"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Unfounded fears

Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing -- fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death.
- Bertrand Russell, ‘Why I Am Not A Christian’.

I realise this post could be seen as vaguely insulting, I can only say that it’s not intended to be so.

Reading through some of the comments by theists on the posts below, it seems to me that the same objections to atheism keep reoccurring, objections which put me in mind of the quote which I’ve used to kick-start this post.

I want to try to deal with the three main (as I see it) objections. My apologies for being a little brief, but most of them have been dealt with at great length elsewhere, so this is really just a “summing up”. When I get a chance later I’ll put in links to the bits of the site which deal with them in a more comprehensive manner.

Fear of nihilism: As God is the source of all meaning, without Him we’re condemned to a meaningless, unhappy existence.

Meaning is not, however, something which is external to human existence; it is something which we project onto the world: for an object or situation to be meaningful it simply has to mean something to us. Life is often beautiful, bewildering and intriguing – all things that appeal to me on an intuitive/emotive level – and therefore incredibly meaningful to me (especially considering the only alternative: non-existence).

People all over the planet find life to be more than meaningful without depending on a divine power in any way. The theist may counter that life with god is more meaningful, but then it’s incumbent on them to demonstrate that this is so. (A particularly tricky task, given that it would involve quantifying meaning).

Alex adds:
The misunderstanding here is that you take it that I am saying if there is no God it is impossible for anyone to feel a sense of meaning and we all must live miserable lives. This is of course a silly position to take if one believes there is no God. As you point out quite clearly, we exist and we find things to be meaningful. End of story. Believing there is, or is not a God doesn't change that in the least. It's not even a part of the equasion.

However, there is a subtlety to my argument that I feel must be pointed out clearly. The point I have been trying to make is that without God there is no ground for any of our meaning other than our own personal experience. (It is worth pointing out that modern psychology is working hard to write personal experience out of existence as well.)

So it is not that I see the absence of God as causing the absence of happiness, (to be precise, I would regard the absence of God as the absence of anything) but if we choose to imagine a world that exists without God, I would argue that any meaning that would result from this world would be false and would need to be maintained through self-deception.

Matt rejoins:
If you say that any meaning which doesn't come from a higher source is "false", then yes: humanistic meaning is false. But most non-theists would simply reject that definition. All that is required for something to be meaningful - in a "true" way - is for it to mean something to me. So there's no self-deception involved.

Alex re-rejoins: I will respond to this argument here.


Fear of social collapse:
Without God sitting in judgement, people will have no reason at all to be good.

If this were true, we’d expect that the more secular the country the higher the crime rate. Yet, not only is this not true, but some have suggested that the opposite may actually be the case.

The reason that most atheists don’t go on rampages of pillaging and murder is that there’s an incredibly strong pragmatic case for supporting certain notions of right and wrong: ask any random person whether they’d rather live in a society governed by law and order or one in which people were completely free to do what they like and, regardless of their metaphysical beliefs, you’d get an incredibly high percentage going for the former.

The reason for this is that it’s in my own self-interest to live in a society which respects individual rights. Not only am I much safer, and therefore able to achieve more of my goals, but the same applies to those I care about. This is the concept of reciprocal altruism, or, to put it more simply, I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine.

Alex adds:
I must say I am not worried a bit that more "religious" countries have a boatload of social problems. I would be perfectly willing to go along with the charge that "religion" can in fact do more harm than good. Luckily for me I'm not arguing for religion.

I also don't really tend to the fear of social collapse. Most countries that are of a more secular flavor tend to nurture a dishonest view of godlessness. They play down the logical conclusions that are the result of having no God. Even if the bare bones meaninglessness and hopelessness of that ideology were promoted full force, no one would accept it. We are not wired to life lives like that. As you well know we are built to find meaning. We are built to believe that love is true and is the ultimate joy we can achieve in this life.

So again it's not that I so much fear social collapse, it's that without God a societies success depends on how well they maintain their delusion that people have value, that love is true, and that their lives have purpose and meaning.

Matt rejoins:
Again - you're defining things like love and value in a way that most non-theists would reject as pointless. People have "value" if we care about them - which acts on an intuitive/emotional level and has little, if anything, to do with our views on God.


Fear of determinism:
If we’re just biological machines, as the theory of evolution seems to suggest, then we’re subject to a strict determinism which obliterates the concept of free will.

This may indeed be true, but religious belief offers only a cheap, and ultimately unsatisfying way out of it.

Whenever I go to make a choice, certain background factors inevitably come into play. If I were trying to choose between two pizzas, then the decision would be made on a number of – fairly predictable – factors such as taste, how much effort I wanted to expend, what I’d recently had to eat, etc. All of which can be seen as determining my choice.

Yet, the existence of a soul, separate from my physical body, does nothing to change this. Unless, of course, we say that God somehow allows us to make choices which, while not determined by our pre-existing preferences, isn’t purely random. But this is a somewhat lazy way out of the problem.

Alex adds:
And now for determinism. First off, I'm not so sure I'm comfortable with the idea of a soul separate from the body. At one point, that was my position, but revvvvd challenged me on that one and I have since done some more reading that has caused that position to be a bit less tenable than it used to be. I would now suggest that we are souls. We are biological bodies, but the trouble comes when we say we are "just" biological bodies. We are body. We are spirit. Different aspects not different substances. Anywho, enough on that.

If, as Matt suggests, This indeed may be true, regarding a strict deterministic world view, how can you live your life without an extreme dose of self-deception? Speaking of laziness, if you were to internalize the concept that you had no free will the level of apathy one would be forced to maintain would be what we now call a type of neurosis. It is impossible for us to have a healthy mental state and truly believe that we have no control over our life, decisions, or actions. To believe that everything will simply be what it will be and we are powerless to affect change of any sort, imparts a feeling of despair that you simply cannot avoid without lying to yourself.

Now the charge that all Christianity has to offer is a cheap, and ultimately unsatisfying way out of it. needs to be demonstrated.

Here's my position: We are created by God. God has told us who He is. He has told us he created us for joy and the fullest of life. He tells us He created us for a love so great we cannot now conceive it. We are free to make our own choices and are responsible for our actions. We are free to affect change in the world for better, or worse. Our thoughts really are our thoughts. They are not simply chemical noise. I can say of my own free will "Matt you are a person I respect and I very much enjoy our conversations."

The deterministic position: We are the product of a mindless explosion. The conditions at this precise moment were determined by the precise conditions at the time of the massive explosion. We are the effects of an uncaused cause. We are complete slaves to the conditions surrounding us. Even our own thoughts are results of causes beyond our control. Our futures are determined, we cannot change it. Matt cannot say, "Alex you are a nice chap.", but the big bang can, not that it really matters since no one is listening anyway.

I don't know about you, but I know which one leaves me feeling unsatisfied.

Matt rejoins:
I didn't say that it was "all Christianity has to offer" - but I've yet to see a convincing theistic argument which demonstrates the existence of the type of libertarian free will suggested here. Either our actions are determined by our preferences (whether God-given or evolved) or they're random.

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44 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Had you not intended to be vaguely insulting you would not have published vaguely insulting thoughts.

Nor do you have much understanding of what constitutes a sane and civilized discussion, if you can't write a paragraph without accusing so-called theists of laziness, and of cowardise.

Bertrand Russell's assertion concerning fear as the basis of religion doesn't go very far as it can easily be turned against him -- fear as basis for atheism, fear of an afterlife, fear of what an afterlife may entail (if Christians are right), fear of the eternal mysteriousness of an afterlife.

What bearing does Russell's theory on fear as basis of religion have on your discussion of nihilism, social disorder, and determinism? None that one can identify other then your wanting to claim superiority over people you can't even begin to grasp, so unfathomably above your abilities they are: such as Dante, Thomas Aquinas, Pascal, Newton... and other theists.

One furthermore fails to see why it should be incumbent upon theists to demonstrate their belief life with deity is more meaningful than life without it, even as you do nothing to demonstrate your own gut feeling that deity is not necessary to a meaningful life.

After all, you are the one who claims no belief has validity, that has not been tested (where, by what method, you never tell us. Who would decide if the tests have been adequately and successfully condected?)

I am surprized you would rehash this old canard about atheists not going on rampages of pillaging and murder. Atheists in Nazi Germany and in all communist countries have gone in the most unprecedently
vicious rampages of pillaging, raping, oppressing, torturing, murdering, of generalized, systematic, planned, organized, uncontrolled and uninhibited criminality in the history of humanity.

"if we're just biological machines"
Had you taken the trouble to look at a biological organism, and compare it to a car, a factory, a clock, you'd know living organisms are not machines (and machines not organisms).

Nor does science have such relevance to a discussion of the soul or of God, as science focuses on the material side of things, while God and the soul to those who believe in such things, are not material.

Where do you get the idea religion is necessarily opposed to determinism? Lutherans seem harshly deterministic to me, as they believe we are elected, or damned, of all eternity, and for all eternity.

Were do you get the idea people would be more afraid of determinism, than of free will (assuming they are as fearful as you'd like to believe they are?). Determinism allows us to disclaim all responsibility for our actions and is therefore less frightful, as moral philosophy, than free-will, which requires us to bear consequences for our choices.

Cause and consequence: that's deterministic, is it not? Don't theists as you define them believe causes have consequences? Make the wrong noise in a mountain and you'll provoke an avalanche. Is it choice? Is it determinism? Is there a difference? The mountain will kill you, all the same, just as a gang member will kill you if you give him the wrong look: you didn't even know he was a gang member and you liked his jacket, that's why you were looking at it.

If you get your pizzas in English equivalents of Pizza Hut, then no wonder you don't believe in the soul. As there is nothing to erode belief in the finer sides of life, than junk food...

Billy Coconut

2:09 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Billy,

Had you not intended to be vaguely insulting you would not have published vaguely insulting thoughts.

Except, obviously, I don't consider them to be insulting - my concern was over the use of the term "fear", which can be taken in different ways. One is that it implies cowardice, but it also has another, more respectable meaning. For example, I fear what would happen if a group such as the BNP took power, and I fear what would happen if my brother left his well-paid job and joined a cult, etc. In neither of this cases is cowardice implied, and it's in this way that I used the word in my post.

Nor do you have much understanding of what constitutes a sane and civilized discussion, if you can't write a paragraph without accusing so-called theists of laziness, and of cowardise.

Coming from you, such a comment is hypocritical bordering on absurd.

Bertrand Russell's assertion concerning fear as the basis of religion doesn't go very far as it can easily be turned against him

If you believe this to be the case the feel free to argue it - this is an open forum.

What bearing does Russell's theory on fear as basis of religion have on your discussion of nihilism, social disorder, and determinism?

Well...

1) I see these concerns popping up in comment after comment on this blog.

2) It's a simple way of bringing attention to Russell's essay, which I think will be of some interest to people like Alex.

Dante, Thomas Aquinas, Pascal, Newton... and other theists.

If you believe that these people have made arguments relevant to this discussion then please point them out.

One furthermore fails to see why it should be incumbent upon theists...

Because it's incumbent on the person making an assertion to provide evidence for it.

After all, you are the one who claims no belief has validity, that has not been tested (where, by what method, you never tell us. Who would decide if the tests have been adequately and successfully condected?)

How else would you test an empirical statement except through some form of the scientific method?

Atheists in Nazi Germany and in all communist countries have gone in the most unprecedently
vicious rampages


And, obviously, not only was atheism at the heart of these murderous ideologies, but they are representative of all atheists throughout the world and throughout history.

Had you taken the trouble to look at a biological organism

It's a metaphor.

Nor does science have such relevance to a discussion of the soul or of God

How then do you propose that atheists and theists discuss God?

Where do you get the idea religion is necessarily opposed to determinism?

As made quite explicit in my post, the arguments I put forward are aimed at those who contribute to this blog - the issue of free will and determinism has been thrash out below.

6:59 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I don't consider them to be insulting"
Typical disclaimer of responsibility by MattMurrell

"coming from you such a comment is hypocritical"
In other words, you are determined to define my responses to your insults as insults, but deny your insults are insulting. The hypocrisy is with you, Murrell, as I have never denied I can respond to insult, in kind -- including yours.

"If you believe this to be the case the feel free to argue it"
I have, in my previous posting. How typical of Murrell, and of Murrell's instinct for denigration and smear, to ignore the arguments
of others, and then claim they have no argument.

"I see these concerns popping up in comments on this blog"
Virtually no one has posted comments on this blog and none to suggest religion is based on fear. As always, Murrell, you are trying to flatter yourself and give yourself a (self-deluded)sense of superiority, by denigrating people you do not agree with.

Bill: "Dante, Thomas Aquinas,Pascal, Newton... and other theists.."
Murrell: "If you believe that these made arguments relevant to this discussion, then feel free to point it out"
The sheer arrogance of this statement! Who indeed does this Murrell think he is to refer to some of the greatest authors of all time as "these People" and to suggest they are the ones who have something to prove to Murrell.

I brought them up only to underscore the sheer vanity of Murrell's claims to superiority over religion and therefore religious people. Murrell is obviously trying to obfuscate a point that was not meant to flatter him.

On several occasions, on the insomniac and on openDemocracy I have brought up one of the argument "these people" use: argument by design. Murrell has consistently failed to address it. Not that this can surprise us, as Murrell is clearly convinced the obligation to prove points, does not apply to him.

"It's incumbent on the person making an assertion to provide an assertion to provide evidence for it."
It certainly is necessary to prove assertions relating to matters of science, or law: and one wishes prosecutors and scientists would more consistently remember that. Questions relating to meaning and the purpose of life are not amenable to "proof," however, and Murrell has failed to prove his assertion that there is meaning to life without deity, even as he expects of others that they prove their sentiments concerning the meaning of life with deity.

"How else would you test an empirical statement except through some form of the scientific method?"
Statements concerning the meaning of life are not empirical, they are value-based statements. Scientific methods are not applicable to them. Had Murrell studied science (and metaphysics , theology, and some logic and epistemology as well), maybe would he not be so prone to confuse science and religion.

nazis and communists "are representative of all atheists throughout the world and throughout history"
You are the one who without qualifyer said atheists do not go on rampages of looting and murder, thereby opening yourself to being hit with the crimes of atheism.

You are furthermore evading discussion of a capital issue: The greatest crimes in the history of humanity, have been committed by atheists, in the name of atheism

biological organism: "it's a metaphor" Had you studied your science, you'd know you don't make good science with metaphors. Had you studied your literature, you'd know you cannot make a valid point, with a false or misleading comparison.

"the arguments I put forward are aimed at those who contribute to this blog"
Anyone who posts on this blog contributes to this blog. But I guess it's easier to deny the existence of contributors whose arguments are beyond you, -- then to answer those arguments.

If you believe all discussion should be restricted to you and the mysterious Alex, then you should confine your communications with him to text-messages, cell-phones, private e-mails and the post office.

Sorry to tell you something you can't bear hearing: this is Billy Coconut, speaking.

10:06 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Billy,

In other words, you are determined to define my responses to your insults as insults, but deny your insults are insulting.

The issue with my original post was the use of the word "fear", which I worried would be seen in its more negative light.

This has since been clarified.

I have, in my previous posting

In which posting? The previous one on this thread? You provided no argument, merely assertion.

Has Bertrand Russell, or any other atheist, put forward an argument or comment which you believe is indicative of such fear? Would you care to quote it.

Virtually no one has posted comments on this blog and none to suggest religion is based on fear.

There have been several lively discussions on this blog, and I think that the others will clearly see which of their comments I'm responding to.

On several occasions, on the insomniac and on openDemocracy I have brought up one of the argument "these people" use: argument by design.

I've addressed it both here, and over at my own blog.

Questions relating to meaning and the purpose of life are not amenable to "proof," however

Those of us here feel somewhat differently.

Murrell has failed to prove his assertion that there is meaning to life without deity

My contention was that you don't need a belief in God to find life meaningful: People who don't believe in God find their life meaningful - what further proof do you think is required?

You are the one who without qualifyer said atheists do not go on rampages of looting and murder

Ah yes, definitely my fault. I assume a certain intelligence on the part of people who read this blog.

The greatest crimes in the history of humanity, have been committed by atheists, in the name of atheism

Right... so you're suggesting that the Nazis and Stalinists did what they did in the name of atheism? Nothing to do with nationalism, xenophobia, communism or authoritarianism?

Had you studied your science, you'd know you don't make good science with metaphors.

Where do I claim to be making good science?

Anyone who posts on this blog contributes to this blog.

I'm sorry, did you raise the issue of free will vs. determinism and the relevant religious beliefs on a previous post?

Sorry to tell you something you can't bear hearing: this is Billy Coconut, speaking.

I'd guessed. :-)

10:48 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"you have provided no argument, only assertion"
There Murrell goes again, forever claiming others assert, not demonstrate their points, even as Murrell persistently fails to demonstrate his.

Murrell -- and Russell -- have failed to demonstrate their contention that religion is based on fear. Russell does little more than to express an opinion -- "I think" -- and Murrell is making authority of Russell's opinion, without offering proof of it.

As for me I have merely pointed out that assertion concerning fear is a pointless one, as it can so easily be turned against those who make it -- thus, fear of the afterlife and of the threatened implications of the afterlife, as basis for atheistic assertions.

Your address of argument by design on your blog can hardly be labeled effective (I am alluding to your debate with me on that issue): there you sought to deny deducing a creator from a creation was a deduction. I responded by pointing out to you -- dictionary definition in hand -- that you were confusing syllogism with deduction; and-- further dictionary definitions in hand -- that in your follow up you did not appear to know the difference between a syllogism and an induction.

But then, as you are so obviously ignorant of elementary rules of logic and ABC's of epistemology, no wonder you must be content with asserting theism is necessarily irrational, instead of demonstrating it that insulting and self-serving opinion.


Me: "Questions relating to meaning and the purpose of life are not amenable to proof, however"
Murrell: "Those of us here feel somewhat differently"

Since when does such a fine logician as Matt substitute feeling for demonstration, argument and proof?
But then, Murrell is free to try and demonstrate his feeling, that feeling can legitimately be substituted for argument.

"I assume a certain level of intelligence on the part of the people who read this blog"
The people who do wish they could assume the same level of intelligence, in those who run this blog.

"So you're suggesting that the nazis and the Stalinists did what they did in the name of atheism."
Come now, Matt, since when do you resort to reading words in people's mouths? I have pointed out that atheists have committed the greatest mas murders in the history of humanity. This was a legitimate and sufficient rejoinder to your thoughtless assertion that atheists do not commit murders. It is also a fact of history that can be brought as justification of Voltaire's and Dostoievski's prediction, that if you remove fear of final judgment and damnation, there would be nothing to stop people from going on rampages of looting and murder.

Plenty of the bolshevist crimes, by the way, were committed in the name of atheism. THat's why so many people in RUssia (as today in China) were persecuted for their religion -- it is also why all Lyssenko had to do to get the Gepeou to arrest geneticists, was to accuse them of "idealism."

"where do I claim to be making good science?"
You always claim science and the authority of science as back-up for your metaphysical views and for your belief in whatever it is you mean by Humanism. Yet you know little about science, nor even, where its methods apply, and where they don't.

"I'd guessed"
Do I sense that underhanded and hypocritical form of smear, the inuendo? What's the point asking. Murrell is without flaws, weaknesses, faults or defects, that he ever cares to admit to...

Billy Coconut

2:55 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Atheists in Nazi Germany and in all communist countries have gone in the most unprecedently
vicious rampages of pillaging, raping, oppressing, torturing, murdering, of generalized, systematic, planned, organized, uncontrolled and uninhibited criminality in the history of humanity.


Speaking of rehashing old canards the Nazis, including Hitler, described themselves as Christian. The Party simply didn't endorse one particular denomination over another.

It's a shame that you started out by correctly arguing that atheists cannot take the moral highground in terms of violent and bigoted behavior. If you had held on there and accepted that violence and bigotry are unfortunately rather well distributed among humans regardless of faith and ideology I'd agree with you. Instead, you commit the same crime that you're accuyse your opponent of. Insinuating that atheists are more likely to be antisocial.

Well...

"unprecedently
vicious rampages of pillaging, raping, oppressing, torturing, murdering, of generalized, systematic, planned, organized, uncontrolled and uninhibited criminality in the history of humanity."


... that's about as solid a description of the Albigensian Crusade as one would need. And, of course, I could list a good few other examples. I, however, will simply say that I believe theists are no more or less likely to behave in such a manner than athesist, because such characteristics are independent of ideology (although ideology is often used to add legitimacy to what are essentially base-minded behaviours).


"if we're just biological machines"
Had you taken the trouble to look at a biological organism, and compare it to a car, a factory, a clock, you'd know living organisms are not machines (and machines not organisms).


Have you ever looked up the definition of machine? I think you should. I've spent six years studying biological transistors, and they most certainly are components of a machine. Unless we've completely misunderstood the thermal dynamic of cellular respiration.

'Bill: "Dante, Thomas Aquinas,Pascal, Newton... and other theists.."
Murrell: "If you believe that these made arguments relevant to this discussion, then feel free to point it out"
The sheer arrogance of this statement! Who indeed does this Murrell think he is to refer to some of the greatest authors of all time as "these People" and to suggest they are the ones who have something to prove to Murrell.'



Oh come now! It isn't arrogance, because your oppponent is not questioning Dante, Thomas Aquinas, Pascal, or Isaac Newton. He's politely asking you to elaborate on what is otherwise a brazen appeal to authority.

Speaking of logical fallacies, you have a penchant for them despite the fact that you appear to begrudge others for using them. Appeal to ridicule seeming to be something of a favourite, too. Calm yourself. This is supposed to be an frank discussion, not a mudslinging match.

5:46 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My my my, it figures one could not post more than two sentences on any internet site or blog, without getting assailed by people who attack before they inform themselves, misrepresent people before they read them and talk before they think...

"the nazis, including Hitler, described himself as christians"
If the so-called rev.dr. had taken the trouble to study the nazis before presuming to preach at people he'd know the nazi ideology of blood, race and soil was a pagan one and its upholders were hostile to the judeo-christian tradition, even if some paid political lip service to the majority creed.

"it's a shame that you started out correctly arguing..."
Had the incitatus had the intelligence to read the previous posts carefully before jumping in this fray, he would know I was not taking side in a polemic between theists and atheists; but merely contradicting matt's rather unthoughtful assertion that atheists do not go on rampages of looting and murder. The Communists, whose atheism surely you cannot deny, if you do not want to lose what little credibility you have, did engage in unprecedented rampages of criminality.

"have you ever looked up the definitition of machine? I think you should."
Typical tactic of internet second rates, who try and make themselves seem bigger than they could ever be, by means a priori denials of the knowledge and intelligence of people they do not even know. If the Incinatitus believes dictionary definitions of machines are worth discussing, let him provide us with the definition. Meanwhile, those of us who have looked at machines and at living organisms and compared the two will persists in the knowledge that while machines are constructed, from pre-constructed bits and pieces, by an external agent, artisan or engineer, living organisms grow, by a process of intussusception, without help from physically observable agents, or growers. Construction and growth are widely differing types of activities. Machines do not reproduce themselves, they are not self-propelling, nor do they have instincts, affect, will or conscience.

"I've spent six years studying biological transistors" We don't know if that's true, nor if you have been a competent student of biological transistors. But this knowledge in nano-technology you claim does not give you authority to settle dogmatically a long standing controversy -- especially not as one brief, superficial and meaningless allusion to cellular respiration does not even begin to justify your apparent (and bizarre) belief that living beings are constructed, and that machines, grow.

Dante, Aquinas, Pascal, Newton: had the incicinatus taken the trouble to read me before attacking me, he'd know I have mentioned these great authors only to counter the outrageously vain and self-serving belief of atheists that they are superior to religion, and therefore to religious people. Nor have I ever met or read an atheist who has surpassed these four authors, nor even equalled them.

Billy Coconut

6:59 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Matt, where in the hell did you find this Incitatus ?!!!!

You should send him over to openDemocracy. He'd fit in so well with Tttrryosbbooorne, Brendan_IQofToo, and with the owlet....

7:07 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Billy,
You come into this blog asserting that you take the position of the Theists. However, on each and every post I have seen you compose you resort to a level of personal attack that has previously not been seen on this blog. Until now the arguments we have been throwing back and fourth have been directed at philosophies, world-views and ideologies. You however, have decided to take the road of personal attack.

Let me just say this: If you have a point you wish to make, you would do well to learn to respect your opponent in your presentation. If you feel that this is to much to ask, I will be forced to show you the door. I don't see why you'd want to spend so much of your breath on someone you have no respect for in the first place.

Consider this your warning.

7:33 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've missed this one, from the incinatus:
"Speaking of logical fallacies, you have a penchant for them"

If I have committed a logical fallacy, then quote me as doing so. Otherwise, I'll have to conclude you came here with an intent to smear me.

RE: biological transistors. The work is still in progress. The plan is to use DNA, protein and other organic material as component parts of inorganic devices. There is nothing in that line of research to invalidate the observation that living beings grow, while machines are constructed. To suggest otherwise would be to suggest heart pacemakers somehow prove human beings are machines. They don't. Pace makers are constructed, hearts grow. Nor has the incitatus explained to us the relevance of cellular respiration to machines, nanotechnological or not, or to the polemic between organicists and mechanicists

Billy Coconut. Tough luck, Matt.

7:50 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alex,

It would indeed have been foolish to expect in Matt Murrell's buddies, better faith than in Matt Murrell...

Billy Coconut

8:21 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Billy,
Those who have been frequenting this blog do so to engage in thoughtful debate involving issues that most people hold quite closely. Because of this we all realize it is important to tread carefully to avoid wounding someone on a personal level. If you do not care how your critiques are being taken you have not yet learned what it means to care for people in general. If you do not care for people, we really have no common starting point to even have these discussions. I would hope you can find it in you to consider this. You appear to have something of value to say, yet it is hard to hear it through your clenched teeth.

8:37 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alex,

I have probably made myself guilty of guilt by association in my previous post, effectivelly making you responsible for a history between Matt and me, dating back from the openDemocracy site. And for that I apologize, as I apologize for forgetting this is your blog, not his, nor open democracy

As for the response to Incitatus, well, he's tried to pull rank on me, by claiming a superior knowledge of machines, I therefore thought it not inappropriate to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the authority he has claimed for himself.

(I don't take the theist line; I take issue with and exception to the twin pretension of Atheists, Epicurians, Darwinians and other disciples of Richard Dawkins, who claim: 1/ that they are exclusivelly scientific, and 2/ that they are superior to religion. This is not a world view: it is a put down and denigration of those who do not belong to their party, and therefore an ongoing personal attack on them. It is difficult to deal with that, without indeed seeming to substitute personal attacks of one's own, to reasoned & polite argument.)

Billy Coconut

8:58 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

My, my. You are an angry one, aren't you, Bill? Don't worry, we're all friends here. There are no grudges held.

1.Biomechanics and soft-tissue engineering describe engineering approaches to quantify and model biomechanical and tissue structure and behaviour. Emerging models can predict and quantify the behaviour of natural actuators (muscle and molecular motors within the cell), natural sensors (hearing, vision) and physiological functions (repiration, cardiac activity).

2.An intricate natural system or organism, such as the human body.

3. • noun 1 an apparatus using mechanical power and having several parts, for performing a particular task.

4.any mechanical or electrical device that transmits or modifies energy to perform or assist in the performance of human tasks


I'm not claiming superiority. It is perfectly possible that I've missunderstood the definition of 'machine'. But I've yet to see a defintion from a reliable source that claims a machine must be "constructed". It simply needs to be a collection of moving parts capable of doing work (in the thermodynamic sense). I do have a Jesuit hospital associated with my college, so I'll certainly ask the surgeon we collaborate with what his opinion is on the matter.

One way or another, if I'm wrong, then you really should write to Cambridge, Harvard, Yale and a good few other misguided institutions and tell them their biomechanics labs are a waste of time.

On biological transistors: You don't appear to know what I was referring to when I mentioned biological tranistors. What's your cell biology background? I'm not trying to pull rank, I just want to know what level you're at so that we can discuss this issue more candidly. Regarding my own credentials, well that's difficult for me to prove period. However, on the subject of ion channels, should you have expertise in this matter as you infer, I can certainly hold a discussion regarding the current state of play far beyond the constraints of the internet (assuming the average person doesn't have a subscription to the Journal of General Physiology).



On Nazis and Atheism:
One minute Nazis are atheists, the next they're pagans. They're a changeable bunch aren't they?

"I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.." Adolf Hitler

"My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter." Adolf Hitler

"We are all proud that through God's powerful aid we have become once more true Germans." Adolf Hitler

"For one cannot assume that God exists to help people who are too cowardly and too lazy to help themselves and think that God exists only to make up for the weakness of mankind. He does not exist for that purpose. He has always, at all times, blessed only those who were prepared to fight their own battles...." Adolf Hitler

"Christ is the genius of love, as such the most diametrical opposite of Judaism, which is the incarnation of hate. The Jew is a non-race among the races of the earth.... Christ is the first great enemy of the Jews.... that is why Judaism had to get rid of him. For he was shaking the very foundations of its future international power. The Jew is the lie personified. When he crucified Christ, he crucified everlasting truth for the first time in history."
Joseph Goebbels

"We have a feeling that Germany has been transformed into a great house of God, including all classes, professions and creeds, where the Führer as our mediator stood before the throne of the Almighty."
Joseph Goebbels

"God gave the savior to the German people. We have faith, deep and unshakeable faith, that he [Hitler] was sent to us by God to save Germany." Hermann Goring

Now don't get me wrong. The Nazis had a profoundly strange concept of faith, and I don't doubt there were a few atheists among their number. But to argue that the entire ideology was atheist (even if to retract this and change it to pagan) is a little disengenuous. Especially given that the vast majority of German citizens, including Nazi Party members were Christian. Does this mean Christians are Nazis. No. That would be a stupid argument.

As for the communists? Clearly an atheistic state comprised of some very sick and sadistic individuals. Does this prove atheists are naturally immoral? No more than the massacres instigated by the Christian and Muslim communities over the last two thousand years are proof that theism is fundamentally immoral. If history is to be believed, there are few ideological groups that can claim the moral highground on senseless murder. Even though I'm an agnostic I am still both suspicious and antagonistic towards the fundamentalist secular attitude of a minority of US citizens that are intent on going far beyond the Establishment Clause and to wilfully opress religious belief in this country as part of a rather ambiguous 'separation of church and state' crusade.

In summary, though, why don't we tone down the friction a little. If you feel I have disrespected you, I apologise. It is possible to discuss these things reasonably; I've done it many times before.

11:52 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I'm not claiming superiority"
Incitatus could hardly make credible claims to superiority, especially as there is little more in his latest post than a long resort to the favorite argument of those who have no argument, -- argument of authority.

"I've yet to see a definition from a reliable source that claims a machine must be "constructed"."
That's because you are ignorant of the history of science and philosophy, as well as uninformed as to the long standing controversy between organiscists and mechanicists.

You furthermore ignore the cardinal principle of modern science, namely: that our conclusions and opinions on nature should be founded on observation, not books, not authority, not tradition or whatever else it is you mean by "sources."

"It simply needs to be a collection of moving parts capable of doing work"
What a self-serving definitition of a machine, that by a priori excludes from the definition all that separates a machine from a living organism: namely that organisms grow while machines are constructed, that living organisms can propelled themselves while machines are must be propelled by an external agent, that living beings have conscience, affect, will, instincts while machines do not, etc.

The definition of the machine you have provided us is is from the American Heritage dictionary. Now, why do you expect us to make authority of the opinion of the anonymous author (or authors) of the dictionary's definition of machine, is beyond me. And sure enough, how unreliable is that dictionary of yours, as it lists as exemple of a machine, "a political machine," thereby proving it cannot tell the difference between a machine itself, and the machine as metaphor.

"Biomechanics and soft tissue engineering describe engineering approaches to quantify and model biomechanical and tissue structure and behavior"
Where did you get the idea using the methods of engineering to "quantify and model" biological organs, could prove your contention that living organisms are machines? Does lifting a cow with a crane make a machine out of the cow? Does placing a pacemaker next to a heart make a machine out of the heart? Nor is creating "models" quite the same thing as observing nature, is it.

"I do have a Jesuit hospital associated with my college" I fail to see what bearing this has on the issue of whether yes or no living beings are machines, save your trying to compensate for your incapacity to make a convincing argument for yourself, by making authority of an anonymous hospital and college.

"One way or another, if i'm wrong, then you really should write to Cambridge, Harvard, Yale (...) and tell them their biomechanics labs are waste of time"
There you go again, compensating for your insecurities, with appeal to the so-called authority of sundry academic institutions.
You can all the less impress me with these prestigious names that I am myself a graduate of Rice and of Stanford Universities. In both these schools I have encountered brillant professors, and mediocre professors. Mediocre or talented, I have always found most of them disagreeing, bitterly and with much personal animosity, over all issues, including the issue of organism V machines. So you see, Incitatus, you cannot convincingly strenghten your case, by dropping the names of universities.

Nor does the existence of biomechanics labs disprove the contention that living organisms are not machines. There is mechanics and mechanical work, in living organisms; the substance of life itself is colloidal in nature, semi-fluid, and therefore fluid mecanics can be applied to them. There is mechanics everywhere in nature. But mechanics is not all there is in nature, and there is nothing in your post so far to convince me I should erase the deep, substantial differences that do exist between organisms and machines.

"On biological transistors: you don't appear to know what I was referring to when I mentioned biological tranistors. What's your cell biology background?"
What's yours? If you had any knowledge of biological transitors you'd know biological transistors are not something that exist in biological cells; they exist in computor labs -- they are part and parcel of an ongoing ambition of researchers to use material abstracted from biological organisms, such as DNA, and use it alongside inorganic materials in the building of transistors they hope will be usable in small, fast computer circuits. And again, there is nothing in this line of research to invalidate the observation, that the organisms from which the DNA is culled are not machines, while the transistors into which the DNA is integrated, are.

"However, on the the subject of ion channels, should you have expertise in this matter as you infer."
I have never claimed or infered expertise in ion channels. I have never even mentioned ion channels. You have, only to claim you could discuss the subject, without giving us proof of the expertise you claim for yourself, since you are not discussing them. And sure enough, ion channels, which are the proteins that facilitate the transfer of electric energy through the membranes of cells, have no relevance to the subject of biological transistors. Nor do these ions of yours inherently prove your contention, that living beings are machines.

"the average person doesn't have a subscription to the Journal of General Physiology"
There is nothing in your posts to suggest you read that journal. You are simply trying to use it's title, as you've used the names of Cambridge, Harvard and Yale, to try and give more authority to your ill-informed assertions, then they deserve.

On Nazis and atheism: I've suggested that the Nazis made political lip-service to the creed of the majority of the German people; and you think you can counter me by with quotes of nazi leaders paying the lip service: what do you think you can accomplish, with it?

Communist murders: "Does this prove atheists are naturally immoral?" I never claimed they were. In half my posts on this forum, including my first answer to your first attack on me, I've made it abundantly clear I was responding to an imprudent claim of Matt's, that atheists do not get on rapages of looting and murdering. Matt himself has acknowledged he made a mistake on that point: that's remarkable, as Matt never acknowledges mistakes, faults, incoherent arguments or character flaws of any sorts.

Really, incitatus, you should read people before you respond to their postings, just as you should study science, before you claim authority on the subject.

Billy Coconut

10:10 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

If you had any knowledge of biological transitors you'd know biological transistors are not something that exist in biological cells

A fairly decent layman's review on voltage-operated ion channels:- Life's Transistors


'as well as uninformed as to the long standing controversy between organiscists and mechanicists.

In my experience (and that's all I can go on, granted) life scientists generally fall into the latter category. You have every right to disagree with that position and the standard dictionary definitions of 'machine'. Okay.


namely that organisms grow while machines are constructed

Again, an opinion which is perfectly valid if one decides to define a machine thus, but runs contrary to the existing definitions.

that living organisms can propelled themselves while machines are must be propelled by an external agent

Curious. External agent? Like a chemical fuel perhaps? Such as, say, a combustible hydrocarbon or... the hydrolysis of adenosine 5'-triphosphate?


that living beings have conscience, affect, will, instincts while machines do not, etc.

That suggests you are in the camp that refuses to believe microorganisms are 'living'. Again, you're entitled to that opinion, but it is not conventional.

Re J. Gen. Physiol., I only name dropped that one out of vanity; I just had a paper on P2X receptors accepted for publication there. "Ah, but you can't prove that!!!". To you I don't intend to. To the other more courteous posters here, I'm more than willing to disclose my professional background, if it is deemed pertinent to them that I do so (I'll be the first to say that I don't like a closet wiki-charlatan much).

As for you, you seem like something of a tortured 'soul'. A terribly cynical and uptight person. A shame, because you clearly have a lot to say on matters of philosophy. I might have enjoyed learning something from you. As it is, you're just rather unpleasant and condescending to all and sundry (and have a very unhealthy fixation on Matt M that borders on the psychotic). Seeing as there is enough unpleasantness out there in the real world without suffering it in the virtual world, I tip my king for you, sir. Yes, you can claim "victory" by default. A key difference, I imagine, between us is that I mean it sincerely and without the least bit of sarcasm when I say I hope it makes you happy. Even if it is only temporary.

Good luck to you. If in the future you temper your opinions with a more amiable attitude (and try and be less shy about admitting a lack of knowledge in an area - e.g. cell biology - when it is clear that you make up for it in another area - philosophy) I'll sure I'll enjoy reading them.

11:56 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:12 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

You've made your choice Billy. I'm sorry you couldn't tame yourself enough to engage in a civil discussion. Feel free to post any time, but also know that I will delete any comment you leave that begins to cross the line towards personal attack. I have enough on my hands dealing with the well intended comments of most contributors. I don't need the added stress you bring. I truly hope you can find peace.

As for the rest of the contributors, please refrain from treating Billy in kind. It'll only make things worse.

2:56 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Under the circumstance I can't be surprized Alex would turn out to be a censorious as well as mendatious editor.

Such gross disrespect of the intelligence of third parties, denying them by means of deletion the opportunity to jugdge for themselves whether a posting is or is not an appropriate response to an attack

The bad faith of Christians! You people never change.


Billy Coconut

4:20 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"The bad faith of Christians! You people never change."

Maybe you should take his advice here and leave this particular post unmolested, Alex. Such that intelligent third parties might look upon it and judge it for themselves.

4:33 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:43 PM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing -- fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death."

Although this assessment certainly applies to some religious groups (or perhaps more accurately, certain subgroups of believers withing a religious denomination), I'd argue based on my own meager experience that for many it doesn't. I think many people are drawn to religion in part due to the possibility of attaining a kind of inner peace about The Big Questions (which I think is strong for all of us), and in part for the social cohesion it often provides. Theist or atheist, the idea of a church, a place of community and gathering is a compelling one, and arguably continues a tradition that extends far beyond the emergence of contemporary religion to times of primitive tribal societies. i.e. I think it might be a drive within us all. The conservative nature of the church can also sometimes have a slightly appealing side to it; a side of order, consistency, and yes, I guess a sense of safety. It can of course lead to bigotry, but that really depends on the elasticity of the theology preached by a given church.

There are many things about religion which are certainly attractive, but ultimately atheists ask too many questions and are not sufficiently satisfied by the answers to righteously attach themselves to any of the mainstream religions. That said, many choose Buddhism and other alternative forms of spirituality to 'fill the gap' as it were. Some create their own half-facetious and yet half-serious spoof religions, which for all their lampoonery, essentially fulfill a similar need for community with like minded people (e.g. Discordianism and ).

5:51 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7:18 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Billy,
If you intend that last comment solely for my edification, feel free to email it to me rather than post it here. My email is displayed clearly in my profile.

8:12 PM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Sorry I've been a bit slow to have any thing of worth to say here lately. I've been a bit preoccupied with the drama. We may have just taken care of the problem... for now at least. I'll chime in when I get a few minutes.

8:09 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Incitatus,

(Sorry this is a bit rushed)

You make some good points, and it's a relief to finally be able to expand on what I meant in response to a considered and, more importantly, sane comment. :-)

I think many people are drawn to religion in part due to the possibility of attaining a kind of inner peace about The Big Questions (which I think is strong for all of us), and in part for the social cohesion it often provides.

Clearly, religion is a complex phenomenon and I wasn't trying to suggest that there is only one reason that people sign up for it. It's ability to provide a kind of social cohesion (though one which can become quite oppressive when it comes into contact with "heretical" thoughts) is most likely one of the reasons it's been so successful.

However, I don't think there's much difference between saying that religion provides a sanctuary from fear of the unknown and saying that it provides inner peace - for me they seem to be roughly the same thing.

Speaking in general terms, I agree with Russell in that I think fear, in its many forms from concern to outright terror, is one of the central motivations of all human behaviour. Fear of the unknown useful attribute: it keeps us out of danger while driving us on to progress. We struggle to understand the universe as fully as possible not just because it fascinates us, but because it makes it a less scary place. After all, what you don't know can quite easily hurt you and your loved ones.

(As an example, incumbents in political contests often have the advantage because people know what to expect of them, as opposed to their largely unknown and unpredictable opponent.)

However, living in fear is an unpleasant experience. Religion, by providing a comforting narrative (everything is planned for), while maintaining a sliver of uncertainty to keep people sharp - God is fairly unpredictable at times - can provide a measure of relief.

In this way it seems little different from any other ideological system. Often we may dislike those we disagree with - be it over religious, political or some other matter - because they are different, and therefore represent the unknown.

9:00 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Fear of the unknown useful attribute

Should read:

Fear of the unknown is a useful attribute

Although, if you ask me, unknown useful attributes can be damn scary things.

9:02 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:04 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Just an FYI to any who post here, I just enabled comment moderation. There will now be a bit of a lag between your posting of a comment and it's actual visibility on the blog. There has been an uptick in pointless peanut gallery chatter that has become a bit of a nuisance.

And to all the woeful cries about the violation of freedom of speech in a free land blah, blah, blah... Please realize this is a blog run by Matt and myself. It's not yours. If you feel you need to come in here and wiz on our campfire, tough luck. Start your own blog and do with it what you wish. No one ever claimed it was a democracy over here.

So in closing, this has been a delightful waste of time, but this will be the end of it.

10:34 AM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

I would like to add my piece to this one, if that's OK.

Firstly, I agree. Religion serves its purpose to allay those very fears you mentioned, Matt. But I don't see why this counts against religion. In fact, Kant would want to say that there are prudential or pragmatic reasons for therefore assuming that God exists (withouth necessarily assenting to the proposition, "God exists"). And this might well overturn the presumption of atheism. Which would, is Plantinga is right, make religious belief warranted belief.

So, Plantinga would be very happy with you. Ironically.

1:01 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

revvvvvvvd,

You're thoughts are always welcome - and most often stimulating!

I don't see why this counts against religion.

I'm not saying that it does - merely advocating a realistic appreciation of the basis of our beliefs.

In fact, Kant would want to say that there are prudential or pragmatic reasons for therefore assuming that God exists

The problem with the Kantian approach is that it's near impossible to will yourself to believe something on pragmatic grounds. My life could well be better if I thought there was a perfect being who'd brought my into the world and was looking down on me - but the simple fact is that I don't believe there is and can't simply change that overnight.

The intent of the post was also to show that there are various "coping" strategies available to the non-theists - so a Godless life isn't necessarily as bleak as it's sometimes suggested.

7:08 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Right - I'm off to look up this Plantinga bloke...

7:08 AM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

Matt,

If there are pragmatic reasons to assume that the world exists independently of our perceptions of it, then Kant's arguments become more serious. We can't play favourites. I'm not saying he's right, but we cannot now dismiss his argumentsb y saying that we can't convince ourselves of anything on pragmatic grounds.

9:29 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

revvvvvvvd,

I think the difference between the two arguments is that a pragmatic assumption that our perceptions (more or less) correspond to an external reality is both "self-evident" (to a considerable extent) and useful. It's almost impossible to live without it.

The same doesn't apply to such an assumption about the divine - not only are there significant doubts about the existence of God, but the usefulness of such an assumption is highly questionable.

5:32 AM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

I don't think physical (or metaphysical!) realism is self-evident at all. Hence, the non-realists among us. And both the utility in assuming the eistence of a world and of God require arguments. Critical realists, like Alan Musgrave perhaps, would cautiously defend critical realism. Neo-Kantians would defend the assumption of theism. I'm not evaluating either claim now. I'm just saying there are arguments to be evaluated, and simply tagging one argument as being "self-evident and useful" and the other as "quesitonable" is surely to over-simplify the issue.

1:10 PM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

This just in:

We all know that religiosity predicts better deaths (eu-thanatos? *grin* to the ones like etymology). That is, religios people die better.

Is this related to belief in an afterlife? After all, isn't religion - aren't beliefs about Heaven - just fairy tales conjured up at coping strategies?

As it happens, I stumbled upon a paper in General Hospital Psychiatry, vol. 26, 2004, 484-48, which found that while "belief in an afterlife" DID predict psychological well-being nearing death, this effect was completely mediated by "spirituality" (or religiosity in general. Sort of.).

So, it looks like we can stop talking about afterlife beliefs are delusions "designed" to placate dying people.

Or can we? Who's going to check my reference?

1:13 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

revvvvvvved,

I don't think physical (or metaphysical!) realism is self-evident at all. Hence, the non-realists among us.

Well, in the sense that if you ask people whether they believe the world is "real" or not they'll normally say "yes" it is. My point was that we have an instinctive belief in an external world, while the same can't be said about God.

tagging one argument as being "self-evident and useful" and the other as "quesitonable" is surely to over-simplify the issue.

Perhaps. But from a pragmatic POV it's quite a simple issue - people can live quite easily without a belief in God, but the same can't be said for the belief that our perceptions correspond to an external world.

If I employed the same level of scepticism about my senses as I do about theistic claims I'd have walked under a bus or died of starvation by now.

1:58 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

That is, religious people die better.

An increasing amount of people are starting to disagree:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/03/04/nfune04.xml

1:59 PM

 
Blogger revvvvvvvd said...

Can't seem to get to that site.

People intuitively believe that the world exists. And from a historical, sociological and developmental standpoint, people intuitively believe that God exists. That this is historically and sociologically true is unquestionable. That this is developmentally true is perhaps less so, though a paper in Psychological Science (2004) suggests it is so. I'll let you look it up yourselves.

Justin L. Barrett, one of the key players in social cognition of religous belief, once observed (tongue lodged firmly in cheek) that indeed, it was not belief that required explanation...but unbelief. ("Why Would Anyone Believe in God?", 2006).

And it's a pity I can't access the Telegraph site. But as social cognitive psychologist I'm more interested in generalizations than individual differences. A search on MedLine or Google Scholar (!) will reveal that the consensus is still that religion is useful from a health standpoint. That doesn't mean it's true, of course. But that's not the argument. I only mentioned that finding because I found it deeply counterintuitive that hopes of Heaven didn't actually placate dying people. That's something atheists have accused Christianity of since Marx and Freud. No. Since Feurbach.

4:06 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

revvvvvvvd,

from a historical, sociological and developmental standpoint, people intuitively believe that God exists.

This is what Scot Atran suggested in the NYT article I've posted elsewhere - and, though I'm largely speculating based on a small amount of data, I'm not so sure it's true.

For example, I don't have an intuitive belief in God. That's why I became an atheist. I was raised with theistic explanations for the world, but rejected them (initially) because I found they didn't resonate at all with how I felt about myself or life in general. I know others who are the same way.

So for me and numerous others it's atheism which is intuitive, and claims to the divine which require a considerable amount of justification. Although this is poor evidence, my own experience suggests that for a lot of people in the UK, "religious" beliefs don't extend beyond a vague hope that there's "something" out there - which, considering the amount of religious material we're exposed to as kids, is probably just an effect of our upbringing.

Vague genetic factors aside, the prevalence of religion might have more to do with its usefulness to authority - by providing a sense of solidarity, legitimisation of rulers and a way of avoiding difficult questions.

However, here we're entering highly speculative grounds, ones covered by numerous books, articles and essays both supportive and critical of religion. To get us back on track I'll simply make this point: from a pragmatic point of view, religious claims require more justification than claims about the external world simply because more people question the former.

(The Telegraph article reports that an increasing number of people in the UK are choosing to opt for non-religious funerals - choosing humanistic ones instead.)

5:24 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Matt,
You bring up an interesting point regarding the religious state of affairs in the UK. You mention how all you see around you is a vague "hope", if anything, even though your country has been exposed to religiosity from the moment of each citizens birth. Therefore you assume that whatever lingering "hope" that is left in people is simply a residual effect of your countries indoctrination of it's youth. I would argue the opposite. I would say any lingering hope that is still present is there in spite of the indoctrination of your counties youth.

Consider this: each an every time religion of ANY flavor is adopted as a compulsory decision passed down by the state you will find that any sincerity or vitality the religion is quickly replaced by "obligation". The church in England has been dying for centuries. The reality of the situation is that Christianity cannot meld with government to the degree that one creates a "state religion". It's like trying to create a synthesis between a hippie commune and the U.S. post office. To be one, you must cease to be the other.

So I guess to that degree I can see how it would be easy for you to reject religion. To you religion has been woven so tightly with the Anglican state "church" that perhaps it's difficult to even picture Christianity in any other light.

Kick that around for a bit and let me know your thoughts.

7:51 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

Alex,

I can see where you're coming from, but I disagree.

I honestly couldn't tell you what the Church of England believes. All I really know is that it's one of the variation of Christianity.

Our religious upbringing in the UK really doesn't stretch to more than singing hymns in school assembly, so there's no real doctrine to reject. At best, we're constantly told that there's something greater than us out there, but the nature of that something is left incredibly vague. It's pretty much deist in spirit - no pun intended.

Most religious people I know have probably never read the Bible, don't believe in Hell, and are sceptical about anything like the resurrection.

So rejecting it means going from a vague theism to atheism, rather than taking issue with any theological points - as most people who reject theism after an intensely religious upbringing seem to do.

8:19 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

That said - tying together religion and state, even to the vaguest degree, does seem to be a guaranteed way of diminishing its influence. But it's a complex issue.

It's perhaps worth pointing out that to the average Brit (as far my experience goes), even your liberal (in the British sense of the word) beliefs would seem pretty "out there".

8:22 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

And I can't resist my favourite statistics:

Percentage of the UK population who claim to be Christian: 73%

Percentage of the UK population who claim to believe in God: 50%

Go figure.

8:29 AM

 

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