seated feelings and wishes. But for this same reason, it can also be used in positive ways, as in the Taiwan case.
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  • I do not refuse to see the positives.

    Nor me!

    There are good individuals. There always were. The Dalai Lama has nothing to do with religion as far as I’m concerned. My last comment here on the previous AoC expressed my disgust that he prefered the preservation of his institution in tact over taking a decent moral stand.

    I’ll ask once more. What are these three types of boon? Remember the context of the question too-

    the evidence showing the positive effects religion has had on the lives of millions of people

    and I finessed this (perhaps unfairly) to, in effect, ask what boons were these that couldn’t be done better now?
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  • Anthony,

    Chakras etc are not scientific but means of utilising a physical technique.

    The original collection of the Buddha’s sayings, the Tipitaka or Pali canon, has no the slightest whiff of metaphysics. In fact one of the main original thrusts of Buddhism was to totally reject Hindu metaphysics. Metaphysics intruded into Buddhism as skilful means, as it adopted and modified indigenous traditions.
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  • Anthony,

    Which proves my point. It is only when the religious try and force their views and practices onto civil society that a necessary conflict arises, and this applies to any religion or society throughout history.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 26, 2015 at 9:08 am

    This kind of forum could have a more positive and productive interaction with persons who are not straightforwardly atheist, if there were a concerted effort to precisely define the family of assertions or belief-states that are being opposed.

    There are thousands of Christian denominations alone, and many sects of other religions and supernatural beliefs.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_deities

    It is up to the faithful to define what their personal beliefs are, or the to state the beliefs of their particular religion.

    Individual beliefs (many of which contradict each other) are looked at on their merits, in terms of scientific evidence, historical evidence, and logically reasoned argument.

    Those which fail to meet those standards are challenged, with mistaken, or unevidenced claims also challenged.

    There are of course, also scientific discussions on this site which are not directly connected to religions, but which also operate to those standards.

    If other metaphysical claims are excluded besides the above sort, does this include claims that are intentionally aimed at incorporating scientific views but move beyond them?

    If claims are dressed up as science but then make claims “beyond scientific methodology”, they are no longer science and are the well known pseudo-science which falsely poses as science.
    Competent scientists regularly refute them.

    Science is of course “how stuff works” in the real world.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 26, 2015 at 10:29 am

    There have been studies of Taiwan religiosity which show that religiosity increases with increased educational level and young age.

    Do you have a link to any such scientific studies.
    The evidence from surveys in the wider world show religiosity is highest in impoverished backward countries and lowest in the well educated ones benefiting from modern science.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-god-dying/
    according to the Religion Monitor report using the survey data, “socio-economic well-being generally results in a decline in the social significance of religion in society and a decrease in the numbers of people who base their life praxis on religious norms and rules.” Why? One of the social functions of religion is to help the poor, so as a country’s impoverished declines (and, as in Sweden and other European countries, government social programs aid the poor), so, too, does religiosity. And because the middle classes of most countries are growing from the youth up, that could explain the report’s assessment that “almost all the countries in the study … exhibit a decline in the centrality and significance of religion for daily life from one generation to another. As a general rule, the younger people are, the lower their religiosity.”
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  • Steve
    Apr 26, 2015 at 10:06 am

    Do you find the Archbishop of Canterbury oppressive?

    I think people borrowing church money might! Wonga.com© – 292%pa (fixed). One total repayment of: £110.40. Representative 1,509%APR.

    borrow …
    Wonga banned from using ad that didn’t mention 5853% interest rate

    Have all religious folk ” removed moral concerns whilst reassuring themselves they have assumed them”.?

    A good question when it comes to ethical investment of church money! !

    Embarrassed: Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby waged his own war on Wonga but was left red-faced when he found out about the church’s stake in the firm.

    The Church will also still invest in pooled schemes where money goes into a fund and it may not have control over where the money ends up. A pooled investment led to it holding a stake in Wonga, which led to an embarrassed Archbishop Canterbury Justin Welby waging his own war on the firm.

    ‘We have never wanted to invest in Wonga; the Commissioners would much rather we weren’t in it,’ said Mason.

    Its new guidelines will allow it to put money directly into a company that does things of which the Church disapproves – such as offering high-interest loans, selling tobacco or promoting gambling – if the ‘unethical’ business accounts for 10 per cent or less of its total turnover.

    Previously, it allowed itself to do so if it accounted for up to 25 per cent of turnover.
    http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-2681811/Church-England-reviews-commandments-investment-ethics-Wonga-fiasco.html
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  • 146
    Anthony says:

    https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CB4QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonlinelibrary.wiley.com%2Fdoi%2F10.1111%2Fjssr.12128%2Fabstract&ei=fhA9Vd2MGYSNmwWK54HIDg&usg=AFQjCNFZYehACYxQcXSxNPRm8oRb979ERQ&sig2=oTAMcqn70R-lKq5jsiFeNw&bvm=bv.91665533,d.dGY

    Title: Does Education Develop or Diminish Spirituality in Taiwan?

    I need to clarify a bit. There is a decrease in identification with organised religious institutions; which probably has a lot to do with anti-authority directions in the society and the tendency for older institutions to de-individualise and suppress individual spiritual seeking. However, there is an overall increase in spirituality and spiritual experience, with increased education. This includes an overall increase in detailed self-reports of religious experiences. Madsen and other authors show how spirituality in Taiwan is increasingly individualistic, and how religious institutions that have a strong presence are decentralised and promote individualised spiritual process and lay rather than professional leadership. These are probably parallel developments. There is other research in Chinese that shows New Age to be a surprising strong development in Taiwan, and how new age approaches tend to link with and affirm traditional religious models rather than replace them. The main change brought about by new age groups is in regard to decentralised institutional form and increased attention to convergences with psychology and psychotherapy.
    With regard to science, there are science-oriented people I have met in Taiwan who disapprove of highly local kinds of religiosity; this partly has to do with the perception of social class; but there is a very strong and widespread movement toward consonance between science and various kinds of Buddhism.
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  • 147
    Anthony says:

    If wish to mention the latter details or summary elsewhere, can please mention my name as source: Anthony Estes; thkx… The research is still underway.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 26, 2015 at 12:33 pm
    @ your link Title: Does Education Develop or Diminish Spirituality in Taiwan?
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jssr.12128/abstract

    @link – There has been little research on the effects of education on religion and spirituality in Chinese societies. This gap is addressed through quantitative analysis of a new dataset, the Religious Experience Survey in Taiwan, in conjunction with the repeated cross-sectional Taiwan Social Change Survey. In Taiwan, people with higher education are less likely than others to say that they have a religion, to worship or pray frequently, and to regard those activities as important.

    The link you have given appears to directly contradict your earlier claim!

    Anthony – Apr 26, 2015 at 10:29 am

    There have been studies of Taiwan religiosity which show that religiosity increases with increased educational level and young age.

    They are more likely, however, to express an interest in mystical or supernatural things, and to report a variety of religious experiences.
    This paradox arises not because the educated Taiwanese are spiritual but not religious, but rather because they are somewhat polarized: those who have no religion and those reporting religious experiences are not the same individuals.

    The official promotion of Confucian thought and its adoption by the educated elite helps to explain the surprising conjunction of declining religious affiliation and increased engagement with spirituality.

    What the link actually shows, is that official promotion of Confucian thought, has created an interest in enquiring into concepts of spirituality in a section of the educated population, while religiosity is in general decline.
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  • 149
    Anthony says:

    This depends on how we define religiosity. If we define it as identification with institutions defined as religious, then there is a decline. But if it is defined via religious experience, then we need to take this article together with other studies regarding the nature of this kind of religious experience and practice. If taken together with material on the new age movement in Taiwan, what we see is the increase in interest in spirituality discussed in this article builds upon existing traditions. The tendency to say one has no religion has to do with how religion is defined in this society. The use of words we translate as “spiritual” are extremely widespread. Take a look at the specific content of kinds of religious experiences increasingly reported, in the charts within the article. pp. 565-567. Those kinds of experience on the incline include energy, channeling, spirits, karma, mandate of heaven, etc., as among experiential themes positively related to education. With regard to how these things are reported, there are some stigmas attached to talking about them in certain ways. Describing experiences as being close to “folk religion” (inclusive of channeling) is stigmatised for certain classes of people, even though the experience itself might be quite similar. This comes partly from my own fieldwork and it hasn’t been published yet. The article focuses on some splits that can seem odd if there were to occur in western societies. For example, less trust in prayer but greater frequency of experiences of Jesus or Mary, among a segment of people who are inclined to this kind of experience.
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  • 150
    Anthony says:

    p. 559: And yet the well-educated are also more likely than others to express an interest in mystical or supernatural things, and to report experiences that one might regard as

    SPIRITUALITY IN TAIWAN 559
    religious or spiritual. We are thus faced with an apparent paradox: these personal experiences are more frequent where the social support for religion would seem to be weakest. p. 562: “In short, the less well educated are conventionally religious but only moderately inclined to report religious experience. The highly educated are more prone to seeing extraordinary powers at work, despite being less conventionally religious. These contrasting dispositions to religiosity and supernaturalism seem surprising.” Based on my own background and other work, these extraordinary powers are framed in terms familiar to Daoist and Buddhist traditions; especially Daoism (aka folk religion, given the way terms are locally used). See also the charts mentioned, for some of this. This contrast points out the importance of increased sensitivity to special kinds of experiences that are family-related to religious understandings, even though participants say they have no religion. A response that one “has no religion” is ambiguous in terms of what it means; sometimes a way of disidentifying with the existing choices in terms of social authority, leadership, charisma, which is a major aspect of religion in Taiwan. It is significant that a number of Buddhist organisations promote the “new age” concept of being spiritual but not religious; this also from my fieldwork. Thus, the problem of how to code things is really a key issue.
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  • 151
    Anthony says:

    If you read this article very carefully and think carefully about the various local variables, what you begin to see is a culturally different understanding regarding what religious belief actually is or entails. But, read too quickly and you will miss this point. The decline of institutional religion is not due to loss of certain kinds of beliefs/attributions. It is a result of increasing concern about having power over one’s own life; private spirituality contributes to this for a steady segment of the educated population, while older institutions can detract from it. This is also mentioned in the article. There are a number of other details here that also affect how one understands this causality; which I will not go into now because I have not published the data yet.
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  • 152
    Anthony says:

    Dear Alan4, I really appreciate your intensive focus on these kinds of details. Will try to be more concise:

    Here is the longer quote for the section you are talking about: “In Taiwan, people with higher education are less likely than others to say that they have a religion, to worship or pray frequently, and to regard those activities as important. They are more likely, however, to express an interest in mystical or supernatural things and to report a variety of religious experiences.”

    Thus, the article does not show a general decline. It shows a different direction of development in terms of the kind of religiosity. This is consonant with what I said above; that spiritual experiences increase with education level. See the pages inside the article mentioned above.

    The mention of Confucian thought as a possible cause is not really elaborated much in the article; and other causes are also present. Some will come through in my fieldwork.
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  • that spiritual experiences increase with education level.

    Given that collateral damage from our evolution leaves us with a propensity to fabricate answers to issues in the absence of evidence, this result is not surprising. It takes an enormous act of intellectual will to over throw our brains desire to associate cause and effect, even if none exists.

    All through history, the fact that lots of people believe something, or practice something, is not evidence of truth of anything.
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  • The link you have given appears to directly contradict your earlier claim!

    Thank you Allan4. It most certainly does. Education cures religiosity everywhere.

    Religiosity involves frontal lobe deficits which are not alleviated by embracing euphemisms like spirituality to disguise a more sophisticated theological justification for delusional beliefs.

    Renaming religiosity in an effort to invoke respect has been tried before. Christian Science and Scientology are excellent examples of religion masquerading as sanity. The phrase “psychotherapeutic use of Mindfulness” reflects the conceit of believers, utterly convinced that HumptyDumptyism is a valid strategy to supplant neuroscience and psychiatry.

    For a scientific understanding of this theological wordplay see Paloutzian, R., Swenson, E., & McNamara, P. (2006). Religious conversion, spiritual transformation, and the neurocognition of meaning making.

    Atheism is protective of mental health, apparently.
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  • Len,

    Religiosity involves frontal lobe deficits ……

    If this were true then, as their are more religious people than atheists, objectively it would mean that it is non- religious people who are deviating from the “norm” and thus it is they who have a frontal lobe “deficit”
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  • Religiosity involves frontal lobe deficits which are not alleviated by embracing euphemisms like spirituality to disguise a more sophisticated theological justification for delusional beliefs.

    I was looking at the book up above, the title and the author. Why We Believe in God. I stumble across this YouTube presentation by the author, on exactly this topic. The talk is scientific but understandable. I’m around the 40 minute mark now, and religion is the by product of areas of our brain that have developed an evolution function, but are also capable of creating religions.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iMmvu9eMrg
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  • Anthony
    Apr 26, 2015 at 4:27 pm

    If you read this article very carefully and think carefully about the various local variables, what you begin to see is a culturally different understanding regarding what religious belief actually is or entails.

    Indeed so. As I pointed out and is illustrated by my previous links> This is a local anomaly in one religious section of a community, which is the changing of the emphasis in their religious views.

    Anthony
    Apr 26, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    p. 559: And yet the well-educated are also more likely than others to express an interest in mystical or supernatural things, and to report experiences that one might regard as SPIRITUALITY IN TAIWAN 559
    religious or spiritual. We are thus faced with an apparent paradox:

    @ your link – This paradox arises not because the educated Taiwanese are spiritual but not religious, but rather because they are somewhat polarized: those who have no religion and those reporting religious experiences are not the same individuals.

    It is the already religious, who are reporting an increase in “spiritual activities” NOT those with no religion.

    There are similar anomalies in the USA in places like “Liberty University” where “Young Earth Creationism” is on the increase in a so-called “educational establishment”, due to local missionary activities within the establishment.

    Global trends are going in the opposite direction away from religiosity in educated developed countries, as understandings of science and rational thought become more widespread.

    The highly educated are more prone to seeing extraordinary powers at work, despite being less conventionally religious.

    Indeed so – probably BECAUSE they are less religious and look for real answers – which is why the vast majority of leading scientific bodies show the vast majority of their membership as atheists, who understand the awesome powers of the laws of physics, and don’t resort to supernatural gap-fillers to cover their ignorance of the workings of human biology or the workings of the universe.
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  • Anthony,

    The main idea behind my atheism is that I have always thought the concept of God is one of the dumbest concepts humankind has ever come up with. Even as a child I found it bewildering and frightening that people could actually believe such nonsense. Now as an old man I realise that the power of religion is social not metaphysical.
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  • it is non- religious people who are deviating from the “norm” and thus it is they who have a frontal lobe “deficit”

    Having highly developed frontal lobes takes decent early education. Effective Executive function and the ability to inhibit fantasy-induced fear can’t be considered a “deficit” Steve, even if abnormal.

    If you’re interested to learn more about the psychiatry of religion try Andy Thomson’s excellent book, or his talk as recommended by David R Allen just below. If you’re curious about Anthony’s novel apologetics simply read the paper I’ve already cited about the “neurocognition of making meaning” by McNamara et el.

    Anthony expediently “makes his meaning” by fantasizing that New Age “convergences with psychology and psychotherapy” exist through “Mindfulness” for goodness sake, calling that deepity woo “data”.

    Atheism is demonstrably useful for protecting our mental health.
    See McNamara, P. (2001). Religion and the frontal lobes. In J. Andresen (Ed.), Religion in mind (pp. 237-256). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. “Patrick McNamara…Dept. of Neurology at Boston Uni…pioneered investigation of the role of the frontal lobes in mediation of religious experience“.
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  • What Anthony describes seems no different to the western experience of an explosion in New Age nonsense as organised religion retreats and new marketeers take their place. In Taiwan, perhaps, the poor, ill-educated and otherwise hopeless remain in thrall to the old-school exploiters needing a proper fix of religious hope against hope, leaving the stressed affluent to seek out just a little mental respite for that stress.

    The difference is that as some, Sam Harris or Steve Zara will point out the efforts of non-theistic Buddhism are more honourable and have some merit to put in the scales. Indeed, to not notice this qualitative difference with theism is a little unfair….BUT…. These accounts of achieving “mindfulness” etc. however, honestly intentioned and however occasionaly therapeutic exist in a context less tested and documented than even Freud’s “Just So” stories. There is no way of knowing what is useful or what is time wasting and why. Anything that looks like dogma, that can’t properly account for itself, should be on the list of things for setting aside.

    And it will increasingly be set aside as psychology maps out these kinds of areas, roping in therapies not a million miles from some aspects of mindfulness practises perhaps some CBT with maybe a little nip of SSRI or THC. (My favourites of walking to exhaustion, sleep and reading may get in there too.) With more sharable experiences epidemiologically tied to other health, personality and experience indicators, this area of sub-clinical mental health will explode responding to empiricism and reason.

    Just beware the marketeers on the way.
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  • Len,

    “Deficit” is your terminology not mine.

    In most countries religious people get the same education as others.

    Or is it a specific piece of education that highly develops these lobes? Does it mean we can now do a scan and see religious and atheist lobes? Do Muslims have different lobes to Christians? Or is the criteria for highly developed frontal lobes just not believing in God etc? Deepity woo?

    And personally the last thing in the world I would want is something called “effective executive function”
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  • In most countries religious people get the same education as others.

    No they don’t in the key area Len identified.

    decent early education

    Hands together. Eyes closed.

    I think early education (often from home) is a misnomer. At least for those under say 7. A better term is Training and when it goes wrong a betterer term is Indoctrination.

    Again and again people fail to comprehend how unique the human infant brain is compared with the other ape infant brains. Dr Victoria Horner shows in her two puzzle box experiment that kids and chimp kids though equally capable of solving the puzzle, only chimp kids cannot be tricked by the authority figure. Human infants can be taught to believe things against the evidence of their own eyes and reason. This may be the seat of culture, but the seat of a deceitful culture also. (There is a good reason for this state of affairs I can go into.)
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  • Phil,

    My point is solely about “highly developed lobes”.

    Can we scan and see highly developed lobes in atheists? Does this mean religious people have brain damage? How does this affect the rest of their lives? Is it safe for them to drive ? Do they also believe in Santa Claus then, or is special lobeness restricted to only religious delusions?How does indocrination inhibit lobal development? How much exposure to religious indoctrination inhibits lobal development? 5 minutes? 2 years?Or is there some special lobal magic anti- metaphysical dust which leads to highly developed lobes? Do the lobes lead to bumps on the head enabling us to identify atheists by touch? Or is the only criteria for highly developed lobes a disbelief in religion?
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  • I’ve been trying to find a reference of mine to the worst mind fritzing religious indoctrination I ever encountered. A mere poem in a small book of similar stuff, it is worse than those Islamist TV programs for kids getting them to sing cheerfully about killing Islam’s enemies. These may at least be undone before bomb making age by finding out-groups to be not hateful in an entirely killable way. But this saccharine little poem for four year olds with cutesy drawings instructs them to thank God for the stars twinkling and the rain falling and keeping the planets on their paths and on and on in like fashion. Before even a chance for discovering the universality of cause and effect, a brain is firm-wired (as trusting and hungry as young brains are) to undercut all later teaching.

    I think a banality has never been so evil.

    The damage is in the firmware. This stuff is almost for keeps and causes pain to uproot. This is why “training” and not “education”. This is the substrate for how you sort and value what comes after in your education and it can make a towering edifice of painful error by the time the penny finally drops.

    A faulty learning substrate is very reasonably a defecit. We are only now getting this bit in better order.
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  • There is this article on research about “spirituality”!

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120419091223.htm

    Now, University of Missouri researchers have completed research that indicates spirituality is a complex phenomenon, and multiple areas of the brain are responsible for the many aspects of spiritual experiences. Based on a previously published study that indicated spiritual transcendence is associated with decreased right parietal lobe functioning, MU researchers replicated their findings. In addition, the researchers determined that other aspects of spiritual functioning are related to increased activity in the frontal lobe.

    “Neuropsychology researchers consistently have shown that impairment on the right side of the brain decreases one’s focus on the self,” Johnstone said. “Since our research shows that people with this impairment are more spiritual, this suggests spiritual experiences are associated with a decreased focus on the self. This is consistent with many religious texts that suggest people should concentrate on the well-being of others rather than on themselves.”

    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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  • phil rimmer
    Apr 27, 2015 at 10:03 am

    What Anthony describes seems no different to the western experience of an explosion in New Age nonsense as organised religion retreats and new marketeers take their place.

    It sounds very like the decline of Xtianity and the rise and the fall of the Jedi!

    http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2012/dec/11/census-data-religion-jedi-knights
    The people of England and Wales may be turning their backs on religion in their droves, with 14 million now saying they have no faith, but the remaining believers appear to be showing greater diversity of belief than ever before. Asked what religion they were, 6,242 answered Heavy Metal, 1,893 said they were Satanists and 650 said they were New Age.

    At the last census in 2001 there was a campaign to encourage people to answer the question with Jedi, and around 330,000 did so. But the force is apparently on the wane according to Tuesday’s figures with 176,632 describing themselves as Jedi Knights.

    Even so, the grouping, named after the fictional good guys in the Star Wars films, remains the biggest single category after the leading faiths of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism. It ranked higher than followers of other established religions, including Rastafarians (just 7,906 in England and Wales), Jains (20,288) and Baha’i (5,021).

    Pagans ranked highly with 56,620 adherents, while 11,766 identified their religion as Wicca and 4,189 said they were druids. All of them scored more highly than Scientology, the church whose figurehead member is the Hollywood star Tom Cruise. Despite building high street branches and a major London HQ, only 2,418 people said they followed the belief system. A total of 29,267 people described their “religion” as atheist while slightly more, 32,382, said they were agnostic.
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  • Ah!

    “Developed Lobes” won’t mean bigger or with more “mental muscles”. Brain matter, particularly young brain matter is “developed” as much by a process called apoptosis (cell death). The young brain at 18months has grown 300% since birth. It is wired in a mostly random manner in these newly created parts. If you know of them they are like FPGAs field programable gate arrays all maximally cross connected and only after “developed” into a usefully functioning state by selective fusing of the links exactly like the programming cell death of apoptosis. We never have as many brain connections again as when we were very young.
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  • personally the last thing in the world I would want is something called “effective executive function”

    Fair enough Steve. I can understand why you’re disinterested but others readers may be curious.

    Executive function is the conscious regulation of thought, emotion and behaviour. It isn’t intelligence. Key functions are cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control and self awareness. These assets are neurologically pruned (apoptosis) by religious indoctrination or biblical parenting. If I had to guess I’d say Anthony began with Pentecostalism.

    “Deepity woo?”

    Parse this pseudo-psychiatric fieldwork, edited for clarity:
    “In meditations I have found these (chakras) very precisely map physical and cognitive/emotional response; sometimes to a surprising degree. But it is very hard to use models of this kind in a predictive way since almost all the data is experientially private. This privateness requires us to use models which are metaphysical…metaphysical models lead to scientific research, and these mutually inform each other…dependent arising is subtlety metaphysical… a certain physical causality contributed does not necessarily rule out the epistemic validity of the knowledge that the person has a result.”

    For understanding I again recommend the work of McNamara. His paper Religious conversion, spiritual transformation, and the neurocognition of meaning making is pertinent.
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  • You misread the lumps on my head

    The deepity doo referred to the pseudo-scientific nonsense about highly developed lobes, not about the Executive Function which is merely a weary metaphor given by some cognitive scientists to a cluster of our mental abilities within their taxonomy of our mental capabilities.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 26, 2015 at 10:41 pm

    Dear Alan4, I really appreciate your intensive focus on these kinds of details. Will try to be more concise:

    Here is the longer quote for the section you are talking about:

    “In Taiwan, people with higher education are less likely than others to say that they have a religion, to worship or pray frequently, and to regard those activities as important.

    They are more likely, however, to express an interest in mystical or supernatural things and to report a variety of religious experiences.”

    IF they are in the group remaining religious in some form.

    Thus, the article does not show a general decline.

    This looks like “wish-thinking interpretation” on your part.

    It shows a different direction of development in terms of the kind of religiosity.

    It shows a diversification and weakening of religion, within the religious sub-group, within higher education.

    This is consonant with what I said above; that spiritual experiences increase with education level.

    No it isn’t! It is consistent with reporting a slight change in religious attitides the similar UK diversification away from religion, worship, frequent prayer, or regarding those activities as important, resulting in some taking up a range of other beliefs, IF they have not joined the non-religious group and abandoned this sort of thinking.
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  • A paper correlating the answers to a “survey” about “spirituality” given by 20 people with right parietal brain damage does not prove anything other than that a group of people with right parietal damage assert they are slighter more “spiritual” than normal.

    To give as part of the reasoning that religious texts say it is right is great unintended irony.

    It is not ” measuring” anything. It is not measuring any activity going on inside the brain at that moment which can be said to be something called spirituality. Answers to a question are not spiritual activity, so it it not spiritual activity which is being correlated with brain damage.

    Did they do a survey before the trauma and compare the results? Did they have a control group of people with different brain traumas ? Of normal people? A study of normal people to see if similar responding normals had decreased activity in the parietal lobe? And decreased compared to what norm and under what state of brain activity? And what is, and how do you measure, “decreased” activity in a normal right parietal lobe? Is this discreased activity continuous, or does it only occur when answering questions about your spiritually? Does it disappear if at a later stage people report decreased spirituality? How did the patients answers to questions on other topics vary from a “norm”, or is this decreased activity only associated with responses to questions asking one to self rank ones spirituality.?

    To claim this is discovering the God spot is risible.
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  • Steve. Can I recommend the video above by the author of the book in the picture. He goes into a lot of good science about how our brain does stuff related to spirituality. And no, there is no claim of a god spot. I found it scientifically informative.
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  • The author of the above book, Andrew Thompson put up a slide in his presentation on the topic of morality that I thought was very good. He compares morality without god, and morality with god.

    Morality is doing what is right, regardless of what we are told.

    Religious dogma is doing what we are told, no matter what is right.
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  • Steve
    Apr 27, 2015 at 5:07 pm

    A paper correlating the answers to a “survey” about “spirituality” given by 20 people with right parietal brain damage does not prove anything other than that a group of people with right parietal damage assert they are slighter more “spiritual” than normal.

    You have clearly not understood the linked article. It is describing scientists using brain scanners.

    It is also talking about “replicating earlier experiments to confirm them.

    Based on a previously published study that indicated spiritual transcendence is associated with decreased right parietal lobe functioning, MU researchers replicated their findings.

    To claim this is discovering the God spot is risible.

    It would seem it is your understanding of the experiments and scientific methodology, identifying the brain areas responsible for “spiritual feelings”, using modern brain scanning techniques, which is “risible”!

    The title of the article is NO GOD SPOT!
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  • 175
    Anthony says:

    Len Walsh said: The phrase “psychotherapeutic use of Mindfulness” reflects the conceit of believers, utterly convinced that HumptyDumptyism is a valid strategy to supplant neuroscience and psychiatry.

    Hmm, I had assumed that I didn’t need to mention the increasingly widespread psychiatric conformation of mindfulness/mediation as a therapeutic instrument. This literature is so widespread and diverse that I am not prepared right now to fully represent it. Are we on the same page that there is confirmation of mindfulness as having observable, complex therapeutic effects; or do I need to provide a list of sources from medical journals about this?
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  • *The author of the above book, Andrew Thompson put up a slide in his presentation on the topic of morality that I thought was very good. He compares morality without god, and morality with god.

    Morality is doing what is right, regardless of what we are told.

    Religious dogma is doing what we are told, no matter what is right.*

    So who decides what is right?
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  • 177
    Anthony says:

    Anthony didn’t began with Pentecostalism. He began bored to death by Southern Baptists.

    I think, once again, that our concerns move past each other. My concern is typical for people who go into the field of anthropology: protecting groups of people from being maligned by the self-serving public criticism of persons of privilege, etc. I am not trying to offer a comprehensive account of exactly how good or bad a particular practice is. Clearly, not all atheists are mentally healthy or stable, etc… It is difficult for me to share in the enthusiasm that public atheists have to being critical of something someone else is doing, unless the alternative is demonstrably better given all the personal/cultural variables, epistemic considerations, etc. I cannot see a solidly atheistic view as something other than a belief structure. Non-belief would be something more like agnosticism.
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  • So who decides what is right?

    You do.

    You to decide what is right, you apply a reasoned and rational mind to the available evidence and decide that it is wrong to rape a woman. In other words, commonsense. And if you have made a poor decision, then society will sanction you. Your stand up and bear the responsibility of your decision or action. Like the Pope banning gay ambassadors. The Pope has made an immoral decision and he will bear the consequences. You bear sole responsibility for your decisions and actions. To say god did it, or god forgive me, is the act of a coward.

    The first statement is the key. You must act morally, regardless of what you are being told, or sold, or propagandized, or preached, or …. on and on. You stand alone. You can’t hide behind “I was just following orders”. You can’t point to a man made religious book and claim a get out of jail free card. You need to stand up and take the consequences.
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  • 179
    Anthony says:

    Phil Rimmer: It sounds very like the decline of Xtianity and the rise and the fall of the Jedi!

    Well, I did not not go looking to find something like this in Taiwan; but it was there. The comparison to Jedi is fun but also misleading. Further, this is not the fall of Christianity. What the article tends to downplay is the fact that these practices focused on personal power and special experiences are at least a thousand years old. It is actually part of cultural common sense in Taiwan. Almost everyone I know in any areas of society is familiar with it. There is a certain cultural embarrassment about its closeness to something broadly called “local religion,” while the experiences still come up under other names. And, it is highly decentralised; not due to something like evangelism but, instead, to public presentations of personal power. Someone looks a certain way and other people want a piece of that. Or, they feel something of it and then keep working on it. Here, research by Thomas Ots, Nancy Chen, Steven Harrell, Richard Madsen, Stephen Feuchtwang, and David Palmer serves as examples. Here, a google search for materials from these authors will usually turn up significant mention of this topic; some keywords are qigong, religious renaissance, religious resurgence, Chinese health practices, spirits, channeling, etc. Some of this is also undergoing a resurgence in mainland China, despite suppression by the state. These are large and old cultural developments; not attributed to a modern decline of organised religion. Again, I am trying to point out that the knee-jerk conceptualisation of “religion vs. modern thinking” misleads more than it reveals when looking into the details of what these practices involve.
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  • 180
    Anthony says:

    Reply to Steve’s comment about civil society and religion. What you say seem fair with regard to cases that fit this type. But, what do with do with regard to other kinds of cases? Robert Weller’s work on civil society in Taiwan strongly suggests that Buddhist thought and practice has had the greatest institutional influence on the development of the environmental movement and other reformist public sphere work of this kind, as well as emergency aid work. Daoist and local religion traditionally supported localised kinds of public spheres; while Buddhist organisations have shaped a more delocalised public sphere. Certain Buddhist groups, in particular, are mostly responsible for the emergence of animal rights vegetarianism, etc. Richard Madsen’s work shows how Buddhist temples have contributed to the democratisation religious practice, in the direction of a formally public discourse. I think it is probably worth mentioning, in a comparative direction, the influence of Buddhism on the thought of Aung San Su Kyi and other persons of this kind. Not sure what kind of thinking you have come to about this. In fairness, we also have to recognise that historically, it has usually been churches that have supported various kinds of human rights and foreign support work, aid work, etc. Who else will get that close to the soil? It is easy to point to faults; but who else is going to do these things?
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  • The Quakers rightly identified that we are equipped to be the Moral Authors. They claim that we have the god-given insight of an “inner-light”. Why would he not make us so if he granted us free will? This is learning by doing and they believe it is the task set. They believe in the sort of parent that will make grown up self sufficient kids, just as they believe they are required to step up to the plate.

    Apart from most of the words this is what I believe too. We cannot subcontract our moral thinking to the magisterium and its keepers bereft of any real in human experience. Morality is nurtured and grows. It is not a thing discovered or revealed. Even at the birth of religions, before we could look back and see our great cultural adventures and see its processes of fairness, co-operation and mutuality evolve (read “The Better Angels of our Nature”, Pinker) we could see that things would grow and change for us. Our life lessons inch us forward generation upon generation.

    Do not raise your children the way your parents raised you; they were born for a different time. (Ali ibn Abi Talib.)

    Yes science shamelessly peers into the nature of our moral values and tracks how it has evolved through tens of thousands of generations. We see how being mammals with nurturing mothers we are like thus and so. We can understand how with a different outcome 65million years ago with different meteoric luck, the folk tapping at their keyboards arguing morals might be a race of super parrot. Oxytocin-free, familial and societal bonds would be quite different. Flocking together might have got us to a rich mutuality faster than the cuddle chemical and its formation of quasi-familial tribes, loved in-groups and hated out-groups. Even now we struggle at the differentness of our innate moral values (perhaps the range of expressible phenotypes from our genetic and cultural heritage?). We lefties think the great concerns are fairness and harms. Those made for more austere times add to this desires for authority, loyalty and purity. (Haidt.) Never is one right in the balance of our concerns, but both moral signatures may have their moments to shine.

    Morality is the conscious part of what stands between our feelings and our actions. The unconscious part is this genetic and cultural heritage. We have a duty to recognise two pullable levers for ourselves. Our personal daily due dilligence in seeking a better path for ourselves and second the progressing of our culture. (For this latter we may choose to spend time with our young children at bedtime not suggesting they think of and pray for granny to get better, but use the time to think of what we may actually do to make her feel better, try to think her thoughts, then plan it and do it next day.) Wish thinking is a wellspring of moral failure.

    You cannot now repeat, but “who decides” for us and ask what do we tell the kids, without me responding-

    Grow up.
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  • 183
    Anthony says:

    Phil wrote: In Taiwan, perhaps, the poor, ill-educated and otherwise hopeless remain in thrall to the old-school exploiters needing a proper fix of religious hope against hope, leaving the stressed affluent to seek out just a little mental respite for that stress.

    See my discussion above about the cultural/historical grounding of this resurgence of practices. It is sometimes actually considered as having class, historically deep, even literary and intellectual in some cases; in other cases, kind of rugged and old-fashioned. The broad term often applied is “xiuxing,” which can have versions that seem “secular” by western standards, and others less so. What atheists do might sometimes also class as a kind of xiuxing; but in Taiwan you could have atheists alongside theistic ones doing some of these things together. Coming from a background in western secularism, you might have a hard time imagining what it looks like. Maybe it is a little like the Quakers or the Unitarians; but with these groups there is a certain idealism which entails trying to be everyone’s friend. In the Taiwan groups, it is not quite idealistic in this way; more realist about taking care of one’s own friends first. Here, I am simply trying for a fair representation of cultures.
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  • 184
    Anthony says:

    Well, Len likes to blow off things I have said, calling it apologetics and deepity woo. My Apple computer didn’t want me to place “deepity” here because it is not recognised by the spell check.
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  • Phil Rimmer: It sounds very like the decline of Xtianity and the rise and the fall of the Jedi!

    Not my line so I assume you are addressing Alan.

    I am trying to point out that the knee-jerk conceptualisation of “religion vs. modern thinking” misleads more than it reveals when looking into the details of what these practices involve.

    I think this is disingenuous apologia of the New Age and Antique nonsense peddled furiously to a freed up but stressed educated population. That some small part of all this has an honourable heritage is merely unfortunate. The principle of advocates (marketeers) urging practices onto a needy populace is to be treated with great scepticism. There are no guidlines, no markers for when the decent slips into the indecent. I urged my daughter look at some of these things, when just a teen, as she wanted to explore the better end of the religious market to see things for herself. Soon she was mired in ideas of Karma, because the unseemly heap of ideas has ferevent and indistinguishable advocates for all of it. Luckily she figured out for herself the disgraceful moral implications to society of the idea of a deserved fate. She is very bright. Others are not.

    Freud, though honourable is dead and mostly dreadful, not because it doesn’t have a few stellar insights but because it claims an integrated system of insights that lead effortlessly into the profoundly erroneous.

    The Taiwanese will get through this and possibly a little better and quicker given the few worthwhile nuggets. The risk as ever though is to those at the less bright end of these bright adopters.
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  • It is difficult for me to share in the enthusiasm that public atheists have to being critical of something someone else is doing, unless the alternative is demonstrably better

    A pity. At this sensitive time, when things are going well but catastrophe could be the most catastrophic ever, we need to tread with greater care and insight. Reason and evidence have elevated themselves by their achievements above mere faith into tools deserving of our full confidence. In these “exciting” times we need more of it.

    I cannot see a solidly atheistic view as something other than a belief structure.

    Many atheists as you know eschew the idea of any belief structure to atheism, it being a singular descriptor of a mind-set. Confidence in reason and evidence which many atheists (and some religious) possess is the thing at issue, not atheism. Your struggle is against something almost as simple minded as atheism. It is the universal question-

    Why not evidence and reason here too?

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  • I hope it has that other important neologism “truthiness”. If not, both will be there in a year or two. Deepity is Dennett and truthiness Colbert. And Google is your friend here.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 28, 2015 at 1:53 am

    It is difficult for me to share in the enthusiasm that public atheists have to being critical of something someone else is doing,

    Many negative effects are clear-cut and require no extensive thinking to identify inaccuracy, false claims and dishonesty. Criticism of damaging actions or promoting failed methodology, is a perfectly legitimate target for criticism.
    If I want to know if an aircraft is safe to fly, I ask a qualified engineer and flight crew who have checked it over.
    Not someone who thinks he has an answer from reading Tarot cards or goat’s entrails.

    unless the alternative is demonstrably better given all the personal/cultural variables, epistemic considerations, etc.

    Where research and deeper thinking is required, evidence-based scientific investigations followed by rational thinking, are proven far superior methods, to Faith-thinking or introspection.

    I cannot see a solidly atheistic view as something other than a belief structure.

    That is your personal incredulity, based on an inability to see outside the supernatural box which inhibits your material understanding.

    Atheism encourages a clear view free of contaminating unevidenced preconceptions.

    Non-belief would be something more like agnosticism.

    Non-belief in fairies, non-belief in a personal requirement for stamp-collecting, non-belief in celestial teapots, or non-belief in the thousands of gods which have been historically worshipped is the normal default of scepticism in the absence of supporting evidence.

    It is only when believers consider their preconceived notions of the supernatural to be a default position, that they irrationally separate those mentally, compartmentalising them away from from all the other unevidenced beliefs, and clinging to vague remote possibilities.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 28, 2015 at 1:46 am

    This literature is so widespread and diverse that I am not prepared right now to fully represent it.

    The literature on pseudo-science and quackery is very extensive. The volume of text does not reflect accuracy of information therein!

    Also your references to “what vague alleged scientists are said to say”, seem to contradict general scientific opinion.

    Are we on the same page that there is confirmation of mindfulness as having observable, complex therapeutic effects; or do I need to provide a list of sources from medical journals about this?

    You should be able to list some articles from reputable scientific studies, in reputable journals. – Given your contradictory interpretations of a linked article you gave previously, and your casual dismissal of the medical links I gave earlier as “condescending”, we would not only need to be on the same page, but would also need a clear understanding of the science, maths and evidence given, without any “Humpty-Dumpty” reinterpretations of the words through “faith-spectacles”!
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  • 191
    Anthony says:

    My quote: Again, I am trying to point out that the knee-jerk conceptualisation of “religion vs. modern thinking” misleads more than it reveals when looking into the details of what these practices involve.

    Correction: should be the knee-jerk conceptualisation of reactionary traditionalism vs. secularisation. This would be misleading because what is happening is in part a reaffirmation of long-standing elements of culture which are not part of modern organised religion. If you want a comparison to something more familiar, a more likely comparison might be Native American ghost dancing, which was partly a response to colonialism.
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  • what previous research? Did they have the same methodological shortcomings as this paper?

    The main study was on brain damaged patients. As for brain scanners “what” was being correlated with “what” as per my questions above?

    They were not scientifically measuring any brain activity which could be associated with the experience of a spiritual feeling. They were “measuring” an attitude, as given in reponse to questions, towards the spiritual. Does every “attitude” we have modify the brain? how can you map a attitude, which is a summary of one’s opinions , onto the brain? Is it only our attitude towards religion which is capable of being measured like this ? What is so neurologically special about this set of attitudes and opinions?

    God spot error was mine in haste at end.

    You do not respond to my criticism of the interpretation of the study.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 28, 2015 at 2:18 am

    Chinese health practices, spirits, channeling, etc. Some of this is also undergoing a resurgence in mainland China, despite suppression by the state.

    Mainland China (Like Russia) is an anomaly, as religions are rebounding from low levels, as people look for something better than the failed aspects of communism, which are often mistakenly described as the “atheism” which is only a by-product of these!
    Communism is an ideology. Atheism is not.

    The elite Oligarchs are not even Marxist ideologists and are only recently starting to consider the effects of pollution etc. on their populations!

    Religions flourish, where access to honest scientific information is restricted.
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  • Steve
    Apr 28, 2015 at 6:15 am

    The main study was on brain damaged patients. As for brain scanners “what” was being correlated with “what” as per my questions above?

    They were correlating identified and measured areas of brain activity with “spiritual” feelings experienced at the time.

    They were not scientifically measuring any brain activity which could be associated with the experience of a spiritual feeling.

    You don,t seem to understand the mapping of brain activity in relation to specific functions or activities.

    http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/misc/diagnostic_tests.htm
    But decades of basic research into the characteristics of disease, and the development of techniques that allow scientists to see inside the living brain and monitor nervous system activity as it occurs, have given doctors powerful and accurate tools to diagnose disease and to test how well a particular therapy may be working.

    Perhaps the most significant changes in diagnostic imaging over the past 20 years are improvements in spatial resolution (size, intensity, and clarity) of anatomical images and reductions in the time needed to send signals to and receive data from the area being imaged. These advances allow physicians to simultaneously see the structure of the brain and the changes in brain activity as they occur. Scientists continue to improve methods that will provide sharper anatomical images and more detailed functional information.

    They were “measuring” an attitude, as given in response to questions, towards the spiritual. Does every “attitude” we have modify the brain? how can you map a attitude, which is a summary of one’s opinions , onto the brain?

    You are confusing “attitude”, with areas of active brain function, monitoring such activities as thinking, praying, visualising, emotionally responding, sight , hearing, touch, smell etc.

    God spot error was mine in haste at end.

    You do not respond to my criticism of the interpretation of the study.

    The error illustrates the superficiality of your reading of the Sc. Daily article. (Which was not the original study).

    A lack of understanding of the subject area, is not a basis for dismissing the evidence or methods you have not understood.
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  • Nope, you and the paper are mistaking attitudes for brain activity.

    The study asked brain damaged people their attitude towards religion and then ,because their attitude was more religious compared to a undefined and untested “norm” , concludes spuriously that, as they had right lobe damage, people with less activity in the lobe are more “spiritual”.

    It is they who are confusing an attitude for a specific brain activity.

    What specific “spiritual” activity were they measuring then?

    And yes I do know how brain scans work, I am not an idiot.
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  • Native American ghost dancing

    I cannot see a solidly atheistic view as something other than a belief structure. Non-belief would be something more like
    agnosticism.

    What a “condescending” thing to write Anthony. Especially so as you seem to have neglected to bother watching David R Allen’s helpful video, or to read the featured book about the psychiatry of religious belief.

    Atheism is merely the lack of a theistic/spiritual belief structure. A poorly trained atheist might still succumb to phrenology, or perhaps acupuncture. Agnosticism is the lazy position adopted by disenchanted theists or spiritualists who have failed to consider the issue rationally.

    TCM:
    Mindfulness is just another euphemism, this time for meditation, and popularised by such deluded quacks as Shanida Nataraja, who believes in acupuncture meridians and the quantum brain, or Thomas Ots the Akurpunkturist. In fact each of those TCM devotees Anthony has asked us to Google hold modern medicine in contempt.

    Children trained to think for themselves usually develop their frontal lobes (awareness) to such an extent that they never need waste any time meditating, save for voluntary relaxation. They enjoy superior ‘Executive function’ as I’ve already explained to Steve, who evidently favours Phrenology.

    Children benefit from being taught to think for themselves immeasurably. ESP, UFO aliens, channelling, homeopathy, spiritualism or gods don’t appeal to such enabled kids. They never grow up to conduct theological field work.

    New Age quackery abounds, often supported by university qualifications, examples being chiropractic, acupuncture and osteopathy. However, like mindfulness treatment they all lack any credible scientific evidence for their efficacy.

    Atheism and mental health.

    Anthony, you’ve enjoyed ample opportunity to address the original topic about atheism and mental health. Your digressions have failed to inform and I won’t help you to stray any further from that subject. Teaching children to think for themselves inoculates them from the need for faith and superstition. This is achieved by developing frontal lobes which dominate the indiscriminate signals radiated by the amygdala. Religious or spiritual people can only approximate the experience of thinking for themselves through meditation, whereas educated atheists enjoy this self-reliant facility of awareness more routinely.

    To topic:

    On the evidence presented above we can conclude that atheism is protective against developing criminality and sexual perversions, in addition to promoting mental health generally. An atheist would never seek psychiatric assistance from an anthropologist.
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  • V. kind, David.

    You’ve probably seen its various parts before, but this stripped down conflation was intended to be the “elevator pitch”. At three minutes, its a rather tall building though…
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  • Len,

    You have no scientific basis for your pseudo -scientific quackery about frontal lobes such as “children taught to think for themselves “, a precisely defined scientific notion if there ever was one, “develop their frontal lobes so they don’t need blah blah” . It is the 21st century version of phrenology.

    There is no proof atheists brains differ from religious brains. A difference in attitude towards a concept, in this case religion, is not a difference in brain structure
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  • Here are examples of scanned brain mapping.

    Tinnitus mapped inside human brain – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-32414876

    Scans reveal intricate brain wiring – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21487016

    And here is some work on “god-perceptions and spiritual” mapping of brain activity.

    Brain Scan Of Nuns Finds No Single ‘God Spot’ – http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/08/060830075718.htm
    In other words, mystical experiences are mediated by several brain regions and systems normally implicated in a variety of functions (self-consciousness, emotion, body representation).
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  • 203
    Anthony says:

    Here is an online bibliography of medical research on mindfulness. http://marc.ucla.edu/workfiles/PDFs/MARC_mindfulness_biblio_0609.pdf

    There is also an article that argues from a medical research perspective, regard research on indigenous healing and meditative practices, especially those employing “energy” and internal focusing on specific body areas. These are common in the Chinese practices I have mentioned, as well as Tibetan Buddhist traditions, Tantra, etc., although these specific cultural placements are not directly discussed in the article. It argues against the sole use of analytical models derived from thinking that is external the practice, arguing that one makes it unnecessarily difficult to either prove or disprove claims from practices when using only externally derived terms. There is also an additional issue that comes up: meditation is far from being only about “relaxation”; and is also not only about something akin to hypnosis. Here is the article title:

    TRANSLATING “MIND-IN-BODY”:
    TWO MODELS OF PATIENT EXPERIENCE UNDERLYING A RANDOMIZED CONTROLLED TRIAL OF QIGONG; author: K. Kerr
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  • 204
    Anthony says:

    Thanks for the detailed reflections which are on point. Most of the replies I have given have been from the perspective of protecting other cultural practices from being lumped under the general name of “religious belief,” where arguments are then made about this phrase. Perhaps it would be best continued in a different discussion forum; under the heading of “what is religious belief?” I think an apology is in order here because this strays from the original intent of this forum.

    But, do want to reply to one other point. You mentioned my use of that earlier article. My point in every posting about local practices has been, again, that in principle one should not go looking for instances of a general type called “religion,” but rather specific, culturally located practices in which people do specific things. I went back and reviewed that article a few times after receiving the replies, and still cannot find evidence of a “general” downturn in religiosity. What I find is a diversification of it; especially in the direction of individualisation. This is especially in light of the numbers in the middle of the article which positively correlate spiritual experience and its seeking with educational level. If we assume that the segment that is experiencing this is remaining steady in numbers while the other group is shrinking, then I suppose we could argue for a numerical decrease in numbers of persons overall. However, there is a possibility that this group is getting larger; not sure. At the very least, it is clear that these kinds of seeking are becoming more and more socially visible through a number of channels; and from what I have seen, numbers of kinds of groups are also increasing. What is most directly clear from that article, though, and most to the point, is that educational level is positively correlated with individual spirituality of this type. I stand corrected that there might be an overall decrease in numbers of persons who are religious and educated; but whether this means a downtown in religiosity depends on how we define religiosity and its social presence. If this is contradictory, then I am sorry for that as well. However, from my research perspective, in which the social meanings of something are important and not only raw numbers on a single survey question, this point is not really the most significant finding of the study.
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  • 205
    Anthony says:

    A short and general summary of research on mindfulness research: http://marc.ucla.edu/workfiles/pdfs/MARC-mindfulness-research-summary.pdf

    Len Walsh’s posting mentions theoretically relevant neurological structures, although there is arguably much more to mental health than developing the prefrontal lobe’s executive function. This is where qigong and Tibetan meditations, or a range of other possible disciplines, arguably become relevant. I did not really intend to debate at this level, even though it has been a very personal interest for several years. Will just let the bibliographies speak for themselves for now, and see if this is what you had in mind.

    If you were also referring to the need for sources about practices in Taiwan/China, a portion of the authors I mentioned above are senior scholars of China/Taiwan studies. But, based on your comment about Ots, it sounds like you are unimpressed by at least some of the relevant anthropological methods.
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  • 206
    Anthony says:

    Unfortunately, medical research has not found good ways to address disciplines that go beyond mindfulness. This is where anthropology still comes into play. That other article, I would argue, implicitly addresses the problems currently faced when one tries to go further than this given current means. Does the lack of a current means for controlled research mean that one simply ignore those practices and outright dismiss them? One of the points of that article is that this is also not a good idea. Although, if you believe that something should be dismissed until experimentally proven, I guess that would be another possible way to proceed.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 28, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    A short and general summary of research on mindfulness research: http: //marc.ucla.edu/workfiles/pdfs/MARC-mindfulness-research-summary.pdf

    This link covers some ground, but does not seem to have been reviewed for reliability.

    A long 113 page list of authors like your other link, is not really much use on a brief discussion thread.

    While mindfulness meditation exercises can have value for general psychological health and stress management, in those with medical and psychiatric illness, as well as in healthy individuals, there is no needs for any supernatural or mystical elements to be involved in the therapies.

    Relaxation exercises, and awareness of developing enhanced physical bodily control, is not new to me.
    I studied those on a Judo course many years ago.

    So to get to the point briefly. Here are two links to concise abstracts from reputable medical sources on the subjects.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22805898
    Mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and Zen meditation for depression, anxiety, pain, and psychological distress

    Studies indicate that MBSR and MBCT have broad-spectrum antidepressant and antianxiety effects and decrease general psychological distress. MBCT is strongly recommended as an adjunctive treatment for unipolar depression. The evidence suggests that both MBSR and MBCT have efficacy as adjunctive interventions for anxiety symptoms. MBSR is beneficial for general psychological health and stress management in those with medical and psychiatric illness as well as in healthy individuals. Finally, MBSR and Zen meditation have a role in pain management.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9097338
    Stress reduction through mindfulness meditation. Effects on psychological symptomatology, sense of control, and spiritual experiences

    CONCLUSIONS:

    The techniques of mindfulness meditation, with their emphasis on developing detached observation and awareness of the contents of consciousness, may represent a powerful cognitive behavioral coping strategy for transforming the ways in which we respond to life events. They may also have potential for relapse prevention in affective disorders.

    These are about medical explanations psychological of therapeutic effects on the individual, not about religion or understandings of the world.
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  • 208
    Anthony says:

    Dear Alan, sorry about the mixup about the author, Ots, and anthropological methods. It was Len Walsh who mentioned him. Please forget that part of the posting.
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  • 209
    Anthony says:

    Len, the point of meditation is not about “thinking for yourself.” It is about letting the contents of your mind show up in a less shielded manner than happens in typical, defensive mentality. “Thinking” is, very often, one such manner of shielding or being unaware, depending on when and how it happens. Admittedly, I have been doing my share of this reactive thinking here. I posted a bibliography about this above, but the article posted by Steve below is very good and actually could suffice. On point, I doubt that atheism protects against criminality; some of the very best criminals minds are probably religionless; although clearly some are also very religious. I think, probably, it doesn’t help much either way. Mindfulness of compassion might, though; the point being that the act/discipline is a different thing from the belief.
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  • 210
    Anthony says:

    Further point. I am not saying that Tibetan, Tantric, qigong, etc., practices are the same; far from it. But, certain principles that are present in that article regarding qigong experience research models are arguably also present in those contexts. I would need to provide further bibliographic sources to show this if needed, although one has to read deeply before getting to this. It has not been discussed in a cursory manner, that I know of.
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  • 211
    Anthony says:

    To Alan,

    Sorry, I placed a reply to your point about my contradictory use of the first article, down below inside the reply to Len Walsh. I put these together at the same time and wires are getting crossed. Here it is again for you to read:

    You mentioned my use of that earlier article. My point in every posting about local practices has been, again, that in principle one should not go looking for instances of a general type called “religion,” but rather specific, culturally located practices in which people do specific things. I went back and reviewed that article a few times after receiving the replies, and still cannot find evidence of a “general” downturn in religiosity. What I find is a diversification of it; especially in the direction of individualisation. This is especially in light of the numbers in the middle of the article which positively correlate spiritual experience and its seeking with educational level. If we assume that the segment that is experiencing this is remaining steady in numbers while the other group is shrinking, then I suppose we could argue for a numerical decrease in numbers of persons overall. However, there is a possibility that this group is getting larger; not sure. At the very least, it is clear that these kinds of seeking are becoming more and more socially visible through a number of channels; and from what I have seen, numbers of kinds of groups are also increasing. What is most directly clear from that article, though, and most to the point, is that educational level is positively correlated with individual spirituality of this type. I stand corrected that there might be an overall decrease in numbers of persons who are religious and educated; but whether this means a downtown in religiosity depends on how we define religiosity and its social presence. If this is contradictory, then I am sorry for that as well. However, from my research perspective, in which the social meanings of something are important and not only raw numbers on a single survey question, this point is not really the most significant finding of the study. My emphasis has never been on religious belief or identification with groups, but on this trend in Taiwan in which there is individualised experience-orientation. This could be the baby that you throw out with the bathwater when critiquing belief. In Chinese societies, this is arguably an even bigger “baby” than it would be in American new age, as Chinese religion historically has had a certain place for these kinds of experiences and applications. If there is any contradiction, it is only the first time I mentioned the article, where it sounds like I am implying a strong case for a numeric increase; however this has never been the concern.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 28, 2015 at 1:18 pm

    Unfortunately, medical research has not found good ways to address disciplines that go beyond mindfulness.

    I am doubtful if there is much there to be constructively researched, which is not already being researched by neuro-psychologists.

    This is where anthropology still comes into play.

    Anthropology covers many cultures and their history. Usually if does little to endorse their beliefs – but fro a few exceptions such as the ancient Greeks.

    That other article, I would argue, implicitly addresses the problems currently faced when one tries to go further than this given current means.

    Once anyone goes into details of tribal beliefs and tribal medicines, there is the occasional gem and a mass of confused nonsense.

    Does the lack of a current means for controlled research mean that one simply ignore those practices and outright dismiss them?

    Scepticism is the rational default position, but exceptional claims require exceptional evidence to have any credibility.

    One of the points of that article is that this is also not a good idea.

    To be other than sceptical, about unevidenced and untested claims, would leave the credulous individual open to anything anyone claimed to be true.
    That is just gullibility.

    Although, if you believe that something should be dismissed until experimentally proven, I guess that would be another possible way to proceed.

    Frequently the claims are counter-factual and refuted by basic science. Most “supernatural claims” come into this category as they are refuted by the laws of physics.

    Checking the credibility of sources can indicate if claims have enough substance to be worth spending time investigating. There are masses of worthless literature on all manner of conspiracy theories, fundamentalist religious claims, and assorted forms of quackery.

    BTW: I have put a on couple of medical links to abstracts on “Mindfulness Meditation”, which are awaiting moderation.
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  • 213
    Anthony says:

    One of the key points of the article above is that, until you take seriously the models used by practitioners and their self-reports, you cannot form an adequate account of what you are actually testing for. The point is not to just accept their claims of effectiveness for bringing about certain effects. The point is that a great deal of initial work is involved in conceptualising what it is that one is talking about in regard to any given practice. BTW, none of what I am talking about is in regard to the existence of divine beings; I have said above that this is not what I care to debate about; for purposes of doing a particular discipline, it is enough to simply meditate on something; call it a mental object if you want to. Worrying about whether it “really really exists” or not, is often really not important. It is in regard to the use of models that direct spiritual/inner disciplines of various kinds; many of which use meditations that come across as being about metaphysical entities as it is sometimes necessary to give a concrete name to a sometimes-ambiguous experience. Entire libraries of work exist describing extensive and detailed kinds of experience within advanced meditations in numerous traditions. Again, the problem of conceptualising relevant variables is something that one must address first before, either, supporting or dismissing a practice in which subjective experience is featured; especially, before dismissing it’s effects as being only of a certain kind (e.g. mass hypnosis, etc.).
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  • 214
    Anthony says:

    Often, when I have not replied, it is because it seems to me that your comments have also been off-handed; not much there really. You say that anthropology does little to endorse “beliefs” other those in ancient Greece. The point of a good deal of anthropological work on psycho-medical practices has to do with showing how a manner of practicing, and especially talking, bridges between experience as persons have it and other facets of practice. In the case of disciplines that affect consciousness, mental habits, feelings, etc., the connections made here allow such discipline to be sensitive to, changed by, the experiences of persons over time. I.e., adaptive models. The point is not to represent reality per se, but to be able to do something. To me, debating about whether a given representation is accurate is always a secondary issue. Now, is we take endorsement as simply showing a given practice, inclusive of linguistic practices, allow persons to carry out certain effects given a range of local conditions, where such effects seem fairly helpful in some way for mental health, etc., then clearly endorsement has been given to numerous cultural practices in numerous contexts. Some kinds of endorsement will come across as iffy for you; however, one problem area for human beings everywhere has to do with emotions. There is also an implicit critique of overly simplified applications of mindfulness in clinical settings. Mindfulness in clinical settings attempts to deal with the full range of emotions through a fairly simple model: non-attached awareness, naming, noticing, etc., often combined with Metta or lovingkindness, compassionate attention. The problem is that for people whose emotions are particularly strong, inquisitive, etc., issues arise about what to do with those kinds of feelings that might otherwise lead to focusing on a divinity, a powerful or safe figure, inner strength and fun, etc. I do not reject the hoped-for end result of mindfulness used in a secular, clinical sense. But, I have some doubts about whether secularised methods, or calm and controlled methods for that matter, work for everyone.

    Particularly: based on my research in Taiwan, there are problems with the cross-cultural applicability of a practice where central focus is on relaxed curiosity in a place where there is a very strong orientation towards doing something effectual, powerful, and oriented toward concrete other persons. One has a hard time actually getting people to want to do that. Whereas, it is easy enough to get someone to focus their attention on a divine being, internal sensations of energy, etc., if that is what they really want to do; and then go from there. These are all variables that psychological anthropology has a penchant for turning up, where other research would overlook it. Something problematic about a good deal of medical research on these issues: they are rarely carried out in culturally different settings (not just among ethically different groups, but actually in the other country); in which a large range of variables tend to be different.
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  • Spiritual is one of the most useless terms in the English language.

    1.
    relating to or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.
    “I’m responsible for his spiritual welfare”
    synonyms: non-material, inner, psychic, psychical, psychological; More
    incorporeal, intangible, other-worldly, unworldly, ethereal;
    transcendent, mystic, mystical, numinous, metaphysical;
    rareextramundane, immaterial
    “the spiritual dimension of human experience”
    antonyms: physical, material, corporeal, mundane

    having a relationship based on a profound level of mental or emotional communion.
    “he never forgot his spiritual father”
    (of a person) not concerned with material values or pursuits.

    2.
    relating to religion or religious belief.
    “the country’s spiritual leader”
    synonyms: religious, sacred, divine, holy, non-secular, church, churchly, ecclesiastic, devotional
    “spiritual music”

    You are talking about none of these. Do you mean numinous? Or perhaps a state of transcendence? Again from their definitions, I don’t think so.

    Like many here these terms and especially spiritual, which appears recently demoted, bring me out in a rash because they are rich in the potential for misunderstandings that the marketeers exploit. I long ago dropped it as failing to purvey a consistent idea.

    Mindfulness is a respectable term that I think Steve has pointed to, though the Wiki neurology references are too, if these aren’t the same. The neurologist Antonio Damasio is very good on the subject using it (though not calling it by name) to get his readers to understand through introspection how the state of the body and its various homeostatic regulators manifested in the outputs from the region of the brainstem created a flow of unobtrusive, event free experience. He wanted us to notice how much of our experience of consciousness was rooted in the “at rest” sense of the body state, and to not imagine, as we might, that the greater part of consciousness was contingent on a flow of events. This conscious state exists purely in short-term memory and vanishes as this fades with no salient events to store in long term memory.

    Not discussing this stuff with rigorous terminology is to play into the marketeers hands and to fall into the realm of Deepak Chopra and suchlike.

    Conflation with religion is worse still, at least for me. Religion must contain supernatural dogma to be worthy of the term. Muddling this with real psychological states is hiding behind smoke and mirrors.

    How many of your educated Taiwanese actually hold to “spiritual”? How many to definition 1 or definition 2? What is the Hokkien word?
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  • 216
    Anthony says:

    About the study on MBSR, it is a good topic to mention. I imagine it could be one of the most researchable disciplines of this kind to do controlled studies on, for several reasons: that one can do it while still, because of its simplicity, and also because of its use of attention to the body, which can be an intrinsically motivating object for at least certain segments of people. As a reviewer, what I would want to know more about is the effect of the study population on this kind of study: not only social-cultural variables, setting, etc., but also that its is based on subjects who were initially interested enough to volunteer. Other studies of mindfulness have looked at less voluntary populations, but I cannot think of one actually done in another country. If someone is specifically not interested in focusing on the body, or if they have a strong sense of familiarity with and interest in various other kinds of objects, including religious ones, I wonder what effect this would have. I would also want to look carefully at the criteria used for spiritual experience outcomes and also other mental health goals, such as creativity; and long-term integration into a life path. Other than this, at least for a certain population and given certain assumptions about the goal of healing work (having to do with reduced anxiety and flexibility), it seems to me that MBSR is an accessible approach. I have also done it, as well as shadow boxing; along with qigong, and the other more “religious” kinds of meditations.
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  • I think, as far as atheist mental; health goes, if it is not broken by confused religious thinking, or stresses from dysfunctional societies, it does not need “mindfulness meditation” therapy to fix it!

    The links in my earlier quote, explain these therapeutic features:-
    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/04/being-an-atheist-isnt-bad-for-your-mental-health-new-study-says/#li-comment-176639

    But the psychology useful in medicine, should not be mixed with vague quackology.
    Personally, I would consider it a waste to use much of my time on such activities, but some individuals (with conditions shown on the links) may find the therapies beneficial.
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  • Morality is nurtured and grows.

    Things that are nurtured and grow start from a seed, don’t they? I would say that the seed of morality is love. We learn love (hopefully) as a child and share it (hopefully) in our interactions with others, the matter of morality.

    But what does that nurturing of morality involve? Surely it is looking to others for their views and experiences and studies of morality and pondering on how that fits in with our own views and experiences and studies and then, in due course, coming to our own decisions? That’s certainly what I do.

    The idea that we Catholics abdicate our moral senses and simply do what we’re told by the hierarchy is not one that I recognise. Neither is the one that our priests attempt to do our moral thinking for us and have no conception of us as autonomous individuals. Like the Quakers, we are the Moral Authors of our own actions and we understand, through our God-given insight, when those actions have been selfish, wrong and have hurt others.

    To be honest, there is little or nothing in your post which I would disagree with. Though possibly I might utter a faint murmur of protest at the idea that we Christians simply pray for others and do nothing of a more practical nature. I’m not sure that’s altogether fair.
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  • Anthony
    Apr 28, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    Mindfulness of compassion might,

    This is using the term “mindfulness” with a different definition from that of “meditation”.

    though; the point being that the act/discipline is a different thing from the belief.

    I think the discipline of scientific thinking, makes for a clear mind, while if we add atheism, which is a freedom from the confused conflicts and cognitive dissonance of religious thinking, a relaxed and harmonious mental state can be achieved, without any need for additional therapies.

    It is about letting the contents of your mind show up in a less shielded manner than happens in typical, defensive mentality.

    The critical reviewing of ideas, and self criticism in scientific thinking, can strongly counter the dogmatic defensive mentality encountered in dependent dogma slaves, who are actively inhibited by fear and social pressure, from thinking for themselves, or updating their ideas.

    The conflicts are usually in those compartmentalised minds, still in the process of throwing off their irrationalities of earlier indoctrination. (and of course in the faithful, the conflicts between religious doctrines and reality.)

    That could well explain a need for therapies among those in the process of discarding religious beliefs in the light of better rational scientific education.

    What is important, is that such people are not misled and exploited by woo-mongers when they are looking for help and guidance.
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  • Surely it is looking to others for their views and experiences and studies of morality and pondering on how that fits in with our own views and experiences and studies and then, in due course, coming to our own decisions?

    Part of seeking evidence includes this. Everyone should be encouraged to source material from as wide as possible horizon of sources. A rational person constantly tests their opinion against the prevailing evidence and forms a view. A view that is not set in stone or scripture, but a view that will change as the evidence changes. A crucial differentiation.

    The idea that we Catholics abdicate our moral senses and simply do what we’re told by the hierarchy…

    It must be a different RCC to the one that lives in the Vatican. You are told what to do and think on marriage, abortion, homosexuality, discouraging condom use in Africa resulting in the deaths of millions, protecting criminal priests from prosecution…. On and on. All of these matters are issues of morality and the RCC fails on every count. Do I hear the Siren like screams from the individual Catholics around the world…. Listens….. Crickets chirping.

    This is the point of my post above. The religious do as they are told. The rational do unto others as they would have them do unto you. There is a gulf in moral thinking between the religious and the rational.

    To be honest, there is little or nothing in your post which I would disagree with.

    The little you disagree with is the insertion of a third party morality broker without a shred of evidence. Said morality broker has an appalling track record of abuse of morality and thus is disqualified as a source of advice or succour on any issue.

    Ewan. I suspect you could be very close to closing the book on god. Especially if you stick around and hear compelling arguments from some of the erudite scribes in this den of satan.
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  • Ewan
    Apr 28, 2015 at 5:54 pm

    The idea that we Catholics abdicate our moral senses and simply do what we’re told by the hierarchy is not one that I recognise.

    As Phil has pointed out in the past, many Catholics are much more moral than their church or its doctrines, but that unfortunately causes them mental conflicts.

    Neither is the one that our priests attempt to do our moral thinking for us and have no conception of us as autonomous individuals.

    The problem is with these “more moral” activities, being required to be confessed to priests as “sins”!
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  • 223
    Anthony says:

    To Phil,

    The use of the term “spiritual” is not my choice of words. It comes from the article itself, and the reason for its use there is complex. First, it roughly translates a word often in common use in Chinese speech in Taiwan ( 靈性的). It is there similar to western usage, where the purpose is to simply distinguish from institutionally religious. The choice of this word in the article also reflects the interest shared with local speech in drawing such a distinction. The phenomenon that was correlated positively with educational background was reporting on spiritual experiences or interest in them. Here, the effort to distinguish from identifying as religious is important to people who want to represent this kind of experience orientation as something that is not driven by evangelism, marketing, crowd psychology, or identification with a group per se. The agency here is very much on the part of individuals, many of whom are not in any kind of leader position and who are not trying to sell their practice; only to defend it from being characterised as part of a strong group lineage. A similar aim comes up in western usage.

    The kinds of experiences in question were discussed in the middle parts of the article; some examples were:

    dreams of ancestors, dead friends, religious figures, symbols, special places; a sense of suddenly being inseparable from all things, sudden insight, hearing extraordinary sounds, visions, other senses, appearance of a Bodhisattva or Buddha, and channeling.
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  • 224
    Anthony says:

    The article in question is:

    Does Education Develop or Diminish Spirituality in Taiwan?

    Here it is also in the title.

    靈性的 is from Mandarin speech; part by part: ling = spirit/soul; xing = kind/type particle; de = possessive or adjectival particle; thus it literally means “spiritual.” Interesting, huh?
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  • 225
    Anthony says:

    Another relevant term is 修行, xiuxing, which scholars often translate as self-cultivation. It comes from Chinese Buddhist and Confucian traditions, but includes a lot of things we might call spiritual, including religious groups if that is the word. Again, the point being that you cannot say that “religious” in this case is obviously nonsecular. It looks religious in every way but atheists can also do it and there is no particular contradiction there, from a local standpoint. This includes doing things at temples, going to a Zen meditation group which has themes that might feel religious, etc. Whether something is more or less religious would be at least partly an individual preference.
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  • 226
    Anthony says:

    Hmm, better for me to follow the suggestion by an earlier respondent to use the word Chan 禪 rather than Zen. These translate as the same word, but in Chinese (not Japanese) usage, it can connote Chinese traditions in which concretising experience in an image of a divine being, metaphysical entities, the power of a teacher, etc., is much more common.
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  • Things that are nurtured and grow start from a seed, don’t they? I would say that the seed of morality is love.

    Minimally Counterintuitive Ideas and promiscuous teleology, already explained by Andy Thomson.
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  • 228
    Anthony says:

    I can definitely understand. When the society is dysfunctional, how much good is it to just increase one’s prefrontal lobe’s executive function and learn to regulate emotions? Better to just have a voice and say what you think. If memory is correct, it seems like it was George Devereux–ethnopsychologist–who once said that when the society is dysfunctional there is no such thing as a functional individual. But, I think that American society also has its dysfunctional aspects. Secularism could be partly an attempt to adjust to those without changing the underlying causes. What do you think?
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  • Len Walsh’s posting mentions theoretically relevant neurological structures, although there is arguably much more to mental health than developing the prefrontal lobe’s executive function.

    No. Executive function routinely provides mindfulness without meditation.

    based on your comment about Ots, it sounds like you are unimpressed by at least some of the relevant anthropological methods.

    Ots promotes acupuncture, a fake medicine. He isn’t qualified in psychiatry.
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  • There is no proof atheists brains differ from religious brains.

    Data from prison populations, sex offender registers, and the locked psychiatric wards emphatically disprove your apologetics Steve.
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  • 232
    Anthony says:

    I was looking over the use of that word just now and it sounds typical for an analytic philosopher’s concerns. Often, the function or sense of this kind of language is as a reminder, as a basis for additional thought, or as a rhetorical device. Figures of speech, etc. I wonder if he might potentially consider a good portion of Chinese speech, at least in Taiwan, as deepity; as it employs countless idiomatic expressions which are prosaic in ways similar to “an apple a day,” “a dog pushed to the corner will jump,” “learning leads to mastery,” etc. But, socially there is an important function. We see language as a practice which is socially functional. In some Anglo-american practice it is meaningful to lob criticisms of this kind about words. One reason is because the expressions being criticised are used in an argumentative way, while at the same time prevent further debate because they sound misleadingly common-sensical. In another kind of society it can seem like mental mastr…… or just irritation, to criticise ordinary, functional speech styles in this manner. One could just provide an alternative account or viewpoint, and this is understood as just fine; no need to keep debating in order to prove one has a legitimate thing to say.

    In many places, use of the word “spiritual,” for example, is often a means of distinguishing what one is doing from “religion,” where the latter connotes formality, lineage, authority, etc.

    I realise someone like Dennett would see these kinds of phrasings as excessive word gaming; but in a language context where they serve a useful function, speakers could just as easily see his concerns as language gaming.
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  • I think, as far as atheist mental; health goes, if it is not broken by confused religious thinking, or stresses from dysfunctional societies, it does not need “mindfulness meditation” therapy to fix it!

    I agree.

    From my local newspaper this week was an article titled Has mindfulness become the domain of the self-satisfied set?

    “When did mindfulness become a wank word? …when American professor of medicine emeritus Jon Kabat-Zinn popularised the term – adopting it in an attempt to distance meditation from its Buddhist, religious roots – it was still largely a practice of poor hippies and explorative fringe dwellers.

    But then, mindfulness went mainstream. Many mindfulness and meditation courses in Sydney cost more than $1000 for a weekend of training.

    The trendy word has also come to encompass parenting and eating. There is now even “mindful” flying.

    “Mindful fracking: Could that be next?”

    Try:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/19/magazine/the-muddied-meaning-of-mindfulness.html
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  • Len, the point of meditation is not about “thinking for yourself.” It is about letting the contents of your mind show up in a less shielded manner than happens in typical, defensive mentality.

    I understand meditation. Psychiatry is the field in which you’re now feigning an expertise you clearly lack. Earlier you claimed knowledge obtained by hallucinating was inaccessible to atheists, who lacked special cognitive skills and that ESP and prophesy were authentic phenomena yet to be validated by a future, refurbished scientific method.

    On point, I doubt that atheism protects against criminality;

    Mindfulness of compassion might, though;

    The data quoted earlier show otherwise. Only 0.07% of prisoners and roughly 0% of child molesters are atheists, and yet earlier you asked us “what exactly is gained by becoming an atheist?”

    I trust your doubt has been dispelled.
    Mindfulness of compassion is word salad, technically, like mindful lugubriousness.
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  • 235
    Anthony says:

    Dennett’s concerns, though, are very understandable, given the ways that religious conservatives use various kinds of cute remarks argumentatively.
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  • 236
    Anthony says:

    There tends to be a social class variable here. Violent and imprisoned criminals are blue collar; and they tend to be religious. White collar criminals, gangster lords, who knows maybe some politicians, dictators, CEOs, and lawyers, are more likely the criminal masterminds I was talking about. Mastermind means not likely to be caught.

    I don’t see how mindfulness of compassion is word salad. Being calmly attentive to those feelings of caring for others which one has–noticing that feeling and paying attention to it; how is this word salad?
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  • 237
    Anthony says:

    Let’s not make up each others’ words. I did not ever say, would not ever claim, that atheists lack some kind of special ability. I do not agree with this claim. It seems there was discussion about this kind of issue above but I was not party to it. I did mention ESP, but if it were to happen no need to assume that non/belief has a particular effect on it. About the capacity to sense one’s own mind at work, I’m not sure how someone can really prove whether someone has or does not have this. This does not have much to do with having a degree in psychiatry. You might see it as related to this kind of training, but I doubt that psychiatric training is a major factor in it. Shielding from parts of one’s own thought stream seems obvious to me; more so when meditating.
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  • many Catholics are much more moral than their church or its doctrines..

    Now why do I feel that this means Many Catholics agree with me on moral issues?
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  • 239
    Anthony says:

    If you want to debate about whether shielding is the right word or not; there is no debate here as I’m not trying to use professional language. Defenses are also obvious; they happen constantly, in myriad different forms. Or, call it mental looping if you want to. Suggesting that a psychiatrist knows better is like say your mind is the territory of someone else’s expertise. Of course, a therapist does play a role that is sometimes important: being the other person who can step outside, reflect, goad, etc.
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  • Now why do I feel that this means Many Catholics agree with me on moral issues?

    Probably because they do…. underneath, …. if ever they could be honest with themselves….. and say it out loud.

    If every Catholic made their own decisions on morality, there wouldn’t be a Catholic church. The fact that the RCC exists, means that their Catholic followers outsource their morality to a third party. “I see nothing, nothing”. This act in itself, is immoral. You can’t continue membership of a church, that behaves in this immoral way. To do so, condones the immorality, and taints the follower with the same immoral brush.

    As Brian said; “You’re all individuals. You’ve all got to work it out for yourselves. ”

    p.s. You could substitute any religion into this post and it would stand. I’m not picking on the RCC uniquely, it just seems that your carrying their flag. Maybe Phil’s example of the Quakers might pass a morality test.
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  • 241
    Anthony says:

    Further reflection: I think I just now got the point you are making with regard to feigning psychiatry. My remark about addressing defenses and shielding is not meant as a summary of research, but only as a reflection on personal experience and an understanding of meditation that comes from this. For any person who practices something like meditation, it is important to have one’s own direct sense of what one takes to be the case; and not to do something because some research model tells you to do it. Do you need a research model to tell you to be autonomous? I take this as a very basic assumption. However, if there is an assumption here of restricting talk only to research materials, it is also not difficult to find similar claims in existing literature on clinical mindfulness. cf. issues of deautomation, also Siegel, MD.
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  • Len,

    Nonsense. Data from prison populations , sex offenders etc tell us nothing about the structure of the brain.

    You are not even doing pseudo-science or phrenology now, you are just ranting..

    Data from the sex offenders PROVES the religious have a different brain structure. LOL.

    And it it not apologetics, it is called reason.
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  • Alan4discussion,

    Are you Ok? Amidst all the deprecations I could almost swear that you acknowledged that some activity derived from a “religious” setting could have a every so tiny real benefit to people. Should I send for the Doctor?
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  • Anthony
    Apr 28, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    Another relevant term is 修行, xiuxing, which scholars often translate as self-cultivation. It comes from Chinese Buddhist and Confucian traditions, but includes a lot of things we might call spiritual, including religious groups if that is the word.

    That is the problem with ambiguous language.
    Unless we stick to evidence, established and reviewed by reputable medical scientists, it is very difficult to sort out the therapeutic benefits from the fantasy, placebo effects, cultural misconceptions, and mystical nonsense. Hence I have tried to reduce the verbosity down to the scientific abstracts I have linked.

    Once the word “consciousness” is used, beyond it’s conscious/ unconscious descriptions of mental processes, all sorts of pseudo-science, and “ethereal fantasy”, come into the picture.
    Tomes of drivel have been produced on this non-existent “fantasy energy” by religious apologists, astrologers, and quacks, with some real science and scientific terminology, mixed in, in attempts to add credibility to quackery.

    Hence, as I said previously, it is important to check credentials and sources.
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  • Len, the point of meditation is not about “thinking for yourself.” It is about letting the contents of your mind show up in a less shielded manner than happens in typical, defensive mentality.

    This sounds very like my Science Daily quote and link, where shutting down the right side of the brain, allows the “spirituality of the left side to dominate!
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  • Alan4discussion,

    Steve
    Apr 29, 2015 at 4:32 am
    And it it not apologetics, it is called reason
    . . .But casual dismissal of data and evidence is only called “reason” only by you!!!!

    You do not address my criticisms of the methodology of the paper showing “proof”,

    Are you seriously suggesting science has “proved” a link between religious beliefs and brain structure and that this has been accepted as a consensus by the scientific community? Do you seriously believe we can brain scan a random group and determine who is ” religious” ( whatever that is suppoed to mean as a scientific term) purely on the results of the scan? Please.
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  • Steve
    Apr 29, 2015 at 5:10 am

    Alan4discussion,

    Are you Ok? Amidst all the deprecations I could almost swear that you acknowledged that some activity derived from a “religious” setting could have a every so tiny real benefit to people.

    Benefits from religious or tribal settings, tribal medicine, etc. are used all the time – AFTER they have had scientists sort out the useful parts of them, and the refuted and dangerous rubbish content has been dumped.

    On meditation: – have a look at the examples on my links!
    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/04/being-an-atheist-isnt-bad-for-your-mental-health-new-study-says/#li-comment-176639

    Should I send for the Doctor?

    Only if you are too ill to go to the surgery!

    I would definitely recommend going to a doctor if you are ill, rather than to one of the “mindfulness courses” Len points out!
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  • Steve
    Apr 29, 2015 at 6:50 am

    Alan4discussion,

    You do not address my criticisms of the methodology of the paper showing “proof”,

    You did not make “criticisms of the methodology”.
    You made asserted opinions expressing personal incredulity, demonstrating that you had not understood the article – starting with misunderstanding the title – and proceeding to show that you did not know what was being measured!
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  • Hi Steve

    You may be wondering why some of your recent posts haven’t been appearing. Comments containing multiple links are set aside by the site’s anti-spam system, and only appear once a moderator has approved them. If you’re submitting a comment with link, it may seem to vanish for a while but there’s no need to re-submit it, as it will appear next time a moderator is online.

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  • This PDF of the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale gives a good clue of what psychologists intend by “mindfulness”. Like all such top down psychological constructs it is an awkwardly diffuse and multifaceted concept (like empathy turns out to be), but that is not to deny there is a strong core idea here of focus, notice and retain. The therepeutic aspects of it co-opted into treatments like CBT are often about stabilising judgement of moment to moment saliency, the calming effect of pleasure in the moment and for that matter the calming effect of aware-but-event-free sensory “holidays”. Top down psychology like this looks naff but it has its practical uses (a friend of mine gets great benefit from it prescribed for his cluttered and stressed brain after a day of teaching special needs kids) but rather more it will come to increasingly to join up with bottom up neuro-analyses. Mental attributes are fuzzy and need to be called somthing.

    Marketeers and parasites will ever fall on this stuff, but that shouldn’t distract us from where insight can come. The qualities of consciousness are subtle and manifold. Introspection and the creation of yet another layer of organised insight into our minds gives us yet more levers to pull, just as our cortex-rind gave us insight and better control of our visceral reactive selves.
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  • Religious brains do work in a notable way in fMRI scans

    Indeed they do.

    To topic.

    Psychosis and spirituality both inhabit the space where reason breaks down and mystery takes over.”
    Isabel Clarke’s ‘Cognitive behaviour therapy for acute inpatient mental health units: Working with clients, Staff and the Millieu‘ is a definitive psychiatric text, despite being a believer herself.
    You may be interested in her work. I think she’s a Xian and I know that she supports Buddhist mindfulness gurus. They’re a novel money spinner.
    http://www.isabelclarke.org/

    The evidence suggest atheists enjoy superior mental health, particularly with respect to psychosexual disorders.
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  • Again you do not respond to my specific criticisms?

    Nothing was ” measured” in this paper.

    What was being “measured” was the response by 20 people with damaged right paretial lobes to a survey about religion,.

    So purely from the answers of 20 people to conclude that this proves that religion inhibits the development of the brain’s structures is nonsense.

    So tell me “what” was being measured and ,since the only data available was answers to a questionnaire, how exactly was this “measurement” carried out?
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  • @Ewan

    Another of my aphorisms (more a fervent wish) is

    A religion as lived is what its adherents say it is.

    Damn scripture and blast the magisterium. If you are free (and required to be) why are you so sheep like and uncritical? (I always rather liked Lenny Bruce’s observation (wish?) “Have you noticed how more and more people are leaving religion….and going back to God? Organised dogma is the very moral pits.)

    Catholics as portrayed/required by the RCC could not be more different from Quakers. The current recidivist Pope is still a million miles from the 1963 Quaker paper on sexism in society. This powerful document did as much as anything to bring about root and branch reform in the 1967 act of parliament. (As the local newspaper headline at the time had it. “MPs cheer Homosexual Bill.”) Was this a moral step backwards for you?

    I didn’t mean to imply that Christians pray and do nothing. But I do mean that praying is a bad idea to be foundational for kids. This was an example of shifting the cultural moral zeitgeist. Foundational morals first. Build on solid ground. Be more Quaker.
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  • Phil,

    ????
    This does not show that the growth of the brain is inhibited by religion or that “religious” brains can be detected in a scan. There is no neurological data or measurements discussed. The article is how people’s Reasonings differ in respect to their religious beliefs,

    How do you think it does prove this?

    Even here the article continually makes the error of conflationg ” mistaken axioms” with ” mistaken reasoning”.

    Altough the religious axioms on which they base their reasoning are incorrect the reasoning, deductions and conclusions they reach are logically coherent with respect to the original (mistaken) axioms. Their reasoning in itself is not illogical or “damaged”, it is correctly functional reasoning just like any other reasoning , elaborating the consequences of various axioms. The mistake is in the axioms not in the consequent reasoning which ,although factually incorrect, is still. internally logically coherent. This is not saying the conclusions are factual correct of course.
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  • Hi Mod,

    Thought it was my connection. At the moment I am on a remote Orcadian Island where the connection continually drops out and you can never be sure if what you submit gets through.

    Nice whiskey, wild scenery and the freshest of air more than compensate though

    Thanks

    Steve and the Orkney Tourist Board
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  • As an atheist and life-long sufferer of bi-polar, depression, anxiety I understand and accept the truth of that last paragraph; it seems blatantly obvious to me. IF you can convince yourself of an afterlife, a beneficent supernatural father substitute who can relieve you of all worries then of course you’re going to be HAPPY.
    However, self-delusion is not for everyone and perhaps there is more to life than brain-dead happiness. Despite all the problems my conclusion is that there is much satisfaction in being true to oneself and meeting challenges head-on.
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  • Steve
    Apr 29, 2015 at 8:52 am

    So tell me “what” was being measured and ,since the only data available was answers to a questionnaire, how exactly was this “measurement” carried out?

    As with the original study which they replicated:-

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/04/being-an-atheist-isnt-bad-for-your-mental-health-new-study-says/#li-comment-176622

    What was being measured was the activity in areas of the brain in relation to specific activities and experiences.

    For the details, read the links provided.

    So purely from the answers of 20 people to conclude that this proves that religion inhibits the development of the brain’s structures is nonsense.

    It is nonsense which you have made up!
    That was not a conclusion of the studies I linked.

    The conclusion was that multiple areas of the brain were responsible for “spiritual experiences”, and that the shutting down or damage to the right side of the brain, increased spiritual feelings and religious activities.
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  • phil rimmer
    Apr 29, 2015 at 8:19 am

    This PDF of the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale gives a good clue of what psychologists intend by “mindfulness”.

    A useful concise tool for analysis of levels of present awareness.
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  • 265
    coastalguy says:

    Switzerland topped the third annual World Happiness index produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), an initiative under the United Nations.

    It was closely followed by Iceland, Denmark, Norway and Canada.

    As a proud Cannuck I note FACTUALLY that all of these countries play hockey.
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  • Alan4discussion,

    You have now switched to a different paper, not the paper re right parietal lobe.

    Ok, what is this study measuring. It seems to measure brain activity when people are asked to remember a religious experience, and what does this brain measurement show, that lots of different areas are activated. How unexpected!

    If we replace “remembering a religious experience” with another emotive subject say “remembering meeting a partner” and then measuring brain activity we would get similar results. The activity being measured is remembering an emotive experience, that is the activity the subjects have been asked to do.

    The Scientific conclusion is that multiple areas of the brain are activated when asked to REMEMBER an emotion laden experience, for that is the data being measured, it gives us no information about some thing you call “spiritual experiences”, which remains undefined in scientific terms. In the first paper the criteria seemed to be that spiritual experiences were identical to answers to a questionnaire, here it seems spiritual experiences equates to remembering something.

    The parietal damage ” proof” was asking 20 people with the damage to answer a questionnaire rating their own personal, unscientific opinion of the strength of their religious conviction.

    Again are you claiming it is proven that a ” religious brain” can be distinguished from a “atheist brain” merely by a scan, that with no further information you can scan a hundred people and tell which ones are religious?
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  • Steve
    Apr 29, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    You have now switched to a different paper, not the paper re right parietal lobe.

    It is the original paper the second one referred to, as the articles explained.

    You really should read the links carefully to avoid these sorts of confused misunderstandings.
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  • Alan4discussion,

    Thanks for the info on which paper came first, I merely made the observation that we had switched the discussion from one paper to another.

    But you are not answering or debating my points in anyway, am I to take it you do not dispute my points about the very limited scientific conclusions, if any, which can be drawn from these papers. The first one being followed by the second one.
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  • Steve
    Apr 29, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    But you are not answering or debating my points in anyway, am I to take it you do not dispute my points about the very limited scientific conclusions, if any, which can be drawn from these papers. The first one being followed by the second one.

    I have already pointed out the conclusions of the papers and the misinterpretation you made of the conclusions (possibly confusing them with some other link from Phil).

    I think the articles are clearly written, and further explanations from me are unlikely to add much to these. You could try to find the original studies on which the articles are based, if you want to go more deeply into the subject.
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  • This will be briefer. Given the Highland Park ’68 I’m sure that is wisest.

    fMRI brain scans will reveal the religious brain reliably. Choose the apropriate stimulus and compare the results.

    Brain development is critically dependent on early experiences (I wrote lots on this!). This stuff goes to be the firmware, almost impossible to change later, with which you cognise the world. Given a poem that has you praise God for moving the planets so nicely and a homeschooled environment that denies opportunities for a countervailing view, given the evidence of Dr Victoria Horner on the credulousness of human infants, given that personal values and tastes are formed at this time, a strict religious upbringing can harm the development of brains most assuredly. Bright folk fair much better and often find an opportunity at the next rewiring session (during puberty) to make a bid for some intellectual distance, but the duller are mostly sunk.

    Development or growth is semantics. The hippocampi of cab drivers in London actually grows but pruning is as much or most of the earliest developments and the use it or lose it principle is particularly active at this time.
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  • Thanks for the commentary on the terms employed. It is always iteresting to learn of semantics and word etymologies in other languages.

    Careful word useage is critical in these discussions, which is often the basis of half of the disagreements we have. The religious love to say the seemingly uncontroversial thing that atheists have faith in science. They do this to confound later discussion on religious faith. If they get away with it they have neatly drawn a veil over the fact that faith in science actually derives from the endlessly accumulating evidence of science’s manifold utilities. For me it is evidenced confidence in science or some such not faith.

    Colloquial speech is not the way to do rigorous and scientific business.
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  • As Brian said; “You’re all individuals. You’ve all got to work it out for yourselves. ”

    I don’t really get the point you’re making here, David. You seem to be saying that it is up to every individual to make their own moral decisions. But you also seem to be deciding what is moral and immoral for Catholics.

    Is that not doing exactly what you castigate the Catholic Church for doing?
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  • But you also seem to be deciding what is moral and immoral for Catholics.

    This is deliberate obtusiosity. There is no paradox here. I cannot threaten you with excommunication or the promise of hellfire. I have no more hold over you than an any other. You have no respect for my ideas (I hope!) until I earn them. I hadn’t the luxury of grooming you from a child.
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  • Alan4discussion,

    You have not pointed out any misintepretations or answered any points whatsoever, but have just reasserted several times that the spurious conclusions of a flawed study “prove something” they do not in fact prove.

    Try thinking about what the studies really show, what the data or evidence they use actually is.
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  • Phil,

    There is no scientific evidence whatsoever that a religious upbringing affects the structure or functioning of the brain itself and that religious brains are thus different in structure, and can be recognised purely by scan as such.

    There is absolutely no evidence that the fact that people have metaphysical beliefs affects their ability to reason or think etc. religious people can do rocket science, there is absolutely no evidence of impaired brain function. The fact that they hold mistaken axioms does not impair there brain functioning. Or their ability to reason.

    The fact that you could , say, ask people questions about religion and from scanning ( or even a simple lie detector) then determine if they were religious or not does not show that there is such a distinct thing ,or that it makes sense to talk about, a “religious brain” as distinct from “other” brains. You can use similar techniques to discover what football teams people support, yet you would not think it that sensible to talk of a “Arsenal Brain” or a ” chelsea brain”

    I thought this was a science site.
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  • Steve
    Apr 30, 2015 at 4:49 am

    There is no scientific evidence whatsoever that a religious upbringing affects the structure or functioning of the brain itself and that religious brains are thus different in structure, and can be recognised purely by scan as such.

    There is absolutely no evidence that the fact that people have metaphysical beliefs affects their ability to reason or think etc.

    … . . and your evidence for making this claim is ???????

    (You have read, checked, and understood, all the scientific publications on the the subject????? – Hardly – given your struggles with the links, lack of understanding of Phil’s comments, and the sheer volume of published material!)

    I thought this was a science site.

    It is!!!
    Pretending that science in general shares your lack of knowledge of the subject, or has no evidence in areas you have not studied, is a very poor unscientific argument.
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  • There is no scientific evidence whatsoever that a religious upbringing affects the structure or functioning of the brain itself and that religious brains are thus different in structure…

    Actually Steve, the science of neuroplasticity says that there will be a difference. If you do a repetitive activity, like practice a violin, the brain lays down neural networks to support that activity. Brain scans show the increase in size of the areas involved. Brain scans of people who loose vision or hearing, show that the areas of the brain formerly involved in that activity atrophy, and the sensory areas now getting extra use vastly expand their neural networks. Brains change.

    It’s commonsense really. Of course if you practice any activity, the brain will support you as you improve at it. Playing a piano. Golf. Repeat anything long enough. OCD people have this. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy employs neuralplasticity to change negative behaviour by repetitive focus on alternatives.

    What did the Jesuits know when they said this…. “Give me the boy to 7, and I will give you the man.” They didn’t know the science, but they knew it worked. They could trap the young in religion for life. We now know why it works. If you force feed a child religion, their brain will establish networks to support that activity. If you are a brutal parent and drum it into them hours at a time, you alter their brain so much that they cannot escape for the rest of their lives. That’s what the Jesuit’s knew. They just didn’t know why.

    This BTW, is child abuse. Religion should be practiced by consenting adults in private. No child should be exposed to any religion until their brains have matured to the point where that can make independent valuations of the material being put before them, on any subject.

    He is the link to this science, on this Scientific Web Site. Long may it exist.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroplasticity
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  • Alan4discussion,

    Aside from childish and petulant ad hominems , and repeated general and unscientific assertions, you have not addressed or discussed in any way any of my objections to the flawed papers you cited. You have presented no reasoning.

    It is not I who are making any claims, so I do not have to provide evidence. i have instead pointed out the flaws in the papers you cited e.g they measured a remembering of something, they did not measure the undefined and scientifically meaningless term you keep on using, “spirituality”

    It is you who are claiming that science can detect, on information from a scan alone, something you call, but do not define, as a “religious” or “spiritual” brain as distinct from a “normal” brain. It is you who are claiming some ill defined general process you call religious upbringing , inhibits the physical development of the brain. Again without evidence or even any attempt to identify any causal mechanisms involved in any of this.

    Where is the accepted scientific proof of any of this?

    One would have thought that if these are accepted scientific facts then they would be pretty big and worldwide news , with for example plans being rushed out to deploy scanners at airports so “jihadist brains” ( do they differ from Catholic brains ) could be identified and recognised etc etc, and you would be pointing out to idiotic me all the numerous scientific papers and pop science books proving and heralding these highly significant “facts”

    The tired over-generalisations of “pop” science and psychology are not the science. Show me the science!
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  • no evidence that the fact that people have metaphysical beliefs affects their ability to reason or think.

    My fuller post contained more material on misrepresentations to children on models of causality. I left it out because I thought it a bit condescending.

    Nope its not about adults acquiring metaphysical beliefs at all. Its about infants being given false models of causality at the critical moment when they are forming their primary mechanisms for cognition.

    I have not argued for “structure” but for “firmware”. This early memory, skill, capacity-providing configuration is courtesy of Hebbian linkages and apoptotic (I coin it now) separations like all brain changes that happen throughout life. The difference is the timing and its forward going dependencies.

    I am not arguing that modern cultures don’t have a plethora of mitigations, when decently configured with alternate causal model choices or that the damage is anything other than some fractional disadvantaging, BUT given the desire of religious fundamentalists of all stripes to minutely control the experiential environments of their children, their education (and lack of it) it is utterly dissingenuous to claim there is no effect on forward outcomes of such religious behaviour. Time and again sub-optimum early experience is shown to lead to irrecoverable later impoverishments.

    (My goodness, this new side pop-up is maddening.)
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  • David,

    True, but it does not affect my point that there is no scientifically defined “thing” which can be called a “religious brain.” From the undoubted evidence of plasticity one could just as well speak of a “violin brain” or a “Arsenal brain”, both being along with the concept of a “religious brain” fairly meaningless unscientific generalisations.

    There is no evidence that a so called religious brain’s ability to reason etc is affected by metaphysical training. The fact that the reasoning is factually incorrect is not the same as saying the reasoning is logically incorrect and due to some “deficit” in the logical workings of the brain.

    Saying someone has a ” religious brain” is just saying the someone has religious thoughts and opinions ( which are of course correlated with brain activity) , it is not a scientifically significant concept.
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  • Steve
    Apr 30, 2015 at 6:05 am

    Alan4discussion,

    Aside from childish and petulant ad hominems , and repeated general and unscientific assertions, you have not addressed or discussed in any way any of my objections to the flawed papers you cited. You have presented no reasoning.

    I have mentioned psychological projection and the Dunning-Kruger Effect, many times before on this site.
    Your inability to understand explanations, or links, and denials of the science, illustrate them only too well.

    There seems to be little point in adding further explanations to the already presented ones you can’t or won’t understand.
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  • Phil,

    I am not doubting that religious indocrination can affect what you think, that is patently obvious. I am denying that it effects your neurological abilities to reason , or gives you something called a “religious brain” as scientifically meaningfully distinct from an “atheist brain” or an “Arsenal brain”

    Religious instruction does not give you false models of causality, religious people know a kick on the shins still causes pain etc., Their general understanding of causuality its totally unimpaired and normal.

    Religious indoctrination gives you false metaphysical axioms on which you , using logical reasoning in respect to the axioms, coherently build factually incorrect propositions about certain, but by no means all, causual aspects of the world.
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  • Religious indoctrination gives you false metaphysical axioms on which you , using logical reasoning in respect to the axioms, coherently build factually incorrect propositions about certain, but by no means all, causual aspects of the world.

    You singularly avoid the most important specifics of early experience and how that is different and default to some notion that what can be written on a brain at any time can be unwritten, or that thinking is innately logical (even if not trained to be). This unrealistic notion is decades out of date.

    We can stop now.
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  • No we can’t. You are wrong on so many possible levels.

    Believing that granny is up in heaven, that I kicked your shin because I am evil not because I am a bit schizophrenic, believing that praying is helping them and not just you, that it is even reasonable that you could possibly be loved by someone who could also be displeased enough to cause an eternity of suffering, these are all cognitive fuck-ups with resulting reduced performance amongst others.

    Please, please read the stories of converts corner to appreciate the manifold miseries religious parents have inflicted permanently on the minds of their off-spring; the failure to recognise when it was needed what a fact is; the failure of their emotional lives and an ability to trust; the needy coddling aesthetics that make a world, unscary to most atheist-from-births, deeply scary and lonely. Losing your dad is never easy.
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  • At what age is specific religious instruction given to children?

    And I said that reasoning, not thinking, had to be logical to be counted as valid reason and the “religious brain” has no neurological impairment inhibiting the use of their ability to reason logically..

    I never mentioned any notion, outdated or not, that “what can be written on the brain can be unwritten”. It is not a type of metaphor or explanation I would use.
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  • Religious indoctrination gives you false metaphysical axioms on which you , using logical reasoning in respect to the axioms, coherently build factually incorrect propositions about certain, but by no means all, causual aspects of the world.

    I didn’t read you anywhere near carefully enough. My apologies.

    I think we agree here.

    Theses axioms are buried deep and the distorted thinking distorts the ability of the young mind to further absorb experience and instruction as efficiently as it could. This learning sweet spot is never to be fully recouped.

    When might this start? Kneeling by the side of the bed at four, hands together, eyes closed, talking to the nice man not there.
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  • Phil,

    I am not denying the bad effects of religion upon the mind and lives of people, or that every thought has a neurological basis or that pathways can be said to be laid down in the brain from experience.

    What I am denying is lazily and unscientifically explaining these phenomena in terms of undefined, unexplained neurological ” deficits” or “mechanisms”, or as attributes of something as unscientifically defined as a ” religious brain”.

    You cannot switch willy nilly between explanations at the psychological level and at the neurological level. Neurological differences are explained neurologically, not in terms of thoughts or beliefs, which is all anyone seems to be doing here. The contents and meanings of religious and atheist thoughts are explained and (mis )understood conceptually not biologically.

    All thoughts have a neurological basis, the fact that religious thoughts have a neurological basis does seperate them out in neurological terms from any other thoughts. It is a property common to all thoughts. The difference is in the content of the thoughts, not in the neurobiology of the thoughts. As you say belief or opinion or thought habits can be “written into pathways in the brain ” but the underlying neurological processes involved are no different for religious thoughts and habits than they are for atheists thoughts and habits.

    To repeat, purely by information from scanning alone, no one can determine what is a “religious brain” and what is an “atheist brain” or an “Arsenal brain”. This is no underlying neurobiological process which is specific only to the religious or metaphysically inclined.
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  • Phil,

    The good news is the fact that the whole edifice rests on mistaken axioms ( not mistaken neurobiology!) means that the whole structure can be dismantled in a instant , there is no need to dismantle every seperate belief which has risen in consequence of accepting false axioms, once you cease to believe the axioms the whole system vanishes.. An Athiest epiphany.
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  • Steve.

    fMRI scanners (which don’t scan for lumps and bumps) scan brain functioning exactly as the name implies. They scan blood flow changes in response to the increased oxygen demand of functioning bits of brain. Of course controlled stimuli are needed to create meaningful scans of functioning.

    The astonishing thing is that contemplating god for the religious and the non religious produces two different scans. The non religious brain has activity in the area reserved for other people but the religious brain has activity in the area associated with oneself. Of course with appropriate stimuli unusual signatures will be found for the schizophrenic, the aspie, the anxious. Make no mistake the religious brain shows a marked difference in cognition by this. What is fascinating is how this is not reflected in the conscious thought of the religious, but that it does make some sense of the experience when viewed from the outside. The religious brain is distinguished by the particularity of its cognitions.

    (I won’t go into it here but there is a lot of interesting crossover into fMRI scans of Dissociative Identity Disorder sufferers. Like all of these things, this is not saying anything about the religious, say, and mental illness, only that mental illness is essentially a social construct and the result of a smooth though curvy spread of cognition parameters between “ill” and “well”.)
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  • the whole structure can be dismantled in a instant

    Absolutely not.

    Learning and anatomy are the same thing at base. The huge web of learning (links made and cut) is enormous from childhood and is no less a disaster when found to be intermixed with falsehoods.

    Like the cochlear implant made too late, the window of opportunity for wiring-to-cognise has passed. All that lost neural plasticity gone for good. All those values and aesthetics woven into your judgments feeding dispiriting signals.

    The only word for it is damaged. In open societies often not a lot of damage, but closed it can be quite bad. Its very interesting to look at the accounts of ex cult and ex-closed communities like the Amish. Very poor social functioning can result. Like I say the younger, the brighter, the less so.
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  • Phil,

    What is being measured here is an activity called ” contemplating God”. What exactly this activity consists of, or of how a “correct” contemplation of God can be distinguished from a “false” contemplation of God, is not specified. Something called ” religion” or “spirituality” is not being specifically measured in any way at all here. Belief in God the creator or logical thinking or any other aspect of religion or spirituality are not being measured here.

    This activity of ” contemplating God” will have more personal meaning for a religious person than an atheist, so it is no surprise that there is more activity in “areas concerning oneself (another vague unneurological specification of neurological functions!) in religious people than in atheists.

    A control experiment involving Arsenal supporters and non-supporters will show that more activity in “areas concerning oneself” when performing the activity of ” contemplating Arsenal” than in a non-Arsenal supporter.

    Differences can be found on scans between different people performing the same activity including ” areas concerning oneself” when the specific cognition has personal emotive meaning. None of this is evidence for a unique neurological religious only cognitive function.

    This again proves or shows no neurological process or effect specific to , and only applicable to , “religion” or “spirituality”
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  • phil rimmer
    Apr 30, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    Steve.

    fMRI scanners (which don’t scan for lumps and bumps) scan brain functioning exactly as the name implies. They scan blood flow changes in response to the increased oxygen demand of functioning bits of brain. Of course controlled stimuli are needed to create meaningful scans of functioning.

    The astonishing thing is that contemplating god for the religious and the non religious produces two different scans. The non religious brain has activity in the area reserved for other people but the religious brain has activity in the area associated with oneself.

    You gave it another good try on behalf of science Phil, but I think your clear explanations are yet again being grouped with the earlier ones!

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2015/04/being-an-atheist-isnt-bad-for-your-mental-health-new-study-says/#li-comment-176833
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  • Alan4discussion,

    In what way or how am I grouping Phil’s explanation with other ones? And what other ones?

    And if so , what is wrong with this grouping?

    Or was your post just a rhetorical ad hominem ? Yawn

    I am not expecting a reasoned response to these queries.

    I too am trying on behalf of science, to clarify that ” pop ” science or pop psychology generalisations and speculations are not scientific conclusions or proofs.
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  • This activity of ” contemplating God” will have more personal meaning for a religious person than an atheist,

    No, that there is no hint of “other” in the cognition is profoundly significant, else the demonstration of the same phenomenon with a loved one to an atheist would render the observation trivial.

    Nor do you seem impressed enough by the profoundness of early training that marks this period of utterly credulous and unfettered adoption of authority-offered materials. This evolved strategy to cover the neural defecits of an essentially premature brain in an overly ambulant body and deliver ritualised behaviours quite unlike any other primate, creates for us the runways for all future training and subsequent education.

    the fact that people have metaphysical beliefs affects their ability to reason or think etc.

    I’ve not made that claim. Mine is that small children are trained to see what is significant around them. The perfection of design. They are given heuristics to use to value judge what to accept and what to reject; what the indicators of the character and morals of others are; what speech to shut out. In later life these do turn into metaphysical beliefs, but most of the damage is done by then.

    I do, though, think some metaphysical beliefs are entirely damaging to scientific work. Mathematicians don’t suffer much. A disaster for a friend of mine relapsing into schizophrenia was a visit to a religious GP who diagnosed him as suffering from spiritual problems. The much needed medication was rejected by him as not treating spiritual needs. The worsened situation needed an intervention of three ambulance medics, two social workers, a doctor, and four policemen in a timed operation. Metaphysical beliefs are positively dangerous in psychiatric and psychological scenarious. No thanks to god, these professions are indeed the most atheist now.

    Your view of this as easily delete-able, erroneous data, when (at worst, in the deep south, in the middle east) it in fact consists of the brains very BIOS, tells me you are thinking of Tom Hollander’s reasonable “REV” and not the spectacularly creationist Turkish medical students unable to even begin to absorb the possibility that we are animals too. When you are told from a little child how special our status is and how purposed we are and all wrapped in ritual, so that it chimes with your mucle memory, it doesn’t all come out cleanly and without hurting.
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  • I cannot threaten you with excommunication or the promise of hellfire. I have no more hold over you than an any other. You have no respect for my ideas (I hope!) until I earn them. I hadn’t the luxury of grooming you from a child.

    But what you can do, Phil, is suggest that by bringing my children up in the faith I have significantly damaged them. You might also link a religious upbringing with child abuse – an accusation that is commonly made on this site and elsewhere.

    In the current social climate, it is hard to think of any accusation more calculated to encourage a sense of disgust and revulsion towards believing parents.
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  • But, Ewan. I have no extra hold than the power of my argument. Instead of acting defensive what I imagined you would do is say that you believed in the morality of the RCCs 2000 years of accumulated wisdom and that for your children’s future well being these pearls quite simply must be known. They must have an ultimate respect for the deliverer of the Good. As a decent father you must achieve that whithout fail. There is no excuse to not introduce them to Christ as soon as possible. Or some such.

    Now I make an argument for the profoundly simple dogma of Quakers, which you seem to like. They don’t expect children to sit in their meetings. They produce a lovely little book for kids about attending meetings. Come and sit with the adults if you want they say but you’ll probably get bored and there is always a room with books and paper and crayons where you can talk, read and draw. Not a hint of Quakerism being for them. (This is the UK branch, much less pious than the American.)

    This is healthy. So healthy. Teaching by example only. No age of reason strongarm guilt tripping nonsense. No confession from seven on.

    I have to urge Julia Sweeney here.

    My complaint is that heavy proselytising and ritualistic behaviours imposed on young children restricts their future choices. Below you will see I don’t think this is other than a slight problem in open societies like ours, but there are some real stinkers of parents who super restrict their kids from having any alternate experience and this certainly can be viewed as damaging.

    Dawkins point was very pointedly about labelling kids. Telling them and the world what they are and what they must think is quite another kind of abuse.
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  • Phil,

    You say it is significant that there is no hint of other .

    The first obvious question to ask would be to refer to a control group such as Arsenal supporters and see if they too had ” no hint of other” whilst contemplating the glories of Arsenal. The methodolgy did not seem to involve a control group to determine if any findings were specific only to “contemplating God” or if other contemplations would have had the same results. Or indeed any investigation into a possible general explanation that activity of one area might automatically inhibit activity in another area irrespective of what activity is going on.

    ” no hint of other” seems to be a psychological proposition but I presume you are referring to neurological structures which are not activated, and that this neurological observation correlates with a general psychological proposition of ” no hint of other”.

    I cannot see on what scientific basis you can declare that this neurological information can be translated into a overreaching , implicitly moral ,damning and unscientific phrase ” no hint of other”. That these areas might be correlated with some aspects of social relationships ( how and what is not specified) might be true, but how you get from that to the implicitly morally
    damning and emphatic assertion of ” no hint of other” I find unconvincing and not scientific.

    I would agree in general with the rest of your post. There is no confusion or conflation of levels of explanation which is my main gripe.
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  • I am not doubting that religious indoctrination can affect what you think, that is patently obvious. I am denying that it effects your neurological abilities to reason ..

    @Steve

    This is where we part company. If this statement is true, it means that we’ve all been wasting our time cramming for exams. Or practicing the triple pike salto. The CIA has wasted it’s time with brain washing. It means that our brains are constant and immutable. I dislike the term “Religious Brain” and I don’t care if you can see it on scans or not.

    A child in a Muslim Madrasa reciting the Koran off by heart in Arabic from the day they can talk will have a different brain structure to a child brought up in a balanced educational environment. Commonsense. Is it possible to reason with the adult post the Madrasa, or the Xtian child home schooled and prayed over since birth. Not all, but most of these people loose the ability to think rationally. You can’t reach then with reason. Those loose the ability to apply what we would call rational evidence based decision making to every day life. They see life through the prism of their “Religiously” wired brain.

    I don’t know about you, but I’ve had in depth personal conversations with Xtian fundamentalists and you know there is no way to reach them. They need to be “Reprogrammed” over a very long time, using Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, to increase the neurons in areas of the brain that would allow them to escape their religiously brain washed brain. Rewiring the brain neurons in exactly the same was as the religious indoctrination rewires brains. Physical alteration to neural networks, that can be observed over time in scanners. Sudden deafness can be observed over time to physically change brain structure.

    I’ve had contact with a family from Grandfather, father, son and now grandson. All fundamentalist religious. Lovely people, but from cradle to grave they’ve been avid happy clappers. One of them is a double major in computer engineering and physics. He’s brilliant at this job. Cutting edge in research. I am amazed at the level he works to. But he is still a Xtian fundamentalist. We can discuss quantum theory and he explains it to me. But he doesn’t believe in evolution. He can write brilliant computer code, pure logic, but believes blindly that the bible is the word of god. We’ve discussed god. It doesn’t matter what I say. What examples I put before him. The science broadly discussed and debated in this forum. He cannot overturn his religious training. His brain, cannot think logically, when it comes to god. His brain, is a brilliant logician when it comes to physics and computer code. Compartmentalization. We all know examples like this.

    He’s thinking of abandoning his career to become a religious preacher. What a waste.

    Steve. I fear you may have backed yourself into a position where saving face is more important than an admission that our brains can be shaped, and that shaping then reflects back on our world views. Who cares if we can’t see it in scanners. It’s just common every day sense and observation that makes it true.
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  • the implicitly morally damning and emphatic assertion of ” no hint of other”

    Pardon my acronym, but WTF??!!!

    The only moral judgement I have made is about parents heavilly indoctrinaiting kids and limiting their exposure to any countervailing ideas. I have not condemned religious thinking per se except in the specifics of some professional decision making.

    “Others” is “other people” from the previous post and the absolute, “no hint” is not needed. “No noteworthy indication of other” is fine. (I always (ok mostly) remove absolutes from posts as a last thing, scattering probablys and maybes as I go. Slipped up this time.)
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  • Tom Jacobs (OP) claims atheists are no more afflicted by mental health issues than are theists. Cognitive Behavioural Therapists working in acute clinical settings know this. The locked psychiatric wards illustrate theists to be more prone to serious mental illness than are atheists, and prison populations reveal atheists are practically unknown for criminality, especially sex crimes.

    Anthony made the bold and untested claim that meditating about compassion cures criminality. I think I’ll stick with the scientific evidence, without resorting to Orcadian phrenology, which seems to be reliant on rejecting “pop” neuroscientific imaging techniques which notoriously fail to reveal bumps or lumps on one’s head.
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  • David,

    I am always in the corner although not backed into it, from the corner you get to see all the room.

    I said your “neurological” abilities to reason , not your ability to objectively and factually reason about explanations for the world ,which of course are wrong. Also I am not denying, and hope I have not misspoke, that experience shapes the world.

    My point is that this neurological shaping by religion is the same as any other neurological shaping, and that the shaped brain cannot be scientifically said to be neurologically damaged, or deficient or any other such , and that to use terms like the ” religious brain” or ” inhibits frontal lobes” are unscientific generalisations.

    As you observe your fundamentalist friend’s ability to reason is not impaired in any way apart from when it comes to religious matters. But even when it comes to religious matters he is not ,within his own belief system , being illogical or unreasonable, his brain or neurology is functioning perfectly fine just like anybody elses.

    His mistake is in the axioms about God’s causual role that he has accepted as true. This results in him holding irrational beliefs but it does not involve his neurology being irrational ( whatever that is supposed to mean) This is a conceptual and factual error not a neurological error, and to argue from conceptual errors etc to conclude that this must mean underlying “neurological deficits” or shows something called the “attributes of a religious brain” is conflating and confounding different levels of explanation, and is not good science.

    Fairly precise points , which you might feel pedantic or semantic hogwash or whatever, but I feel it important they when we say science shows X to be the case we clarify exactly what we mean by this, and exactly what type of evidence is being evaluated,rather than simply slip it unattended into our preconceived expectations , and that we do not end up explaining scientific findings in morally laden unscientific overgeneralisations , bandying about willy nilly ill defined unscientific terms such as “religion” or “spirituality” and using them as if they were some kind of proven scientific fact rather than being just imprecise generalisations of a family of activities, thoughts and actions.

    Also , just as important is that we do not confuse and conflate different levels of explanation e.g concluding from the mistaken factual content of thought that the underlying neurology must somehow also be ” mistaken”. These kind of errors, or so I think, seem to be continually repeated in some of the posts here.

    As is the strange idea that closely examining what the science is actually saying and doing and “what” it is actually measuring, and attempting to clarify if the conclusions drawn are correct , is somehow an attempt to deny science
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  • Len,

    To issue an Highland Park clarification, it is you who are reinventing phrenology by looking for neurological ” bumps” to explain matters of opinion and belief.

    And it is not rejecting neuroscientific imaging techniques, it is rejecting overblown and unscientific conclusions mistakenly drawn from the valid science.
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  • Phil,

    Did not mean to annoy you by overemphasing my point!

    However will have to annoy you a little bit more by suggesting even saying ” no noteworthy indication of the other” is a somewhat vague generalisation, and is not a precise scientific proposition or conclusion..
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  • Phil,
    Timed out.

    To finish, to draw a general conclusion about the psychological attributes of the religious, based on neurological readings obtained when people are performing an activity of contemplation, is a bit of a stretch.
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  • psychological attributes

    No. Psychological attribute. There is an unusual mode of cognition that seem to apply to true believers in God and that a sense of otherness seems mostly absent for an item that is “other”.

    I think there are many other attributes especially around those rigorously indoctrinated from a very early age. I haven’t the faintest whether these would show up on fMRI with a suitable stimulus. I would not be at all surprised if they did.

    Particularly fascinating recently was the study on religious and non-religious kids’ acceptance of stories with religious and non religious fantastical elements. There were clear differentiations to how the kids judged the reality of what they were told. These saliency differences (in both directions) will skew expectations of what will be seen and years of missing evidence and faux evidence will embed themselves until the emotional investment makes the hypothesis failure inconceivable. The truer hypothesis will turn out to be the lesser effort to sustain.

    We tend not to look at this stuff with fMRI and concentrate more on health related topics with these expensive machines. I’d love to try the 9+ Tesla machines (much more detail but scarey) on humans doing this stuff. The detail would be incredible (1.5 to 3T is the level for current scanners.)

    This stuff can wait, you know. Orcadian delights beckon. And if you need some background music try Peter Maxwell Davies’ elegiac Yellow Cake Review. Farewell to Stromness etc.
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  • Phil,

    I would say it is not a unusual mode of cognition, and here we now seem to be talking on a epistemological level, but a normal ( though mistaken as to its object) cognition ( in fact statistically speaking this type of cognition would have to be considerd the norm) and that again conclusions about “sense of other etc” are not scientific propositions but over ambitious generalisations based on scant and ambiguous data.

    Anyway it seems we are going around in circles and not really getting anywhere, and it is not due to the whiskey! Yet!

    Max, not that I know him but that is how he is known, does indeed capture some of the Orcadian ambience, although taking advantage of no near neighbours I am sitting in the garden listening to The Saint Matthew Passion at full volume through a 120 watt amp and great speakers Bliss!.The surrounding sheep remain unperturbed.
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  • not a unusual mode of cognition

    True, sadly. It has been the default for quite some time. Then things started to clear. Newton revealed the exceedingly fine texture of the cloth that went into making rainbows and set to unweaving the more nonsensical parts of the bible. Hypotheses became ever richer in their reward.

    “sense of other” Welcome to the real world of top down meets bottom up psychology. More tightly controlled words are used, but darn it, sometimes it just helps to have the reminder that empathy, say, is the sense of what we are talking about. The paper discussions more usually for the above would use phrases like “the area in the right inferior frontal gyrus associated as a common factor with recognition of personal and cultural individuals and agent categories”.

    Envious BTW.
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  • Phil,

    Afraid I am much happier and even actually feel more empathy with phrases like “the area in the right frontal etc” than with ” a sense of the other” etc.

    Guess my parents must have hard wired me up!

    BTW, no need to be envious, it is back home to Hackney tomorrow.
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  • I’m still not sure we aren’t talking at cross purposes.

    Other means a person other than oneself, which is an utterly prosaic concept….but heigh-ho.

    Hackney has its moments…
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  • Phil,

    But “other” is not being used in a prosaic way, as you say it, “sometimes it just helps to have the reminder that empathy, say, is the sense of what we are talking about”.

    You are making a general proposition or conclusion about a lack of empathy of religious people compared to atheists, this or an lesser equivalent is implicit in you use of the prosaic term “other” .

    This might or might not be true, but can in no way be inferred from the scientific data of this study. If you are expressing your personal opinion that is fine , but it is not corroborated by this bit of science.

    The measure of blood flow , and the differences in different areas, of people performing a very specific task, tells us nothing about the general sense of empathy of either the religious or atheists. Empathy or any equivalent was neither the activity being undertaken or the activity being measured either in a specific or general sense.

    To do that you would have to scan blood flow over a wide range of activities and periods of time to even begin to suggest such a conclusion. Even then you would have a enormous task justifying how from measuring blood flow in the brain you can jump to conclusions about psychological attitudes , e.g how levels of blood flows in areas XYZ can be causally associated with a broad psychological attitude such as empathy.

    as the specific activity of contemplating God would have more personal and emotive meaning to a religious person it is no surprise that different areas are activated or inhibited.
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  • The question is also left begging of what is being measured when an atheist is asked to “contemplate God”. Are we measuring the blood flows of people ” thinking about something they do not think exists”, what on earth is being measured here by asking them to “contemplate God”. On the other hand there can be said to be a sense in saying religious people are ” contemplating God”.

    It is difficult to see how the experiment can be said to be measuring equivalent “things” , as the activity of contemplating God is a sensible directed activity for the religious, but a somewhat unemotive undirected and senseless activity for an atheist.
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  • You are making a general proposition or conclusion about a lack of empathy of religious people compared to atheists

    No. I am making no such proposition. I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear. I used empathy as a for instance of how a simple seeming term is often very complex but still useful. Psychologists mostly talk about its ten or so separate parameters but the term is still worth using even amongst psychologists because it still embodies a lot of useful meaning.
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  • The test is about a singular piece of cognition and nothing more. How do people appear to categorise God as far as brain region usage goes? There are brain regions that most often figure in things about oneself. There are brain regions that most figure in things about others, prime ministers, lovers, bosses, Beyonce.

    We can come up with fantastic sophistications to finesse which group, thinking about god, has which regions preferentially activated. My first test would be to find people who had recently lost someone very dear and trace where thinking about these loved ones moved over the months and years. Would they become resident amongst personal musings? But there are more important and further general impressions to take from fMRI based psychology first.

    Why this is persuasive now is that it correlates very well with psychology test that shows the close match of what god thinks (by the subject reports) and what the subject themselves think. The elegance of these psychological tests is in manipulating the subjects’ values without their conscious knowledge.

    For myself this showing the brain scans are different is nowhere near as interesting as how the strongly religious solve problems, differently.
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  • …is nowhere near as interesting as how the strongly religious solve problems, differently.

    I’m not sure what sorts of problems you’re referring to but, when I find myself struggling with a particularly intractable problem, I tend to hand the whole sorry mess over to God to sort out and live with the consequences. It seems to work well. He has a very creative approach.
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