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swears
01-08-2008, 12:36 PM
Just kicking around a couple of ideas here, because I am not an expert on either subject by any means...

I saw a documentary about a Christian summer camp on the TV a while back, including a speaker in front of a crowd of young believers bemoaning the "postmodern culture" we live in, how traditional Christian values are being eroded because "people will believe anything that makes them feel better". Having a go at relativism in particular.

Now, surely modernism was a bigger threat to Christian values, as it wanted (on the whole) to demolish irrational beliefs like religion and replace them with scientific enquiry, socialism, objectivism, or whatever else. But this speaker wasn't calling for a return to the pre-modernist era. (I don't think he was, anyway he didn't come across as a fundamentalist) He seemed to be missing the point that postmodernism with it's relativism and tolerance allows him his beliefs in the first place.

Looking through some Youtube clips recently, I saw right-wing US TV pundit Bill O Reilly interview rent-an-atheist Richard Dawkins. At one point in an argument on the existence of God, Bill says "Well, that's my truth, maybe not yours..." Dawkins replying that both viewpoints can't be true, so O' Reilly schools him in relativism by explaining that his Catholism is a "personal truth". (Bizarre to hear him talk like this) Also in his book "The God Delusion" Dawkins recalls an occasion where a vicar and theologian accused him of being "a 19th century thinker" implying that we had all moved on from the convictions and absolute truths (or search for them) that motivated the early modernists.

The thing that these Christians appear to have in common is that they want to have their cake and eat it, they want relativism and tolerance when it suits them, and they want to attack it when they see it as an agent of moral decay, an attack on their values, etc...


Thoughts?

Please feel free to tell me if I'm talking bollox here, btw!

vimothy
01-08-2008, 01:03 PM
They want to be back on top though, don't they? Pre-"moral relativism" it wasn't the case that "Christianity" (a form of Christianity) was proscribed ("postmodernism with it's relativism and tolerance allows him his beliefs in the first place"), rather, Christianity was the preeminent religion of the time. Christianity was more than religion; it was culture, default setting, a given. Postmodernism devloped out of Christianity, not the other way around.

swears
01-08-2008, 01:10 PM
Well, of course they want to be back on top. But they can't come out and say that, can they? Therefore, all this dicking around.

rob_giri
03-08-2008, 08:21 AM
First of all, Richard Dawkins is a fucking idiot. Hopefully we're all aware how ridiculous atheism as a religion is by now.

crackerjack
03-08-2008, 10:09 AM
[QUOTE=swears;144090]Just kicking around a couple of ideas here, because I am not an expert on either subject by any means...

I saw a documentary about a Christian summer camp on the TV a while back, including a speaker in front of a crowd of young believers bemoaning the "postmodern culture" we live in, how traditional Christian values are being eroded because "people will believe anything that makes them feel better". Having a go at relativism in particular.

Now, surely modernism was a bigger threat to Christian values, as it wanted (on the whole) to demolish irrational beliefs like religion and replace them with scientific enquiry, socialism, objectivism, or whatever else. But this speaker wasn't calling for a return to the pre-modernist era. (I don't think he was, anyway he didn't come across as a fundamentalist) He seemed to be missing the point that postmodernism with it's relativism and tolerance allows him his beliefs in the first place. /QUOTE]

Given his audience (as well as the often simplistic preachings of his church) it's quite possible he doesn't understand/isn't aware of the difference. 'Postmodernist' is a much better sneery term than 'modernist', which always sounds kinda hip, no matter how you slice it.

That said, of course fundamentalist Christians don't want to be on the shelf somewhere as a traditionalist alternative to new ageism or Madonna's religion of the month - all of them of 'equal value' - they want to be the whole damn shelf, so to that extent postmodernism is abhorrent to them.

Mr. Tea
03-08-2008, 01:19 PM
First of all, Richard Dawkins is a fucking idiot. Hopefully we're all aware how ridiculous atheism as a religion is by now.

Oh for fuck's sake, not this bullshit non-argument again...

'No ice-cream' is not a flavour of ice-cream. Atheism is not a religion. At all. End of story.

swears
03-08-2008, 04:02 PM
Well, not believing in something isn't a belief! A newborn baby is an "atheist" so the term itself does seem a bit redundant.

Martin Dust
04-08-2008, 01:08 PM
Well, not believing in something isn't a belief!

You can argue that it is.

swears
04-08-2008, 02:08 PM
Well, I don't believe in the Loch Ness Monster, should there be a name for that?

Mr. Tea
04-08-2008, 02:32 PM
You can argue that it is.

No, I think is fundamentally untrue. Atheism would be a religion if it required its adherents to attend an un-church and un-worship God under the auspices of an un-priest - but this, if anything, would be some kind of Satanism. Atheism is not an active statement of belief in no-God, it is the lack of an active belief in God. It's a subtle but vital distinction.

poetix
04-08-2008, 02:55 PM
One of Dawkins's points is that the natural world is so horrifyingly cruel and ubiquitously unpleasant that no benevolent deity could possibly have been responsible for creating it ("and the whole little wood where I sit / is a world of plunder and prey"). That seems to me to be an active belief in the absence of God, a morally motivated unbelief. A newborn infant (atheist by default) would not have such sentiments. I think Dawkins really does <em>believe</em> that the cosmos is such that a benevolent deity is inconceivable, and worship of a creator not only mistaken but morally obscene.

poetix
04-08-2008, 02:58 PM
In fact, there's a long tradition of atheist critique of religion which doesn't merely dismiss it as a fairytale in which one has no compelling reason to believe, but emphasises its corrupt, violent, authoritarian, perverted and perverting aspects. The interesting thing is that this critique is frequently co-opted by the other side - Bonhoeffer's <em>Ethics</em> quotes Nietzsche quite freely, for example.

Mr. Tea
04-08-2008, 03:04 PM
That may be so (I've not read any Dawkins), but that still doesn't make his non-belief in any way equivalent to a religion. He's just a very vociferous atheist who spends a lot more of his time expounding on why religion is bunk than most atheists do.

swears
04-08-2008, 03:16 PM
The problem with the new school of celeb atheists that have emerged over the last few years is that even though they popularise solid arguments against the existence of god and explain how religion can be a divisive, destructive force, they don't actually have any concrete plans to get rid of it. Your average agnostic might be swung by these ideas, but the hardcore (for example) of evangelical christians in the US who have caused so much grief are generally unaffected, and may even be grateful for Dawkins and Sam Harris as useful hate figures.

zhao
04-08-2008, 03:48 PM
dawkins replying that both viewpoints can't be true

fail

Mr. Tea
04-08-2008, 04:03 PM
Oh thank heavens for that! I was worried this thread might degenerate into peurile one-word insults, but now zhao's turned up so the really heavy-weight discussion can continue unimpeded.

vimothy
04-08-2008, 04:14 PM
Your average agnostic might be swung by these ideas, but the hardcore (for example) of evangelical christians in the US who have caused so much grief are generally unaffected, and may even be grateful for Dawkins and Sam Harris as useful hate figures.

Have they "caused so much grief"? Do you really want to convince them not to be religious?

Mr. Tea
04-08-2008, 04:32 PM
Have they "caused so much grief"? Do you really want to convince them not to be religious?

Well they voted en masse for George Walker Bush. Twice. :mad:

Martin Dust
04-08-2008, 09:11 PM
No, I think is fundamentally untrue. Atheism would be a religion if it required its adherents to attend an un-church and un-worship God under the auspices of an un-priest - but this, if anything, would be some kind of Satanism. Atheism is not an active statement of belief in no-God, it is the lack of an active belief in God. It's a subtle but vital distinction.

I think you've got hold of the wrong end of the stick, you could argue that no belief is a belief system and it's nothing like you suggest, this I think you already know - to suggest it has to be anti is just silly.

Martin Dust
04-08-2008, 09:11 PM
dp

Martin Dust
04-08-2008, 09:14 PM
Well, I don't believe in the Loch Ness Monster, should there be a name for that?

If you want there to be one, sure.

poetix
04-08-2008, 11:16 PM
I'm happy to identify as a non-Nessyist. Unlike Nessy-agnostics, who merely acknowledge that they have no idea whether there's a Loch Ness Monster or not, I hold a set of beliefs (systematic skepticism, albeit with a weird Christian existentialist kink) about the nature of reality that positively preclude believing in the existence of a Loch Ness Monster. If it turned out that such a beastie really existed, I would not only be surprised - I'd have to seriously revise my view of the way things in general worked.

The same is true about things like homeopathy. It's not just that I don't go for that sort of thing myself. If someone did a proper clinical trial that demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that homeopathic remedies really worked, it would really rock the foundations of my reality. My fundamental objection to most new agey stuff is that I just don't believe that the universe is that fucking stupid. I'm not at all sure what I'd do, who I'd be, how I'd live, if it turned out that actually it was.

UFO over easy
05-08-2008, 02:20 AM
No, I think is fundamentally untrue. Atheism would be a religion if it required its adherents to attend an un-church and un-worship God under the auspices of an un-priest - but this, if anything, would be some kind of Satanism.

This feels weird and confused to me, sort of straw man-ish. Who are you addressing, Swears or Martin? Are you talking about atheism as religion, which was just something random brought up by childo'blog, or about active non-belief as belief? Two very different points.


Atheism is not an active statement of belief in no-God, it is the lack of an active belief in God. It's a subtle but vital distinction.

That could just as easily be agnosticism though couldn't it?

Mr. Tea
05-08-2008, 12:24 PM
This feels weird and confused to me, sort of straw man-ish. Who are you addressing, Swears or Martin? Are you talking about atheism as religion, which was just something random brought up by childo'blog, or about active non-belief as belief? Two very different points.


I was addressing Martin, who was disagreeing with Swears. Swears said that a lack of belief in something does not constitute a belief system, and I think I agree with that. I for one don't believe in God, and I don't believe there's a magical donkey who shits gold and lives in my back garden. My absence of belief in one is equivalent to my absence of belief in the other. The reason why an absence of belief in God has a specific name (while there is no such term as 'a-donkey-ism') is that the majority of people in the world do believe in a God of some kind*, whereas belief in a magic donkey is not widespread. Although if it were, it would be no less irrational and empirically unsupported. :)



That could just as easily be agnosticism though couldn't it?

No, agnostics admit the possibility that there could be a god. Atheists are firmly convinced there isn't.

*though of course there is no majority consensus as to what he/she/it is called, looks like, or wants us to behave like, or even whether there's one or several

UFO over easy
05-08-2008, 01:07 PM
Swears said that a lack of belief in something does not constitute a belief system, and I think I agree with that.

That's cool, of course, but the problem comes with your assumption that atheism is a passive thing, because that would allow for it to be confused with agnosticism in the way I tried to outline before. Agnosticism can be a passive position as well so how do you distinguish the two?



That could just as easily be agnosticism though couldn't it?

No, agnostics admit the possibility that there could be a god. Atheists are firmly convinced there isn't.


They admit the possibility, sure, but they still lack an active belief in God, which was your definition of an atheist. Surely to be 'firmly convinced' of something, you must believe it? To be passively convinced about something, even a lack of something, seems... weird.. if the conviction is there.

Martin Dust
05-08-2008, 01:20 PM
I was addressing Martin, who was disagreeing with Swears. Swears said that a lack of belief in something does not constitute a belief system, and I think I agree with that. I for one don't believe in God, and I don't believe there's a magical donkey who shits gold and lives in my back garden. My absence of belief in one is equivalent to my absence of belief in the other. The reason why an absence of belief in God has a specific name (while there is no such term as 'a-donkey-ism') is that the majority of people in the world do believe in a God of some kind*, whereas belief in a magic donkey is not widespread. Although if it were, it would be no less irrational and empirically unsupported. :)


Some good points and no you can't borrow my Donkey but I do still belief you are wrong about it not being a belief system, it's not as simple as not having a god/dawkin/fat bloke and not believing in anything (including the last statement) is based on a number of complex stances, these life stances become a belief system on which you act.

UFO over easy
05-08-2008, 01:26 PM
not believing in anything (including the last statement) is based on a number of complex stances, these life stance become a belief system on which you act.

Innit, and I think agnosticism is the same. It can be a well thought through position based on complex reasoning and validation as well.. the lack of a belief is not necessarily passive.

IdleRich
05-08-2008, 01:37 PM
But I think that a religion is more than a belief system isn't it? It's a specific type of belief system (although probably very hard to define exactly) and I think that if you stretch the definition to include atheism and (particularly?) agnosticism then you have stretched it beyond the breaking point - probably to the extent where you would then need another word to describe the specific types of religion such as Christianity or Islam that have the features thost most of us are thinking about when we discuss religion and which would exclude atheism.

UFO over easy
05-08-2008, 01:40 PM
But I think that a religion is more than a belief system isn't it? It's a specific type of belief system (although probably very hard to define exactly) and I think that if you stretch the definition to include atheism and (particularly?) agnosticism then you have stretched it beyond the breaking point

yeah I'm not arguing for that, and I don't think anyone is, which is why I was trying to distinguish between that position and the point made by martin - the coherence of non-belief as belief

the atheism as religion thing was just a throwaway comment by childoftheblogosphere I think, but for some reason it seems to have wormed its way into the discussion and confused things a bit :D

IdleRich
05-08-2008, 01:43 PM
Sure, and in fairness to CofB he didn't say that atheism is a religion, I read what he said as describing Dawkins' evangelicism for atheism as similar to that of religious types.

UFO over easy
05-08-2008, 01:45 PM
yep for sure :)

IdleRich
05-08-2008, 01:46 PM
Crossed with your edit then.

Mr. Tea
05-08-2008, 01:52 PM
Sure, and in fairness to CofB he didn't say that atheism is a religion, I read what he said as describing Dawkins' evangelicism for atheism as similar to that of religious types.

Hmm, he said atheism is ridiculous "as a religion", which (as I see it) implies that atheism can, at least under some circumstances, be considered a religion, which I take issue with. Sure, Dawkins is actively promoting atheism, and it's kind of unfortunate and ironic that the word most commonly used for this kind of promotion is "evangelism". That still doesn't make it a religious activity, though, any more than someone who 'evangelises' about road safety or organic food or dubstep is taking part in a religious activity.

IdleRich
05-08-2008, 02:06 PM
CofB said


"Hopefully we're all aware how ridiculous atheism as a religion is by now"
Which I took to mean that atheism is ridiculous when it's treated as a religion - I didn't read it as saying that it is a religion but I guess we'll not know for certain unless s/he comes back and clears it up.

Mr. Tea
05-08-2008, 02:11 PM
That's cool, of course, but the problem comes with your assumption that atheism is a passive thing, because that would allow for it to be confused with agnosticism in the way I tried to outline before. Agnosticism can be a passive position as well so how do you distinguish the two?

They admit the possibility, sure, but they still lack an active belief in God, which was your definition of an atheist. Surely to be 'firmly convinced' of something, you must believe it? To be passively convinced about something, even a lack of something, seems... weird.. if the conviction is there.

OK, maybe I should change my position here. Perhaps as a 'strong' atheist I have to state, positively and actively, that I do not believe in God. I still think the only reason this is considered by many people to be a sort of belief in itself is that belief in g/God(s) seems to be the default setting in human beings. As I said before, the only reason non-belief in a magic gold-shitting donkey is not considered to constitute an 'active negative belief' like atheism is because belief in such a thing is not widespread. After all, there's no point denying something which no-one holds to be true in the first place.

Some possibly useful links for this discussion:

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

Ignosticism is the theological position that every other theological position (including agnosticism) assumes too much about the concept of God and many other theological concepts. The word "Ignosticism" was coined by Rabbi Sherwin Wine. It can be defined as encompassing two related views about the existence of God.

The first view is that a coherent definition of God must be presented before the question of the existence of God can be meaningfully discussed. Furthermore, if that definition cannot be falsified, the ignostic takes the theological noncognitivist position that the question of the existence of God (per that definition) is meaningless. In this case, the concept of God is not considered meaningless; the term "God" is considered meaningless.

The second view is synonymous with theological noncognitivism, and skips the step of first asking "What is meant by God?" before proclaiming the original question "Does God exist?" as meaningless.

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

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

noel emits
05-08-2008, 02:13 PM
That still doesn't make it a religious activity, though, any more than someone who 'evangelises' about road safety or organic food or dubstep is taking part in a religious activity.
Except that atheism is concerned with the same area of things as religion is and those other examples aren't so much.

In any case, Christians only have to believe in the existence of one god whereas atheists have to believe in the non-existence of countless deities, therefore atheism is the more religious and faith based belief system. :)

http://img110.imageshack.us/img110/8131/popedeathstarye3.jpg

Mr. Tea
05-08-2008, 02:19 PM
In any case, Christians only have to believe in the existence of one god whereas atheists have to believe in the non-existence of countless deities, therefore atheism is the more religious and faith based belief system. :)


Ah, you got me there! ;)

(Though actually, don't Christians have to unbelieve in all the other gods, too? The true idler's religion would presumably be some kind of lazy interpretive pantheism - Baha'i (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baha&#37;27i), perhaps...)

UFO over easy
05-08-2008, 02:22 PM
After all, there's no point denying something which no-one holds to be true in the first place.


Is there equally no point affirming anything that everyone holds to be true?

I still don't really agree with you, though I see what you mean a little better now - communicatively there's no point denying something no one believes, certainly..

Mr. Tea
05-08-2008, 02:41 PM
Is there equally no point affirming anything that everyone holds to be true?


Well there are gods and there are gods, aren't there? I mean, a Christian, a Muslim and a Sikh all agree that something they call 'God' exists, but beyond that, opinions as to who or what He really is diverge wildly. Hell, you don't even have to go outside a single religion to find big disagreements about the nature of God and how He wants us to live - look at Catholics/Protestants, Sunnis/Shi'ites, Mahayana/Theraveda...whereas there's never going to be a violent schism between rival sects of atheists.

vimothy
05-08-2008, 02:48 PM
After all, there's no point denying something which no-one holds to be true in the first place.

Academic rigor?


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

I like!

vimothy
05-08-2008, 02:55 PM
Well there are gods and there are gods, aren't there? I mean, a Christian, a Muslim and a Sikh all agree that something they call 'God' exists, but beyond that, opinions as to who or what He really is diverge wildly. Hell, you don't even have to go outside a single religion to find big disagreements about the nature of God and how He wants us to live - look at Catholics/Protestants, Sunnis/Shi'ites, Mahayana/Theraveda...whereas there's never going to be a violent schism between rival sects of atheists.

Yeah, it's not as simple as atheists vs. believers. In some sense, atheists have more in common with believers than believers do with each other. Believers are also non-believers. The Christian doesn't believe in all gods but one: her/his own. Likewise for the Jew, the Zoroastrian, the Muslim, the Hindu, the Druze, etc, etc.

Mr. Tea
05-08-2008, 02:58 PM
Academic rigor?


If you want to compile an exhaustive list of things that don't exist, you're welcome to try, but you're gonna be here a looooooong time. ;)


Yeah, it's not as simple as atheists vs. believers. In some sense, atheists have more in common with believers than believers do with each other. Believers are also non-believers.

But I think the categorisation that groups believers, of any religion, into one set and atheists into another is much more important. In the same way that, while a Spurs fan and an Arsenal fan may consider themselves rivals (or even, in the case of some of the thicker ones perhaps, enemies), they nonetheless have much more in common with each other than either of them does with someone who couldn't give a shit about football.

vimothy
05-08-2008, 03:26 PM
If you want to compile an exhaustive list of things that don't exist, you're welcome to try, but you're gonna be here a looooooong time. ;)

Tenure?


But I think the categorisation that groups believers, of any religion, into one set and atheists into another is much more important. In the same way that, while a Spurs fan and an Arsenal fan may consider themselves rivals (or even, in the case of some of the thicker ones perhaps, enemies), they nonetheless have much more in common with each other than either of them does with someone who couldn't give a shit about football.

In some sense, yes. Relative to (the perception of, at least) an atheistic society, believers can consider that they share the bond of faith. However, fans of football teams can all agree that football exists, even if they disagree on who plays it best. A Christian doesn't agree that Amitabha exists or that Allah exists (even if they acknowledge common ancestry) -- there is no god, but God: religions are mutually exclusive, and if they aren't (New Age, e.g.), they aren't coherent. (And we know how 'brotherly' religions have been to one another through history).

Point is, it's not my non-belief in Shiva, Jesus or Zues that marks me out, but my positive belief in Aiwass (or whoever) that does. Saying "oh but atheism is a religion/belief system too" just obscures the fact that pretty much everyone is an atheist from the right perspective, even if religious (as per your earlier examples).

noel emits
05-08-2008, 03:29 PM
If you want to compile an exhaustive list of things that don't exist, you're welcome to try, but you're gonna be here a looooooong time. ;)
"In the Universe as a whole, the conserved constants (electric charge, angular momentum, mass-energy) add up to/cancel out to exactly 0. There isn't any net electric charge or angular momentum. The world's positive mass-energy is exactly cancelled out by its negative gravitational potential energy. (Provocatively, cryptically, elliptically, "nothing" exists)"
'Dangerous' David Pearce
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Pearce_(philosopher)

But I think the categorisation that groups believers, of any religion, into one set and atheists into another is much more important. In the same way that, while a Spurs fan and an Arsenal fan may consider themselves rivals (or even, in the case of some of the thicker ones perhaps, enemies), they nonetheless have much more in common with each other than either of them does with someone who couldn't give a shit about football.
Someone like Dawkins wants everyone to disavow the value of football.

fail
I agree. It's a shame because some of his ideas are quite beautiful, mystical even, but he does come across as overly dogmatic these days.

I can see how he has issues with the ID posse, but for the most part science and 'religion' don't have to be mutually exclusive do they. In fact that kind of vociferous atheism could be seen as, if not a religion, then at least a category error. Some of what he would probably describe as 'non-scientific' ways of conceptualising and interacting with the world can be effective and rewarding, is it really so 'rational' to insist on ignoring that whole area of human experience?

The rules of football can not be 'proved or falsified' by science, it doesn't really make sense to speak of them in those terms, they are a creative construction, but they work to shape reality and experience and serve many functions for many people. And those same people are also free to play table-tennis, study chemistry and write bad poetry.

vimothy
05-08-2008, 03:45 PM
Can agree with you to an extent, Noel, but I'm not sure that's all of it. For example, the world was created in seven days: fact. Humans did not evolve, they were created by God: fact. When you die, you go to heaven: fact. Homosexuality is wrong: fact. Etcetera...

Slothrop
05-08-2008, 03:51 PM
On a vaguely related note, I've recently discovered that pretty much all of Jonathan Meades' TV work is up on youtube, and apart from the fact that it's nice to see someone who isn't afraid to use long words on TV (and refer to medieval holy wars as "faith based belligerence initiatives"), it's incredibly refreshing to see someone just taking atheism as a given and not bothering to pretend that he thinks other people's beliefs are an entirely reasonable stance for them to take that just happens to differ from what he believes.

Even if you don't agree with him entirely, it's nice to have a temporary exception to the rule that religious types say that people not believing (without evidence) in the right invisible superheroes in the right way will cause society to (literally) go to hell in a handcart, while atheists mostly stick to saying that while they respect your beliefs and can see that religion has been responsible for many great things, they don't feel that religious values should neccessarily guide society as a whole.

I think this is part of the reason that Dawkins initially got the respect he did.

Mr. Tea
05-08-2008, 04:02 PM
I can see how he has issues with the ID posse, but for the most part science and 'religion' don't have to be mutually exclusive do they.

Hmm, well I'd say the scientific/rational/empircist worldview or mindset (take nothing for granted, make observations to gather data, analyse your data using the language of mathematics and logic...) is inherently incompatible with the religious mindset (accept scripture as revelation provided by God, privilege faith above scepticism and intuition above reason...). Though that's not to say some religious people haven't also been (good) scientists.



In fact that kind of vociferous atheism could be seen as, if not a religion, then at least a category error. Some of what he would probably describe as 'non-scientific' ways of conceptualising and interacting with the world can be effective and rewarding, is it really so 'rational' to insist on ignoring that whole area of human experience?


Well, I think 'non-scientifically' when I think about things other than science! When I think about music or literature I like, or the people I love, or stuff that makes me laugh...it's another category error, I think, to place science in oppostion to any kind of thought or mode of being that isn't based entirely on reason and logic. That does not, by any means, have to imply the existence of some nebulous deity wafting around the place.

noel emits
05-08-2008, 04:07 PM
Can agree with you to an extent, Noel, but I'm not sure that's all of it. For example, the world was created in seven days: fact. Humans did not evolve, they were created by God: fact. When you die, you go to heaven: fact. Homosexuality is wrong: fact. Etcetera...
Of course that gets back to the 'ignosticism' position - we can't realistically discuss religion without defining what it is we are talking about. I did say 'some' ways of conceptualising and interacting with the world.

Perhaps those things you list could also be seen as where religion over-reaches itself? None of those statements are directly about the existence of or nature of deity, for instance.

Also it's interesting to me to note that of those beliefs 'Humans did not evolve, they were created by God' is, with a little imagination, the least difficult to reconcile with a scientific position.

vimothy
05-08-2008, 04:08 PM
Also it's interesting to me to note that of those beliefs 'Humans did not evolve, they were created by God' is, with a little imagination, the least difficult to reconcile with a scientific position.

Reconciliation misses the point, though: it's not up for debate!

vimothy
05-08-2008, 04:13 PM
Perhaps those things you list could also be seen as where religion over-reaches itself? None of those statements are directly about the existence of or nature of deity, for instance.

And religion > belief in a supernatural being

noel emits
05-08-2008, 04:35 PM
Reconciliation misses the point, though: it's not up for debate!
So what. My point is that it's interesting to me from the point of view of seeing the lack imagination and creativity demonstrated by 'creationists' that they can't reconcile these two things specifically. You know, if God is omnipotent and exists outside of time then why should He not be involved in the process of evolution. It's not a problem unless you have a childlike conception of your God.

Mr. Tea
05-08-2008, 04:44 PM
A mate of mine at uni was a Christian creationist - and a student of palaeobiology. :D Of course, he wasn't a literal seven-day creationist; he believed God created the universe, and the natural laws that govern it, in such a way as to allow stars, planets, life and ultimately human beings to evolve, without requiring the intervention of His hand once the whole process was set in motion. Which is pretty much what I believe, only without the God part.

noel emits
05-08-2008, 04:46 PM
Hmm, well I'd say the scientific/rational/empircist worldview or mindset (take nothing for granted, make observations to gather data, analyse your data using the language of mathematics and logic...) is inherently incompatible with the religious mindset (accept scripture as revelation provided by God, privilege faith above scepticism and intuition above reason...). Though that's not to say some religious people haven't also been (good) scientists.
That's a rather specific and limited characterisation of a 'religious mindset' you've drawn there, although it might apply to a percentage of religious people. I think for many they are quite able to separate how they approach different aspects of their lives, same as everyone else in the modern world. So the two things can no more be said to be incompatible than to say that you can not appreciate music because you 'know' that it is merely vibrations in the air bouncing off your eardrum, interpreted by your brain and perceived by...;) But I think we are of course back to needing to define exactly what we mean by a 'religious mindset.'

And religion > belief in a supernatural being
Hmm, I think that at their cores most religions are essentially concerned with ontology. The other stuff tends to come later and is more socially, geographically, historically and politically specific. I dunno, is that the definition of a religion? I don't think so...

vimothy
05-08-2008, 04:54 PM
So what. My point is that it's interesting to me from the point of view of seeing the lack imagination and creativity demonstrated by 'creationists' that they can't reconcile these two things specifically. You know, if God is omnipotent and exists outside of time then why should He not be involved in the process of evolution. It's not a problem unless you have a childlike conception of your God.

Or if you don't believe in 'god'. But I was thinking of your comment that "the rules of football can not be 'proved or falsified' by science, it doesn't really make sense to speak of them in those terms". Obviously at times they are competing for the very same constituency*.


Hmm, I think that at their cores most religions are essentially concerned with ontology. The other stuff tends to come later and is more socially, geographically, historically and politically specific. I dunno, is that the definition of a religion? I don't think so...

I would describe the above as thoroughly secular and indeed borderline atheism.

*EDIT: Sorry, horrible mixed metaphor. "At times footballers want to book rugby players for handball". Or something. I'm sure you get what I mean ;-)

noel emits
05-08-2008, 05:04 PM
it's another category error, I think, to place science in oppostion to any kind of thought or mode of being that isn't based entirely on reason and logic.
I wouldn't say it's a category error - it's just erroneous. But I'm not doing that, when I said 'non-scientific' I suppose I should have said 'religious'. This is about Dawkins' rather broad approach to discounting the value of 'religious' thought.

That does not, by any means, have to imply the existence of some nebulous deity wafting around the place.
Well of course not, who said it did? Also that is another very particular idea about deity - some are not at all nebulous or floaty.

noel emits
05-08-2008, 05:23 PM
Or if you don't believe in 'god'.
Yeah, it's just interesting that of all those contentious religious issues, God vs. Evolution has become the big match for some reason when really science doesn't make any assertions in this area that should bother most Christians as far as I can see.

"At times footballers want to book rugby players for handball".
I suppose the moral is that we should be able to use our feet AND our hands freely as the situation requires?

Mr. Tea
05-08-2008, 05:29 PM
That's a rather specific and limited characterisation of a 'religious mindset' you've drawn there, although it might apply to a percentage of religious people.


Well it seems to include the major aspect of religious thought as I see them: accepting revelations as authenticated either by their extreme age or by the authenticity of the 'divine experience' of the person to whom they were 'revealed' (and let's not forget that one man's prophet is another man's delusional schizophrenic...), as opposed to empirically gathering information about the world and building theories about how it works by rationally analysing this information.

noel emits
05-08-2008, 05:34 PM
I would describe the above as thoroughly secular and indeed borderline atheism.
I'm just describing religion as I understand it. I think it is the case that in some religions, and/or schools thereof, ideas about Deity and other tenets are intended to be regarded as essentially metaphorical. That isn't to say that they're not taken seriously or based on strong traditions of spiritual enquiry. And I think that these can address some aspects of existence and being more successfully and pragmatically than science can in it's present state.

vimothy
05-08-2008, 05:40 PM
Yeah, it's just interesting that of all those contentious religious issues, God vs. Evolution has become the big match for some reason when really science doesn't make any assertions in this area that should bother most Christians as far as I can see.

My parents are born again xtians (Dad is prof of astrophysics) and believe in evolution.

noel emits
05-08-2008, 05:41 PM
Well it seems to include the major aspect of religious thought as I see them: accepting revelations as authenticated either by their extreme age or by the authenticity of the 'divine experience' of the person to whom they were 'revealed' (and let's not forget that one man's prophet is another man's delusional schizophrenic...), as opposed to empirically gathering information about the world and building theories about how it works by rationally analysing this information.
I refer you to my post above. I don't think this is really true of many, if any, religions at their core. The basis for most religions is philosophical, ontological and based on much enquiry into the nature of the world and being I would say. They do actually come out of people sitting down and thinking about things, and arguing about them, and trying them out. The fact that they've been at it a very long time probably does mean that some of that stuff is worth listening to as well. I suppose I have in mind the 'eastern' systems like Taoism, Buddhism and Hinduism but even Christianity at heart can be said to be based on philosophical enquiry. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Influence_of_Hellenic_philosophy_on_Christianity

vimothy
05-08-2008, 05:42 PM
I'm just describing religion as I understand it. I think it is the case that in some religions, and/or schools thereof, ideas about Deity and other tenets are intended to be regarded as essentially metaphorical. That isn't to say that they're not taken seriously or based on strong traditions of spiritual enquiry. And I think that these can address some aspects of existence and being more successfully and pragmatically than science can in it's present state.

Out of time for today, but just want to say that it's only possible to say this (IMHO) if you've gone beyond religion into atheism and come out at the other side aware that reality is constructed, and constructed by 'man', not God.

noel emits
05-08-2008, 06:05 PM
Out of time for today, but just want to say that it's only possible to say this (IMHO) if you've gone beyond religion into atheism and come out at the other side aware that reality is constructed, and constructed by 'man', not God.
Or, if you understand the truth about 'ultimate reality' or god(s) to be either fundamentally 'unknowable' or at least not transmittable by words, which isn't necessarily quite the same thing as saying that 'reality' is entirely constructed by 'man'. But yeah, I think those ancient sages, priests, philosophers and shamans probably did see things that way, it's only later appropriations and corruptions that get bogged down in rigid dogmatism.

And so we are back to Postmodernism I suppose. And Dawkins, in his zeal, being beaten at that particular game by representatives of the modern clergy who have managed, to some extent, to come to terms with their place and function in a post-modern world.

Looking through some Youtube clips recently, I saw right-wing US TV pundit Bill O Reilly interview rent-an-atheist Richard Dawkins. At one point in an argument on the existence of God, Bill says "Well, that's my truth, maybe not yours..." Dawkins replying that both viewpoints can't be true, so O' Reilly schools him in relativism by explaining that his Catholism is a "personal truth". (Bizarre to hear him talk like this) Also in his book "The God Delusion" Dawkins recalls an occasion where a vicar and theologian accused him of being "a 19th century thinker" implying that we had all moved on from the convictions and absolute truths (or search for them) that motivated the early modernists.

Mr. Tea
05-08-2008, 06:19 PM
For the record, noel, I think you're right that religions (some more than others, perhaps) contain a certain amount of worthwhile philosophy that has, by necessity, been 'encoded' in the form of myths, fables and prophecies for the benefit of a generally illiterate laiety. If we can the 'baby' of thousands of years of accumulated wisdom while throwing out the 'bathwater' of theism and superstition...well, yeah, that'd be great.

vimothy
06-08-2008, 11:04 AM
For the record, noel, I think you're right that religions (some more than others, perhaps) contain a certain amount of worthwhile philosophy that has, by necessity, been 'encoded' in the form of myths, fables and prophecies for the benefit of a generally illiterate laiety. If we can the 'baby' of thousands of years of accumulated wisdom while throwing out the 'bathwater' of theism and superstition...well, yeah, that'd be great.

But that presupposes that the 'baby' is the wisdom and the 'bathwater' is superstition. I'm not sure that it is. Where are all the Foucault reading social theorists -- don't you have something to say about all this?

Mr. Tea
06-08-2008, 12:21 PM
But that presupposes that the 'baby' is the wisdom and the 'bathwater' is superstition. I'm not sure that it is. Where are all the Foucault reading social theorists -- don't you have something to say about all this?

Oh, ignore me, I had an uncharacteristic hippy moment. ;)

noel emits
06-08-2008, 01:37 PM
Well the bathwater in this case is presumably the dogmatism and socially proscriptive stuff etc. The baby being the concepts that we can use to understand the universe and how we operate in it.

I wonder if Dawkins has read Eric Davis?

vimothy
06-08-2008, 01:41 PM
Well the bathwater in this case is presumably the dogmatism and socially proscriptive stuff etc. The baby being the concepts that we can use to understand the universe and how we operate in it.

Well, that's obviously how you read it, but why? What about the 'Foucauldian' view-point, how do you factor that in?

noel emits
06-08-2008, 01:50 PM
Well, that's obviously how you read it
Not necessarily, that's just in this context of someone like RD misunderstanding religious viewpoints as being necessarily useless and/or overly dogmatic while himself providing a good example of mono thinking. So the reason I state it that way is that it applies equally to both sides. That's what he seems to miss sometimes - that's the topic here, not me defending religion as such. My opinion on that is separate from this discussion.

vimothy
06-08-2008, 02:03 PM
Not necessarily, that's just in this context of someone like RD misunderstanding religious viewpoints as being necessarily useless and/or overly dogmatic while himself providing a good example of mono thinking. So the reason I state it that way is that it applies equally to both sides. That's what he seems to miss sometimes - that's the topic here, not me defending religion as such. My opinion on that is separate from this discussion.

It does seem like you have an unrealistically utopian or idealistic view of religion -- Eastern religion, to be sure (more RAW influence?), but still...

Religion has always been about taboo, proscription, control, discipline, describing what is permitted, what is forbidden. Maybe all the 'mystical' stuff is just bumph to keep you suckers busy while we keep running the world? ;)

noel emits
06-08-2008, 02:28 PM
It does seem like you have an unrealistically utopian or idealistic view of religion -- Eastern religion, to be sure (more RAW influence?), but still...
Not at all - stay on topic - this is about religious types understanding postmodernism better than a scientist. Although I think swears read that as them being unreasonable because in other ways they want to be less tolerant. Maybe he'd like to chime in and get the thread back to what it was supposed to be about?

I don't have a utopian view of religion at all - but that's not the issue here. We can discuss the value or otherwise of religion on another thread perhaps. Still...

Religion has always been about taboo, proscription, control, discipline, describing what is permitted, what is forbidden.
I don't think Taoism, Sufism and some schools of Buddhism are about these things really, for instance.

Mr. Tea
06-08-2008, 02:59 PM
Not at all - stay on topic - this is about religious types understanding postmodernism better than a scientist.

That's because neither religion nor postmodernism has any truck with rationality and empiricism: the former predates such concepts by thousands of years and fears them because they form the basis of a demonstrably better way to understand the world, while the latter sneers at them as outdated, nerdy and 'square', frequently slandering them as "racist", "sexist" ad nauseam for good measure.



I don't think Taoism, Sufism and some schools of Buddhism are about these things really, for instance.

Fair enough, but those religions are followed by pretty small numbers of people compared to Christianity, mainstream Islam, 'other' schools of Buddhism, Hinduism...
Edit: and, as Vimothy says below, they are still religions, they are still concerned primarily with man's relationship to something that fundamentally doesn't exit, rather than to his fellow man.

vimothy
06-08-2008, 03:02 PM
Not at all - stay on topic - this is about religious types understanding postmodernism better than a scientist. Although I think swears read that as them being unreasonable because in other ways they want to be less tolerant. Maybe he'd like to chime in and get the thread back to what it was supposed to be about?

I think RD has a pretty good understanding of religion -- it's the people you quote who don't, or rather, they have in my reading shorn themselves of religion except in a secular, post-religious sense, where 'all religions are equal' and religions are a 'subjective truth', i.e. these people are starting from a point that most religious people throughout history wouldn't recognise or accept. These people are already secular atheists in the most important sense -- the socio-politcal one.

This,


Well the bathwater in this case is presumably the dogmatism and socially proscriptive stuff etc. The baby being the concepts that we can use to understand the universe and how we operate in it.

Is pretty New Age, or PoMo at least -- it doesn't describe religion as a historical object, as an abstract machine, as an archiecture of social construction. Yes, yes -- religion can have a subjective value relevant to you personally, but what do we see when we examine it as a social phenomenon?


I don't have a utopian view of religion at all - but that's not the issue here. We can discuss the value or otherwise of religion on another thread perhaps. Still...

They both get it, it's just that they disagree! Simply understanding the the 'meaning' of postmodernism isn't necessarily here nor there. The Bible isn't the literal word of God, regardless of the age we live in. You can choose to believe it -- as you can choose to believe anything, if you desire -- but it doesn't make it true in any objective sense. People are going to hedge and claim that 'they know' but that it doesn't matter, because religion fulfills certain functions for them (most of them social, as far as I can see), and they aren't willing to give them up.


I don't think Taoism, Sufism and some schools of Buddhism are about these things really, for instance.

No, I think those religions are of the same type as all the others actually. All major religions have their esoteric little side alleys for them what are that way inclined. So take Sufism -- its still a set of codes and rules, *which mediate social relationships, with which sits some metaphysical teachings.

* EDIT

noel emits
06-08-2008, 03:24 PM
It comes down to this though:

At one point in an argument on the existence of God, Bill says "Well, that's my truth, maybe not yours..." Dawkins replying that both viewpoints can't be true, so O' Reilly schools him in relativism by explaining that his Catholism is a "personal truth". (Bizarre to hear him talk like this) Also in his book "The God Delusion" Dawkins recalls an occasion where a vicar and theologian accused him of being "a 19th century thinker" implying that we had all moved on from the convictions and absolute truths (or search for them) that motivated the early modernists.

That's because neither religion nor postmodernism has any truck with rationality and empiricism: the former predates such concepts by thousands of years and fears them because they form the basis of a demonstrably better way to understand the world, while the latter sneers at them as outdated, nerdy and 'square', frequently slandering them as "racist", "sexist" ad nauseam for good measure.

Well it was just in this one isolated case as illustrated above really. But I think there's quite a bit of bias in your statements here as well, no?

That rationality and empiricism are 'demonstrably' 'better'. They have their uses and limitations I think. Compulsive rationality and empiricism isn't the be all and end all is it? I guess that's one of the 'lessons' of postmodernism. Where's nomadologist to say there's no such thing as a postmodern viewpoint? ;)

Actually if we understand postmodernism as being a resistance to the idea of meta-narratives then it can probably be said to pre-date religion in a way.

IdleRich
06-08-2008, 03:46 PM
"Where's nomadologist to say there's no such thing as a postmodern viewpoint?"
I was just about to say that actually - I mean that there is no such thing as a postmodern viewpoint, not the whole sentence.


"Fair enough, but those religions are followed by pretty small numbers of people compared to Christianity, mainstream Islam, 'other' schools of Buddhism, Hinduism...
Edit: and, as Vimothy says below, they are still religions, they are still concerned primarily with man's relationship to something that fundamentally doesn't exit, rather than to his fellow man."
Is that last bit true of Buddhism?

Mr. Tea
06-08-2008, 03:51 PM
Without rationality and empiricism we'd be living in mud huts and dying at 30 (yes, zhao, we would). These concepts allowed incremental steps towards civilisation - fire, agriculture, the wheel, writing - but they didn't offer a firm challenge to the religious (which is to say, mystical) mindset as the dominant way to view the world until a couple of hundred years ago. Now many people like to point things like modern warfare, environmental degradation and massive economic inequality as evidence of the failure of Enlightenment values. But I see them instead as examples of technologies and other systems enabled by Enlightenment discoveries being pressed into the serviced of irrational, or simply old-fashioned selfish - purposes. Was it 'rational' for Hitler to blame Jews for Germany's defeat in WWI? Was it 'rational' for early-20th-century scientists to pervert their fields of study to 'prove' the evolutionary superiority of white people? Most of these horrors, including the ones still plaguing the planet to this day, are the results of very atavistic urges, clothed (and magnified) as they may be in the guise of industrialism, trade, geopolitics or whatever.

Slothrop
06-08-2008, 03:54 PM
That rationality and empiricism are 'demonstrably' 'better'.
Isn't empiricism 'demonstrably better' more or less by definition?

vimothy
06-08-2008, 03:56 PM
Is that last bit true of Buddhism?

I'd say so, yeah, though again that's understanding Buddhism as a social/historical phenomenon rather than an idealised product of the 'Buddha'. Think of, e.g., the role of Buddhism in fuedal Japan and not Buddhism as practiced in your local Buddhist centre...

EDIT: Sorry, I mean that Buddhism still fundamentally the same in that religion is about regulation of the social body...

vimothy
06-08-2008, 03:59 PM
isn't empiricism 'demonstrably better' more or less by definition?

:)

Mr. Tea
06-08-2008, 03:59 PM
Is that last bit true of Buddhism?

I was about to write something about reincarnation and souls, but I think Buddhism doesn't really have a concept of a 'soul' like most other religions do. I think Buddhism is a bit like postmodernity/ism in that whatever you have to say about it, someone who's read more about it than you will pop up and say "Actually, that's wrong". ;)

Mr. Tea
06-08-2008, 04:00 PM
Isn't empiricism 'demonstrably better' more or less by definition?

Haha, yes, I hadn't spotted that.

noel emits
06-08-2008, 04:08 PM
Was it 'rational' for Hitler to blame Jews for Germany's defeat in WWI? Was it 'rational' for early-20th-century scientists to pervert their fields of study to 'prove' the evolutionary superiority of white people?
Well this illustrates one of the problems of defining what is rational doesn't it? You could say both of those things were 'rational' from the point of view of achieving certain desired ends.

Isn't empiricism 'demonstrably better' more or less by definition?
Depends if you buy the demonstration doesn't it. And that hinges on deciding what is 'better', which is a value judgement.

But we have trouble staying on topic in this thread. This isn't / wasn't actually about religion as a historical phenomenon at all was it. It was about the way some scientists insist on Truth the same way some religios do, or something.

Slothrop
06-08-2008, 04:13 PM
Well this illustrates one of the problems of defining what is rational doesn't it? You could say both of those things were 'rational' from the point of view of achieving certain desired ends.
That's a pretty broad definition of 'rational'.

noel emits
06-08-2008, 04:23 PM
That's a pretty broad definition of 'rational'.
The point is that any definition of what is rational depends on establishing and declaring a set of values, aims, beliefs, assumptions etc.

Is rationality limited to self-interest? How does self-interest work? What exactly is my self-interest? How does it relate to and interact with the interest of the rest of society?

Slothrop
06-08-2008, 04:36 PM
The point is that any definition of what is rational depends on establishing and declaring a set of values, aims, beliefs, assumptions etc.
But if you're going to declare the Holocaust to be a product of 'enlightenment rationalism' because it "acheived certain desired ends" then you could say the same thing of the First Crusade or the Punic Wars or the spread of Christianity.

If I was going to criticize rationalism based on 20th century history, I'd be looking at Soviet communism or Maoism. Or at the economic strategies adopted under capitalism - the failure of a scheme that is actually based on rationalist principles, not just the negative effects of something based on coercion, prejudice and dogmatism that took a bit of organization to run as effectively as it did - although people have been killing each other in very large numbers for a long time before they had rational means at their disposal anyway.

noel emits
06-08-2008, 04:51 PM
But if you're going to declare the Holocaust to be a product of 'enlightenment rationalism' because it "acheived certain desired ends" then you could say the same thing of the First Crusade or the Punic Wars or the spread of Christianity.
Yeah - I'm not really criticising 'rationalism' on those grounds, more that it is hard to say exactly what is 'rational'.

If I was going to criticize rationalism based on 20th century history, I'd be looking at Soviet communism or Maoism. Or at the economic strategies adopted under capitalism - the failure of a scheme that is actually based on rationalist principles
This comes down to issues of defining self-interest doesn't it? If the whole system fails, or fails to include the 'human' then it is not really in anyone's interest. So there's a failure in defining the scope and aim of rational thought.

If we, because we believe it to be in our self-interest, all go around charging as much as we possibly can for the surplus stuff we don't immediately need then not only do we have to charge more for stuff in the future because what we need costs more, we also feel less than well disposed towards each other for all being a bunch of greedy exploitative bastards. ;)

Oh wait, wrong thread.

vimothy
06-08-2008, 05:56 PM
But we have trouble staying on topic in this thread. This isn't / wasn't actually about religion as a historical phenomenon at all was it. It was about the way some scientists insist on Truth the same way some religios do, or something.

It's not a big leap to make. I'm not sure why you're having trouble with this -- if religion is better at accepting the 'subjectivity of truth', then surely what religion is, is of relevance?

noel emits
06-08-2008, 07:27 PM
It's not a big leap to make. I'm not sure why you're having trouble with this -- if religion is better at accepting the 'subjectivity of truth', then surely what religion is, is of relevance?
:rolleyes:

noel emits
06-08-2008, 08:52 PM
It's not a big leap to make. I'm not sure why you're having trouble with this -- if religion is better at accepting the 'subjectivity of truth', then surely what religion is, is of relevance?
I don't think this even deserves a polite reply really but just for now...

I said the thread was going off topic, not that I was having 'trouble'. And it had got into talking about empiricism and rationalism, not 'what religion is'.

And no-one has claimed that 'religion is better at accepting the 'subjectivity of truth'' FFS.

The thread was / is about swears suggesting that Christians were not entitled to claim relativism when at other times they want to be intolerant of other's views. Also about Dawkins' view of religious belief as being incompatible with scientific thought / belief.

As so often vimothy you seem to want to turn the thread into an argument about some imagined idea you have, or choose to have, about what someone is saying, or what their position is, instead of the topic at hand. It's boring and counter-productive. Or maybe you just misunderstand, or think that there must be an ideological agenda behind whatever someone says, I dunno.

So can someone say something relevant about the thread topic, please? :)

vimothy
07-08-2008, 01:41 PM
:eek:

Ok.

...

swears
07-08-2008, 03:51 PM
So can someone say something relevant about the thread topic, please? :)

Ok, if we're now living in the postmodern era, and you can believe in whatever pleases you: zen buddhism, nordic mythology, fairies and elves, anything... There's a "supermarket" of belief out there for you. Traditionally, christianity would be opposed to this, see this situation as a threat. But once you get a sort of popular atheism or rationalism on the scene, pointing out that it's all nonsense, a defence mechanism kicks in and christians will defend these "personal truths". So christianity is jossling for position on the supermarket shelf, rather than trying to get it bulldozed.

swears
07-08-2008, 03:56 PM
(Not so much that this is a plan or conspiracy on behalf of christians, more that this is a situation that they've been forced into, this is how the game is played.)

vimothy
07-08-2008, 04:02 PM
I am interested in the relationship between Christianity and postmodernity, though I'm not so concerned with Christians claiming that 'this is my truth' one the one hand and yet wanting to be regarded as a bulwark against moral relativism and decay on the other. Life is complicated and people are hypocritical, sure, sure -- but (FWIW) it’s not what I'd call the basis of a thread.

Christianity has had to come to terms with the conditions of postmodernity, with religion as 'mere religion' and not cultural hegemon or given point of reference. Christianity is no longer thought to be the basis for society or for civilisation. It is Christians, not atheists or agnostics, who are the odd ones out now, the minority, the special interest group. Religion must grapple with this shift in the socio-cultural landscape (witness the upheavals in the ME, e.g.) and find a new positions to occupy and functions to fulfill, if it is to remain relevant.

Happily (?) though, religion has changed, to the extent that religionists have no choice but to accept as significant the conditions of the secular age in which they live – as exemplified by swears’ quotes at the genesis of this thread. However, it is not the case that ‘postmodernity’ describes new physical laws that replace the old laws of intellectual absolutism, and you do not win points by being, in whatever sense, ‘more postmodern’. And still religion remains an ideology, sets of laws and norms governing social interactions, just one that rules in a more limited sphere than in the past – hence the tension between embracing relativism and condemning it.


The thread was / is about swears suggesting that Christians were not entitled to claim relativism when at other times they want to be intolerant of other's views. Also about Dawkins' view of religious belief as being incompatible with scientific thought / belief.

That's 'your truth', perhaps, but I thought it was about Christianity and postmodernity, and I think that to understand what religion is becoming you have to examine what it has been and what it is... (As far as I'm concerned, Christians are entitled to 'believe' whatever the hell they like, no matter how contradictory or indeed, right-on -- that's not what I'm writing about).

Mr. Tea
07-08-2008, 04:03 PM
Ok, if we're now living in the postmodern era, and you can believe in whatever pleases you: zen buddhism, nordic mythology, fairies and elves, anything... There's a "supermarket" of belief out there for you. Traditionally, christianity would be opposed to this, see this situation as a threat. But once you get a sort of popular atheism or rationalism on the scene, pointing out that it's all nonsense, a defence mechanism kicks in and christians will defend these "personal truths". So christianity is jossling for position on the supermarket shelf, rather than trying to get it bulldozed.

This sounds like a pretty good summary to me.

A mate of mine said once that for most non-fundamentalist Christians these days, believing in God is basically a matter of 'choosing to believe' in nebulous hokum, even though they know, deep down, that it is nebulous hokum. Which I think is another good way of putting it.

vimothy
07-08-2008, 04:06 PM
I hope noel comes and kicks both yr asses, given that I've been saying that all thread!


A mate of mine said once that for most non-fundamentalist Christians these days, believing in God is basically a matter of 'choosing to believe' in nebulous hokum, even though they know, deep down, that it is nebulous hokum. Which I think is another good way of putting it.

I dunno about that. My sister is a Christian and I'd say she's pretty convinced that God exists. Is there a difference between believing and thinking you believe?

EDIT: Ok, maybe not quite that, but there is a conradiction between trad religion as absolute moral arbiter and modern religion as 'mere religion' jockeying for power and influence...

IdleRich
07-08-2008, 04:07 PM
"Traditionally, christianity would be opposed to this, see this situation as a threat. But once you get a sort of popular atheism or rationalism on the scene, pointing out that it's all nonsense, a defence mechanism kicks in and christians will defend these "personal truths". So christianity is jossling for position on the supermarket shelf, rather than trying to get it bulldozed."
Can't it be that some Christians are demanding the right to have a "personal truth" while others are still hoping for a return to a more comforting time when there was only one truth (theirs obviously)? I mean, have you actually heard the two seemingly conflicting positions being voiced by the same Christians? I guess if you see them as a whole block there are bound to be contradictions.

Mr. Tea
07-08-2008, 04:20 PM
I hope noel comes and kicks both yr asses, given that I've been saying that all thread!

I dunno about that. My sister is a Christian and I'd say she's pretty convinced that God exists. Is there a difference between believing and thinking you believe?

It could be something they're not even really conscious of. Humans are capable of all sorts of self-contradictory beliefs and convictions. It could perhaps be expressed as "choosing to have faith (an inherently irrational/emotion belief) in something they don't really think (in a strictly logical/rational way) to be true". I can't speak for your sister, of course, maybe she *knows* God exists in the same way she *knows* Gordon Brown is the prime minister. It was, of course, a massive generalisation, but not an unsupported one, I think.

poetix
08-08-2008, 11:14 AM
In the 1960s, Donald MacKinnon was talking about a "post-Constantinian" Christianity, in other words a Christianity no longer wedded (or prostituted) to the projection of imperial power. It can be seen that Rowan Williams, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, is a dedicated MacKinnonite on that point. But it's not primarily an epistemological question (having to do with the status of religious truth amongst other truths). MacKinnon was arguing that Christianity could only realize its own truth (that of "the cross") by subtracting itself from the Constantinian situation (Christianity as state religion, its "mission" confused with that of colonialism). That point was not so much to privatise Christianity's "truth claims" as to universalise them, in the first instance by applying them to its own attitudes and institutions.

Around the same time you get the interest in "religionless Christianity": a phrase from Bonhoeffer, much abused. In Bonhoeffer it is related to the theme of human maturity: "man" has outgrown the limited God he has made for himself, and needs to discard this idol. Rowan Williams, talking about Philip Pullman's staging of the death of God in the "His Dark Materials" trilogy, refers to a certain "necessary atheism" or iconoclasm which can release us from images of God that have held us captive.

To the extent that the movement stemming from this theology of the 60s has held sway (not total, and it has been hemmed in by reactionary currents, but most "liberals" are at least sympathetic to it), it has involved the disentanglement of Christianity from the "grand narrative" of imperial domination ("let all the world be Roman!") and a growth in ecumenism and inter-faith discussion; which is all to the good. The current difficulties within the Anglican communion are occurring in part because the hegemony of the English and North American churches is no longer taken for granted.

The relationship to "postmodern" delegitimation is fairly complex, because Christianity subtracted from its imperial "framework of legitimation" does not in fact lapse into a "pagan" rebranding as one option among others in the ever-unfolding plethora of spiritual styles. "Radical humility" might be one name for its contemporary calling; kenosis another. But this is its way of pursuing a truth.

noel emits
12-08-2008, 06:56 PM
Ok, if we're now living in the postmodern era, and you can believe in whatever pleases you: zen buddhism, nordic mythology, fairies and
elves, anything... There's a "supermarket" of belief out there for you. Traditionally, christianity would be opposed to this, see this situation as a threat. But once you
get a sort of popular atheism or rationalism on the scene, pointing out that it's all nonsense, a defence mechanism kicks in and christians will defend these
"personal truths". So christianity is jossling for position on the supermarket shelf, rather than trying to get it bulldozed.

A mate of mine said once that for most non-fundamentalist Christians these days, believing in God is basically a matter of 'choosing to
believe' in nebulous hokum, even though they know, deep down, that it is nebulous hokum. Which I think is another good way of putting it.

I hope noel comes and kicks both yr asses, given that I've been saying that all thread!
I came into this on the 'what is atheism'* question really. Then mostly my disagreement was with some of the definitions of 'religion'. Until vimothy started trying to designate my stance variously as PoMo, New Age, Atheist, Utopian or whatever, and saying I didn't understand religion as a 'social force'. ;)

But am I the only one here for whom stuff like this grates as being at least somewhat imprecise?

the religious mindset (accept scripture as revelation provided by God, privilege faith above scepticism and intuition above reason...).

Just the broadest of strokes and generalisations here. 'The Religious Mindset'. And why presume a privileging of one mode of thought or knowledge in all areas?

the major aspect of religious thought as I see them: accepting revelations as authenticated either by their extreme age or by the authenticity
of the 'divine experience' of the person to whom they were 'revealed' (and let's not forget that one man's prophet is another man's delusional schizophrenic...), as
opposed to empirically gathering information about the world and building theories about how it works by rationally analysing this information.
No talk of personal religious experience then? Wouldn't that be a rather large part of religion for a great many people?

And how exactly do you think religions came about if it wasn't for people 'empirically gathering information about the world and building theories about how it works'? What I mean to say is these things might not be as far apart and opposed as you might think. Different epistemologies working with different types of data for different reasons?

'encoded' in the form of myths, fables and prophecies for the benefit of a generally illiterate laiety.
Unlike Science which never deals in metaphors and always Absolute Realities? Careful...

they are still religions, they are still concerned primarily with man's relationship to something that fundamentally doesn't exit, rather than to his
fellow man.
Not true is it? A good part of most religions is concerned with relations amongst people, morals etc. In fact that's what vimothy was arguing for as being the basis for discussing religion here.

its still a set of codes and rules, *which mediate social relationships, with which sits some metaphysical teachings.
...
religion as a historical object, as an abstract machine, as an archiecture of social construction
...
Religion has always been about taboo, proscription, control, discipline, describing what is permitted, what is forbidden.

Which I don't entirely disagree with. I guess we were talking about 'religion' in quite different senses and for different reasons. The above weren't the grounds on which I was suggesting that some types of religious thought might have value anyway, but also I don't think that dismissing 'religion' per se based on how you view certain social effects, whose causal relationship with 'religion' alone is not entirely clear anyway, is a fair conclusion. Although of course we can criticise certain aspects of how religions, and in this context Christianities in particular, function in the broader sense. I saw the questions here as being more about the right to belief, what the grounds were for objecting to religious belief, and to 'believers' understanding their truths as being relative.

noel emits
12-08-2008, 06:57 PM
I think you've got hold of the wrong end of the stick, you could argue that no belief is a belief system and it's nothing like you suggest, this I think you already know - to suggest it has to be anti is just silly.

That's cool, of course, but the problem comes with your assumption that atheism is a passive thing, because that would allow for it to be confused with agnosticism in the way I tried to outline before. Agnosticism can be a passive position as well so how do you distinguish the two?
...
They admit the possibility, sure, but they still lack an active belief in God, which was your definition of an atheist. Surely to be 'firmly convinced' of something, you must believe it? To be passively convinced about something, even a lack of something, seems... weird.. if the conviction is there.

I do still belief you are wrong about it not being a belief system, it's not as simple as not having a god/dawkin/fat bloke and not believing in anything (including the last statement) is based on a number of complex stances, these life stances become a belief system on which you act.

Innit, and I think agnosticism is the same. It can be a well thought through position based on complex reasoning and validation as well.. the lack of a belief is not necessarily passive.

Christians only have to believe in the existence of one god whereas atheists have to believe in the non-existence of countless deities, therefore atheism is the more religious and faith based belief system.

there's never going to be a violent schism between rival sects of atheists.

In some sense, atheists have more in common with believers than believers do with each other. Believers are also non-believers. The Christian doesn't believe in all gods but one: her/his own.

Good article on some of this from the AB of C here. I guess he's someone who's had to give the matter some serious consideration! ;)

The point is that atheism is to be defined as a system only by some dramatic intellectual contortions. A number of intellectual and spiritual policies involve or at least accompany the denial of certain versions of the divine, especially the divine as an active and intelligent subject; but in each case the denial is not intelligible apart from a specific context of thought and image, representation and misrepresentation of specific religious doctrines, and the overall system of which the denial is a part is not necessarily shaped by it. This is why the recent proposal in the United Kingdom that religious education in schools should give attention to 'atheism and humanism' as 'non-faith belief systems' alongside the traditional religions was based on some serious conceptual confusions and category mistakes. In the background is the pervasive assumption of modernity that the intellectual default position is non-religious; but what this fails to see is that non-religiousness is historically and culturally a complex of refusals directed at specific religious doctrines, rather than a pure and primitive vision invaded by religious fictions. And if this is so, either religious education has to locate non-religious positions in relation to what it is that they deny, or it will end up treating atheism as the only position not subject to critical scrutiny and the construction of a proper intellectual genealogy: not a welcome position for a rationalist to be in.
http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/1176

Dusty
12-08-2008, 08:16 PM
or it will end up treating atheism as the only position not subject to critical scrutiny

I think this is a fundamental misunderstanding of what atheism means to most atheists. Atheism as I understand it bases the conclusion of there being no God (or spaghetti monster) on some kind of scientific mindset - the search for evidence, the evaluation of evidence and the re-thinking of proposed theories. The AB of C is treating atheism as another form of blind-belief-based religion. Handy for his argument and not much else.

An athiest should only be so based on the current evidence at hand, but would be willing to reconsider should something demonstrating a higher force - some form of evidence - crop up all of a sudden. His religion won't alter its opinion based on scientific evidence, a sensible athiest would. Evidence takes us away from blind-belief systems and gives us something else. By its very definition atheism cannot avoid critical scrutiny. You start with nothing and build a working theory based on what you find. You do not come up with an idea and then go off to prove/disprove it.

If we can agree that athiesm is grounded in scientific thinking, then the AB of C needs to take on teaching science as 'truth' in schools as a problem as well if he wants to undermine athiesm as a belief system. That, as far as I'm aware is something the church gave up doing a long time ago... unless you live in the deep south of the US.


Atheism is the religion of modern scientific thinking. Do any atheists here disagree with that?

noel emits
12-08-2008, 10:16 PM
Did you read the whole speech? I don't think he is trying to undermine atheism as a belief system, at least not explicitly, more trying to get at the fact that while a definition of 'atheism' may not be straightforward, a discussion of what is behind it can be useful in examining the dynamics of faith as well. Also that it is not so simple to disentangle 'atheism' from historical and cultural context, one reason being that it did not come first - ever since human beings were conscious there has been 'religion'. And I think he does acknowledge what you identify as being suggested in a modern atheistic position. I dunno, I think there are some interesting points for consideration there at least.

Neither of these has much in common with the atheism characteristic of Western modernity, which draws much of its energy from moral protest. The God of Jewish and Christian faith is seen as an agent who has the power to prevent the world's evil yet refuses to do so, so that there is the appearance of a moral incoherence at the heart of this tradition. Or he is seen as an arbitrary tyrant whose will is inimical to the liberty of human creatures; or else as an impotent and remote reality, a concept given a sort of ghostly existence by human imagination. In all these instances, it is clear that the refusal of belief in God is something essential to human liberation. We cannot live with a God who is responsible for evil; we cannot grow up as human beings if what is demanded of us is blind obedience; we cannot mortgage our lives and our loving commitment to an animated abstraction. Atheism here is necessary to maturity, individually and culturally.

Even those who argue at length about the simply conceptual inadequacies, as they see it, of Western religion – classically, writers in the Bertrand Russell style – will frequently deploy the language of moral revolt as well. 'Protest atheism', as it is often called, has become a familiar element in the armoury of modern intellectual life, perhaps more often repeated than expounded, but culturally very powerful. The more austere objection to belief found in the positivism of the early to mid twentieth century – it is equally without meaning to affirm or to deny the existence of an agency whose existence could never be empirically demonstrated – has an ironic resonance with Buddhism, but is another component in the mind of Western modernity, even when the philosophical system from which it arises no longer has much credibility. This is atheism as the mark of supreme intellectual detachment, with the intellect defined as a mechanism for processing checkable information only, with everything else reduced to emotive noise. But the other great modern version of atheism is that which exposes religious talk as ideological – as an instrument of social control whose surface conceptual structure is designed to obscure its real function and to divert thought, emotion and energy from real to unreal objects. This is the essence of Marxist atheism, but it also has some relation to Nietzsche's unforgettably eloquent polemic against Christian faith.
Much of which is borne out in attitudes expressed in this thread from the Scientific Rationalist and Sociological perspectives.

noel emits
12-08-2008, 10:20 PM
You start with nothing and build a working theory based on what you find. You do not come up with an idea and then go off to prove/disprove it.


Maybe not so relevant to this discussion, so it's just as an aside, but as I suggested above I think in essence the basis of religion was enquiry into existence and the forming of theories based on evidence - some of the earliest gods being the obvious Sun, Earth, Moon etc. They were powerful, eternal, dictated the terms of life. On a different tack you have some of the more inward looking traditions meditating and enquiring into consciousness and the relationship with nature in that way. Out of that you had things like yoga as well for instance. And of course religion does have traditions that evolve and develop. It's not exactly equivalent to scientific method but it's not as different as is commonly suggested in the modern era either.

Dusty
13-08-2008, 12:10 AM
There is no such thing as a global system of 'atheism': there are denials of specific doctrines on varying grounds, and the examination of where the points of stress are in the exposition of these doctrines very importantly allows us to test the resources of what we say as believers

I think he is wrong, and I blame the cultural baggage the word carries.

Modern atheists need a new word. I know Scientologists! Oh wait... that's taken....

The boundaries break down completely when you take religion as the basic act of believing in unseen forces affecting our perceived environment, which as you quite rightly point out existed from the moment of conciousness. I believe in gravity, and have faith that it will continue to function, based on everything I have observed, even though I don't fully understand or am able to explain it. How does this differ from our ancestors looking at the moon and thinking it is being pushed across the sky by a big man? Techically if you take the concept of religion to its very core - I am not an atheist because I believe these things, I have faith in a greater power. However I'm not actively worshipping this unseen power.

swears
13-08-2008, 12:50 AM
I think "skeptic" is a better term than "atheist".

Mr. Tea
13-08-2008, 11:32 AM
I think "skeptic" is a better term than "atheist".

I think 'atheist' is fine as long as the emphasis is on it meaning 'a-theist' as opposed to 'athe-ist'. Um, if you see what I mean.

poetix
13-08-2008, 02:12 PM
Methodological skepticism is clearly not a belief system, but it is just as clearly a system. A disbelief system, if you like.

It's interesting that skepticism, as a system, works best with stabilizers attached: being skeptical about everything, all the time, is rather disabling, so you have various points that you agree to take as fixed for the time being (even if, in principle, you might come back later and worry away at them). Rorty called these sets of fixed points "final vocabularies", although his point was that they never really are finally final.

What's the difference between temporarily accepting as a fixed point something you need not to have to justify right now, and believing that something is true without being able to prove it? Perhaps it is that religious believers don't regard their beliefs as temporary: they agree to be bound by them for as long as their religious identity persists, to the extent that giving them up would entail become a different person (or a dead one, if one's co-religionists are especially down on apostasy). But I am "religious" in just this sense about my belief that homeopathy is bullshit, or that it isn't OK to give other people a hard time just because you're having a bad day.

More generally, I'm "religious" in this sense about most of my ethical commitments, not because I think that God in the last instance has told me that the things I think are right and wrong really are right and wrong, but in the sense that changing my mind and becoming broadly in favour of selfish sexual hedonism (say) would mean becoming a quite different person, someone I wouldn't recognise as myself. It isn't just that my ethical commitments are relatively static, and not subject to constant interrogation; it's that questioning them is self-questioning in a way that wondering whether vi is really better than emacs isn't.

It is possible to be a religious believer and open to self-questioning at the same time; "the enemy of faith is not doubt, but certainty", as one the C of E's doubting bishops once said. Insecure people need to defend their primary commitments from questioning because they need to defend themselves from questioning. Aggressive skepticism about everything except one's primary commitments is one way of mounting such a defence. Fundamentalist Christians can be amazingly dismissive of rival truth claims; far more "relativist" about everything that's not Scriptural Truth (tm) than the most laid-back Rortean.

poetix
13-08-2008, 09:21 PM
One might add that the sort of "self" that regards itself as having "primary commitments", an identity that is stable over time and stabilised by its commitments, and for which self-questioning and being decidedly one sort of person rather than another are significant issues, is the "religious" self par excellence. There are also humanists like that, of course, but they've basically mapped the religious notion of a soul onto something like a "narrative centre of gravity" and carried on from there. What no religious (theist or a-theist) person can really countenance is the prospect of a life without a moral focus, a life essentially out of control. They know what they're not: they're not children, or animals (or untamed women, or uncivilised natives...)

swears
13-05-2009, 04:50 PM
Just something I thought was kinda relevant if anybody's interested:

Church-Shopping: Why Do Americans Change Faiths?
(http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1894361,00.html)

polystyle desu
06-07-2009, 03:24 PM
From Kill The Buddha ...
http://killingthebuddha.com/mag/dogma/the-apocalypse-is-always-now/

nomadthethird
27-07-2009, 07:51 PM
I'm a new athiest, and I don't care what anybody believes or practices religiously, so long as they keep it out of the science classroom.

I'd also prefer if non-believers weren't constantly forced to be party to religious practices during state ceremonies, at school, or anywhere that tax payer dollars are funding the proceedings.

I'm also interested in questioning believers in public at times if only because they are the single largest political lobby in the Western world, they have enormous power and influence, and they've been wielding it for centuries without anyone so much as raising an eyebrow let alone challenging their reign. I won't sit back mute and let a religion based on a book full of hate speech dictate what happens, at least and especially not in science and science education.

Also, religion should be taxed, just like other forms of entertainment. If they started taxing religion tomorrow, I'd shut up about the whole thing.

polystyle desu
27-07-2009, 08:19 PM
Also, religion should be taxed, just like other forms of entertainment. If they started taxing religion tomorrow, I'd shut up about the whole thing.

Now that's a money raiser ...
great idea !

swears
27-07-2009, 08:28 PM
Obama nominates Francis Collins to be the next director of the National Institutes of Health, Sam Harris don't like it one bit:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/27/opinion/27harris.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

nomadthethird
28-07-2009, 12:46 AM
Oh yes, the dance of the American presidents, the make-nice-with-the-goddists tango.

"Almighty God, who is not limited in space or time, created a universe 13.7 billion years ago with its parameters precisely tuned to allow the development of complexity over long periods of time."

Ah, yes, the Ceiling Cat makes his first appearance just before the Big Bang, and that explains everything! Except, of course, the question of who created Ceiling Cat. I always wonder--how do people like this know Ceiling Cat exists? What makes them so sure? Isn't Ceiling Cat just a couple of words--a name--someone made up and imbued with special powers? Rather convenient that claims like this are entirely unfalsifiable. The universe was made the by Tooth Fairy, she gave birth to the big bang a bajillion light years before the first Christmas, the stars are really made of ground up baby molars collected from under pillows! Don't question my sacred beliefs.

"If the moral law is just a side effect of evolution, then there is no such thing as good or evil. It’s all an illusion. We’ve been hoodwinked. Are any of us, especially the strong atheists, really prepared to live our lives within that worldview?"

I do it every day. Better than believing that Ceiling Cat likes to sit by while pre-schoolers get raped and dismembered on a daily basis, elderly women starve to death, animals tear each other limb from limb, natural disasters maim people, disease makes life a living hell for millions. Because then I'd worship a being who is supremely evil, basically like a Sky-Manson or a Sky-de Sade. At least in my worldview, there's no being who could be making things better but decides not to. I have no idea why there has to be a spirit in the sky for morality to make sense. Evolution hardwired the vast majority of humans for empathy, anyway. It's a biological drive, to need others, plus it's in one's best interest to find a group and coexist with it peacefully and share resources.

The upshot to belief is supposed to be that, if you're reaallly good, and apologize simply for being created without any say in the matter, and of course deny yourself sex outside of legal heterobondage, you'll go to heaven to be with Ceiling Cat and his coterie of prigs and hypocrites.

I'll pass, thnx.

Mr. Tea
28-07-2009, 02:31 AM
preaching ---> choir

mistersloane
28-07-2009, 02:52 AM
Now that's a money raiser ...
great idea !

Seconded. Genius one, you should really follow that one through nomad, I'd love to see a lobby for it.

The older I get the more I love the space for God that exists in my head as a concept to think about, and the more I just snort with bafflement and derision at organised religion. I was reading a book about Islam on the tube the other day and having to stop myself from snorting like a pig. Ironic but true. Mohammed was great but really.

nomadthethird
29-07-2009, 03:55 AM
preaching ---> choir

Oh but Mr. Tea, don't you get it--we're inflicting our dogma on them! Yes, dogma. The only field that exists that's founded on a necessity to be ready to change everything you've ever believed or held true at a moment's notice, and to know that any time you do have a hypothesis or theory, that it can only stand insofar as it's always open for debate, critique, and revision on scientific grounds.

How dare we challenge their naive realisms about the mind and the centrality of humans in the cosmos? Really how evvilll of us. We're just a bunch of arrogant bastards, trying to cure cancer or find ways to block asteroids from hitting the earth for $40,000 a year and shit.

CHAOTROPIC
29-07-2009, 12:30 PM
Seconded. Genius one, you should really follow that one through nomad, I'd love to see a lobby for it.

The older I get the more I love the space for God that exists in my head as a concept to think about, and the more I just snort with bafflement and derision at organised religion. I was reading a book about Islam on the tube the other day and having to stop myself from snorting like a pig. Ironic but true. Mohammed was great but really.

That was Frank Zappa's big lobbying point: tax the churches & the businesses owned by the churches.

People who constellate belief and identity are abundant but certainly make up the bulk of the type of religious people we're always being told to be 'sensitive' towards. Wasn't that supposed to be a hallmark of authoritation personalities? Frightened, insecure children who hold onto anything that gives them an edge or a sense of security in a dog-eat-dog zero-sum world. Ingrained pessimists, supporters of authority & teasers of the unfortunate. Nasty things.

Dull.

Sick Boy
29-07-2009, 02:51 PM
Re: The evil problem religious thinkers will often tell you that God gave us free will and that evil is the inevitable sacrifice we make for something so equally a gift and a curse. Which is fair enough until you realize they are making excuses for "God", which, really, is the first problem.

I recently heard a talk by a religious philosopher whose theory was that religion can't be denied because with all the evil in the world, if we are able to maintain any kind of optimism - that is, to not go and hide under a rock - it must be because of some innate sense of higher purpose that has been placed there by, you guessed it, God.

poetix
29-07-2009, 09:01 PM
Theodicy is quite a fun unsolvable problem, and although in an obvious sense you can make it go away by just not bothering with its premises (there's no God, so no reason for suffering not to happen) it can also be taken as a kind of template for a class of unsolvable problems: wherever there's an X that is both responsible for everything that happens within a given domain and essentially Y, account for the occurrence of anything non-Y-ish within that domain.

For example: if vitalism is true ("Life" is responsible for everything that happens within the domain of the living, and is essentially dynamic, creative, fluid and unclassifiably various), then how is it that anything static, moribund, rigid or categorically identifiable gets to exist?

You can map back in the opposite direction, as well: one answer to the vitalist question is that static entities appears as a result of the self-limiting, self-determining, self-regulating capacity of Life (virtual->actual), which enables it to concentrate its powers and create new occasions for vitalisation (becomings, lines of flight, or what have you). In theodicy this is the argument that God limits his own omnipotence, in order to create a space of human freedom within which we can live in a genuine relationship with him rather than as puppets on a string. Quite a popular argument at present, although to me it smacks of respecting your kids' independence by letting them go play on the motorway.

Another answer to the vitalist question is that there really aren't any static entities - they're artifacts of our cognitive bias, projected over the chaotic inconsistency of the Real. If we could see things as they really were, we'd see that they really weren't. In theodicy: evil is essentially a consequence of our imposing moral categories on experience (having eaten the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil). If we accepted everything that happened as God's will, suffering would not be real to us as suffering.

So it goes on. All the answers are bad ones, in one way or another. But it's interesting to consider them as attempts to get around of the impasse imposed by the formulation of the problem, which is hamstrung by the assumption that power (potency) transmits essence without modification. The world would not in any sense be a creation if it were essentially Good in the way that God is, if its essence were continuous with God's. Another way of putting this is that theodicy is for people who don't want to think dialectically.

Science mostly doesn't have to worry about this particular non-problem, incidentally, because in most of its regional investigations there are multiple causal powers all pulling in different directions. You can just say "this is caused by a combination of X, Y and Z", and not particularly have to worry about whether the phenomenon demonstrates consistent X-ness, Y-ness and Z-ness. I don't know if it crops up in a formal way in theoretical cosmology. If you squint at it, I guess dark matter looks ever so slightly like the problem of pain.

nomadthethird
01-08-2009, 05:22 AM
Within the biosphere, life and death form a kind of continuum where no simple, clean separation can be maintained between matter that is in these two states. When I die, and all electro-chemical impulses eventually cease flowing through my body, then I'll stop having thoughts and feelings and sensations, which will probably happen in stages over a short period of time. Flies will come and lay eggs that will hatch into larvae and begin to feed on my decomposing tissues, which upon ingestion will be metabolized into ATP-- the most basic unit of electro-chemical energy that is responsible for giving organisms what we call 'life.' Eventually, the larvae that eat me will become a flies and die, and fall onto the ground, where they will in turn decompose and fertilize the soil, and grass will take them up as nourishment. The grass will then be eaten by a cow, and so on. Or a predator will eat the larvae and they will become ATP/life-energy within it, and then the predator will fight another animal for food, and die, and be eaten by another animal, and so on.

So I'll be around in one form or another for a long time yet, at least insofar as energy flows count as being around. I'll sacrifice being-animated for animating other life forms, which is fine with me. Some of our ancient African ancestors revered this process, rather than fantasizing about creator-gods. Go figure.

The limitation of certain religious beliefs (particularly monotheism and with it some sorts of political systems) is that they reduce the workings of universe to a single cause, or one originary and eternal process, at the same time personalizing this cause and insisting that it is benevolent. This is in direct contrast to the scientific-cosmological view, which recognizes a vast network of interrelated but not exactly "cooperative" forces that are impersonal, unpredictable, and wildly random, so that everything that exists is a contingent byproduct of chaos. A billion supercomputers working for the rest of eternity couldn't do the math for the "how", so anyone pretending they know "why" is just thinking wishfully.

"We don't know yet what a body can do"… When I learned about what happened to the pfiesteria piscicida (http://www.newsobserver.com/102/story/531575.html)--a dinoflaggellate (marine plankton) that had existed for 300 million years living peacefully side-by-side with fish but that suddenly became a superpredator, evolving a mechanism for killing entire populations of fish by attacking them with a neurotoxin that is so strong it can kill a human, when farmers began dumping pig manure off the shores of the Carolinas feeding it the necessary nutrients--I realized exactly what that meant.

Mr. Tea
01-08-2009, 05:26 PM
I recently heard a talk by a religious philosopher whose theory was that religion can't be denied because with all the evil in the world, if we are able to maintain any kind of optimism - that is, to not go and hide under a rock - it must be because of some innate sense of higher purpose that has been placed there by, you guessed it, God.

Trust a "religious philosopher" to miss something a biologist (or anyone with the merest sprinkling of a scientific worldview) would have spotted straight away: people who hide under rocks don't tend to get laid very much. A certain level of optimism must be hard-wired into us (or most of us, anyway) from a purely survival-and-reproduction point of view.

nomadthethird
02-08-2009, 02:04 AM
A certain level of optimism must be hard-wired into us (or most of us, anyway) from a purely survival-and-reproduction point of view.

Don't you mean intelligently designed into us?

Never forget that you are "fearfully and wonderfully made"--to fester and rot in some hell hole of competing bacteria and killing machines.

poetix
02-08-2009, 02:13 AM
For nature is one with rapine, a harm no preacher can heal;
The Mayfly is torn by the swallow, the sparrow spear’d by the shrike,
And the whole little wood where I sit is a world of plunder and prey.

We are puppets, Man in his pride, and Beauty fair in her flower;
Do we move ourselves, or are moved by an unseen hand at a game
That pushes us off from the board, and others ever succeed?
Ah yet, we cannot be kind to each other here for an hour;
We whisper, and hint, and chuckle, and grin at a brother’s shame;
However we brave it out, we men are a little breed.

(from Maud, by Tennyson)

poetix
02-08-2009, 02:13 AM
(who, incidentally, coined the phrase "nature red in tooth and claw")

zhao
02-08-2009, 07:53 AM
our inherent connection and bond with a spiritual realm inextricable from everyday life was lost around 10 - 20,000 years ago, with the rise of the shamen, and from there our craving for that connection has been more and more effectively and efficiently exploited for power and control, convolution upon miserable convolution, deceit upon deceit, until today's bottomless confusion and utter disarray. and we


fester and rot in some hell hole of competing bacteria and killing machines,

unable to even remember life before slavery, save for a very few true practitioners within maggot infested religious traditions who still carry with them, through the ravages of history, a shadow of that bond; and a very few transcendent moments in our "art", which are all but pathetic attempts to capture a sliver of that ecstatic original grace which filled us and surrounded us.

swears
02-08-2009, 05:26 PM
Yeah, I mean before capitalism, humans could fly and had pyschic powers and shit. Then some cigar-chomping, top-hat wearing bastards took this beautiful, pure, childlike, innocent way of life away and enslaved our minds forever. I mean, there's no actually evidence for any of this, but ideas like "evidence" and "reason" really get in the way of saying any old bollocks you decided to believe in on a whim because it made you feel better or seemed pretty cool at the time.

zhao
02-08-2009, 05:50 PM
Yeah, I mean before capitalism, humans could fly and had pyschic powers and shit. Then some cigar-chomping, top-hat wearing bastards took this beautiful, pure, childlike, innocent way of life away and enslaved our minds forever. I mean, there's no actually evidence for any of this, but ideas like "evidence" and "reason" really get in the way of saying any old bollocks you decided to believe in on a whim because it made you feel better or seemed pretty cool at the time.

swears, you misquote, flippantly distort, and ridicule. your kind of ignorance is banal and common place.

and as is to be expected of the ignorant, the way you engage with different points of view is "you are full of shit", instead of trying to move the conversation into a mutually beneficial and interesting place.

swears
02-08-2009, 05:55 PM
Every time I've tried to do that, you've made some smug-arsed post about how you just know there is a special spiritual plane of existence and ideas like truth and evidence are for brainwashed squares. So what's the point?

zhao
02-08-2009, 05:56 PM
and i suspect many on here will jump in to attack my version of the story of human spirituality.

not interested in engaging with you at all as i don't have the time for 20 page discussions at the moment, like i did in the past.

i've said what i have to say, albeit in a tiny nut shell, think what you want.

zhao
02-08-2009, 05:59 PM
Every time I've tried to do that, you've made some smug-arsed post about how you just know there is a special spiritual plane of existence and ideas like truth and evidence are for brainwashed squares. So what's the point?

that's bullshit.

there is no point what so ever in talking to adamantly closed minds who are decidedly antagonistic from the get go.

so i am not going to exchanging another word with you on this topic after this post.

nomadthethird
02-08-2009, 10:47 PM
Zhao's post-Edenic "fallen" worldview here is a sort of new age reappropriation of a whole bunch of religious beliefs. You could call it religion stew.

It's fine if he believes this of course--and I suppose I can see the appeal of drawing together the common threads of religions from all sorts of times, cultures and geographic regions over dogmatically following just one-- but as of yet there's no evidence for the fact that the world was once a spiritual utopia that was lost approx 10,000 years ago (although that fits in with the Gilgamesh/Eden/Atlantis myth pretty well), and much more for the fact that life was actually pretty difficult back then just like it is now.

On both extremes of the political spectrum, there seems to be a tendency to point back to a utopian past that we've lost touch with, that we desperately need to find our way back to. With conservatives, this usually takes the form of "the family", rigid gender roles, the superiority/authority of men and the natural "submission" of women to their betters, rigid top-down hierarchical structures of political power, and maintaining "pure" "racial" bloodlines. With leftists, this takes the form of a belief in a primordial past where humans existed in a deeper harmony with nature, a time before "technology" ruined our beautiful harmonic connection with the natural order, an innocent natural state where people all got along and there was no such thing as misogyny, misandry, jealousy, murder, rape, incest, when the earth was still "pure" and everyone simply danced around the maypole smoking empathogens and loving one another.

Neither of these utopian pasts existed, of course, at least not exactly as these groups wish they did.

If someone put a gun to my head and said I had to choose, I'd prefer the leftist view to the conservative. But both views, at their radical extremes, if you examine them closely, are similarly limited by an obsession with regaining a lost (and false) "authenticity", a version of "pre-mediated" nature that never existed, an idea of "natural order" that has nothing to do with biology, and ultimately, a pathological preoccupation with hygiene and purity.

nomadthethird
02-08-2009, 10:58 PM
That was Frank Zappa's big lobbying point: tax the churches & the businesses owned by the churches.

In the American new athiest community, people sign correspondences with "Tax Religion," instead of "Sincerely yours,"...

If those stripmall astrologers have to pay taxes, the rest of the sky-readers should. It's only fair.

Mr. Tea
03-08-2009, 01:25 AM
Any ideology that emphasise the primacy of 'purity' - be it spiritual, racial, physiological, sexual or class purity - should be treated with extreme suspicion, if not outright hostility. To be human is to be impure. Who was it who said "We are born between piss and shit"? One of the classical philosophers, anyway. As nomad likes to point out, the basic biological processes that power our bodies are more or less the same as those that power bacteria. Even the Bible recognises this: "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust" - from mud we arose, and into mud we return.

On a related note, one of my housemates planted some Asiatic lilies in our garden that came up a month or so ago. They managed to flower despite a concerted attack by some little red bugs that are apparently called lily beetles, and eat nothing but lilies. So the plants were soon covered in these maggot-like larvae, which all had a mysterious brown coating. I looked them up online and found that the larvae of this species cover themselves in their own faeces in an attempt to put off predators - however, it's a complete evolutionary fail as it merely acts as a scent signal to various specious of parasitic wasps, which home in on the larvae and lay their eggs in them. Parasitism by wasps accounts for fatality rates of up to 90&#37; among lily beetle larvae.
I mention this because it quite neatly sums up nature in three words: shit, parasites and death. :D So much for pre-lapsarian nirvana...

nomadthethird
03-08-2009, 01:38 AM
On a related note, one of my housemates planted some Asiatic lilies in our garden that came up a month or so ago. They managed to flower despite a concerted attack by some little red bugs that are apparently called lily beetles, and eat nothing but lilies. So the plants were soon covered in these maggot-like larvae, which all had a mysterious brown coating. I looked them up online and found that the larvae of this species cover themselves in their own faeces in an attempt to put off predators - however, it's a complete evolutionary fail as it merely acts as a scent signal to various specious of parasitic wasps, which home in on the larvae and lay their eggs in them. Parasitism by wasps accounts for fatality rates of up to 90% among lily beetle larvae.
I mention this because it quite neatly sums up nature in three words: shit, parasites and death. :D So much for pre-lapsarian nirvana...

Also a perfect example of a maladaptive evolutionary trait, which evolution-deniers will often demand as proof that evolution is real.

padraig (u.s.)
03-08-2009, 01:51 AM
shit, parasites and death...

...is the greatest grindcore band name ever (well, except F**k God In the Face, that's pretty good as well). it's also the title of the best existentialist novel that no chain-smoking angst-ridden Frenchman ever wrote.

zhao
03-08-2009, 05:07 AM
Zhao's post-Edenic "fallen" worldview here is a sort of new age reappropriation of a whole bunch of religious beliefs. You could call it religion stew.

as of yet there's no evidence for the fact that the world was once a spiritual utopia that was lost approx 10,000 years ago, and much more for the fact that life was actually pretty difficult back then just like it is now.

a version of "pre-mediated" nature that never existed, an idea of "natural order" that has nothing to do with biology

well, nevermind that the version of the story i endorse fits the accounts of every ancient culture on earth, but let us see what science tells us, from Jarred Diamond, Professor of Geography and Physiology at UCLA:


To science we owe dramatic changes in our smug self-image... Now archaeology is demolishing another sacred belief: that human history over the past million years has been a long tale of progress. In particular, recent discoveries suggest that the adoption of agriculture, supposedly our most decisive step toward a better life, was in many ways a catastrophe from which we have never recovered. With agriculture came the gross social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism, that curse our existence.


While the case for the progressivist view seems overwhelming, it’s hard to prove. How do you show that the lives of people 10,000 years ago got better when they abandoned hunting and gathering for farming? Until recently, archaeologists had to resort to indirect tests, whose results (surprisingly) failed to support the progressivist view. Here’s one example of an indirect test: Are twentieth century hunter-gatherers really worse off than farmers? Scattered throughout the world, several dozen groups of so-called primitive people, like the Kalahari bushmen, continue to support themselves that way. It turns out that these people have plenty of leisure time, sleep a good deal, and work less hard than their farming neighbors. For instance, the average time devoted each week to obtaining food is only 12 to 19 hours for one group of Bushmen, 14 hours or less for the Hadza nomads of Tanzania.


Besides malnutrition, starvation, and epidemic diseases, farming helped bring another curse upon humanity: deep class divisions. ...

Farming may have encouraged inequality between the sexes, as well.


with the advent of agriculture an elite became better off, but most people became worse off. Instead of swallowing the progressivist party line that we chose agriculture because it was good for us, we must ask how we got trapped by it despite its pitfalls.

Archaeologists studying the rise of farming have reconstructed a crucial stage at which we made the worst mistake in human history. Forced to choose between limiting population or trying to increase food production, we chose the latter and ended up with starvation, warfare, and tyranny. Hunter-gatherers practiced the most successful and longest-lasting life style in human history. In contrast, we’re still struggling with the mess into which agriculture has tumbled us, and it’s unclear whether we can solve it.




Suppose that an archaeologist who had visited from outer space were trying to explain human history to his fellow spacelings. He might illustrate the results of his digs by a 24-hour clock on which one hour represents 100,000 years of real past time. If the history of the human race began at midnight, then we would now be almost at the end of our first day. We lived as hunter-gatherers for nearly the whole of that day, from midnight through dawn, noon, and sunset. Finally, at 11:54 p. m. we adopted agriculture. As our second midnight approaches, will the plight of famine-stricken peasants gradually spread to engulf us all? Or will we somehow achieve those seductive blessings that we imagine behind agriculture’s glittering facade, and that have so far eluded us?

complete article here (http://www.awok.org/worst-mistake/)

this is only one paper from one scientist... there are lots of other studies which have reached the same conclusions.

CHAOTROPIC
03-08-2009, 12:55 PM
So much for pre-lapsarian nirvana...

You mean, before Nevermind? :D

Mr. Tea
03-08-2009, 01:46 PM
You mean, before Nevermind? :D

Arf, very good!

zhao
03-08-2009, 02:57 PM
some who have been around might wince at me posting the same article which i've posted before. but i do this because many around here time and again refuse to consider or even acknowledge these scientific findings, presumably because this information contradicts their own calcified notions.

and these people repeatedly hurl insults and mockery in my direction (see Swears previous page), and accuse me of "believing what ever feels good, with no regard to evidence (or the lack of)".

people will not see what they don't want to see, this much we know. but i always think that there is hope...

Mr. Tea
03-08-2009, 03:51 PM
Zhao, if agriculture is such a maladaptive cultural meme, why do nearly all cultures on Earth practise it today? Consider a hypothetical group of people, Tribe A, that have started farming in the neolithic Middle East. Imagine yourself a member of a neighbouring group, Tribe B, which still subsists on herding domesticated animals, hunting game and foraging for fruit, seeds, tubers, birds' eggs and so on. Would you look at Tribe A, with their oppressive centralised authority, hierarchical religion, ingrained sexism and days filled with back-breaking labour instead of endless leisure time, and think to yourself "Sounds great, sign me up!"?

Or is the argument that Tribe A would have invaded Tribe B's territory and either killed them off or enslaved them and gradually assimilated them? But it seems to me that the fit, strong, well-fed B-ites would have delivered a righteous arse-kicking to the malnourished, diseased, demoralised A-ites - wouldn't they?

zhao
03-08-2009, 04:05 PM
Zhao, if agriculture is such a maladaptive cultural meme, why do nearly all cultures on Earth practise it today?

many have answers to that question. here is Jarred Diamond's, from the article above:


As population densities of hunter-gatherers slowly rose at the end of the ice ages, bands had to choose between feeding more mouths by taking the first steps toward agriculture, or else finding ways to limit growth. Some bands chose the former solution, unable to anticipate the evils of farming, and seduced by the transient abundance they enjoyed until population growth caught up with increased food production. Such bands outbred and then drove off or killed the bands that chose to remain hunter-gatherers, because a hundred malnourished farmers can still outfight one healthy hunter. It’s not that hunter-gatherers abandoned their life style, but that those sensible enough not to abandon it were forced out of all areas except the ones farmers didn’t want.

and:


The evidence suggests that the Indians at Dickson Mounds, like many other primitive peoples, took up farming not by choice but from necessity in order to feed their constantly growing numbers. “I don’t think most hunter-gatherers farmed until they had to, and when they switched to farming they traded quality for quantity,” says Mark Cohen of the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, co-editor with Armelagos, of one of the seminal books in the field, Paleopathology at the Origins of Agriculture. “When I first started making that argument ten years ago, not many people agreed with me. Now it’s become a respectable, albeit controversial, side of the debate.”

zhao
03-08-2009, 04:41 PM
just goes to show that some of the antagonistic individuals who have engaged with this topic, and argued against me, for a long time, have never bothered, and even today refuse to read the scientific material that i bring.

"this Eden shit is all hippie new age non-sense", they seem to have decided from the get go, and will go to any length to avoid considering the possibility that the progressive view of history, which they are obviously emotionally invested in, might be entirely false.

swears
03-08-2009, 05:15 PM
unable to even remember life before slavery, save for a very few true practitioners within maggot infested religious traditions who still carry with them, through the ravages of history, a shadow of that bond; and a very few transcendent moments in our "art", which are all but pathetic attempts to capture a sliver of that ecstatic original grace which filled us and surrounded us.

OK, so even if we accept that hunter-gatherers had more food and generally easier lives than their agriculture-practicing descendants, how does that equate to "ecstatic original grace which filled us and surrounded us"? Did the berries they ate contain MDMA or something?

zhao
03-08-2009, 05:43 PM
OK, so even if we accept that hunter-gatherers had more food and generally easier lives than their agriculture-practicing descendants, how does that equate to "ecstatic original grace which filled us and surrounded us"? Did the berries they ate contain MDMA or something?

there are a lot of studies about the lifestyle of currently (2009) surviving gatherer-hunter groups, about the "original affluence" which they still exhibit today, and their decentralized spirituality. there are also a lot of literature which theorizes pre-ritual, pre-heirarchy spiritual practices.

from the data we have, it doesn't take much extrapolation to imagine a pre-centralized spirituality - before "God" went from inside us and all around us to outside and above us, before equal access to "God" became concentrated in a few individuals who had (or claimed to have) more access to the spirit realm than others, before the concept of "God" itself.

consider the role music plays in our lives compared to those in traditional cultures. very, very different:


the minute music and dance were separated out of everyday life and forced into the split between work and leisure, and forced into the weekend, then something changed.

in traditional cultures music is an inextricable part of the fabric of everyday life, you live it, you breath it; it is not spectacle, it is not commodity, it is not entertainment.

in many similar ways this is what happened to spirituality with the advent of first shamens, and then the church -- spirituality became further and further divorced from the experience of everyday life, taken away from "the masses" to concentrate in the elite, and increasingly used as a means of domination and control.

but of course it is difficult or impossible for us to imagine the FEELING of un-alienated and decentralized spirituality...

swears
03-08-2009, 05:59 PM
from the data we have, it doesn't take much extrapolation to imagine a pre-centralized spirituality

Data from 10000 years ago? Hmmm...

zhao
03-08-2009, 06:06 PM
Data from 10000 years ago? Hmmm...

no. data from currently (2009, today) functioning, gatherer-hunter groups who miraculously preserved more or less the same pre-hierarchical lifestyle as 10 or 20,000 years ago.

and data from historical accounts and and spiritual teachings of all cultures - from the Australian aboriginals to the Aztecs, from ancient China to Rastafarianism - without exception ALL traditions of the world describe an "original grace" from which we have fallen.

swears
03-08-2009, 06:14 PM
Religious traditions rely on prelapsarian themes because it's a neat way of selling themselves. People are suckers for ideas of purity and essentialism. Maybe it's a back to the womb thing.

swears
03-08-2009, 06:16 PM
no. data from currently (2009, today) functioning, gatherer-hunter groups who miraculously preserved more or less the same pre-hierarchical lifestyle as 10 or 20,000 years ago.


Besides, how do we define these people's experience as "ecstatic grace"? It's too wooly.

3 Body No Problem
03-08-2009, 07:23 PM
and data from historical accounts and and spiritual teachings of all cultures - from the Australian aboriginals to the Aztecs, from ancient China to Rastafarianism - without exception ALL traditions of the world describe an "original grace" from which we have fallen.

They are idealising their childhoods!

scottdisco
03-08-2009, 07:33 PM
well, nevermind that the version of the story i endorse fits the accounts of every ancient culture on earth, but let us see what science tells us, from Jarred Diamond, Professor of Geography and Physiology at UCLA:

complete article here (http://www.awok.org/worst-mistake/)

this is only one paper from one scientist... there are lots of other studies which have reached the same conclusions.

Zhao could you post some more of these sorts of studies please? i am asking you as i wouldn't know where to begin looking but you seem to have your finger on the pulse of this sort of thing.
thanks.

nomadthethird
03-08-2009, 07:40 PM
I actually agree with Zhao that it might be prudent if impracticable for humans to return to a sustainable pre-agrarian lifestyle, but I don't understand what hunter-gatherer lifestyles have to do with a spiritual utopia, necessarily.

nomadthethird
03-08-2009, 07:45 PM
To science we owe dramatic changes in our smug self-image... Now archaeology is demolishing another sacred belief: that human history over the past million years has been a long tale of progress. In particular, recent discoveries suggest that the adoption of agriculture, supposedly our most decisive step toward a better life, was in many ways a catastrophe from which we have never recovered. With agriculture came the gross social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism, that curse our existence.


But who thinks history has anything to do with "progress"? Certainly no present-day scientist does. Scientists don't really deal in "history" as such, more in "evolution", which is about change over time, but not necessarily progress.

The notion that human history was a tale of progress was more of a German Idealist ur-modernist belief. There were politically fabricated psuedosciences that touted "proof" for this, and some of the earliest evolutionary theorists seemed to support this notion, but mostly because they were appeasing the Christians who would have burned them at the stake for being heretics if they didn't cloak their theories in the language of God's perfect "plan" for nature.

nomadthethird
03-08-2009, 07:53 PM
Zhao, if agriculture is such a maladaptive cultural meme, why do nearly all cultures on Earth practise it today? Consider a hypothetical group of people, Tribe A, that have started farming in the neolithic Middle East. Imagine yourself a member of a neighbouring group, Tribe B, which still subsists on herding domesticated animals, hunting game and foraging for fruit, seeds, tubers, birds' eggs and so on. Would you look at Tribe A, with their oppressive centralised authority, hierarchical religion, ingrained sexism and days filled with back-breaking labour instead of endless leisure time, and think to yourself "Sounds great, sign me up!"?

Or is the argument that Tribe A would have invaded Tribe B's territory and either killed them off or enslaved them and gradually assimilated them? But it seems to me that the fit, strong, well-fed B-ites would have delivered a righteous arse-kicking to the malnourished, diseased, demoralised A-ites - wouldn't they?

This is a good point, but it's a point about how one tribe turning agricultural would have necessitated widescale transition... I've heard it explained that agriculture developed alongside certain 'maladaptive' (my choice of word) traits in humans like bigger frontal lobes and enhanced cognitive capacity for certain types of abstract thinking. So middle eastern tribes came up with the idea of how to irrigate and such accidentally, but it happened to be at a good time because the river basins had just flooded and ruined our hunting grounds. Just one of those things: a couple of things happened in one place at one time and caused a chain reaction.

Mr. Tea
03-08-2009, 08:36 PM
Not just one place, but several. Even if you count the Levant, the Nile valley and Mesopotamia as one 'region', there are several other spots in the world where agriculture arose spontaneously: the Indus valley, China and at least one place, possibly several places, in the Americas. Indigenous people even practise agri/horticulture in Papua New Guinea, independently (AFAIK) of its having been introduced by any outside group.

Zhao has mentioned several times that the problem of a lack of food - which is really the most basic problem any animal can face, other than predation and disease - has two possible solutions: either find (or make) more food, or limit the size of the population. Agriculture allowed a big increase in available food supplies, at the expense (or so the theory goes) of the many freedoms enjoyed by pre-agricultural societies. Among groups that didn't go down this route, the options are fairly stark: infanticide, dangerous natural abortificants or voluntary celibacy (the latter being particularly tricky, given the well-known tendency of humans to enjoy fucking).

But the thing is, technology has - in the very recent past - enabled people to control their own fertility without having to strangle newborns, risk their own lives or avoid sex altogether. Hence the population of the developed world is more or less stable, even declining in some countries. Almost all of the global population increase is occurring in developing countries, where increases in infant survival rates and overall life expectancy are coupled with traditional large families. Of course you can't blame any one couple for having lots of kids because in countries with no welfare state this is necessary to ensure there's someone around to look after you when you're too old to work. But there is now a humane and workable solution to the food/population dilemma. The problem remains how to implement it in parts of the world that are still plagued by severe poverty, oppressive governments, war and a rapidly changing climate.

nomadthethird
03-08-2009, 09:41 PM
Not just one place, but several. Even if you count the Levant, the Nile valley and Mesopotamia as one 'region', there are several other spots in the world where agriculture arose spontaneously: the Indus valley, China and at least one place, possibly several places, in the Americas. Indigenous people even practise agri/horticulture in Papua New Guinea, independently (AFAIK) of its having been introduced by any outside group.

Cool...I wonder why...


Zhao has mentioned several times that the problem of a lack of food - which is really the most basic problem any animal can face, other than predation and disease - has two possible solutions: either find (or make) more food, or limit the size of the population. Agriculture allowed a big increase in available food supplies, at the expense (or so the theory goes) of the many freedoms enjoyed by pre-agricultural societies. Among groups that didn't go down this route, the options are fairly stark: infanticide, dangerous natural abortificants or voluntary celibacy (the latter being particularly tricky, given the well-known tendency of humans to enjoy fucking).

But the thing is, technology has - in the very recent past - enabled people to control their own fertility without having to strangle newborns, risk their own lives or avoid sex altogether. Hence the population of the developed world is more or less stable, even declining in some countries. Almost all of the global population increase is occurring in developing countries, where increases in infant survival rates and overall life expectancy are coupled with traditional large families. Of course you can't blame any one couple for having lots of kids because in countries with no welfare state this is necessary to ensure there's someone around to look after you when you're too old to work. But there is now a humane and workable solution to the food/population dilemma. The problem remains how to implement it in parts of the world that are still plagued by severe poverty, oppressive governments, war and a rapidly changing climate.

Good points.

padraig (u.s.)
03-08-2009, 10:11 PM
Indigenous people even practise agri/horticulture in Papua New Guinea, independently (AFAIK) of its having been introduced by any outside group.

point of process - it's a kind of selective, slash & burn that is more akin to hunting/gathering than traditional agriculture. or a mix of the two - I think the main point is that the way they live, or lived, was much closer to h/g. the larger point & other examples still hold.


But there is now a humane and workable solution to the food/population dilemma. The problem remains how to implement it in parts of the world that are still plagued by severe poverty, oppressive governments, war and a rapidly changing climate.

easier said than done, for one, tho that goes w/o saying I guess.

there's 2 larger issues tho, one clearer than the other. first - those same technologies are built on a way of life that is, if not certainly, then very likely unsustainable. I don't just mean those birth control technologies themselves, but the entire infrastructure - transport, production, fuel, etc etc - they are a part of. so that adaptation, from agriculture onward, is only a "good" one if it works out in the long run. which is very much up in the air obv.

the less clearer one is standard of living. I think it's pretty well established that h/g generally don't live an awful, "red in tooth & claw" life as might be imagined by modern people, tho I'm also wary of the tendency to over-romanticize them, which some strands of thinking (i.e., big chunks of primitivism) tend to do pretty badly. still, it seems they did considerably less work & had correspondingly more leisure time. obv the amt of work one does isn't the only measure of standard of living, which is why this point isn't clear, it depends what you define as a "better life".

padraig (u.s.)
03-08-2009, 10:18 PM
I actually agree with Zhao that it might be prudent if impracticable for humans to return to a sustainable pre-agrarian lifestyle, but I don't understand what hunter-gatherer lifestyles have to do with a spiritual utopia, necessarily.

oh & this, definitely. certainly I imagine that people viewed the world in much different spiritual terms prior to agriculture & civilization tho I think it's fairly ridiculous to make it out as a utopia. which is a civilized concept anyway.

also re: impracticability - well, very vaguely, what I & most people whose thinking on this I know envision more of a fusion of more sustainable things w/what we have now. have to build on what you have, take the good, toss out the bad (which is also evolution in a nutshell, right?). which will happen naturally anyway, I think the idea is to make the transition as painless as possible. unfortunately I very much doubt that will happen & it will be more like one day suburbanites & retirees in Phoenix wake up to find there's no more electricity for AC & no more water.

zhao
04-08-2009, 11:35 AM
i never said "utopia". what i said is a sense of connectedness which was lost. of course even defining it, giving it a name: "spirituality", as one aspect of life separate from other compartments, is a modern concept, invented after the drastic transformation of human life on earth.

look at the lifestyle of the surviving gatherer-hunters, it is an egalitarian, communal existence without private property or permanent leadership, equality between the sexes, more leisure time than us, zero starvation, etc, etc, etc. and it is accepted in anthropology that this is how us humans have lived for most, 90% or more, of our time spent on earth, until recently division of labor, the invention of slavery, centralized power, permanent leadership, ritual, religion etc, etc -- when "spirituality" and "art" were TAKEN OUT of the context of everyday life, and became specialized spheres of experience governed and controlled by the elite.

and during this process the original connection to each other, to one self, to the world, to a nameless divinity which was inside us and all around us, the original grace, was lost.

vimothy
04-08-2009, 11:58 AM
Apropos Malthus and human development (from Clark's A Farewell to Alms):

The Sixteen-Page Economic History of the World (http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s8461.pdf) -- Greg Clark

Mr. Tea
04-08-2009, 03:16 PM
look at the lifestyle of the surviving gatherer-hunters, it is an egalitarian, communal existence without private property or permanent leadership, equality between the sexes...

Again, a very selective reading of 'surviving hunter-gatherers': you've taken the Dobe to be representative of all pre-agricultural people still existing, and extrapolated back to assume that this was the norm throughout all societies in the distant past.

Have you heard of these guys? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yanomami

and in particular: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yanomami#Violence

OK, so they practice a kind of transient cultivation, but padraig argues that this is in practice closer to a pure h/g lifestyle than to traditional Old World agriculture. And I've mention before now the abundant evidence for violence and even cannibalism in Europe dating back to the Palaeolithic. Which may have been a response to a deteriorating climate, of course - different climates and terrain types lead to different cultures living in them, of course. A place where there's ample food for the taking all year round is going to lead to the development of a very different culture from one where starvation is a constant threat.

zhao
04-08-2009, 05:51 PM
Again, a very selective reading of 'surviving hunter-gatherers': you've taken the Dobe to be representative of all pre-agricultural people still existing, and extrapolated back to assume that this was the norm throughout all societies in the distant past.

no not just the Dobe. again from the Jarred Diamond article you apparently still refuse to read:


Are twentieth century hunter-gatherers really worse off than farmers? Scattered throughout the world, several dozen groups of so-called primitive people, like the Kalahari bushmen, continue to support themselves that way. It turns out that these people have plenty of leisure time, sleep a good deal, and work less hard than their farming neighbors. For instance, the average time devoted each week to obtaining food is only 12 to 19 hours for one group of Bushmen, 14 hours or less for the Hadza nomads of Tanzania.



Have you heard of these guys? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yanomami

and in particular: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yanomami#Violence

these are not band level, nomadic gatherers and hunters.

these are tribe level horticulturalists who live in villages, with hierarchies and division of labor.

and as such, they do not exemplify the primary lifestyle of our ancestors.

it is not my personal belief, because i smoke too much weed and am prone to idealism, but commonly accepted in the field of Anthropology, that the band level gatherer/hunter is the primary form of social organization practiced by human beings for most of history. a lifestyle characterized by egalitarianism, equality, etc.


Suppose that an archaeologist who had visited from outer space were trying to explain human history to his fellow spacelings. He might illustrate the results of his digs by a 24-hour clock on which one hour represents 100,000 years of real past time. If the history of the human race began at midnight, then we would now be almost at the end of our first day. We lived as hunter-gatherers for nearly the whole of that day, from midnight through dawn, noon, and sunset. Finally, at 11:54 p. m. we adopted agriculture.

nomadthethird
04-08-2009, 07:40 PM
look at the lifestyle of the surviving gatherer-hunters, it is an egalitarian, communal existence without private property or permanent leadership, equality between the sexes,

Sorry to call this one out, too, but saying that a "gatherer-hunter" lifestyle somehow equates to equality between the sexes is kind of rich considering the fact that most of our secondary sex characteristics and the distinct traits that we attribute to the biological sexes evolved in part because of the strict gender roles assigned to gatherers and hunters during the first hundred thousand years or more of human evolution.*

People who talk about the "equality" of the sexes in this sort of "band" society I think miss the point of what the modern movement toward feminism, gay rights, or sexual liberty is about. As far as I'm concerned, being given no choice but to spend your life pushing out children on some steppe for the good of the band or tribe isn't really "equality", it's just a really convenient evolutionary mechanism for social cohesion.



and during this process the original connection to each other, to one self, to the world, to a nameless divinity which was inside us and all around us, the original grace, was lost.

As much as I think Diamond makes good points, I don't think he even hints at this being the case. This is something new age philosophers or spiritualists have extrapolated from his work, or misappropriated from it.

*When I say human here I mean homo sapien, so the first hundred thousand years of homo sapien evolution.

nomadthethird
04-08-2009, 08:00 PM
Here's a program I just saw on TV last night about Eden. The last half of the second part is the interesting stuff about ice age, floods, and lost hunter-gatherer lifestyles:

Part 1 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEcBCwhGVDw)

Part 2 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-5Fmi-lDKY)

zhao
04-08-2009, 09:39 PM
Sorry to call this one out, too, but saying that a "gatherer-hunter" lifestyle somehow equates to equality between the sexes is kind of rich

relative, relative to our modern society.




As much as I think Diamond makes good points, I don't think he even hints at this being the case. This is something new age philosophers or spiritualists have extrapolated from his work, or misappropriated from it.

nor did i as much as insinuate that he did.

you can be as derisive as you like, because you are invested in a materialist, anti-spiritual world view (the hostility and condescension is clear in your words), but taking into account this (Diamond's and others') version of the story of our ancestors, this "original sense of connectedness" does not require much extrapolation.

it is not Diamond's field, so i'm not sure if i can find any quotes of him talking about the evolution of spirituality before and after the dawn of agriculture, but i am certain that he would agree with the general gist of what i have been saying.

zhao
04-08-2009, 09:55 PM
oh wow wow wow! :D

Jarred Diamond lecture on yootoob: The Evolution of Religions (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=th7CFye03gQ)

i just found it and have not watched yet... let's see what he has to say...

nomadthethird
04-08-2009, 10:13 PM
you can be as derisive as you like, because you are invested in a materialist, anti-spiritual world view (the hostility and condescension is clear in your words), but taking into account this (Diamond's and others') version of the story of our ancestors, this "original sense of connectedness" does not require much extrapolation.

it is not Diamond's field, so i'm not sure if i can find any quotes of him talking about the evolution of spirituality before and after the dawn of agriculture, but i am certain that he would agree with the general gist of what i have been saying.


I'm really not trying to be derisive, I was just wondering why you were equating certain ideas with Diamond's that's all. But you're right. I don't believe in spirits. If/when someone can show me one, I'll believe in them. Until then, no dice.

zhao
04-08-2009, 11:01 PM
I'm really not trying to be derisive, I was just wondering why you were equating certain ideas with Diamond's that's all. But you're right. I don't believe in spirits. If/when someone can show me one, I'll believe in them. Until then, no dice.

um... right. spirituality = belief in ghosts. :slanted:

you are not trying but the way you use the words "spiritualists" or "new age philosophers" clearly convey hostility.

the diamond lecture on the evolution of religion regretably is only concerned with the most recent 10,000 years, i.e. post agriculture, the earliest examples being tribal society of new guinee. it's too bad that he does not address the pre-agricultural lifestyle.

watching the Q and A now and just wishing someone would ask about pre-history... damn these UCLA students ask some stupid ass questions. "why is it so difficult to objectively look at religions?", "I'm a jew, and the old testament quotes you used don't reflect the judaism that i practice" shut the fuck up you dumb shits!!!

zhao
05-08-2009, 12:06 AM
some interesting stuff about the role of the sexes from wiki on paleolithic era:


Anthropologists have typically assumed that in Paleolithic societies, women were responsible for gathering wild plants and firewood, and men were responsible for hunting and scavenging dead animals.[6][11][20] However, analogies to existent hunter-gatherer societies such as the Hadza people and the Australian aborigines suggest that the sexual division of labor in the Paleolithic was relatively flexible. Men may have participated in gathering plants, firewood and insects, and women may have procured small game animals for consumption and assisted men in driving herds of large game animals (such as woolly mammoths and deer) off cliffs.[11][56] Additionally, recent research by anthropologist and archaeologist Steven Kuhn from the University of Arizona shows that this division of labor did not exist prior to the Upper Paleolithic and was invented relatively recently in human pre-history.[63][64] Sexual division of labor may have been developed to allow humans to acquire food and other resources more efficiently.[64] Possibly there was approximate parity between men and women during the Middle and Upper Paleolithic, and that period may have been the most gender-equal time in human history.[20][50][55][65][66][67] Archeological evidence from art and funerary rituals indicates that a number of individual women enjoyed seemingly high status in their communities,[66] and it is likely that both sexes participated in decision making.[50] The earliest known Paleolithic shaman (c. 30 000 BP) was female.[68] Jared Diamond suggests that the status of women declined with the adoption of agriculture because women in farming societies typically have more pregnancies and are expected to do more demanding work than women in hunter-gatherer societies.[69] Like most contemporary hunter-gatherer societies, Paleolithic and the Mesolithic groups probably followed mostly matrilineal and ambilineal descent patterns; patrilineal decent patterns were probably rarer than in the following Neolithic period.[28][70]

this certainly paints a picture in which women have had an increasingly more difficult time as the subject of exploitation and slavery, since the advent of civilization.

there is a chapter on paleolithic religion but it's not very much to do with our conversation...

zhao
05-08-2009, 12:26 AM
from: Before the Fall (http://www.newdawnmagazine.com/Article/Before_the_Fall_Evidence_for_a_Golden_Age.html) By Steve Taylor


…”Many of the world’s cultures have myths that refer to an earlier time when life was much easier, and human beings were less materialistic and lived in harmony with nature and each other. In ancient Greece and Rome this was known as the Golden Age; in China it was the Age of Perfect Virtue, in India it was the Krita Yuga (Perfect Age); while the Judeo-Christian tradition has the story of the garden of Eden. These myths tell us that, either as a result of a long degeneration or a sudden and dramatic “Fall,” something “went wrong.” Life became much more difficult and full of suffering, and human nature became more corrupt. In Taoist terms, whereas the earliest human beings followed the Way of Heaven and were a part of the natural harmony of the Universe, later human beings became separated from the Tao, and became selfish and calculating. Many of these myths make clear references to the hunter-gatherer way of life – for example, the Greek historian Hesiod states that during the Golden Age “the fruitful earth bore [human beings] abundant fruit without stint,” while the early Indian text the Vaya Purana states that early human beings “frequented the mountains and seas, and did not dwell in houses” (i.e. they lived a non-sedentary way of life). The garden of Eden story suggests this too. Originally Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge, until they were forced to leave the garden and forced to “work hard and sweat to make the soil produce anything.” It appears that, at least in part, these myths are a kind of “folk memory” of the pre-agricultural way of life. The agricultural peoples who worked harder and longer, had shorter life spans and suffered from a lot more health problems must have looked at the old hunter-gatherer way of life as a kind of paradise.”…

Mr. Tea
05-08-2009, 12:26 AM
um... right. spirituality = belief in ghosts. :slanted:

Don't put words in other people's mouths. Nomad didn't say "ghosts", she said "spirits".

Which really brings us to the crux of the matter, and something that's bothered me for some time. What, exactly, do we mean by the words "spiritual" and "spirituality"? Is it meaningful to be spiritual without, at some level, believing in spirits?

Now I don't have a problem with the use of the word in the sense of calling Detroit the 'spiritual home' of techno, or Isaac Newton the 'spiritual father' of modern physics, because in this sense the word can be taken to be used in a metaphorical or figurative sense. But to call yourself a 'spiritual' person, or to say that some group of people have a 'spiritual' connection (especially in contrast to other societies that have allegedly lost that 'connection') - what does that mean, exactly?

The way I see it, it's not really meaningful to call yourself a 'spiritual' person without believing in something like a spirit or spirits - be it a God or gods of some kind, the Tao, the Buddha, the Holy Ghost, Brahman, whatever. Otherwise, what possible meaning can the word have? 'Ghosts', in the strict sense of the unquiet souls of the dead, have nothing to do with it.



damn these UCLA students ask some stupid ass questions. "why is it so difficult to objectively look at religions?"

Less difficult for atheists than for Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, yadda yadda... (or, indeed, New Age pantheists of whatever stripe).

luka
05-08-2009, 12:58 AM
mr tea are you a robot? with nomad its just typical teenage awkwardness. but you are actually serious.

swears
05-08-2009, 01:12 AM
Robots are cooler than ghosts. Not as cool as werewolves or lizard-people, though.

nomadthethird
05-08-2009, 01:20 AM
Now I don't have a problem with the use of the word in the sense of calling Detroit the 'spiritual home' of techno, or Isaac Newton the 'spiritual father' of modern physics, because in this sense the word can be taken to be used in a metaphorical or figurative sense. But to call yourself a 'spiritual' person, or to say that some group of people have a 'spiritual' connection (especially in contrast to other societies that have allegedly lost that 'connection') - what does that mean, exactly?

The way I see it, it's not really meaningful to call yourself a 'spiritual' person without believing in something like a spirit or spirits - be it a God or gods of some kind, the Tao, the Buddha, the Holy Ghost, Brahman, whatever. Otherwise, what possible meaning can the word have? 'Ghosts', in the strict sense of the unquiet souls of the dead, have nothing to do with it.

I agree with this.

Luka, go make someone a coffee for minimum wage and blow me.

Mr. Tea
05-08-2009, 01:23 AM
Robots are cooler than ghosts. Not as cool as werewolves or lizard-people, though.

Hmm, yeah, OK. Where do ninjas fit into the coolness hierarchy?

Mr. Tea
05-08-2009, 01:26 AM
mr tea are you a robot? with nomad its just typical teenage awkwardness. but you are actually serious.

No I'm Mark from Peep Show, remember?

Or was it swears that said that? Never mind.

nomadthethird
05-08-2009, 01:31 AM
No I'm Mark from Peep Show, remember?

Or was it swears that said that? Never mind.

That's a great film, one of Hitchcock's favorites. I just rewatched it last week. Then I reread Virilio's The Vision Machine and Mulvey's Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema. Then I read about gene regulatory networks and the Cambrian explosion. Just for to expand my headspace.

J/k. That shit is for herbs!

Why would you want to learn about things? Really, it's so much better to be stuck in an 8th grader's idea of being one of the "cool kids" for the rest of your life...that's how I pick all of the music I like, everything I watch, and wear...basically my entire identity...and my career...yeaahh...

swears
05-08-2009, 01:47 AM
Not that Peep Show...

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

Rather harsh on Mr Tea really, I was projecting, obviously.

Mr. Tea
05-08-2009, 01:50 AM
"I can't have an affair! I'm not French! I'm the least French man on the planet! The only cheeses I eat are Cheddar and Red Leicester..."

Great stuff.

nomadthethird
05-08-2009, 01:51 AM
Not that Peep Show...

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

Rather harsh on Mr Tea really, I was projecting, obviously.

Haha, ok that makes more sense*. I really should've wondered why you were comparing Mr Tea to a serial killer. It's just both have "Mark" in them, too.

("possibly bi, but basically un-curious." hahaha)

*plus the movie is Peeping Tom not Peep Show, I was confused

scottdisco
05-08-2009, 02:02 AM
anyone that eats black pudding and drinks cask ale cannot be a robot.

Mr. Tea
05-08-2009, 02:09 AM
anyone that eats black pudding and drinks cask ale cannot be a robot.

:)

(Or maybe that just demonstrates that I'm an incredibly advanced model? :cool:)

scottdisco
05-08-2009, 02:11 AM
i suppose you could be a humanoid cylon :slanted:

but some of them are alright, so :D

although i don't like the Dean Stockwell ones very much :eek:

we'll overlook this in return for you and massrock not re-upping the ill-starred 'scottdisco may be a spy' thing that got up and running on the cops thread.. ;)

Mr. Tea
05-08-2009, 02:21 AM
Fair do's.

Bed time for me I think.

zhao
05-08-2009, 04:53 AM
Which really brings us to the crux of the matter, and something that's bothered me for some time. What, exactly, do we mean by the words "spiritual" and "spirituality"? Is it meaningful to be spiritual without, at some level, believing in spirits?

The way I see it, it's not really meaningful to call yourself a 'spiritual' person without believing in something like a spirit or spirits

yes one can be a spiritual person, and immerse oneself in spiritual practices, and develop oneself spiritually and reach ever greater heights of knowledge, understanding, awareness, and sensation, without believing in any "thing" "super natural", such as "God" or ghosts.

i personally would define spiritual experiences as those which transcend the confines of one's individual being, in a connection to the universe. it's a feeling of elatedness, a "high" of sorts, where you feel you are not so alone, but indeed a part of every being that has ever lived, everything that has ever been. a feeling that the world is inside you, and you are inseparable from it.

you can have a flash of this feeling listening to a rock song, but it will not last long. or you can work on yourself to expand that fleeting moment you experienced while high on drugs, listening to your favorite band, and make it last a lifetime.

that's about as nutshell as anyone can probably get, as ludicrous as it is, in explaining things which have taken up a million pages, practices which a thousand generations of seers have devoted their lives to, in terms people of your cultural background might be able to absorb, even if just a little bit, in a couple of paragraphs on an internet forum.

LOL LOL LOL

nomadthethird
05-08-2009, 05:54 AM
Zhao, there are a million ways to think about the interrelatedness of all things, or about energy flows, and rationalist or scientific explanations aren't exactly inimical to this sort thinking. In fact, some of the greatest thinkers about that "oceanic feeling" were cosmologists and psychoanalysts, even some modernists among them.

So I'm sick of the lazy binaries and dichotomies in this thread where it's "us" versus "them", and the scientists are just a bunch of no-fun, hungup, socially inept, unfeeling "robots" whereas all of you fun-loving, sophisticated, Rico Suave hippies have it all bagged up...speaking of stunted high school immaturity, that's about the height of it right there.

zhao
05-08-2009, 08:02 AM
Zhao, there are a million ways to think about the interrelatedness of all things, or about energy flows, and rationalist or scientific explanations aren't exactly inimical to this sort thinking. In fact, some of the greatest thinkers about that "oceanic feeling" were cosmologists and psychoanalysts, even some modernists among them.

So I'm sick of the lazy binaries and dichotomies in this thread where it's "us" versus "them", and the scientists are just a bunch of no-fun, hungup, socially inept, unfeeling "robots" whereas all of you fun-loving, sophisticated, Rico Suave hippies have it all bagged up...speaking of stunted high school immaturity, that's about the height of it right there.

hey now luv, i'm completely, 3000&#37; with you there! advanced physics describes the inter-connectedness of all things, so does many ancient spiritual teachings! away with bullshit dichotomies!

but did i in this thread, or anywhere else, ever use us-and-them language and say scientists are robots? no! i believe it is you who are consistantly, repeatedly condescending and dismissive towards "spiritualists", "new age philosophers", and "hippies"!

scottdisco
05-08-2009, 10:17 AM
well, nevermind that the version of the story i endorse fits the accounts of every ancient culture on earth, but let us see what science tells us, from Jarred Diamond, Professor of Geography and Physiology at UCLA:

complete article here (http://www.awok.org/worst-mistake/)

this is only one paper from one scientist... there are lots of other studies which have reached the same conclusions.

could you post some stuff from other studies please Zhao? i see Jarred Diamond gets mentioned quite a bit and i know you've recently mentioned Steve Taylor once, but if you've got links to other academic papers that'd be great.

cheers.

apologies if i've missed references buried in the thread- it's quite a long one!

zhao
05-08-2009, 11:17 AM
could you post some stuff from other studies please Zhao? i see Jarred Diamond gets mentioned quite a bit and i know you've recently mentioned Steve Taylor once, but if you've got links to other academic papers that'd be great.

cheers.

apologies if i've missed references buried in the thread- it's quite a long one!

i'm no expert! i've read stuff here and there, some authors' names i don't remember! just learning as i go along just like you! so no links at the ready, sorry...

edit: there was that chapter about the Dobe (http://dissensus.com/showthread.php?t=7121&highlight=worst+mistake) in case you missed it.

vimothy
05-08-2009, 11:20 AM
You could check the references in the (two?) papers already posted.

Mr. Tea
05-08-2009, 05:16 PM
yes one can be a spiritual person, and immerse oneself in spiritual practices, and develop oneself spiritually and reach ever greater heights of knowledge, understanding, awareness, and sensation, without believing in any "thing" "super natural", such as "God" or ghosts.

OK, then it sounds more like we're disagreeing over semantics more than anything of substance. Your definition of 'spirituality' seems to be more or less a combination of being interested in lots of different things, having a view of the world that might very loosely be described as 'philosophical' (esp. with regards to looking for underlying connections between things, rather than fixating on outward differences) and having the emotional sensitivity to appreciate art at a level deeper than simple entertainment or decoration.

I've expanded a lot on what you've said in a few words above, but is that a more or less fair extrapolation? Because in that case, what do you know, I'm pretty 'spiritual' myself!* And so, I should think, are most people who aren't irredeemably shallow idiots. But I still wouldn't describe myself as 'spiritual', according to how the word sounds and feels to me, because in my experience people use it connote a belief in a 'spiritual' realm of existence (that is actually, objectively there, as opposed to being a metaphor for certain states of human experience) - and so we're back to 'spirits' of some sort or another.



i personally would define spiritual experiences as those which transcend the confines of one's individual being, in a connection to the universe. it's a feeling of elatedness, a "high" of sorts, where you feel you are not so alone, but indeed a part of every being that has ever lived, everything that has ever been. a feeling that the world is inside you, and you are inseparable from it.

you can have a flash of this feeling listening to a rock song, but it will not last long. or you can work on yourself to expand that fleeting moment you experienced while high on drugs, listening to your favorite band, and make it last a lifetime.

There are undoubtedly all sorts of unusual ecstatic states you can get yourself into, via various external and internal stimuli. I've experience it myself, and I'm sure most people have at some point - in fact I'd feel pretty sorry for anyone who hasn't. Hell, as cheesy as it sounds I've had goosebump moments solving quantum mechanics problems while listening to AFX's 'Analogue Bubblebath'. As you mention, it can be brought on by all kinds of things; drugs, music, art, meditation - and I'd add sex, extremes of physical experience or endurance, philosophical or mathematical inquiry and even humour. Let's not forget that the Zen scripture of mediaeval China and Japan is full of accounts of monks attaining satori as a result of unexpected moments of profound hilarity. So yeah, there are obviously many routes to that direct experience, unmediated by words or concepts.

Now I'm perfectly happy to accept that ancient religions have a great deal of truth encoded in them about human psychology and sociology, and even deep metaphysical ideas about ethics and ontology. Because of the very nature of these ideas, they are generally encrypted in the form of myths and parables; the trouble starts when people mistake these for literal truths.



*Despite your rather nasty aspersions about "people of [my] cultural background" - yes, I'm a product of the decadent, post-religious West, but you're the one with (as you've described them yourself, in as many words) a couple of emotionally-stunted automata for parents, right?

nomadthethird
05-08-2009, 06:53 PM
Everyone who's been on this board for any amount of time knows how into "the experience" I am (and Mr. Tea is, and so forth), so if that's all spirituality means, ok--most people are spiritual. Even if it just means something like "mindfulness" in the Buddhist sense, I think most people have no problem with this, either.

The problems arise when someone decides that everyone who studies science (or anything, really) is just doing so because they're victims of some kind of mind-control. I'm just brainwashed, that's why I don't ascribe to new age mysticism. If we were all "right", we'd believe just as you do. Am I getting this right now, Zhao? This is what you seemed to be saying earlier in the thread, and in so many others.

scottdisco
06-08-2009, 09:33 PM
Hell, as cheesy as it sounds I've had goosebump moments solving quantum mechanics problems while listening to AFX's 'Analogue Bubblebath'. As you mention, it can be brought on by all kinds of things; drugs, music, art, meditation - and I'd add sex, extremes of physical experience or endurance, philosophical or mathematical inquiry and even humour.

this is beautiful Tea. really, really deeply touching. actually to continue OT but the other week i'd been on it (in terms of - don't ask but - an awful lot of alcohol, little sleep or healthy food etc for several days etc) and for about half an hour wandering round Battersea felt something very strangely epiphanic/Zen (OK as extremes of physical experience go it's hardly a marathon, climbing Denali or being badly beaten but hey)

nomadthethird
06-08-2009, 11:09 PM
@Mr. Tea

A now semi-legendary quote from PZ Myers of Pharyngula blog, on the "courtier's reply":

I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor's boots, nor does he give a moment's consideration to Bellini's masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor's Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor's raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk. Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.

See also: Blake's Law (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blake%27s_Law#Blake.27s_Law).

scottdisco
06-08-2009, 11:39 PM
it will surprise nobody to learn that that specious fuckwit Madeleine Bunting at the Guardian is often guilty of losing arguments in the spirit (no pun intended) of Blake's Law, as it were

zhao
07-08-2009, 09:03 PM
if that's all spirituality means, ok--most people are spiritual.

i think the sense of connection and transcendence has been calcified or repressed in a lot / most people, who are tuck in the finite and isolated sphere of their egos, unable to empathize and motivated by selfishness.

i stand behind the broad definition of the "spritual experience", which i believe can happen at a techno party or a sunny day at the park. and i believe is accessible to all.

but to cultivate one self to have more access to this sphere of experience, to be more receptive, aware, conscious and alert, to be more "in the moment", and "awake", one needs to stop dulling one's sensitivity, and clouding one's mind with all kinds of noise, and immerse in some kind of "spiritual practice", which are very specific disciplines.

can be simple as 1 hour of meditation a day, where you try to let go of quotidian worries and thoughts which clutter the mind, watching them drift by like clouds, and regain control of your own being.

this has to do with defense against psychic vampires, and it has to do with resisting mind control from external forces, be it capitalism or whatever.

not that i'm very good at all this mind you...

nomadthethird
07-08-2009, 10:42 PM
I like the idea of casting off the layers of representation, or at least trying to, and I'm into a couple of hinduistical principles about the regenerative powers of erotic energy. I think you can make things better for yourself, or even make a new self, by focusing really hard. Not easy, but it can happen.


i think the sense of connection and transcendence has been calcified or repressed in a lot / most people, who are tuck in the finite and isolated sphere of their egos, unable to empathize and motivated by selfishness.


But you're losing me again...don't really know what 'transcendence' means here, although I have some idea why religious people tend to trot out the term. What you're saying seems nice, and appealing enough, but vague to the point where I'm tempted to say that figuring out what you're actually after would be like nailing jello to the wall; anytime I ask for specifics, the goalposts will mysteriously shift out of reach, so why bother?

This is what religion or other forms nebulous "spirituality" excel at--making an argument for the realm "outside" of understanding that you're supposed to access through understanding nonetheless--usually of some holy book or set of rituals. But if anyone asks, there's no way to really put how or why this works this into words, or to explain what it means...except to other true believers. You just feel it. And if you don't "feel" it intuitively, you're wrong. Or a heathen. Or a victim of mind-control. Etc.

zhao
08-08-2009, 06:50 AM
by transcendence i mean getting past the boundaries of the self, which is an illusion, and feeling the self as part of the patterns of energy of the universe, as part of everything that has ever been, inseparable. hopefully that's specific enough?

swears
17-08-2009, 04:22 PM
Disgusting. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/16/us/16gospel.html?_r=1)

Mr. Tea
17-08-2009, 07:01 PM
Disgusting. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/16/us/16gospel.html?_r=1)


“God knows where the money is, and he knows how to get the money to you,” preached Mrs. Copeland, dressed in a crisp pants ensemble like those worn by C.E.O.’s.

Pants made of crisps. These Christians are crazy!

nomadthethird
17-08-2009, 07:11 PM
Fleecing retirees for Jeebus, the Christian specialty.

zhao
17-08-2009, 09:46 PM
http://www.farleftside.com/misc/misc2009/tah-dah.jpg

Mr. Tea
17-08-2009, 11:49 PM
Now THAT'S magic.

Edit: everyone needs to see this...

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nomadthethird
01-09-2009, 04:14 AM
Now THAT'S magic.

Edit: everyone needs to see this...

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This must have come out around the time Tron did, or you know, appropriately late and slightly off-trend like most religious pop cultural stuff does. I love how fundamentalists like to feel in the loop, too, but they can't allow themselves to watch icky "secular" movies with questionable themes like virtual reality in them with the rest of us. So they rewrite the script to make it holier and just keep the cool grafix. And haircuts.

They're nuts if they think they can top this, tho:

http://www.iwatchstuff.com/2007/09/11/tron-guy-remake.jpg

pajbre
01-09-2009, 04:19 AM
um, wow. when i was 12 i was more or less handed off to/kidnapped by my extended family, most of whom are southern baptists of the snake-handling, tongue-speaking variety, and that day they were taking part in a large christian booksellers convention. guess who was forced to dress up in the FULL FOAM COSTUME as bibleman and made to walk around the convention center? yup, me.

nomadthethird
01-09-2009, 05:48 AM
um, wow. when i was 12 i was more or less handed off to/kidnapped by my extended family, most of whom are southern baptists of the snake-handling, tongue-speaking variety, and that day they were taking part in a large christian booksellers convention. guess who was forced to dress up in the FULL FOAM COSTUME as bibleman and made to walk around the convention center? yup, me.

Ooooh southern baptists! They make the women wear like old timey prairie clothes and stuff. There was this girl I liked when I was 13 or so who went to a baptist church, so I would go to her youth group and bible drill with her.

After a couple of years of this awesome fun, Jesus sent a tractor trailer careening into her car door at 50 miles per hour and she shattered just about every bone in her body and sustained a massive brain injury. She survived and pretended to remember who I was but I knew she didn't. She also had random fits of rage from the head injury. And a wheelchair and neckbrace.

droid
01-09-2009, 11:42 AM
Bibleman is waaaaaayyyy newer than tron, nearly 2 decades. Its more power rangers inspired than anything else.

Not that this in any way subtracts from its awesomeness.

Mr. Tea
01-09-2009, 12:23 PM
Bibleman is waaaaaayyyy newer than tron, nearly 2 decades. Its more power rangers inspired than anything else.

Not that this in any way subtracts from its awesomeness.

Yes, I think it's a recent/current thing. Power-and-Glory Rangers, perhaps?

droid
01-09-2009, 12:41 PM
1996 according to wiki... sporadic episodes until 2000 or so when it hit its stride.

swears
01-09-2009, 01:17 PM
We never got anything as good as Bibleman at my Catholic primary. We got some unitentionally hilarious VHS tape of Brian Blessed playing some apostle or other, bellowing "WHY GOD?! WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?!?" I remember being one of the last in the canteen one lunchtime and shouting "WHY WAS I TOO LATE TO GET A CHOCOLATE MOUSSE AND NOW I HAVE TO HAVE AN ORANGE INSTEAD?!?! WHY GOD... WHY?!? OH THE HUMANITY!!" before being bollocked by the headmaster.

nomadthethird
01-09-2009, 02:39 PM
Wait...are you guys saying that Bibleman was actually on TV in your country? In 2000, no less?

Holy. shit.

Over here you'd definitely have to get something like that on direct-to-DVD at Walmart.

Mr. Tea
01-09-2009, 03:43 PM
Wait...are you guys saying that Bibleman was actually on TV in your country? In 2000, no less?


Oh sweet Jesus no (ahem) - droid said he'd looked it up on Wikipedia.

I can't imagine that show being aired in any other country than the US of A to be honest. It's the brand of Christianity that starts to make Catholicism look sane and reasonable by contrast, FFS.

nomadthethird
01-09-2009, 09:36 PM
Oh sweet Jesus no (ahem) - droid said he'd looked it up on Wikipedia.


Ok I didn't think so. But it was never even a TV series here (never heard of it till just now) it's just one of those weird cult VHS thingies, I think.

Although CBN has some pretty amazing programming.

padraig (u.s.)
01-09-2009, 11:41 PM
most of whom are southern baptists of the snake-handling, tongue-speaking variety

an old friend of mine was a child preacher growing up in the middle of nowhere in West Virginia. he was tapped as a prodigy when he was like 5 or 6. dunno about the snakes but definitely tongue-speaking & all that. when I knew him he'd become a full on anarchopunk dude, no gods no masters & all that, but for laughs he used to best out into a full-on hellfire & brimstone sermon every once in awhile like at party or something. it used to spook the hell out of people who'd never seen it before. I reckon a lot of it was just public speaking tricks - projecting & pitching your voice, facial expressions & body language, etc. - but damned if it wasn't captivating all the same.

nomadthethird
08-09-2009, 03:08 PM
Lulz (http://www.venganza.org/)

swears
09-09-2009, 05:33 PM
"That's your truth..." has become a running gag with me and my friends. Useful when anyone says something that's obviously bullshit or a bit mental.

Mr. Tea
10-09-2009, 12:59 PM
As much as I appreciate FSM humour, I am slightly disturbed by how much His Holy Noodliness resembles a pair of testes, complete with epididymis...

nomadthethird
10-09-2009, 09:30 PM
As much as I appreciate FSM humour, I am slightly disturbed by how much His Holy Noodliness resembles a pair of testes, complete with epididymis...

Yes, that is a reference to how His Holiness has bigger balls than Yahweh (http://www.venganza.org/about/).


The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, while having existed in secrecy for hundreds of years, only recently came into the mainstream when this letter was published in May 2005.

With millions, if not thousands, of devout worshippers, the Church of the FSM is widely considered a legitimate religion, even by its opponents – mostly fundamentalist Christians, who have accepted that our God has larger balls than theirs.

Some claim that the church is purely a thought experiment, satire, illustrating that Intelligent Design is not science, but rather a pseudoscience manufactured by Christians to push Creationism into public schools. These people are mistaken. The Church of FSM is real, totally legit, and backed by hard science. Anything that comes across as humor or satire is purely coincidental.