Is God in Our Genes?

It seems that we have something like a sweet tooth for religion. And the question is why. Why are we so eager for the particular rituals and the particular behaviors … why do they appeal to us so much? … Our sweet tooth for religions is one of the most important and influential factors in the world today. If we don’t understand it, we’re cruising to trouble in this 21st century.

Daniel Dennett on Open Source

Philosopher Daniel Dennett — a proud atheist in the mold of zoologist Richard Dawkins — wants to understand why religion has such a powerful hold on people. And as a believer in the gospel of Darwin, he looks to evolution to explain why our minds and our culture are gripped by God.

So this hour we want to ask — and try to answer, from a variety of perspectives — are we hardwired (i.e., did we evolve) to believe in God? If so, does that prove that God exists? Or doesn’t exist? If we do have a kind of “God gene,” why did our minds evolve that way? Did belief in the supernatural confer some kind of adaptive advantage? At the individual level? At the group level? Or is belief in God a specific byproduct of our brain’s more general ability to make imaginative leaps? Or did God guide our evolution and, in doing so, make it easy for us to have faith?

What questions do you have?

Guest List
Daniel Dennett
professor of philosophy at Tufts University, director, Center for Cognitive Studies, Tufts University, and author, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.
Michael Murray
professor of philosophy, Franklin and Marshall College, and co-editor, Philosophy of Religion: The Big Questions.
David Sloan Wilson
evolutionary biologist at SUNY Binghamton, and author of Darwin's Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society
Gawain de Leeuw
Episcopal priest and blogger at The Salty Vicar.

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  • I have commented on this issue before. Myself, I lean toward the idea that religion is a byproduct of various cognitive biases. But, we have to distinguish various aspects of religion, that is, basal supernaturalism vs. institutionalized religion. Functionalist/adaptive explanations are aimed toward the latter, but the cognitive byproduct is more relevant for the former. Many of your questions are more pointed when you clarify what you mean by religion: it seems ridiculous to assert that we have a “Christianity gene,” but one can posit functionalist reasons why Christians outbred pagans in the Roman Empire (as Rod Stark has). Similarly, it seems rather dicey to posit a functionalist/adaptive reason why we see “faces in clouds” (agency detection hyperactivity) since it seems likely that this emerges as a more generalized pattern recognition system we evolved for other reasons.

    In specific response to your questions: are we hardwired to believe in God? I think the majority of humans do have a cognitive bias toward supernaturalism, but there is variation, and some people probably don’t have a tendency toward accept supernatural explanations (I think I’m one). But none of this speaks to the question of whether God exists outside of the context of your other axioms. If you are an unbeliever this shows how religion is just a natural phenomenon, if you are a believer it might show that God inscribed in your mind (via Design) a program for His belief.

  • mdhatter

    I do not think there would be a ‘god gene’, so much as a ‘sceptic gene’.

  • Potter

    We could be hardwired to believe in God but that does not necessarily mean that God exists. It proves nothing. The concept of God exists. That we know. “Does God exist through us (only)?” is another way to ask the question.

    Can we know if God exists?

    Perhaps we are wired to look for cause and effect in order to survive. This leads to existential questions and gods/God or the concept of gods/God. That might answer the question why id our minds evolve that way.

    Belief in gods or God confers calm in the face of fear and anxiety from the forces of nature (including animals and other humans). If a mind is calm, not fearful, there is advantage; one can think more clearly, intelligently. This would also work well on the group level.

    • Brian

      Suppose we are hardwired to believe in God. Can you truly ask that question and not follow through with the obvious? I hardwired my computer to my modem. It may not prove that I exist but unless there is a reasonable explanation that could show it could hardwire it self, it is good evidence that someone, something with a design or purpose exists outside of the computers existance. In other words, if being hardwired to believe in God is the fingerprint of God, there is a good chance that he would be found guilty as charged.

  • cheesechowmain

    “So this hour we want to ask — and try to answer, from a variety of perspectives — are we hardwired (i.e., did we evolve) to believe in God?”

    This is a reasonable and legitimate statement of the question. However, and I am sincerely trying to avoid pedantic games here, the question does assume a preconditioned framework and model based upon what can be described as a rationalist, scientific worldview. To illustrate, one may ask “Why did God(s) hardwire us?” “Why does Maya reveal a darwinan model or quantum mechanics, etc?” There are many other flavors and combinations. And I’m not trying to irritate. Moreover, I’d rather put this out there without giving in to my preconditioning, but that may not be possible.

    The reason I’m pointing this out: proponents of a scientific worldview and a spiritual worldview often (not always) end up talking past each other because the underlying assumptions and frameworks are fairly distant and vastly different. The discussions that ensue rarely close the gap. Perhaps it can’t be closed. I honestly don’t know.

    Are our questions worldview-sensitive as to the answers that are found? Does context create the answer for: Why does a person(s) adopt the beliefs they adopt? How do they change over time? How do they become more brittle over time? Can they become more flexible? What is the role of internal/external factors. Etc. I believe there used to be legitimate discussions about angels.

    If memory serves, I think James Burke has described this process as something akin to wandering around a dark house with a flashlight. You tend to find what the tool illuminates. It doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find interesting things. But, you may never be able to see the whole enchilada. Which is not to suspend the effort, it’s to try to cool the discourse.

    Finally, I sort of think science and religion focus on completely different qualitative questions. There is some overlap. Both have informed each other. I’m not sure why there is not more mutual respect. I suspect these fields need each other like two competitive siblings.

    and now, “Waiting for jazzman, nikos, et al.” I am very much looking forward to the discussion and discourse. Best to all.

  • I do not think there would be a ‘god gene’, so much as a ’sceptic gene’.

    hm 🙂 that’s like saying that there is a homosexual gene and not a heterosexual gene.

    Belief in gods or God confers calm in the face of fear and anxiety from the forces of nature (including animals and other humans).

    this sort of introspective musing doesn’t get us far. after all, suicide attacks (muslim and shinto, for example) and mother-theresa-like-behavior are motivated by belief in god too, are these ‘beneficial’?

    However, and I am sincerely trying to avoid pedantic games here, the question does assume a preconditioned framework and model based upon what can be described as a rationalist, scientific worldview.

    well yes, dan dennett is looking for a naturalistic answer. myself, i tend to think that the naturalistic answer is all there is re: religion, but that doesn’t imply that that’s the only answer. some cognitive scientists who study religion from a naturalistic perspective themselves believe in a supernatural god. it isn’t so much as talking past each other as your second point: to some extent is a qualitative difference in what you are exploring. of course, some religionists (“fundamentalists”) challenge science on its own grown and attempt to formulate a deductive counter-paradigm (creationism, intelligent design, etc.).

  • “Is god in our genes?””

    Does it matter?

    The better questions to my mind, “How can we learn to respectfully co-exist with 6 billion different perceptions of what this existence is about?”

    Unless, we’re expecting to use genetic engineering to rid ourselves of the burden of spirituality. WOnder what the world would be like then. Or, we could engineer in the spiritual gene, especially the non-inquisitive, narrow minded one. Now, there’s a vision to strive for.

    Sarcasm aside, what is the purpose of this exercise? What do we hope to achieve that might lead to more peace on the planet? I ask with an open mind. I’m sure that I’m missing something.

  • Nikos

    First, the politesse:

    Thank you ROS for this show, which I have been anticipating for weeks like a kid on his way to Dairy Queen.

    Second, the whining: giving us a mere one-day ‘warm up’ is cruel and unusual punishment!

    So unfair!

    Right. Enough petty whining. Nobody likes or respects whining. 🙂

    I vigorously recommend to everyone Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/067003472X/002-7919812-6315255?v=glance&n=283155 (after linking, scroll down to see reviews).

    It is easily the single most illuminating book I have ever read on the topic of religion and its appeal to the human mind.

    I will however include a ‘disclaimer’ critique in my next post – but for only one relatively minor quibble.

    This post, however, I originally worked up weeks ago, but must now conclude in unanticipated haste. Forgive, please, any inconsistencies or other flaws.

    I hope Mr. Dennett will address the substance of this inquiry on the show. It would be best, however, since the premise of this inquiry is unconventional, if he read the whole of this post before Brendan or Chris poses the question, which I’ll frame as a title:

    Would evolutionary theory be better received if science’s explanatory metaphors weren’t legacies of ancient notions of theistic agency?

    Would it not be more effective and appealing if science used organic (or even musical or astronomical) metaphors instead: because machines are the opposite of life?

    Having read Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, I am aware of Mr. Dennett’s enthusiasm for the descriptiveness of ‘evolutionary engineering’. Yet this metaphoric choice wasn’t made by Mr. Dennett, but by the scientists, like Charles Darwin, of the Industrial Revolution era, and furthered by their followers. (For those unaware of the way metaphor underpins even the most ordinary language, please see Lakoff & Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By http://www.powells.com/biblio/2-0226468011-0 ) Moreover and worse, this metaphoric language is a second-generation hand-me-down from the Biblical story of Genesis, wherein ‘God created life from clay’ – like a potter – a primitive form of ‘engineering’.

    Machines require outside assembly of constructed parts; life is entirely different: it is a ‘parthenogenetic’ environmental transformation – it grows in essence by osmosis: absorbing material energy from without to create, sustain, and replicate itself.

    It is, in a word, organic. Indeed, it seems much more ‘magical’ than ‘machine-like’.

    Evolutionary science’s mechanistic paradigms reduce us all to pistons, lifters, flywheels, and cogs in a ‘godless’ and ‘soulless’ universal machine – and a machine with no apparent purpose. Is it any wonder people abandon belief in evolutionary theory in favor of religion’s unverifiable but millennia-old reassurances and moral castigations?

    Mechanistic metaphors are the worst choice for explaining the inner alchemy and environmentally transformative magic of life.

    To pretend otherwise is not merely a legacy of too damn much orthodoxy, but of an inexcusable failure of imagination.

    You might as well compare a lawn mower to a horse, just because both seem to ‘graze’.

    How much more palatable might lay-people find state-of-the-art evolutionary theory were it explained via organic (or even musical or astronomical) metaphors?

    How many more or fewer ‘Intelligent Design’ battles would we have to fight if we stopped insulting everyone’s intelligence through the implication that we’re nothing but walking chemical soups of mechanistic impulses? And is this not the most glaring example of Daniel Dennett’s ‘greedy reductionism’? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greedy_reductionism

    Human intuition knows better: it rejects such dehumanizing metaphors. Yet we all suffer accidental consequences when those who reject insulting science retreat into the beckoning ‘memetic’ arms of superstition-based belief systems.

    As in: “Science reduces me to a reactive machine inside a walking sack of chemical-water. But Jesus doesn’t.�

    Reason can and should easily win this tug-of-war, but it needs a serious upgrade in the building blocks of its arguments. Evolutionary science ought to elevate and celebrate life, not insult it by framing it within an obsolescing Industrial-Revolution paradigm that implicates it as impulsive, reactive, and stupid.

    That’s how the robber barons of 19th century industry thought of their laborers, for cryin’ out loud.

    I can anticipate at least one possible reaction to this: “Any attempt to replace the long-established mechanistic paradigm with an organic one runs the risk of seeming ‘spiritual’ and therefore will jeopardize its scientific credibility� but this would be a red-herring argument – and another example of orthodox unimaginativeness.

    Public acceptance of evolutionary theory would almost surely increase from an organically reinvigorated—and inherently more accurate—scientific explanation of life; and, Daniel Dennett’s hopes to illuminate the gulf of credibility between the scientific worldview and the religious would benefit profoundly and perhaps permanently were such a paradigm shift to occur.

    Moreover, he is possibly the single most qualified thinker to take on the task.

    Dennett is an already established philosophic voice among scientific circles – he has the necessary credibility.

    His inventive comparison of religion to music in ‘Breaking the Spell’ demonstrates his intellectual depth and diversity.

    And should a revision of paradigm from the mechanistic to the organic prove overly awkward because the metaphor is too close in nature to the concepts compared, perhaps he could at the very least exchange the mechanistic for the musical!

    We’d lose those insufferably degrading machines in favor of angelic choirs and orchestras.

    Who, pray-tell, could argue with that?

    * * *

    This is a brief appendix, including examples of alternative metaphors. Please forgive my inclusion of material I’ve posted in other threads:

    1. It’s worth arguing that ongoing belief in the Biblical God is intuitive – that is, it’s founded on one’s trust in the input from one’s senses.

    To the writers of the Bible, the universe was bounded by blue skies above, which at night shone with random sparkles that earned, via the human propensity for pattern-making, organized constellation-names.

    Similarly, these writers knew, apocryphally perhaps, of volcanoes, and so were able to conceive of an under-world boundary that eventually evolved into the Christian concept of Hell.

    This universe was bounded elsewhere by lands reputedly peopled by incomprehensible races and fantastical creatures. And to the west lay the Sea.

    Such a universe – that sliver of the world perceptible to human senses and embellished only by rumor, legend, and superstition – can easily be explained as the Creation of a Father-Potter-God like Yahweh.

    In a world wherein ‘religious authorities’ (who can’t objectively prove their contact with a god, and so simply prey on people’s credulity) deny the validity of effectively proven science, the credulous of the modern world can fall back onto the ‘small universe’ gleaned through one’s senses – which intuitively jibes with the teachings of ancient religions.

    Is it any wonder that simpler, fundamentalist explanations of human purpose retain their popularity?

    The Bible’s ‘God in Heaven’ (apparently located somewhere above the Holy Land) is of a very much smaller scale than appropriate to the universe’s infinitely stretching network of indestructibly immortal energy.

    The universe perceptible by telescopes, microscopes, and their radio- and electron- using offspring, is a very different animal.

    This universe requires not belief in a potter-God (who in books like ‘Judges’, by the way, tells his favored people to slay, conquer, and enslave others), but in something much more appropriate and rational.

    This universe deserves a less mechanistic, and therefore more intuitively comprehensible and appealing paradigm:

    What if ‘Natural Laws’ were understood instead as ‘natural’ or ‘universal customs’ – behavioral consistencies that stem not from an (implied) authorial lawgiver but are simply the predictable operative patterns of universal forces such as the gravitational, the electromagnetic, and the (twinned) nuclear?

    Doesn’t science, in its seemingly eternal skirmishes with religion, shoot itself in the foot by retaining the implication of a ‘lawgiver’ when instead it could just as easily substitute the notion of ‘custom’ – which carries no such implication of author or arbiter?

    Remember: science doesn’t need to sway scientists, but the lay-folk whose tax-monies fund science!

    Make it convincing, dammit!

    2. Other descriptive metaphoric possibilities that spring to mind might involve explaining evolution’s ‘neutral accidents’, ‘happy accidents’, and ‘fatal accidents’ as ‘melody’, ‘harmony’, and ‘dissonance’ – although I don’t much expect this off-the-cuff notion to pass scrutiny. (I, after all, am not the professional thinker!)

    Next, from Jonathan Marks’s What It Means To Be 98% Chimpanzee:

    ‘The mitochondrion, a subcellular organelle universally known in biology textbooks as “the powerhouse of the cell�, generates metabolic energy for the physiological processes of life.’ (pg.33)

    ‘Powerhouse’ is straight out of the Industrial Revolution lexicon.

    Here’s a small, imperfectly thought-out set of alternative metaphoric descriptive possibilities:

    From astronomy: ‘the sun of the cell’

    From music (1): ‘the drums of the cell’

    From music (2): ‘the (orchestral) conductor of the cell’

    From life: the ‘muscle of the cell’

    Or ‘the musculature of the cell’

    Or ‘the legs of a cell’

    Each of these points to the primacy and function of the mitochondrion, while not reducing-by-implication its subject (life) to constructed or engineered machinery.

    I know with utter certainty this much: if I’m ‘engineered’, then I expect a manufacturer’s recall any minute now.

    Life forms are far too idiosyncratically individual to be ‘engineered’. We are ‘evolved’: accidental experiments of a planet busily using sunlight to recombine its elements into self-aware entities.

    Not ‘artifacts’.

    Moreover, I do not ‘have’ a body. I am this body.

    My body is not the house (or car!) of my consciousness. If anything, my consciousness is my body’s ‘mitochondrion’.

    And the sooner science begins rectifying its inadequate descriptive choices, the sooner we – the whole of humanity – can reasonably evaluate the inappropriate implications and destructive biases of religion.

  • My father was an atheist and my mother is a Christian. Does that mean I got my religion gene from my mother?

    And I did get the religion gene if there is one. In my lifetime I have committed myself to and practiced three different religions not counting peripheral involvement in other religions. I was raised as a Disciple of Christ, have been a founding member of a Pagan Goddess Circle for over 20 years and I am now a Buddhist.

    What I am thinking about regarding this OS thread is how and why I became a Buddhist. It was not a sudden conversion. I’d been interested in Buddhism ever since I read Alan Watts in High School. I’d been going to meditations and teachings at a Buddhist center for years. I’d never felt the need to make it official. But I took refuge, the ritual of actually becoming a Buddhist, shortly after Bush invaded Iraq, not at all what I expected I would do.

    I thought if/when we invaded Iraq I would go down to Seattle and stop traffic or hurl red paint on the steps of the Federal building and stage a die-in. One way or another I expected to fly into action. Instead, I laid on my bed… or my floor… listening to the news in utter despair. The next opportunity I had, I took refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. A wise lama took a snip of my hair and gave me a Buddhist name. Looking at it now in light of the question, are we hardwired for religious engagement, I am examining my own process. I’d tried really hard to stop the war before it started so I was tired. I was depressed. Not only did I feel a desire to be comforted by the teachings and by belonging to a group of likeminded people but I also felt a real need to commit myself to something beyond immediate dilemmas, embrace the insecurities and examine life in a meaningful way. I needed to sit quietly and watch my breath.

    I think I am hardwired for religion. I’m not so sure about anybody else.

  • Sarcasm aside, what is the purpose of this exercise? What do we hope to achieve that might lead to more peace on the planet? I ask with an open mind. I’m sure that I’m missing something.

    to know? isn’t that enough? though seriously, scott atran, who works in this paradigm in regards to religion has spoken of terrorism and how we might approach it taking into account human cognition and social psychology. before you can build a bridge you have to know something about engineering. before you can embark on a program of social engineering you should know something about society.

    and btw, this isn’t sacracism: Or, we could engineer in the spiritual gene, especially the non-inquisitive, narrow minded one. Now, there’s a vision to strive for. it is a caricature of the research program which doesn’t reflect any reality, though it does make for good one-liners to those who haven’t bothered to read dan’s book.

  • My father was an atheist and my mother is a Christian. Does that mean I got my religion gene from my mother?

    talking about a “religion gene” is as accurate as talking about a “height gene.” “religion” is a complex trait, and it is can be better though of as a normal distribution, with most people in the middle tapering off at the extremes, the zealous and the secular. as such it is likely the outcome of a confluence genes, environment and the interaction between the two. a particular genetic background might predispose you to certain outcomes, but expectation is not inevitability. religion is, to use genetic lingo, a quantitative trait, and so it is governed by statistical laws, not deterministic ones.

    let’s get past the overly simple cut-outs, makes for great one-line rhetorical questions, but it allows us to evade the deeply textured aspects of the question on hand.

  • also, i will be frank and contend that getting many (most) religious people to approach their process of belief as a natural phenomenon is as likely as god creating a rock he can not lift: religious people imbue deeply personal ontological significance to what they believe and why they believe. this isn’t normal evo-psych at work here, this is not an exploration of banal universals, it is entering into territory which has motivated people to kill….

  • Nikos: regarding music. I wish I could remeber who said, “Nietche killed God. Duke Ellington brought God back to life”.

  • Nikos

    Despite the thought-provoking excellence and counter-conventional brilliance of Daniel Dennett’s Breaking The Spell, and, as a fellow atheist (at least by Judeo-Christian-Islamic norms) I urge Mr. Dennett to revise and exclude from future prints and editions his thoughts on page 21:

    “I am a bright. My essay ‘The Bright Stuff’, in the New York Times, July 12, 2003, drew attention to the efforts of some agnostics, atheists, and other adherents of naturalism to coin a new term for us nonbelievers, and the large positive response to this essay, helped persuade me to write this book. There was also a negative response, largely objecting to the term that had been chosen (not by me): bright, which seemed to imply that others were dim or stupid. But the term, modeled on the highly successful hijacking of the ordinary word ‘gay’ by homosexuals, does not have to have that implication. Those who are not gays are not necessarily glum, they’re straight. Those who are not bright are not necessarily dim. They might like to choose a name for themselves. Since, unlike us brights, they believe in the supernatural, perhaps they would like to call themselves supers. It’s a nice word with positive connotations, like gay, and bright, and straight. Some people would not willingly associate with somebody who was openly gay, and others would not willingly read a book by someone who was openly bright…�

    Sadly, this is utter self-sabotage. Despite protestations to the contrary, it is profoundly condescending.

    The putative parallel between ‘gay’ and ‘bright’ is bogus. ‘Gay’, in its original meaning, was an emotional condition available to any and all. Homosexual identification with this word is not insulting to anyone else. (Harmlessly amusing, at worst.)

    Arrogating a time-honored metaphor for ‘intelligent’ is entirely different. ‘Bright’ isn’t a variable human condition: it implies a superior intellect. ‘Intelligence’ is not a condition considered available to any and all. It is associated (rightly or wrongly) with elites.

    It implies that those who choose millennia-old traditional belief in the supernatural are something less than intelligent: it attempts to expropriate ‘intelligence’, intellect, and enlightenment to the irreligious.

    Using it as an identifying label for secularists discredits all secularists – including me – and I, for one, am not at all pleased by this.

    I am in fact insulted and angry that one of the thinkers who champions my cause – and who does so with peerless skill – is so isolated in his ivory tower and surrounded by sycophantic pupils that the profound damage done by this arrogance is lost on him.

    Please, Mr. Dennett: if you must choose a pop-culture name for the non-theistic like you and me, please choose something different.

    And quickly.

    Your wonderful, insightful, and potentially revolutionary book will otherwise likely fail to make the difference you surely hoped it might.

    It deserves better. And so does the enlightened view of the world and nature we both wish to promulgate.

  • “getting many (most) religious people to approach their process of belief as a natural phenomenon is as likely as god creating a rock he can not lift”

    Pagan religions are entierly based on natural phenomina.

  • Plus of course this idea that God is a “he” is relativly recent.

  • Nikos

    Peggy Sue: Alan Watts (who I’d make an honorary Guttersnipe if I could) was the philosopher who, in my less than articulate youth, provided the explanations I needed for my inarticulate discontent with the silly Western-Biblical ‘universe-is-an-artifact’ paradigm.

    The guy is commonly dismissed as a ‘popularizer’ of Eastern thought (which is true) but he was also a genius of metaphoric explanation – and I’m not so sure that his personal takes on his subjects weren’t improvements in very many important ways.

    Alan Watts rocks. Just as hard and good now as he did while alive.

  • Pagan religions are entierly based on natural phenomina.

    two words: dumb generalization. why? “pagan” is a complementary term, it doesn’t define a set of doctrines, it is a negative of what the abrahamic religions are (the christians named the pagans pagans [‘rustic’ from pagani], the pagan philosophers for example called themselves ‘hellenists’ in the 4th century). in other words, paganism includes the entire sample space of beliefs that excludes the small constrained region of judeo-christian-islamic monotheism (conventionally understood).

    Plus of course this idea that God is a “he� is relativly recent.

    at attempt at profundity by using “quotes”? what is this? read a book like theological correctness you will note that “offline” conceptions of god(s) are very different than the air-fairy formulas propounded by theologians. the cognitive model that people have of god(s) is pretty straightforward, a personal agent + plus some superhuman counterintuitive “powers.” a personal agent can have a sex, we don’t need to posit that moses or someone in the court of rehoboam in jerusalem. this isn’t rocket science, it is an extrapolation of human intuitions constrained and biased by our cognitive architecture.

    * john polkinghorne, anglican priest and physicist, has written a few books where he argues in fact that the supernatural non-materialist aspects of christianity are interpolations into the materialist-natural religion of the hebrews by a pagan-philosophical matrix. i don’t buy the either|or aspect of these arguments, but it shows how worthless these generalizations can be. religions aren’t platonic ideals, they are statisical distributions, and words can muddle far more than they clarify when not used judicioulsy.

  • Nikos

    razib: ‘dumb’ is pejorative. Enough so to be hostile.

    I like your stuff. A lot. Please carefully consider your possible, (unintentional?) truculence. I’ve got ambitions to discuss the implications of this thread’s topic with you, but please don’t paint us into a corner.

    For a decade and a half, I too considered myself a ‘pagan’ – not a ‘country-dweller’ – but a nature-reverencer. (NOT WORSHIPPER — that’s a monotheistic conceit, I think.

    Give me time to type up a thoughtful reply, and thank you already for all the great stuff you’ve contributed – not only here but elsewhere, and in spades.

  • if you guys like dan dennett’s book, here’s some other good stuff:

    religion explained, pascal boyer.

    in gods we trust, scott atran.

    why would anyone believe in god, just l. barrett.

    theological incorrectness, d. jason slone.

    mind

    and religion, harvey whitehouse.

    , d.s. slone.

    a theory of religion, rod stark.

    best

  • yeah, sorry about the word dumb 🙂 it’s late. i’ll jump in tomorrow if i have time. if i can’t comment, shout out to dan dennett!

    nikos, for the record, i’m a nominalist in regards to most religious terms and definitions. i don’t think they really “exist” as useful reifications even. but, we are fooled into thinking that they are real categories because people will kill over them. see the homoiousios vs. homoousios controversy for what i mean: i don’t think the two really mean anything, i think they are word games, but people were willing to kill others over it, so we might as well give words their due.

  • ok…before i go to sleep…i will outline something real quick to explain where i’m coming from, because i think my comments were be more intelligible if i don’t back to this thread tomorrow.

    ‘religion’ is a diffuse and very slippery term. it isn’t a platonic ideal that exists somewhere, it is within the heads of human beings. there are multiple dimension of religion.

    1) the cognitive/basal level.

    2) the social/ritualistic level.

    3) the mystical level.

    4) the theological level.

    a generalization for one does not apply to another. for example, i think a lot of the conversations we have are biased toward #4. we talk about ‘monotheism,’ ‘monism,’ ‘pantheism,’ ‘panentheism,’ ‘the trinity.’ what does this mean? i hold that most theology consists of word-games which exhibit the form but not substance of deductive inference. i don’t think terms like ‘the trinity’ really means anything aside from a creed, because cognitive scientists have shown that #1 is what people really “believe” in a deep level, and regardless of whether you aver monistic pantheism or dualistic trinitarianism the mental model you have god(s) is basically the same. that doesn’t mean that people won’t kill each other over outward markers and confessions, but hey, that’s just human.

    when it comes to human variation i think #3 really kicks in, though many humans are mystical, a small minority are highly mystical. neurotheology is exploring this aspect of religion.

    but mysticism is not the sum totality of religion. there are plenty of people in category #2, where they are ‘sunday epsicopalians,’ for whom religion is a social exercise that greases the wheels of the establishment.

    these categories are not exclusive, rather, they nest into each other. #1 is normative and found in all societies. this is where biological evolution might offer insights. #2 is a higher level of complexity, but tends to be found in almost all groups. this is where group selection and what not might kick in (though i’m skeptical of group selection, see richerson and boyd’s recent work). #3 might be found in most medium-to-large societies, but lacking in a prominent fashion in small groups because only a small minority of humans are true mystics who command charismatic followings and small groups do not always harbor this kind of individual. #4 tends to be found in ‘complex’ societies with literate intellectual classes.

    distinguishing between these aspects of ‘religion’ are crucial, i think, to clear and progressive discourse. as a younger atheist i mistakenly believed that #4 was the summum bonum of religion, i learned how to refute all the inductive and deductive ‘proofs’ of god. only later one did i realize that there was something ‘missing’ in my conception of the minds of other human beings. a lot of mental processes are ‘under the hood’ and unelucidated, and fall into category #1. i’m not a group oriented person, so #2 never had much appeal, and #3 is only something i feel the faintest whiff of (a trait which i think i share with most humans).

  • Nikos

    Razib: I fully understand the ‘lateness’ complication! It’s true for me right now, too, which seems to be adding up to a morning finish for my post.

    Let me try this much at least: the show as teased above is at least slightly, if not wholly, misunderstood so far by the bloggers.

    Dennett’s book only in passing considers anything like a ‘god-gene’: it examines the possibility that ‘religion’ is subject to ‘natural selection’ – via the usefulness of its dogma to the believers or proselytizers – as is genetic ‘DNA information.’

    My take (having read the thing) is yes.

    Emphatically yes.

    So, the question isn’t so much whether people are ‘genetically prone’ to religion, but whether religion as a concept and in practice offers enough value to people to evolve like life does: into appropriate niches.

    Again: yes. It does. Like a parasite!

    It’s really a matter of personal taste and choice whether you think this ‘memetic parasite’ healthfully symbiotic or deleteriously malignant.

    Read the book and think it out for yourselves!

    I’ve got much more to say on this, but it’ll be a miracle if it comes before morning.

    Night, all!

  • ok, one last thing, i think the thought of historians of religion like mircea eliade tends to seep into any discussion of religion as an analytic exercise (the tendency to dance around words as if they are what matters is part of this). i think that’s problematic because scholars like eliade fundamentally rejected the naturalistic/reductionistic paradigm.

  • the usefulness of its dogma

    semantics! i don’t think anything like “dogma” existed prior to the rise of pan-ethnic states. i think “dogma” simply represents verbal “face paint,” a way to identify co-citizens. dogma is not what is parasitizing the mind…supernaturalism is, and that is far more diffuse than a narrow dogma. ultimately, i think that supernaturalism does not need dogma because it is so natural.

  • razib: Hokaaaay…. my comment, “Pagan religions are entierly based on natural phenomina” was certainly a generalization but no more a generalization than…. your comment….

    “getting many (most) religious people to approach their process of belief as a natural phenomenon is as likely as god creating a rock he can not lift�

    and certainly not any dumber.

  • Nikos

    razib: your 3:36 AM says to me: “tell him to read the book! What he’s talking about is in there!”

    So, I’m tellin’ ya.

    It’s in there. Read it and tell me what you think.

    I suspect you’ll like it. 🙂

  • and by the way…

    My father was an atheist and my mother is a Christian. Does that mean I got my religion gene from my mother?

    that was a joke…. sheesh

  • was certainly a generalization but no more a generalization than….

    semantics, but you said “entirely” and i said “many (most).” “entirely” implies a platonic ideal or an absolute truth, “many (most”) implies an inductive/probabilistic assertion. whether one assertion or the other was dumber is a matter of opinion.

    nikos, yeah, i’ve read some of it. haven’t had time to finish….

  • re: adaptiveness and fitness. here is my attitude toward religion, at least stipulating religion #1, i suspect that there is no first order fitness benefit. eg., “religion brings calm, calm people are more fit.” or, “religion mitigates fear of death, and so people are less on edge, so more fit.” i don’t think religious belief arises to satisfy any tightly focused existential unease which has negative adaptive impact. rather, i suspect that religion is as natural a byproduct of a well oiled mind as heat is a byproduct of a powerful engine. the cognitive architecture implied by an optimal human mind is easily and naturally parasitized by religious beliefs. it isn’t a premeditated design feature, but the laws of cognitive neuroscience might make its ubiquity inevitable.

  • Potter

    Allison says: “Is god in our genes? Does it matter? The better questions to my mind, “How can we learn to respectfully co-exist with 6 billion different perceptions of what this existence is about?�

    Perhaps if we, at least those of us working on this level, understand the basics underlying the 6 million or so different perceptions, those variations will seem less important than the similarities. There will be more understanding and more compassion. Consequently the walls we erect will perhaps crumble.

    In other words I think this is an attempt at not only self-understanding, but understanding and making sense of the bigger whole of the world ( and universe) around us. We are able avoid each other less and less.

    This too is about survival– survival of the planet and life as we know it.

    That’s why I think we pick away at this.

    Thanks for the question.

    Razib- I am not sure I understand you. My idea is that religion does indeed “mitigate fear of death” and so people are more calm, more able to think clearly and thus more fit. The problem arises when religion becomes so ornate and entrenched and part of the social fabric that it cannot acommodate reason, especially science. Then it works against survival.

    The Dalai Lama is well aware of this.

  • matoko-chan

    frag that “bright” stuff.

    we’re transhumanists.

    but that likely has worse connotations than “brights”.

    “human beings are not souls or spirits but evolved biological beings genetically programmed to survive, reproduce, and self-destruct.”–Young, designer evolution

    religion evolved as a selective advantage.

    when we defeat aging and death, will there still be religion?

  • matoko-chan

    and, of course god is in the genes. like Sir Richard says, religion is parasitic on our natural coding for altruism, kinship promotion, species promotion, care of children, generousity.

    we are programmed to readily believe in the supernatural for a variety of reasons that increase fitness, like Atran and Boyer say.

    It is easier to believe, than to not believe.

  • babu

    Ok. I completely totally sincerely disavow anything remotely religious: the whole deal. Start to finish. I’m not an atheist; that would put me on the spectrum. We’re simply the symbol-makers. god is a word symbol. It’s not a metaphor, it’s just a symbol like any other word, for what we don’t have answers about. Sooner or later there will be answers.

    Once, while I was seeing a Jungian analyst I had a dream in which she invited me to a party at her house. At the party I ran into four other friends and we decided to do a comedy skit, like burlesque. But we started laughing at our own jokes and the dream turned into a shreiking, gasping laughing fit where you’re laughing so hard you can’t breath. On and on, gasping hilarity. I was loving it and then it gor better, way WAY better. Suddenly we all merged into each other and everything else and there was only this overwhelmingly pleasurable silvery one-ness. Think orgasm forever but perfectly still with no body times a thousand. Oh oh it was like nothing else. But almost as soon as I got there it started to break up. Not back to the dream but back in my bed awake. I was gasping for breath and the bed was bouncing against the wall. I HAD been laughing that hard and probably had stopped breathing.

    Ever since Ithat night I’ve been convinced that my rapture–and everyone else’s–is a brain state produced by oxygen deprivation. Like orgasm, it’s an inbred reward for doing something necessary but unpleasant; childbirth and dying.

    When I told my analyst she lit up with an elfin grin and observed; “You know, I’ve always wondered why the Buddhist monks are so jolly, always ready to laugh. I think you just answered my question.

    It’s all just word symbols, in this case signifying nothing. So simple, it’s nothing.

  • matoko-chan

    and razib, i think you could argue that there is a first order fitness benefit on reproduction rate, or number of children per family, for all religions.

    hmmm…didn’t we just talk about that at gnxp?

  • h wally

    I would suggest a good read of any of Joseph Campbells books. It’s my worthless opinion that back in the old days when we were living on a more immediate tribal level, religion was an important part of the tribe. The belief system they had contained all the rules and standards they used to interact with each other and established the boundaries they all lived within. Everything outside those boundaries was other. Of course the god, or gods, they believed in was their god. Look at the old testament. The jews were god’s chosen peoiple. Of course they were, who is going to have a god that is for the other guys. They had a religious leader who was the interpreter and receiver of messages from god. I think a god or religion was useful at that level.

    As life has gotten more complicated and the world filled with more complex thinkers, like those on this sight, religion and thinking about god became more complicated. Madison avenue, 1600 Pennskyvania avenue, found god quite useful, They’ve taken a belief in god and an obiedience to god and converted it to their own purposes. Tie god to your polotical party or product and people will feel an obligation, sometimes a moral obligation to side with you.

    Bush and company understand these principles and this war is, in part, based on those principles. The evil empires are the others ridding the world of them is our god given task. They are a threat to our way of life and very existance. When delivering this message it aleays helps to throw in a healthy dose of biblical sounding words.

    On an individual level I think the idea of a god is comforting to some people. It gives them some way of managing the chaos and helplessness they feel.

  • nother

    Take a look at some of the names we have come up with – Allah, Yahweh, Jehovah, The Holy Trinity, Igzi’abihier, Jah , Ngai, Niskam, Ishvara, Brahman, Baquan , Anami, Purush, Radha, Swami, Radha, Ekam, Bahá, Ahura Mazda, Kisaski

    It goes on and on and on, this site explores them.

    http://www.lowchensaustralia.com/names/gods.htm

  • nother

    If we are “wired” for this, the crazy configuration of our livewires adds up to something shocking indeed! pun intended.

    My alltime favorite God has to be George Burns.

    BTW, the above names came from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/God

  • razib: and btw, this isn’t sacracism: “Or, we could engineer in the spiritual gene, especially the non-inquisitive, narrow minded one. Now, there’s a vision to strive for”. it is a caricature of the research program which doesn’t reflect any reality, though it does make for good one-liners to those who haven’t bothered to read dan’s book.

    Oh, I must admit that I have not read the book and there was not enough lead in to this for me even peruse it. I was being sarcastic. Didn’t realize there was some program that I might be misrepresenting. My apologies if I was disrespectful.

  • h wally

    A book called: “The Masks of God”, also explored the many faces and names of god, gods. One thing I admired about Joseph Campbell , is he sought out the commonality of people, their myths and religions. He showed me that when you refine us down to our basics we have more in common than not, belief systems included. Perhaps if we looked in that direction we could begin to understand and accept other ways of seeing things.

  • loki

    Does God belive Daniel Dennet?

  • Razib: re: adaptiveness and fitness. …. i suspect that religion is as natural a byproduct of a well oiled mind as heat is a byproduct of a powerful engine. the cognitive architecture implied by an optimal human mind is easily and naturally parasitized by religious beliefs. it isn’t a premeditated design feature, but the laws of cognitive neuroscience might make its ubiquity inevitable.

    I’m trying to understand what you’re getting at. The metaphor above doesn’t work for me. Heat is a by-product but does not “parasitize” the engine. Why do you consider the mind parasitized (meaning, the the religious belief is a parasite on the mind?) by religious belief? Parasite has negative connotation- parasites are usually a destructive force to the host. While I can see the destructive force of religion in human history, I think what is not recorded in history is the beneficial force that a vast majority of individuals experience. I don’t think religion is parasitizing, I think self-serving people parasitize other people, using fear to push for religious beliefs that are not truly spiritual. It is fear, not religion that creates the destructivity.

    And since you parse out 4 different aspects of religious belief (that I prefer to call spirituality, but hey, just more semantics), are you referring to all 4 aspects when you speak of parasitizing?

  • Raymond

    OK, I admit it. I,m dim. Dimmer than a 40 Watt bulb in a Walmart warehouse. And so those brights got me confused. Can’t figure out all of the comotion, you know. I mean, I can tell you, we dims don’t take this nearly as seriously as those brights seem to think. Well, not as seriously as we should, anyway. Ask any pastor. True, not true? Genetic, or not? Heck if I know. Anyway, it’s time for lunch.

  • serious lee

    Raymond, I agree with you about one thing. Some of the “brights” seem to just dismiss some of the “dims” comments by ignoring them. They breeze right on by and hope the lessers will go away and quit interrupting them. Not everybody was lucky enough to have the fine education President Bush and some of our loftier neighbors here have. I, for one, would like to apologize for getting in the way.

  • Potter

    Babu- you dream is reminiscent of an LSD trip. Life-altering because you lose your individuality, your ego. They call this an “out of body experience” where you become one with ALL, but unless you have actually had it, it really means little. Good description though, very good.

  • browntown4

    Assuming we believe the bible is inspired of God…the bible says “…that it does not belong to man even to direct his own step.” (Jer. 10:23) To be successful, truly happy we have to rely on the one who made us.

  • serious lee

    Aha, babu, the lack of oxygen, now I understand. They say the lack of oxygen kills brain cells.

  • webcastboy

    Another pubradio show, “The Infinite Mind”, also addressed this “are we hard-wired for ‘God’?” question last fall…there was a real interesting interview with Dr. Michael Persinger, who managed to duplicate the sensation of a divine presence nearby using a electrostatic helmet.

    There’s a realaudio link here, Persinger’s interview is about 34:00 into the show.

    http://www.lcmedia.com/mind406.htm

  • babu

    I’m willing to put money on my speculation that it’s all, including god, oxygen deprivation or the like. Maybe acid grabs or eats the O2 molecules. And meditation definitely lowers breathing; its a part of the practice. Oxygen scarcity.

    If there’s any religious hard-wiring, this is it. Lack of air. We interpret it as divine when it’s just divinely pleasant.

  • Potter

    O2 deprivation may be the key or the trigger, but I don’t know if it’s the whole story. We can’t be discovering anything here- there must be some research on this, or there should be.

    What about whirling dervishes? Are they get O2 deprived as they whirl?

    Do mountain climbers have a religious/God experience as they climb to the higher elevations?

    The latter may not produce a relgious experience.

    Something else must kick in, like an individual’s need or desire. ( Je ne sais quoi)

  • babu: “And meditation definitely lowers breathing; its a part of the practice. Oxygen scarcity”.

    Are you sure? I always thought I was getting more oxygen when meditating because when I’m paying attention to my breath it is slower and each breath is longer and deeper. (is that why my knees hurt and I’m not experiencing orgasmic bliss?)

  • h wally

    What is the sound of one hand clapping Babu. Go beyond reason. Reason, when isolated, can be a dangerous toy.

  • babu

    Here’s another thought: If oxygen IS the trigger, think about what we’re doing to the global oxygen supply with air pollution. ACID rain?

    We’re poisoning ourselves and having an out of body experience at the same time. Poison rapture.

    Oh m’gawd. Try this. What if the rise of air pollution is causing the rise in fundamentalism and terrorism? They’re telling the martyrs they go directly to heaven. I wonder if there’s an appreciable degeneration in air quality around all those oi- producing facilities in the Middle East?

    Where are the highest densities of air pollutin in the U.S.? Wouldn’t I love to see if there’s a correlation between per capita fundamentalists and say

  • h wally

    Babu I just reread your earlier comments. You wrote: “Suddenly we all merged into each other and everything else and there was this overwhelmingly pleasurable silvery one-ness.” That has to be one of the most perfect descriptions of losing your illusion of seperateness and blending back into the oneness that some would call GOD. When you are in REM sleep your body is almost in suspended animation. Your respiration and heart beat slow to the level of just keeping your physical self alive, leaving your spiritual self free to go back into the world it knew before it came here. Your reasonablr mind isn’t receiving much oxygen at this point. Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience with GOD.

  • babu

    SUV’s and Hummers?

    That’s oil-producing facilities, above.

  • Here is a link to a neuroscience article on meditation.

    Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice

    http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/101/46/16369

  • babu

    Peggysue: I think you need a few giggles to get you on your way. I propose we all bring lots of jokes to our ROS meetup in Anacortes on May 7th.

  • serious lee

    Babu is a hindi term for father, it’s also another name for God. Are we just being tested here? Is Babu just Buddha disguised as a jester.

  • babu

    I had seen a summary of that very interesting research previously. Scanning it, there’s no mention of chemistry; it’s all hertz and waves. I’d like to know what the behavior of brain oxygen levels is associated with each of the states?

  • babu

    Come to Anacortes WA on May 7th and find out.

    Nikos and peggysue and I are having a meetup. We set the date and time yesterday in the Convergence thread. It’s a funny read, actually.

  • ok, finished breaking the spell this morning. good review of the literature, though i suggest that people really interested still reading atran or boyer (i don’t know if i recommend stark as much, the guy has too much attitude, while d.s. wilson is kind of hot-air in my opinion).

  • h wally

    Gee serious lee I think “father is ignoring us. I’ll just practise my deep breathing and try to communicate with her on the astral plane.

  • My idea is that religion does indeed “mitigate fear of deathâ€? and so people are more calm, more able to think clearly and thus more fit. The problem arises when religion becomes so ornate and entrenched and part of the social fabric that it cannot acommodate reason, especially science. Then it works against survival.

    assume it does “mitigate fear of death,” does that make you less cautious, ergo, decreasing your fitness? that is, you are calm in the face of situations that should trigger your flight-or-fight response. do i believe this? no, my point is that you can make any story fit from introspection on this level.

    the second point is that prior to the rise of zoroastrianism it does not seem like the afterlife of most religions was something to look forward to. hades is not elysium.

    the last point is that fitness is a net equation. it might have positive benefits x, but if it has negative implications y, and y + x is less than 0, well, it shouldn’t spread, should it?

  • acuman

    We all talk about God (capitalized) as if He (caps again) were some old dude with a beard sitting on a throne (Zeus?). God is not in our genes. God is us. We created him. Just ask Joseph Campbell. All the rest is just mental masturbation.

    How’s your life? How ya livin’? Now that’s real. If only science had a voice people understood within context of their everyday lives. It does somewhere but is rarely expressed.

    Where’s the convergence of good science and good literature? That I would like to read.

  • and razib, i think you could argue that there is a first order fitness benefit on reproduction rate, or number of children per family, for all religions.

    hmmm…didn’t we just talk about that at gnxp?

    religions like lamaism and medieval roman catholicism did fine though they encouraged celibacy on their practitioners. one could appeal to a form of group selection, but i’m skeptical. i don’t think modern situation applies to the past, and context matters. intergroup variation doesn’t tell us much, but, assuming the axiom that more-religion=more-reproduction, one would wonder why the (relatively) religious nations of southern europe are so much less fecund vis-a-vis scandinavia. social context matters. now, the more pointed point is that does intragroup variance in reproduction correlate with religiosity? today, yes, i would argue it does. but if frequency dependent selection is in play than it need not.

    the short of it would be that i suggest caution on interpreting religion #1 (basal cognitive biases toward supernaturalism) as being fitness enhancing. i think the fitness detracting aspects of secularism are correlates, not causative.

  • Nikos

    Since I’ve got the book in my lap (and am rereading it with unaccustomed haste) I think it would be constructive to our conversation here to quote Dennett’s chapter summaries:

    Chapter 1:

    Religions are among the most powerful natural phenomena on the planet, and we need to understand them better if we are to make informed and just political decisions. Although there are risks and discomforts involved, we should brace ourselves and set aside our traditional reluctance to investigate religious phenomena scientifically so that we can come to understand how and why religions inspire such devotion, and figure our how we should deal with them all in the twenty-first century.

    Chapter 2 (premise): There are obstacles confronting scientific study of religion, and there are misgivings that need to be addressed. A preliminary exploration shows that it sis both possible and advisable for us to turn to our strongest investigative light on religion.

    Chapter 2 (conclusion): Religion is not out of bounds to science, in spite of propaganda to the contrary from a variety of sources. Moreover, scientific is needed to inform our most momentous political decisions. There is risk and even pain involved, but it would be irresponsible to use that as an excuse for ignorance.

    Chapter 3 (premise): If we want to know why we value the things we love, we need to delve into the evolutionary history of the planet, uncovering the forces and constraints that have generated the glorious array of things we treasure. Religion is not exempt from this survey, and we can sketch out a variety of promising avenues for further research, while coming to understand how we can achieve a perspective on our own inquires that all can share, regardless of their different creeds.

    Chapter 3 (conclusion): Everything we value—from sugar to sex to money to music and love and religion—we value for reasons. Lying behind, and distinct from, our reasons are evolutionary reasons, free-floating rationales that have been endorsed by natural selection.

    Chapter 4 (premise): Like all animal brains, human brains have evolved to deal with the specific problems of the environments in which they must operate. The social and linguistic environment that coevolved with human brains gives human beings powers that folk religions apparently evolved to handle. The apparent extravagances of religious practices can be accounted for in the austere terms of evolutionary biology.

    Chapter 4 (conclusion): Extrapolating back to human prehistory with the aid of biological thinking, we can surmise how folk religions emerged without conscious and deliberate design, just as languages emerged, by interdependent processes of biological and cultural evolution. At the root of human beliefs in gods lies and instinct on a hair trigger: the disposition to attribute agency—beliefs and desires and other mental states—to anything complicated that moves.

    Chapter 5 (premise): The false alarms generated by our overactive disposition to look for agents wherever the action is are the irritants around which the pearls of religion grow. Only the best, most mind-friendly variants propagate, by meeting—or seeming to meet—deep psychological and physical needs, and then these are further refined by the incessant pruning of selection processes.

    Chapter 5 (conclusion): The obvious expensiveness of folk religion, a challenge to biology, can be accounted for by hypotheses that are not yet confirmed but testable. Probably the excess population of imaginary agents generated by the HADD yielded candidates to press into service as decision aids, in divination, or as shaman’s accomplices, in health maintenance, for instance. These co-opted or exapted mental constructs were then subjected to extensive design revision under the selective pressure for reproductive prowess.

    Chapter 6 (premise): As human culture grew and people became more reflective, folk religion became transformed into organized religion; the free-floating rationales of the earlier designs were supplemented and sometimes replaced by carefully crafted reasons as religions became domesticated.

    Chapter 6 (conclusion): The transmission of religion has been attended by voluminous revision, often deliberate and foresighted, as people became stewards of the ideas that had entered them, domesticating them. Secrecy, deception, and systematic invulnerability to disconfirmation are some of the features that have emerged, and these have been designed by processes that were sensitive to new answers to the cui bono? question, as the stewards’ motives entered the process.

    Chapter 7 (premise): Why do people join groups? Is this simply a rational decision on their part, or are there relatively mindless forces of group selection at work? Though there is much to be said in favor of both of these proposals, they do not exhaust the plausible models that attempt to explain our readiness to form lasting allegiances.

    Chapter 7 (conclusion): The human proclivity for groupishness is less calculated and prudential than it appears in some economic models, but also more complicated than the evolved herding instinct of some animals. What complicates the picture is human language and culture, and the perspective of memes permits us to comprehend how the phenomena of human allegiance are influenced by a mixture of free-floating and well-tethered rationales. We can make progress by acknowledging that submission to a religion need not be cast as a deliberate economic decision, while also recognizing the analytical and predictive power of perspective that views religions as designed systems competing in a dynamic marketplace for adherents with different needs and tastes.

    Chapter 8 (premise): The stewardship of religious ideas creates a powerful phenomenon: belief in belief, which radically transforms the content of the underlying beliefs, making rational investigation of them difficult if not impossible.

    Chapter 8 (conclusion): The belief that belief in God is so important that it must not be subjected to the risks of disconfirmation or serious criticism has led the devout to “save� their beliefs by making them incomprehensible even to themselves. The result is that even the professors don’t really know what they are professing. This makes the goal of either proving or disproving God’s existence a quixotic quest—but also for that reason not very important.

    Chapter 9 (premise): The important question is whether religions deserve the continued protection of their adherents. Many people love their religion more than anything else in life. Do their religions deserve this adoration?

    Chapter 9 (conclusion): Before we can ask the question of whether religion is, all things considered, a good thing, we must fist work through several protective barriers, such as the love barrier, the academic territoriality barrier, and the loyalty-to-God barrier. Then we can calmly consider the pros and cons of religious allegiance, looking first at the question, Is religion good for people? And the evidence to date on that question is mixed. It does seem t provide some health benefits, for instance, but it is too early to say whether there are other, better ways of delivering these benefits, and too early to say if the side effect outweigh the benefits.

    Chapter 10 (premise): The more important question, finally, is whether religion is the foundation of morality. Do we get the content of morality from religion, or is it an irreplaceable infrastructure for organizing moral action, or does it provide moral or spiritual strength? Many think the answers are obvious and positive, but these are questions that need to be re-examined in the light of what we have learned.

    Chapter 10 (conclusion): The widely prevailing opinion that religion is the bulwark of morality is problematic at best. The idea that heavenly reward is what motivates good people is demeaning and unnecessary; the idea that religion at its best gives meaning to life is jeopardized by the hypocrisy trap into which we have fallen; the idea that religious authority grounds our moral judgments is useless in genuine ecumenical exploration; and the presumed relation between spirituality and moral goodness is an illusion.

    Chapter 11: The research described in this book is just the beginning. Further research is needed, on both the evolutionary history of religion and on its contemporary phenomena, as they appear to different disciplines. The most pressing questions concern how we should deal with the excesses of religious upbringing and the recruitment of terrorists, but these can only be understood against a backdrop of wider theories of religious conviction and practice. We need to secure our democratic society, the home base for this research, against the subversion of those who would use democracy as a ladder to theocracy and then throw it all away, and we need to spread the knowledge that is the fruit of free inquiry.

    Daniel Dennett, Breaking The Spell: Religion As A Natural Phenomenon, Viking; 2006

    The devil, of course, lives in the details between all those ‘premises’ and ‘conclusions’. I’m willing, provisionally, to ‘play Dennett’ – but since my understanding of the book is my own idiosyncratic take, I can hardly be trusted to answer questions about the work as Dennett would. (Nevertheless, I appear to be one of the few of us who had read the thing.)

    With that (substantial!) caveat in mind: let’s party!

  • p.s. the fact that religious expression and zeal exhibits a range and is heritable suggests that its fitness implication isn’t that unambiguous. traits with powerful long term fitness implications get fixed and no variation shows up in the population due to genotype. we know this isn’t true, bouchard’s twin studies suggest a 0.5 heritability for religiosity. in other words, if religiosity and fitness were so strongly correlated atheists would be as rare as people with 3 fingers, and i don’t think that’s the case.

  • I’m trying to understand what you’re getting at. The metaphor above doesn’t work for me. Heat is a by-product but does not “parasitizeâ€? the engine. Why do you consider the mind parasitized (meaning, the the religious belief is a parasite on the mind?) by religious belief? Parasite has negative connotation- parasites are usually a destructive force to the host. While I can see the destructive force of religion in human history, I think what is not recorded in history is the beneficial force that a vast majority of individuals experience. I don’t think religion is parasitizing, I think self-serving people parasitize other people, using fear to push for religious beliefs that are not truly spiritual. It is fear, not religion that creates the destructivity.

    And since you parse out 4 different aspects of religious belief (that I prefer to call spirituality, but hey, just more semantics), are you referring to all 4 aspects when you speak of parasitizing?

    my analogy wasn’t apt in that i was addressing different aspects simultaneously.

    religion #1, cognitve basal biases works like so, religion:though, work:heat. that is, we have social intelligence and tend to see agency around us. if we subtracted this, we would lack religion because religion needs both of these. but we tend to exhibit “false positives” in detecting agency (design/teleology) where there is none. i hold that this is a byproduct of our mental architecture. we could work in ways to avoid the biases that allow us to see agency where there isn’t (gods where there isn’t), but that might be costly, just as designing engines that dissipate heat well might be. i don’t think that religious beliefs are so costly that modifiers have evolved to fine tune our brain so we don’t enter into the “false positive” problem. evolution is a good enough solution.

    re: parasitize, you can use another word. meme for example. same idea. basically, religion is not one thing, but a complex of ideas. these ideas tend to be really good at fitting into the preconceptions of our brain, and so they flourish.

    religions 2-4 can fit into this picture, but they are higher-level aspects. functionalism and the idea that certain ideas are more “fit” than others are more relevant here too, though i’m still skeptical of group selection or anything like that, especially in #4.

    one thing to remember is that humans seem to be conformist have a tendency to “do what everyone else is doing.” so a lot of the fitness vis-a-vis religion might be a byproduct of the fact that the majority of people are religious, so it increases your mating prospects if you are religion (this is a modified form of runaway selection).

  • Nikos

    Isn’t it amazing (& appalling) how you can’t see typos until after you’ve posted?

    Chapter 2 (premise) – “preliminary exploration shows that it is both�

    Chapter 2 (conclusion) – “Moreover, scientific inquiry is needed to inform�

    Chapter 4 (conclusion) – “At the root of human beliefs in gods lies an instinct on a hair trigger�

    Chapter 9 (conclusion) – “Before we can ask the question of whether religion is, all things considered, a good thing, we must first work�

    & “It does seem to provide�

    Apologies to Mr. Dennett and to any and all readers!

  • Isn’t it amazing (& appalling) how you can’t see typos until after you’ve posted?

    we are all sinners.

    and taking a break from seriousness, what’s up with dan dennett and his beard? atheists aren’t supposed to look like prophets out of the hebrew bible…are they?

  • h wally

    Amen, Acuman. Your superior mental acuteness astounds me. Perhaps Babus orgasmic ecperience was a direct result of her mental masturbation? I also agree that things do get a bit lofty around here at times but going to great heights can also lead to oxygen deprevation and just another chance to meet god. Love God

  • h wally

    OK, I’ve outed myself. I admit it, I am God. If you have anything more to say about me please address me directly. Sorry about all the misunderstanding, we’re working on coming up with a website to try and clear up all the misconceptions you poor souls labor under. My advise to all of you is: “Keep it simple stupid.” Now, I want you to all make up and stop associating me with the republican party. I haven’t voted in ages.

  • Nikos

    I concur with razib in many areas.

    Most explicitly: ‘religiosity’ isn’t genetic.

    Yet religions are ‘memetic’ idea clusters that survive within human culture via an extrapolation of the ‘natural selection’ dynamic: if a new religion offers a greater value to a person or population than an old religion – or no religion – people will adopt it. Same goes for change within a religion: whatever tenets, dogma, doctrine, and practices survive scrutiny best will endure. The rest, like ‘witch-doctoring’ fall to history’s wayside.

    Once again: ‘God’ isn’t in our genes, nor is religion.

    But we are a pattern- and inference-making species, and, until recently, we relied on supernatural explanations for answers about the world beyond the perceptions of our five senses.

    Now, instead, we amplify our senses with technological aids and with reason, and religious premises can’t endure the scrutiny. Religion therefore survives via fears of personal oblivion, appeal to supernatural ‘magic’ (like soul salvation), and by fighting science tooth and nail.

    This worries me deeply.

    The next ‘dark age’ isn’t predestined by nay means, but it sure is likely if religions forcibly curtail or end scientific inquiry.

  • Nikos

    I neglected to mention religion’s best ally: social pressure. As in: you must believe as I, your father (or mother or brother or king) believes. Failure to comply will lead to consequences.

  • Nikos

    How many of us are aware of the man in Afghanistan facing execution for his repudiation of Islam, and conversion to Christianity?

    Now that’s social pressure!

    He might escape with his life by a convenient employment of an ‘insanity’ judgment, which adds a delicious layer of Orwellian logic to the entire sordid business.

  • Potter

    Hey Nikos….. it’s a law about typos…. no matter how hard you scour, there are always plenty waiting for you on the other side of the wall that you can no longer change. Personally I like to see other typos-I ‘d hate to be the only one.

    Back to business- thanks so much for all the work involved to give us the summaries.

    I notice that Joseph Campbell has been mentioned several times on this thread….bravo!

    However I’m with Raymond in the dim bulb group.

    Razib.. I am out of your league I think but I persist:

    “assume it does “mitigate fear of death,â€? does that make you less cautious, ergo, decreasing your fitness? that is, you are calm in the face of situations that should trigger your flight-or-fight response. do i believe this? no, my point is that you can make any story fit from introspection on this level.”

    We need our fears to a point. A sustained “fight or flight” reaction leads to mental illness so we do need calming, very much so. There is so much to talk about in this vein but think of post traumatic stress syndrome as one extreme. Think of the victims of natural disasters whose nervous systems have been shocked. What brings them back to normalcy? What calms?

  • more interesting reading material (PDF): The Naturalness of Religion and the Unnaturalness of Science and The Folk Psychology of Souls (also PDF).

  • We need our fears to a point. A sustained “fight or flightâ€? reaction leads to mental illness so we do need calming, very much so. There is so much to talk about in this vein but think of post traumatic stress syndrome as one extreme. Think of the victims of natural disasters whose nervous systems have been shocked. What brings them back to normalcy? What calms?

    sure, i am not disputing that religion => calmness => more fitness might actually work. i am saying that it is an illustration, but we can’t assume that it is that telling a priori via our intuitions. there needs to be a balance between calm and sensitivity to fears, where is that balance? depending on where we draw the line it will have big implications for the question “is religion fitness positive or negative?” this is a tendency of many assertions people make in regards to psychology, we are pretty good at folk psychology, but it has its limitations, but our own mental biases tend not to see this, so our a priori logic and intuitions tend to be very presuasive. i’m saying be suspicious.

  • How many of us are aware of the man in Afghanistan facing execution for his repudiation of Islam, and conversion to Christianity?

    one thing, some people argue that this sort of extreme social pressure is a feature of the abrahamic religions. that is, doctrinal conformity is a feature of islam and christianity, whereas other groups tend to be more orthopraxy in orientation (jews and hindus for example). i don’t buy into this dichotomy totally, but there is something there. nikos’ point about social pressure though does hold i think, fitness is socially contextualized. many people in small towns have to find a church-home if they are to get along (or get a job and business).

  • But we are a pattern- and inference-making species, and, until recently, we relied on supernatural explanations for answers about the world beyond the perceptions of our five senses.

    Now, instead, we amplify our senses with technological aids and with reason, and religious premises can’t endure the scrutiny. Religion therefore survives via fears of personal oblivion, appeal to supernatural ‘magic’ (like soul salvation), and by fighting science tooth and nail.

    i’m not sure i agree in this insofar as religion serves as a “proto-science.” i agree that it is a way to explain aspects of the world around us, that it is a way to address existential fears, but, i think that the focus that these aspects of religion have received in intellectual discussion is a function of the interests of intellectuals. i suspect that religion, and obviously religion #1, draw mostly from mundane cognitive biases and intuitions. i think that the “religion that can’t endure scrutiny” should be changed to “some religions can’t endure scrutiny.”

    consider fundamentalism, how many christian fundamentalists hold that the earth is flat or that the sun revolves around the earth? these are logical inferences from passages in the bible (“the four corners of the world,” the sun stood still for joshua, etc.). fundamentalists simply reinterpreted their old beliefs, they regularly engage in the sin of metaphorical interpretation when they have to. re: evolution, once genetic engineering becomes powerful enough that speciation is something that man himself can do i suspect a lot of the opposition to it will fade…though i have argued that one problem with evolution is that it attacks too many of our native intuition about kinds and folk biology.

    i think the god-of-the-gaps argument is powerful for the intellectuals, for those who trust and believe in abstractions and vast systems of thought. but for most people i don’t think this is that important, and so i think religion will naturally bend with the wind and adjust with the blows.

    i guess i am saying that to some extent s.j. gould’s nonoverlapping magisteria is correct. the problem is with fundamentalisms who want to interpose themselves onto the explanatory axis where science is so useful. ultimately they will give ground and adapt, evolve so to speak, but it takes time because though most humans appreciate the fruits of science few truly understand science on a deep level (most scientists are narrow specialists themselves).

    p.s. my comments are more intelligible assuming some knowledge of the cognitive revolution.

  • Nikos

    sure, i am not disputing that religion => calmness => more fitness might actually work.

    Exactly: these are benefits that religion can provide — thus making them ‘fit’ for survival in the Darwinian sense.

    This is the meat of Dennett’s book.

    Calmness however, can come from a variety of cultural sources, like meditation, which needs no god or creed to be useful.

    Calmness also — and perhaps best — can come from the unique human gift of music.

  • Potter

    Razib—Might actually work? Where is that balance? Everyone has to balance (and rebalance) between calm and sensitivity (wakefulness, awareness) for themselves according to their emotional needs and changing circumstances. Religion is a tool in that sense and it can work positively as well as negatively (obviously) in the world. Yes, of course religion has limitations, but if it is working, calming, one cannot at the same time “be suspicious”.

    ( Are we communicating?)

  • Nikos

    re: the provenance of ‘calmness’ — how could I forget to mention the calming effects of 4 mile runs???

    😉

  • Potter

    Nikos…..absolutely music… It’s funny after being agitated by ROS thought provoking topics, after the show comes “Eric in the Evening” here in the Boston area. He’s all great jazz selections and I can feel the physical change. Needless to say- we are music lovers in this house-bigtime.

  • potter, to reiterate:

    1) there is calm

    2) there is non-calm

    3) there a ratio between calm and non-calm which is fitness optimal (too calm and you snooze while the tiger stalks, too scared and you run over the cliff)

    4) some personality tendencies and beliefs may module the ratio of calm:non-calm

    my contention is that a) we don’t know the ratio b) we don’t know the impact of “religion” on that ratio in the net (i.e., some religious modes are not calm). i am willing to grant b), that religion on the whole is calming, but i am not willing to wager what a) is, and so i am not willing to give an opinion as the relationship between individual fitness and religion, mediated by the proximate trait of “calmness.”

  • Nikos

    razib: nicely done (4:39).

    I will take this opportunity though to point out to all readers of this thread that the topics addressed so far by we bloggers are only decimal points worth of percents of the book’s scope and depth! As in, oh, maybe .3 of 1%!

    It’s a terrific book, easy to read, and offers as many intriguing questions as answers.

    And if it didn’t have that utterly foolish ‘bright’ business in its first chapter, it would surely become the first great philosophy book of the new century.

    You’ve just got to hold your nose through that silliness, I’m afraid to say…

  • Potter

    Razib: right we do not know but religion has some calming effect and I say it is quite important just from my own observation of the world. In the net, at times I wish we did not have religions because of the negative aspects. I agree this is not measurable.

    I am going to offer here again ( for the third and maybe last time on this ROS site) the late Czeslaw Milosz poem ( from the book “Second Space” ) because it means a lot to me. It helps me.

    IF THERE IS NO GOD

    If there is no God,

    Not everything is permitted to man.

    He is still his brother’s keep er

    And he is not permitted to sadden his brother,

    By saying that there is no God

  • re: czeslaw miloz, hallelujah!

    re: dennett’s book, i would add that i enjoyed all the chapters except the first and the last. the lit. survey was good, but the rest was not of particular interest to me. i prefer the term atheist to ‘bright.’

  • Nikos

    and I, my dear freind Potter, will once more say that though the poem is lovely and evocative, it might be misguided.

    Besides, and this will hearten you: Dennett examines, and then concludes that logical attempts to ‘prove’ divine existence aren’t the same thing as ’empirical’ attempts, and so the whole issue is moot.

    The issue is religion, not an unverifiable supernatural entity. ( And I am reminded of CCM’s hilarious reference to those invisible, undetectable lobsters orbiting Jupiter!)

    Peace and love to Potter from Guttersnipe Nick

  • cheesechowmain

    ὅπεÏ? ἔδει δεῖξαι

    another praiseworthy angle: http://www.subgenius.com/

  • NotAnExpert

    A genetic predisposition toward seeking God? That’s just too convenient. That’s like saying we are genetically predisposed to avoid responsibility or to look through another person’s wallet while he’s unconscious. God is an idealization that forms out of our perceptions of our imperfections. That’s not genetic but a consequence of living in a physical universe.

    What does a god represent? Power, control. The god arises out of a desire to prevent our environment from overwhelming us. The first gods were probably storm gods and fertility gods, responding to natural fears of being drowned, starved, or otherwise wiped out. When life was less precarious, war gods and origins gods developed. Once a deity system is established, divinities multiply in proportion to the number of distinct human concerns that develop. The Hindu, Greek and Roman religions have spawned thousands of gods. But each is nothing more than a desire for supernatural control of one’s environment.

    Monotheism streamlines the process, but doesn’t change the objective. It’s still an attempt to develop a relationship with a bigger, stronger character who can do favors and get me out of jams. We learn this behavior as children hanging out with those giants, Mommy and Daddy. Later we transfer the appeal to an older sibling or companion perhaps, until such time as we feel strong enough to handle the challenges ourselves.

    We don’t regard any of these people as gods because they are DEMONSTRABLY more knowledgable and powerful than we are. It’s only when we imagine a SUPERNATURALLY powerful being that we get into god territory. The proof is indirect because, by definition, a god’s power can’t be understood. Otherwise, we could just take care of things ourselves.

    The concept of a need for God is confounded when we figure out new ways to deal with the hazards and challenges of life. Every time a new technology or scientific concept is developed, religionists rail that it’s an unnatural abomination. If God had meant for us to do that, “he” would have given us brains or some such thing. But the lightning bolts don’t fly, and life gets easier and safer, which only leads to more intense religious focus on the terrors we still can’t control.

    God doesn’t solve human problems. Look at the conspiracies, massacres and disasters throughout history. If anything, God is only there to reassure us and challenge us to deal with our fears, to solve the problems ourselves. The appeal to a rescuing god is nothing more than an abdication of responsibility for the things we might change or a wish to escape the things we can’t.

    If we could easily see solutions to new problems, the notion of God would never come up. But because we are all ignorant to an extent and powerless to an extent, we err, we clash, and we lose. Therefore some of us invent gods to create an advantage where there would otherwise be none. Worse, some of us crafts gods to justify our bad behavior toward others. God wants it, God approves, God is on our side. What could be better than an excuse note from the highest authority? God does not appear to be so much a need as a convenience.

    It is impossible, even for God, to extend peace, justice and mercy to everyone in this world simultaneously, even if we cooperated. If I were God, I wouldn’t even try. Identifying as a Christian, I see God as a friend, a comforter and as a challenger to my development and compassion. God doesn’t need us. God doesn’t even need to be needed. A relationship with God based on dependency is not mature.

  • NotAnExpert,

    i note that your profile suggests you are an ‘ex-seminarian,’ so i offer that many of your assertions are germane only for religion #4, philosophical theism and its progeny. i would assert that maturity (as you, to some extent i) define it will never be normal for the majority of humans. the universe will always be demon-haunted….

  • cheesechowmain

    Nikos: Disclosure: I first heard a version of the lobster metaphor from Timothy Ferris. Recently, another version from Dan Dennett.

  • I’m thinking what makes some people feel drawn towards religious engagement while others are not may be more in the way we perceive. Some people have a better grasp of and more comfort with the mysterious and take a more poetic view of the world around them. Other people are more analytical, they like quantifying and measuring things, putting things in boxes and labeling the boxes. When we judge one way of being as airy-fairy numbskulls and the other way as narrow-minded pencil heads (Oh, sorry, was that me making that last judgment?) I think we miss out on what could be most interesting thing about this discussion which is, what is it in our make-up that gives us these inclinations?

    A spiritual path isn’t necessarily and easier way. If there is an evolutionary benefit I think it is in acknowledging that your true identity is much bigger than your self or ego identity and involves a willingness to sacrifice yourself for the greater whole. Keeping calm and alert is just a side effect.

  • babu

    h wally; Get off of my turf. You wanna tell them something you can tell them about gravity.

  • Some people have a better grasp of and more comfort with the mysterious and take a more poetic view of the world around them. Other people are more analytical, they like quantifying and measuring things, putting things in boxes and labeling the boxes.

    i would argue that the “analytic” types created both the rationalistic creeds and theologies and their refutations (st. thomas aquinas formulates the 5 ways which modern philosophers “refute”). that is part of the problem, the bounds of religion are defined by analytic types who go through tedious systematic cognitive motions when the reality of religion as it is experienced for the vast majority of the humans is fundamentally intuitive, non-verbal and social. i would contend that the mullah, priest, guru, monk and theologian and philosophical atheist have much more in common than the man-on-the-street muslim, christian, hindu, etc.

  • to be precise: i would argue that atheists and phillosophical theists of all stripes have more in common with each other than religious professionals do with their “flock.” similarly, the mental outlook and experience of most muslims, hindus and christians is far more similar than a dry recitation of doctrine, dogma or creed would imply.

  • Nikos

    aside to Potter: Dennett also says (somewhere in the book’s later chapters) that although he is an atheist, he esteems the world as ‘sacred’. Which precisely mirrors my sentiments: and this sentiment doesn’t need any god.

    Religionists tell us differently, but they are mistaken.

  • Nikos

    Dennett’s book also proffers a bevy of lovely quotes, like this one:

    It was the schoolboy who said, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so�.

    – Mark Twain

  • h wally

    Babu get off my cloud. I don’t need gravity.

  • serious lee

    OK everybody. Let’s be on our best behavior. The show is about to begin. Put on your thiking caps and break a leg.

  • Nikos

    What I like most about NotAnExpert’s excellent contribution is the allusion to parents: it’s my opinion that most ‘god worship’ stems from infancy, and the infant’s utter dependency on parents. Thus, the style of gender-dominance in your culture determines the gender of your culture’s deity(-ies). I reckon also that misogyny stems in no small part from a child’s anger at a mother’s natural discipline, and is able to root deeply and grow malignantly in patriarchal disrespect for femininity. This, of course, might open a whole new dialogue here, so maybe let’s leave it until after hearing Dennett on the show…?

  • Nikos

    serious lee: you seriously remind me of a former regular of this web forum. Thanks for joining — or rejoining under a different guise.

    Of course, I’m probably wrong. It’s all too common of me.

    😉

  • h wally

    As I read through the post it occurs to me that if there is a god ,there is. If there isn’t, there isn’t. There are as many versions of god as there are people who believe in a god. Everybody alters the image just a little to suit themselves. In this life, if there’s a god or not only matters to those who take up the subject. If there is something after this, then it might become more important. This topic has been discussed since it became a topic and no one has the difinative word. It all comes down to faith and that’s good enough for me..

  • serious lee

    Nikos, shh, I’m in the federal witness protection program and I’ve started a new life as a cosmotologist in a zoo. Please ask the others not to read this. Any resemblance between me and any other living creature is purely coincidental. I miss you. Thank God we’ll always have Paris.

  • Nikos

    LOL 😉

  • Nikos

    H wally (6:21 PM): if there is a god, there is. If there isn’t, there isn’t.

    Okay, but since it’s an open question, here’s some others:

    Do we skeptics politely refrain from open expression of our doubts?

    Do we allow believers to dictate their morality to us?

    To make our public policies?

    To influence foreign policy?

    To infiltrate the military and effectively take over institutions like the Air Force Academy?

    To publicly advocate ‘crusading’?

    And that’s just the American dilemma with religion.

    Europe’s heavily secular – except for its growing Muslim minorities.

    Religion carries an old and yet growing array of malignancies that we can just ‘wish away’.

  • Thus, the style of gender-dominance in your culture determines the gender of your culture’s deity(-ies)

    this is testable. some cultures have goddesses, some do not. the japanese for example have amaterasu, the south asian hindus kali and the chinese guanyin. unless you count mary and fatima the abrahamic traditions have nothing close. i think it might explain some of the variation, but not much (most of the variation in misogyny is probably attributable to other factors).

  • Nikos

    Sorry to leave my thought incomplete: Europe’s recent crises with its Muslim minorites is in no small part due to the secularists and religionists disrespecting each other. I know perfectly well that the vast majority of Muslims are no more ‘malignant’ than Christians.

    It’s the extremists, of both religions, that pose the threats.

    And this is why Dennett’s inquiry is so important.

  • I know perfectly well that the vast majority of Muslims are no more ‘malignant’ than Christians.

    my personal experience (raised a muslim) differs, i think that the distribution of muslims is “shifted over.” that is, most “moderate muslism” tend to exhibit views and opinions which are congruent with conservative christians, not “moderate christians.” i believe that muscular christianity was gelded by the wars of religion and the enlightenment….

  • Nikos

    razib: my experience with Greeks is that not only Mary but many female Orthodox ‘saints’ are worshipped as much a Jesus is. It’s never admitted, but it’s true. More later.

  • Nikos

    Razib: wow.

    More later.

  • serious lee

    Nikos, if you agree with them help or encourage them. If not oppose them or do what you feel you should do. Either way it won’t change the fact of god’s existance or not. Those things are side effects of belief or lack of belief.

  • razib: my experience with Greeks is that not only Mary but many female Orthodox ’saints’ are worshipped as much a Jesus is. It’s never admitted, but it’s true. More later.

    difference between religion #1 (what believe “really” believe) and religion #4 (explicit “doctrine”) 🙂 which is “important?”

  • Oh Nikos….

    it’s my opinion that most ‘god worship’ stems from infancy, and the infant’s utter dependency on parents. Thus, the style of gender-dominance in your culture determines the gender of your culture’s deity(-ies). I reckon also that misogyny stems in no small part from a child’s anger at a mother’s natural discipline, and is able to root deeply and grow malignantly in patriarchal disrespect for femininity.

    Sooo, which is it? Do we worship a Mother Goddess because our Mothers were so domineering or do we exclude women from any positions of power in religion because our Mothers were so domineering?

    This, of course, might open a whole new dialogue

    Oh yes indeed. We are not going to run out of material for discussion.

  • Regarding Goddesses (and gender of deities in general), and an understanding of them from an author respectful of evolutionary psychology, I’d recommend Leonard Shlain’s Alphabet vs. the Goddess.

    ObMetaComment: If only these forums would evolve beyond the monolithic single thread…

  • h wally

    Being finite beings are we really fully equipted to examine the infinite.or are we like the three blind men examining an elephant.

  • fred02472

    Dennett’s memetic framing of religion was previously brought forth both by Dawkins and also in Susan Blackmore’s excellent book, “The Meme Machine”. It’s not easy to get a grasp on the concept that memes are replicators in and of themselves, just as genes are, but once you’ve got it, a lot of things start to make sense.

  • Nikos

    Peggy Sue: you said ‘domineering’ not me! I said ‘natural discipline’.

    Boys don’t like limits (I can’t speak for girls)

    As to you question: Do we worship a Mother Goddess because our Mothers were so domineering or do we exclude women from any positions of power in religion because our Mothers were so domineering?

    maybe both?

    maybe neither?

    Maybe it’s whole lot more nuanced — especially if you read my original statement carefully. 🙂

  • h wally

    Is science another “agent”.

  • Nikos

    fred: just so. Exactly.

    Read Dennett’s book, everyone!

  • kel

    It is so much fun to listen to a Darwinian. It really is true that evolution has no direction. Man is not at the apex of any process. I would guess that Religion began around 12,000 years ago with the development of agriculture. Homo Sapiens hasn’t changed much in 100,000 years. therefore, we spent most of our short time here doing just fine without Religion

  • kel

    Chris, religion is neither universal nor ancient. It is a recent development that developed along with other aspects of “modern” life. It is prehaps better to ask why religion developed as human societies became larger and more organized. Prehaps Marx was right…

  • Fred– yes, I have Blackmore’s book right now, checked out of the BPL, overdue no doubt… I’d also recommend Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, which articulated the evolutionary relationship between God, Torah, and Man.

    Sorry I haven’t read the 15,000 words, maybe that was brought up.

  • Homo Sapiens hasn’t changed much in 100,000 years.

    but we have changed….

  • h wally

    Back to the elephant. Each blind man would hold his own belifs about what he knows and each would be right in his own way. They just aren’t equipted to understand the totality of what an elephant is. Each of your guests is one of these blind men. I’ll fill in as the third.

  • h wally

    How do we know that man had no religion 100,000 years ago. Perhaps what acted as religion to them was not expressed verbally or in the physical world. Perhaps like the Zen Masters they knew it was something that was beyond words and reason.

  • cheesechowmain

    “Aesthetics is for the artist as ornithology is for the birds”

    — Barnett Newman

  • kel: religion is as recent a phenomenon as culture– 12,000 years ago. So I think that qualifies as “ancient” by most definitions. And I can’t imagine life was “just fine” for Homo Sapiens from 300,000 to 10,000 BCE: hunting and gathering. That lasted for a long time not by popular demand, but because of a primitivity of language and cultural evolution left to chance.

    Of course we have reached the point of communication saturation.

    Wally– there is very little culture left from 100,000 years ago: Just bones. There was no agriculture then, so no seasonal Gods to pray towards.

  • kel

    Does buddism have a radical, violent streak?

    Or is Buddhism not a true religion because it doesn’t recognize the existence of a Diety

  • h wally

    If we remove religion and all it’s influences what is left. Is the world better off with it or without it?

  • Does buddism have a radical, violent streak?

    Or is Buddhism not a true religion because it doesn’t recognize the existence of a Diety

    re: buddhism & violence, see sri lanka (and also some monk activists in myanmar). also, buddhists on the ground basically treat the buddha (theravada) or boddhisattvas (mahayana) as gods.

  • kel

    Evolution says nothing about the struggles betweeen “groups”. It only speaks to the comparative reproductive advantages of individuals

  • h wally

    Is prayer a necessary part of religion. Perhaps their version of religion is something you can’t fathom. Perhaps it was nothing more than an experience they held inside them.

  • amike

    What is it about biological gurus, which makes them think their particdular credential credentials them to universal expertise? Perhaps it is something in their genes, parasitical or not.

    Two quick observations and a plea. Well, maybe the plea first.

    Stop thinking that your knowledge about biology credentials you to speak as an expert on musical matters. Two egregious errors, and counting:

    1. Puritans were not “against” music. Neither were the Pligrims… Read a little Perry Miller, observer the Ravesncroft Psalter, and become nearly as wise as you think you are.

    2. Tonal music does not “originally” sound better than atonal music. Nor is a sense of what IS tonal unversal across cultures.

  • Nikos: Sorry for putting words in your mouth. As a former preschool teacher I can say that I learned children of both genders feel most comfortable with clear limits (they depend on their caregivers, male or female, to keep them from playing in traffic). Neither gender of children appreciate unresonable or random limits. Some of course are more rebellious than others. I’m guessing you were a real handfull when you were about 3 years old!

    I myself doubt that this has much to do with choice of deity gender but, as you say, this could be a discussion for another time. Try reading Women and Nature by Susan Grffin.

  • I think the point from Dennett is that we could not have evolved without it. It’s as if we didn’t have language or taste. But Dennett is making a good point now about that–

    and now we’ve stopped for the pitch. Give money! pledge! else this forum will go away! join WGBH and support open source so that the server doesn’t strain under the weight of all these comments! just call 888-897-WGBH —

    — ok, he was saying that religions have a problem, in that people use faith to blot out reason. That’s caused a lot of death and destruction over the generations, of course.

  • Evolution says nothing about the struggles betweeen “groupsâ€?. It only speaks to the comparative reproductive advantages of individuals.

    this is the standard model, but some people are trying to revive group selection. i’m skeptical, but we shouldn’t pretend like it doesn’t exist….

  • elevine

    Hello All!

    Religion has at least one serious evolutionary benefit: followers of successful religions follow rules for good living: dietary rules, behavioral rules, altruistic rules, educational and disciplinary rules, requirements of honesty and restrictions on violence, rules that enable community cooperation and community defense. These rules all depend on higher functions (including intelligence, culture, learning, language, etc). Not to say religion is perfect—just adaptive.

    Gene Levine

  • h wally

    Go back in time and every 100 years or so stop and ask the great minds of the day these same questions. I’m sure that most would feel that they have the answers or true beliefs. I can’t wait for the follow up show to this one 100 years from now. Ought to be good for a few laughs.

  • kel

    I like the idea that Religion is a byproduct of our expanded capacity ie like Mathematics.

  • wally– not quite. There is a directionality to history: you can learn from it. Dennett right now is addressing that: the refinement of techniques and understanding.

  • Heard Chris on our collective lack of progress in describing the power of music and religion, which made me think:

    I think one of the great attractions of religion is that it provides a user interface for ideas of human transcendence and human resilience that are offered in few other places in our culture. These ideas about transcendence and resilience are a response to everbody’s experience of pain, disease, the death of all of our loved ones and ultimately of us. Add to this that it’s presented in a group setting, often along with ritual and music that are time-honed symbols of those ideas.

    I fully accept that people can gain access to those ideas without the user interface of religion (that’s what Existentialism was all about, the philosophy that launched a million berets). I have a lot of respect for these efforts, I find them very brave and rigorous.

    Maybe these secular ways of dealing with existential problems would gain more converts if they weren’t almost always done alone. As a response to human misery and despair they seem a little lacking in this area. There’s something quite powerful about community, about our conversation with each other, in forming a response to The Void. (Maybe they could have some music, too. Now seems like a good time for a link to the Orthodox Church of Coltrane).

  • h wally

    You can establish a foundation of truth with the information available to you at the moment. Will it remain with the passage of time or will it change. A straight edge on a molecular level is a pretty bumpy thing.

  • tlewis

    The vague term “religion” cannot be the basis of serious intellectual inquiry. Monotheism is one thing, the Asian sages traditions differ remarkably from these, and the “primal religions” of simple subsistence societies present yet another reality. So this is ethnocentric analysis at best, and even then, diversity within the Abrahamic monotheisms leaves even “western religions” beyibd hioe fir good thinking. So this author’s premises crumble as a serious starting point.

    From the other pole, this attempt to ground religion in genes represents a kind of modern “magical thinking” about genes and the actual proven possibilities of genetic explanation. Just what would be the causal thread that would connect cellular chromosomes with the socio-cultural behaviors called “religion” ?? Consult the important and award-winning book by molecular anthropologist Jonathan Marks WHAT IT MEANS TO BE 98% CHIMPANZEE (Univ of California Press, 2003) to see how in popular culture and even geneticists do not understand the foundations of cultural analysis and instead twist their data beyond its explanatory possibilities.

    I am all for exploring how religion today can make people stupid, how it can become a weapon for organizing others, but this is not a well-founded beginning to really getting at that.

  • h wally

    Jon History isn’t an exact science. Ask any black man in this country. History like beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  • h wally

    I’m outta here. My local church group is sacrificing a herd of cattle tonight. Can’t wait.

  • philo

    Since when did ‘music’ become an animate object, one capable of ‘evolving’ by itself? Music doesn’t evolve; people’s ideas of what constitute music may evolve. Music, as many other things, still takes a creator, does it not? Someone designs and assembles notes, chords, melodies, themes. They don’t just happen. Even an atheist can make or create or appreciate music. But without the player, composer, listener, publisher, critic…what do you have? How does the atheist feel free to use the word ‘design’ in support of the theory of evolution, which presumes no helping or guiding hand?

  • Nikos

    Peggy Sue: point taken.

    My larger point is that adoration or veneration or worship of ‘big, incomprehensible humanish beings’ begins in infancy – and that god-worship is the adult descendant of this.

    The origination of misogyny is a bigger and much more monstrous issue that surely depends on patterns of enculturation that follow infancy. I strongly suspect a connection not unlike what I posited, although my offering was hasty and incomplete.

    Now before going any further, let me say this: if aliens came from a space ship and said: “Pick a deity to worship, or die�, I’d without even thinking for a millisecond say: “Gaia.�

    If they then said, “No, a male god�, I just might say “Take me to the guillotine.�

    I can’t stand patriarchal monotheism.

    I loathe with all my heart misogyny.

    I’ve an overstuffed personal library dripping with feminism.

    And dozens of books on various takes of goddesses and goddess worship.

    So, I’ve got definite tilt in this dialogue, and it’s toward the feminine, not toward my own gender’s many sacred-cow and unacknowledged conceits.

    I hope to talk this out later. It seems to me that this thread is the first in ROS history with the potential to reach 1,000 posts!

  • Nikos

    philo: good questions, but it’s all about ‘memes’

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

    this is a very new concept about concepts, and takes a lot of practise to understand and employ with fluency.

    Which is yet another reason this thread could grow for weeks on end.

  • I don’t know if god is in our genes, but some people really do worship and old pair of faded denim.

    Most valuable pair of jeans

    An original pair of Levi Strauss & Co (USA) 501 jeans aged over 115 years old were sold by Randy Knight (USA) to an anonymous collector (Japan) for $60,000,00 (£33,230) through internet auction site eBay on June 15, 2005.

  • Potter

    Lisa Williams- I like your post. It’s an expansion of what I was saying about religion serving to calm… the communal aspect is very powerful.

    Nikos: re your post http://www.radioopensource.org/is-god-in-our-genes/#comment-8122

    On Milosz- He’s saying ( I think) “If there is no god….” I might not be ready to consider that yet even if we could know for sure which we cannot so please be sensitive to that. What is important is our relationship, caring, compassion.

    This is hardly misguided I am sure you will agree. What is your interpretation?

    aside to Potter: Dennett also says (somewhere in the book’s later chapters) that although he is an atheist, he esteems the world as ’sacred’. Which precisely mirrors my sentiments: and this sentiment doesn’t need any god.

    Religionists tell us differently, but they are mistaken.

    Yes I agree. I feel that way too. The Milosz poem by the way tugs at me, to tolerate, to respect the needs of others.

    ( Are we communicating?)

    Returning the love all the way to WA from MA. Hope you are not cutting down too many sacred trees.

  • is anyone going to do an online prayer, as the show is over?

  • Nikos

    PS to philo: I, for one, am still struggling to attain even a beginning fluency with the ‘meme’ concept. And I’n not so sure that the concept is settled even in academia, where Dawkins birthed it a few years back.

  • Potter

    Sidewalker: Thanks for the levity. My head hurts. Thinking (too much) can decrease fitness.

  • fenixfacs

    Nikos – Did you hear about the biologist who won a Nobel Prize for developing a method to detirmine a boy chromozome from a girl chromozome?

    He simply looked in their “jeans”!

  • “is anyone going to do an online prayer, as the show is over?”

    sure, I will…

    Through the great good of these words

    May the beings of all the realms of samsara,

    In the ground of primordial perfection, attain Nirvana.

    Amen

  • Nikos

    Fenixfacs, sidewalker, & razib: 🙂

    Potter: yes, we are communicating.

    My concern is that religionists defend their deities with often venomous fury. I worry that more people have died violently under the guise of a god’s sanction than under purely modern nation-state vs. nation-state jingo-sanction.

    Those of us who disbelieve might feel it a duty to communicate our skepticism, even if this is ‘impolite’. A duty to humanity.

    Please see my posts at 6:45 PM, 5: 55PM March 23, 2006, and via implication, the conversation Peggy Sue & I seem to be starting.

    I have elsewhere likened belief in god – especially in the biblical sort of daddy tyrant god – to belief in Santa Claus. And eventually even the most credulous child ought to have the Santa myth’s fanciful hold loosened. So yes, the poem is heavy with beautiful pathos, but it strikes me as yet another defense of belief that seeks to imply that its object of worship is unverifiable. This is dangerous.

    At the very least it is irrational.

    And we all, I think, know what horrors a tolerance of irrationality can lead to.

  • msterlingprice

    I think you are asking the wrong questions personally. Religion is only important in the context of inspiration, and for some reason it has always been the mystics who have driven this source of revelation which everyone else follows, much like the great geniuses push along science and music and the rest of humanity. To talk about this being communal in the sense that the experience of the divine is something everyone shares begs the point: who opened the door? Who went through enough pain to find joy? Because, as Neitzche makes clear, it is the madman who sits in trees and comes back in an ecstatic daze that the old kind thought was gifted, and the thrust of it all is to gather the followers, be it through individual power of the passion of a musician, poet, or holy man. But this is not through rational means, language, it is felt.

    Humans are searching for joy, and in the absence of it they will take what doesn’t hurt, and in the absence of what doesn’t hurt, what distracts them from it. It is the mystic, in whatever form, who can take the spiritual-emotional pain and find at the bottom of it joy through the fire within him or her, through the freedom to hurt like few have the courage to. To talk about anything else, in my opinion (which is of course worthless), is to ignore the basis of being: pain.

    That the essence of a God is encoded into us is as obvious as the stars above out head: we sense it, we are it, we are of the same material as everything else but get lost in all sorts of different logical and rational constructs/concepts, trying to build and posit a system which is understandable basically to itself, which always falls apart under the first rule: a thing may never know itself.

    What is a gene anyway? Chimps share 97 percent of our genes but theirs are expressed a different way. Are we talking about the 97 percent religious experience they might be having?

  • msterlingprice, Ouch!

    I think the essence of being is the continuation of being, through reproduction, through monuments, grand deeds and anything that outlives us and through dreams of an afterlife. In all of this there is joy and pain—childbirth maybe the best example.

  • Nikos

    In the unfortunate haste of this show’s warm-up, I missed a chance to further a suggestion from matoko-chan, so here’s a link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transhumanist

  • Nikos

    So, Peggy Sue, do you think it’s worth exploring religion’s possible role in misogyny?

    For starters, I think that religion doesn’t cause it, but it sure does codify it. Sexist religions don’t happen outside of sexist societies, I don’t imagine. Misogyny can certainly worsen under patriarchal religion – that’s entirely plain.

    So, what do you think is the psychological and emotional underpinnings of misogyny? Why do some men mistrust and vilify women why others, even men of sexist societies don’t?

    Any thoughts?

  • tbrucia

    Permit me some whimsey… Are the belief in mankind in God’s genes? In other words, are some (one?) supernatural beings hardwired to create humans? Is the essence of the Over-Spirit to believe that he is the creator of humans, or did he freely choose to believe this? Does His belief that He created the universe prove that the universe exists? In a struggle for survival among spirits, did the belief by one spirit that It created all the others (and the material world) confer some type of competitive advantage to It? Is the mind of this God-spirit inherently able to make imaginative leaps? Or did His concept called ‘man’ guide the evolution of God’s thinking, making Him think he created time and space? If mankind ceased to exist, would God cease to exist too? Is this why the existence of the human race seems to have such a grip on God? As a heavenly creature that supposedly created everything from gazillions of star systems to gazillions of gazillions of electrons, neutrons and protons, is there another reason why He is obsessed with one primate species on a single flyspeck planet?

  • “…god is a concept by which we measure our pain…” john lennon

  • Rycke

    It seems to me there are two kinds of people: those who believe in the impossible, and those who believe that, with God, all things are possible.

    I am of the first type: I believe that some things, indeed many things, are impossible, that miracles do not happen. (This does not mean that we fully understand what happens.) This left me unable to believe in God after a certain age, despite my best efforts. Certainly I could not believe that a god who had made me this way could condemn me for being the way he made me. So I guess even at that young age, I believed that my unbelief was in my genes. I suppose that the reverse is true as well.

    However, we should not confuse belief in gods with religion. Religion is what one believes is the truth, what one thinks about it, feels about it, does about it. (Paraphrased from Funk & Wagnall’s Standard Desk Dictionary, 1984) Everybody has at least one, and most of us have several combined into a personal philosophy.

    Science is religion. Math is religion. Both take a lot of faith to learn, faith that the scientists who came before were mostly men of good faith, that if you follow the rules, the equations will work.

    A whole religion has three basic parts: cosmology, how the world works; morality, how we treat each other, and holiness, how we treat ourselves. My own cosmology is scientific, and therefore I am an atheist. But my morality is Christian, because I believe in and follow the laws of Jesus, my king. And my holiness is a mix of natural science and Christianity, aimed at working efficiently and staying in optimum health without forgoing life’s little pleasures, which are good for one in moderation. Jesus rejected dietary taboos, and took pleasure in food and drink.

    Live Free and Prosper,

  • Ah yes, Nikos, Well of course religion is misogynist if you mean the many thousands of European Women who were burned at the stake for witchcraft by the Christian Church in the middle ages. But, when you say “religion” I do think you need to specify what religion you mean because the Pre-Christian religions of Europe, at least what we know about them due to the fact that the Christian Church did such a good job of demonizing and destroying them, were not, it seems, misogynist. My Pagan Goddess Circle is not misogynist.

    If you are talking about Judaism, Christianity and Islam (the great man holy book religions) you bet they are misogynist. But those are not the only religions.

    I studied this subject matter in great depth at one time and I’m a little rusty now but in Pre-Christian times the feminine was revered for having the power to give birth. No one really knows what the people who made them were really thinking but all across Europe one of the most common artifacts are the little (or sometimes giant like on the Island of Malta) Goddess figures. With the rise of Patriarchy men co-opted the birth process so we have Athena springing forth in full armor out of the head of Zeus and you should hear Gloria Steinem describe how the interior architecture of the great cathedrals of Europe mimic the female reproductive system – in great and hilarious detail!

    I completely agree that patriarchal religion is misogynist. But not all religion is patriarchal. As for the psychological and emotional underpinnings of misogyny, I think it is all about power.

    I will just add a tid-bit about the Dalai Lama since I am now a Buddhist. When I heard him speak, at the end he took questions and one of them was, “Why have there been no female Dalai Lamas?â€? He explained that the purpose of the Dalai Lama was to serve the people and because the cultures that Buddhism came out of, India and Tibet, where such that males held positions of power the Dalai Lamas have been male but in the future, if the Tibetan people decide to keep having Dalai Lamas, it may be very appropriate for there to be a female Dalai Lama. Then he added (laughing) that as for him, he said he thought having the surgery to become a woman wasn’t really necessary.

  • Nikos

    PS to Potter: perhaps it seems I’m advocating rudeness. I hope not. My problem with the sentiment behind the poem is, essentially, that it’s censorious. I don’t want to blocked from saying:

    “It might not be a good idea to uncritically believe this unverifiable proposition that a supernatural being is intimately aware of your life, and is judging your fealty to him to determine your worthiness for an afterlife. It might not be true. Some of us in fact actively disbelieve it – and we have not been smitten by thunderbolts.

    “It might not be a good idea to obey every dictate of your religious leaders. Even if your god exists, your priest might not truly know your god’s will. If your priest tells you that blowing yourself up while killing other humans will secure your place in the afterlife, and yet he is not truly speaking your god’s will, then to what purpose is it to obey him? To what good end?â€?

    Skepticism is valuable.

    Uncritical belief is hazardous.

    Those of us who understand – or even to simply believe we understand – the values and hazards of both owe it to our humankind kin to share our minds.

    I hope this satisfies.

  • fenixfacs

    peggysue – Speaking of “nonpatriarchal religions” I wonder what kind of religion a matriarchael society like Bonobos would have?

    “The species is distinguished by an upright gait, a matriarchal and egalitarian culture, and the prominent role of copulation in their society.”

    “Professor Frans de Waal, one of the world’s leading primatologists, avers that the Bonobo is often capable of altruism, compassion, empathy, kindness, patience and sensitivity.”

    “Recent observations in the wild have confirmed that the males among the Common Chimpanzee troops are extraordinarily hostile to males from outside of the troop. Murder parties are organized to “patrol” for the unfortunate males who might be living nearby in a solitary state. This does not appear to be the behavior of the Bonobo males or females, which both seem to prefer to “make love” with their group rather than seek “war” with outsiders. The Bonobo lives where the more aggressive Common Chimp doesn’t live. Possibly the Bonobo has given a wide berth to their “murderous” stronger cousins. Neither swim, and they generally inhabit ranges on opposite sides of the great rivers.”

    “Sexual intercourse plays a major role in Bonobo society, being used as a greeting, a means of conflict resolution and post-conflict reconciliation, and as favors traded by the females in exchange for food. Bonobos are the only non-human apes to have been observed engaging in all of the following sexual activities: face-to-face genital sex (most frequently female-female, then male-female and male-male), tongue kissing, and oral sex. This happens within the immediate family as well as outside of it. Bonobos do not form permanent relationships with individual partners.”

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

    And what might be a defining physical characteristic of a “High Priest” of this religion of Bonobos if the females of this society chose them?

    “the startling example of the large size of bonobo testicles”

    http://humanists.net/cdhs/recap-2003-11-09-Stewart.html

  • Freethinker

    The MAIN reason I am not a Christian, or other theist is not because I don’t believe in god(s). But because I couldn’t believe in the fundamentals of theistic ethics (aka “divine command”).

    I am “endowed” by nature or let’s say god with a certain ethical sense acording to which torturing people, any people, for any reason, for an eternity is bad, immoral and wrong. If god is going to allow eternal torture of people in hell, even the worst kind of sinner (let’s say the kind of Hitler) then I denounce that kind of god !

    Only Imagine Eternal Torture !!! That’s not a million years, that’s not a trilion years, that’s an INFINITY !! How could we allow anyone to suffer for an for eternity without parole ! Shame on anyone who would allow that ! Even if that’s god itself !

    See, for some people “good” is what brings them rewards, “bad” is what brings them happiness. Thus to them its good to love god and go to heaven rather than denounce him and go to hell, like other people who denounce him. I don’t adhere to this primitive, simplistic morality. I wouldn’t compromise my humanistc ethics for self-serving salvation !!

    For more of what I try to say please visit my threads, which are also polls, at infidels.org

    “Should Hitler Burn in Hell Forever?”

    http://www.iidb.org/vbb/showthread.php?t=135809

    “Why don’t you worship God?”

    http://www.iidb.org/vbb/showthread.php?t=153597

    “Does eternity makes heaven hell?”

    http://www.iidb.org/vbb/showthread.php?t=153686

    “Do Nihilists care about humankind?”

    http://www.iidb.org/vbb/showthread.php?t=154031

  • Nikos

    Peggy Sue: you and I have a lot more in common than we knew. We probably own 20 or 30 of the same books, and maybe many more.

    The problem of course is that the kind of religion you mention in the pre-Buddhist part of your 12:54 AM is more akin to the pre-monotheistic ‘folk religion’ that Dennett says the Abrahamic faiths ‘domesticated’ and supplanted. Which, to me, doesn’t denigrate them – hell, it’s why they appeal to me!

    So perhaps I should refine my query to ask how you view the role of patriarchal monotheism on cultural misogyny. Several histories (and novels) I’ve read (and cherish) posit that matrilineal polytheism was the ancient norm until patriarchs either invaded or overthrew the existing tranquil societies. This proposition often earns derision from folks who can’t imagine either a goddess-centered culture or any era of relative peace and equality. Now, I don’t want to believe those who deride the proposition, but I can’t ‘prove’ that they’re wrong. An era of tranquil matrilineal polytheism might well only be a pipe-dream – and yes, my books include Gimbutas.

    So, what I’m hoping to stir up from this thread is a better sense of which came first: the ‘chicken’ of an invading or rebellious patriarchal revolution, or the ‘egg and slow growing chick’ of an evolution toward patriarchy that ‘nursed’ on an evolving mistrust of women that was clerically & scripturally represented by priests of the gods who would someday expropriate from goddesses all claim to divinity? (Forgive the lengthy sentence!)

    What might have led to this?

  • Nikos

    fenixfacs: check this out: http://www.blockbonobofoundation.org/

    And thank CheeseChowMain for it.

    Aside to CCM: it appears that the 3-link limit is no longer in effect.

  • Rycke

    Freethinker, come to think of it, that was the breaking point for me, as well. The whole idea of hell repelled me, certainly as an instrument of divine justice. Way beyond cruel and unusual punishment, even, as you say, for Hitler or Genghis Khan. A God that could condemn a more or less good person like me to hell, just for not believing in him, was an old bastard I didn’t want to meet anyways.

  • Nikos

    Freethinker: Right. Christian belief in Hell is abominable, and, by any other name, profoundly immoral. Any god capable of inflicting eternal torture is, by any other name, a demon.

    Bishop Carlton Pearson got himself dubbed a heretic for coming to this same conclusion.

    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&ie=ISO-8859-1&q=Bishop+Carlton+Pearson

  • Freethinker

    See, the argumetns about the “Cat thinking” is a good one ! While we can adopt a plausable sociobiological explanation about why we think the cat is thinking we cannot rule out the possbility of cat thought. Scientific epistemology is inductive so it cannot make absolute conclusions.

    However our ethical sense is deductive (that is I can deduct from my internal ethics that certain things are moral and other are immoral, there is no uncertainty here) so it can make absolute, definite conclusions.

    So here is the definite answer why I don’t worship god:

    (my reproduced thread from infidels.org)

    ——————————————————————————–

    Why don’t you worship God ?

    When a believer tries to persuade me about the existence of god with the same worn-out arguments, I don’t debate with him or her anymore, I merely ask him or her whether existence of God merits by itself God’s worshiping. I am even willing to genuinely assume for a moment that Personal God is a complete reality. However knowing that Personal God is real wouldn’t persuade me to worship him, in contrary I will despise him more than I despise Hitler. Why would anyone worship a God who allows so much suffering in the world?

    But even if we all lived in a paradise without any suffering and plenty of goods, on what moral grounds should we worship God ? A power-freak God that requires his creation to genuflect in worshiping him is as despicable as a power-freak father who requires his children to kiss his hand when they meet him. Even without genuflecting, merely requiring his creation to regularly address to him in form of prayer is as ridiculous as for a lonely mom to ask her children to call her every single day (or perhaps 5 times a day as in Muslim prayer). God has to get a life and let his creation live in peace and happiness. A God who eliminates unnecessary suffering from the world , gives complete independence to its creation and doesn’t require anything from its creation is the kind of God I can respect. However my respect wouldn’t extent to a demeaning worshiping. Why would I thank God for something he should’ve done anyway? Should we thank a father for feeding, clothing and not abusing his children? No! That’s his ethical obligation as a father, if he doesn’t want to treat his children right he shouldn’t make them in the first place. Same with God.

  • Freethinker

    Nikos: there is no reason to worship a god, even the one who doesn’t send people to hell and make everyone happy. That’s my libertarian ethical conclusion.

    as I mentioned

    A God who eliminates unnecessary suffering from the world , gives complete independence to its creation and doesn’t require anything from its creation is the kind of God I can respect. However my respect wouldn’t extent to a demeaning worshiping. Why would I thank God for something he should’ve done anyway? Should we thank a father for feeding, clothing and not abusing his children? No! That’s his ethical obligation as a father, if he doesn’t want to treat his children right he shouldn’t make them in the first place. Same with God.

  • Nikos

    Freethinker (I love the handle, btw – it’s one of my favorite words): author Elizabeth Marshall Thomas offers a compelling argument that dogs and cats cogitate.

    See: The Hidden Life of Dogs @ http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/biblio?isbn=0684810263

    And her other books, including Tribe of Tiger and The Social Life of Dogs, are excellent too.

    And thanks for your offerings here on the thread!

  • Nikos

    Freethinker (we’re overlapping): re your 1:51 — right on.

    I revere nature, and am even willing to play (and I do mean ‘play’) with the notion of a ‘Gaia’ Earth-deity, but ‘worship’ is a monotheistic, jealous god conceit.

    Reverence is laudable. Reverence implies that you care and appreciate.

    Worship is denigrating — to oneself!

  • Nikos

    It’s interesting that the Afghanistan government’s ‘case’ against the guy who disavowed Islam in favor of Jesus is that he ‘disgraces’ Allah.

    Please!

    Is your god so powerless that one man’s counter-conventional choice ruins the god’s standing?

    I don’t understand the insecurity – except that it must be masking oceans of self-doubt!

  • Freethinker

    Nikos:

    1) I have three cats, and while they are often silly in their thinking they most certainly think. I’ve read cats think at the level of 18 month-old-child while dogs, especially smarter breeds, can think even at the level of a 3-4 year old. Of course cats and dogs way of thinking is quite different than ours, for example they have a trouble with the conception of “self” and “time”. Chimps, and other primate of course think more like us and are aware of self-hood, as studies show, and they even morn for the dead, so they are even aware of thier own mortality.

    2) If “reverence” means “treat somebody with admiring respect”, I migh revere nature, cosmos or something impersonal but I just couldn’t bring myself to revere a personal god. For me revering a “personal god” like Alah or Jeahovah is some sort of “personality cult”. It’s deamining for humans and for god. If I would have been a personal god I would felt uncomfortable with people revering me all the time.

    It’s not that I am too proud. I know that I am a worm and the food for the worm. But I would rather prefer to keep my integrity and remain a worm than lose it and become a sycophant angel.

  • Nikos

    Freethinker: It’s not an exact science, but it seems to me that ‘worship’ is the strongest word, ‘venerate’ the next, ‘revere’ the next, and ‘admire’ the last. I admire folks like certain friends, or even mere acquaintances like Chris Lydon.

    But I revere nature – and, on some days, like those spent atop Gray Wolf Ridge’s many alpine peaks, I even venerate it – but that’s just my enthusiasm getting me high!

    Worship?

    Nah. Never. It’s an ‘abjection’ that freethinking minds needn’t trouble with. Besides, by my way of freethinking, we are the Earth, powered by sunlight via plant-life, in individuated forms, which more or less makes us as divine as anything we revere!

  • Freethinker

    Well if we are the Earth, and we revere the Earth, than we revere ourself, or at least part of ourself. And to that I can agree. To love and to admire others we first need to love and admire ourself.

  • Nikos

    I wonder what razib’s take will be on my 2:05 AM March 24, 2006.

    Moreover, I wonder razib’s take on this idea: that Islamic scripture is less internally contradictory than Christian, which actually stymies a more liberal strain of Islam. Christian interpreters of their scriptures have so much woolly-minded stuff to plumb that they can make it forgiving and ‘socialist’ or repressively moralistic, depending on what kind of congregation they want to attract. Islam’s greater scriptural consistency might actually curtail an Imam’s desire to make his message as liberal as some Christians’.

    What do you think, razib?

  • Nikos: Jon Garfunkle posted this earlier. I haven’t read this book but I heard the author speak and he talks about the transition into patriarchy. I find his theory intriguing. He relates the rise of patriarchy to printed language. I don’t picture a monolithic matriarchal hunky dory happy time but Pre-agricultural hunter gathers were egalitarian so I think the long period of developing agriculture and city sates had quite a bit to do with it too.

    “Regarding Goddesses (and gender of deities in general), and an understanding of them from an author respectful of evolutionary psychology, I’d recommend Leonard Shlain’s

    Alphabet vs. the Goddess.�

    “how you view the role of patriarchal monotheism on cultural misogyny�

    The warriors of the malevolent Sky God have desecrated the sacred mother Earth and her beloved daughters. (OK, it’s past midnight now just in case need an excuse for that last sentence)

    fenixfacs: “I wonder what kind of religion a matriarchael society like Bonobos would have?”

    Sounds to me like a congegation touched by the spirit of the holy moly rolling tantric boogie.

    “And what might be a defining physical characteristic of a “High Priestâ€? of this religion of Bonobos if the females of this society chose them?”

    Because they are a matriarchal and egalitarian culture I don’t think they would have a “high priestâ€?.

    from wikipedia…

    “Females are much smaller than males but have a higher social status. Females maintain their social status by cooperating amongst themselves. No one male can dominate the group because the rest of the females band together to protect the social order.�

    I see the holy priestesses of the bonobo tantric boogie doing a lot of vigous sufi twirling booty shakin’.

  • cheesechowmain

    “Christian interpreters of their scriptures have so much woolly-minded stuff to plumb” The sermon on the Mount has been a major obstacle for state sanctified military missions for quite some time. There has been a lot of hair that has been pulled out in trying to reconcile militarism, materialism, etc. with these teachings.

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

  • Potter

    Nikos Thanks for your thoughts.

    I’m all for rationality. You say above: Compassion if that is your definition of pathos, not suffering, is what this poem is about for me. I think you are reading too much extra into “If there is no God”. Milosz is not talking about religion (to my mind anyway) and all the trappings, the good and the bad.

    I don’t think Milosz is referring to religion, his religion or any other. He is referring to belief that there is a God, (whatever one’s idea of God is) pure and simple and very basic. He is allowing also for the possibility that there may not be a God- which is interesting….there is doubt when he says If.

    Your(and my) warring about the harm that religions have caused is not to be aimed on this core of belief but rather what proceeds from that.

    Belief in God, that there must be some form of God, is a pillar for many that I for one would not want to take away from anyone who needs it- as if I could or even had the right to, as if I knew or could know rationally with any finality anyway. You don’t know either. Whatever certainty we have is limited by what we know. The rest is belief. (One can believe there is no God for instance.) Milosz is not saying God is the God of the Old Testament. He leaves that open.He does not define God.

    I think it’s a mistake to think that telling someone that it is a mistake to believe in something that they fervently believe in is going to get you anywhere anyway. It just does not work.

    Milosz appeal is a moral one, If you feel censored by it you are objecting to the morality he espouses which for me is a cautionary note. Be careful, he says, be kind, because your brother may need this (core belief) to go on and simply live meaningfully everyday whereas you might not- or may have found another form of support.

    You are free to believe or disbelieve what you like. You are free to feel strongly the error or harm of others following the dictates of mortals who interpret or misinterpret “God’s will”. And you are free to point that out and even take action on it. But to say “There is no God” is something different. When you are setting out to destroy the concept of God you should know what you are doing…in each case…. And even be responsible for what will replace it.

    So one can’t run around saying “There is No God”. That is irresponsible. What you can say with integrity is I do not believe, think, feel, there is a God or God (and this is what I mean by that). That’s shows integrity, compassion and responsibility (in my opinion). No one, not Milosz in this poem, is saying you are censored from advising that it might not be a good idea to uncritically believe. On the other hand, and again, from a position of assumed power or strength over another, one should not, morally speaking, simply say “There is no God”– leaving that person with nothing but despair. No.

    By the way, this has nothing to do with what I personally believe or don’t believe. I departed from my orthodox religious family early on… and paid a heavy price for it but I have had to learn how to live with them peacefully and respectfully. We had had many discussions, and you learn not to bang your head against a wall, and finally you learn that people defend what is vital to them.

  • Potter

    I over italicized again geez!

  • fenixfacs

    Peggysue – And with processes of barter like this, why would smart Bonobo females interject an agent / broker like a preistly class inbetween them and their markets so that they could take a slice of the pie without adding any value?

    “and as favors traded by the females in exchange for food.”

    And I think that all the literature would support the nototion that the Bonobo females are too smart for that.

  • Nikos

    CCM: Right. The problem, I think, is that Old Testament wool.

    Doesn’t seem to me like the same ‘god’ inspired jesus. Know what i mean?

  • Rycke

    Potter, you seem to recognise that both belief and non-belief involve positive belief: i.e., a belief that God does not exist is more certain and positive than uncertainty on that point. Everyone who has an opinion believes something. I do not believe in a creator god because I believe that the universe runs according to unvarying natural law, and the impossible is just that, impossible. Miracles do not happen. That is the core of my religion. (See my 12:52 AM comment. Religion is what you believe…)

    However, like you, I do not find it productive to argue that point. People want to believe that all things are possible, that they can live forever, and other such wishful thoughts, and you won’t dissuade them. I find it much more productive to argue about their religion and the consistency of their beliefs. This country being mostly nominally Christian, it is most fun to read, understand, and argue the Bible and the life, times, and beliefs of Jesus, as opposed to all the views of all the writers of the Old Testament, and the New.

    After all, Jesus didn’t write a word of the Bible. From Matthew and Mark’s accounts, he rejected about 90% of Mosaic Law, retaining 5 commandments and one admonition: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (See the story of the rich young man, Matt 19:16-22) Yet modern-day Christian Pharisees constantly point to Old Testament laws and the views of ex-Pharisee Paul when condemning homosexuality. We are fighting today exactly what Jesus was fighting in his day, and it’s easy to point this out.

    Read the Bible as history, (a chapter at a time, with a large grain of salt), and you can tease truth from fiction. Those who hold that the Bible is unerrant truth are saying that men knew truth then and know it now; yet by their own belief, only God is good, and knows all. God didn’t write a single word of the Bible, except possibly the Ten Commandments on those stone tablets. The first 5 books were written by Moses, by his own account raised a prince of Egypt. Others were written by court historians and self-appointed prophets. Various books were gathered together by a committee maybe 150 years after the death of Jesus and called holy. They were written in various languages and translated several times over the centuries. And none of those writers, copyists, and translators wrote a lie? I don’t think so.

    Indeed, read the four Gospels in a row, and you’ll find that the gospel according to a Greek called John is a lie from beginning to end, with not even a passing resemblance to the first three gospels. But because it favors belief over works, it is a favorite of preachers and their congregations alike. Belief is easy for some; keeping even 6 commandments is much harder. But then, right in the middle of “belief” there is a “lie.”

    Live Free and Prosper,

  • Nikos

    Potter: “…be responsible for what will replace it. So one can’t run around saying ‘There is No God’. That is irresponsible.�

    We might be talking apples and oranges.

    I see no evidence of the Old Testament god who lives on in muted form in the New Testament. (I can’t speak for the god of contemporary Judaism.) Seeing no evidence of that sort of jealous tyrant – except as a justifying archetype for rapacious human elites – while seeing much non-human splendor suggests to me that the divine is not monotheistic but pantheistic. Which makes ‘god’ essentially democratic: it’s all of us, including the poorest humans, their pets, those bonobos, and even the bones of the earth I like to climb and hike in summer.

    So, I think I’m being eminently responsible to share this view.

    And I’ll fight like hell against the dominance of the other style of ‘god’, because it’s a human projection, and a profoundly damaging one. It’s also worth noting that for me to call my ‘sacred earth’ ‘god’ is problematic. This earth is miraculous in that it hosts this process of turning archaic, fossilized star-stuff into life simply by basking in sunshine – but the only evidence I have that the planet is in any way conscious is me and you! We’re the planet’s consciousness, so far as I can determine.

    Are we gods? Maybe it’s all semantics. Or apples and oranges.

  • cheesechowmain

    Nikos @ 11:06: Spot On amigo. My better-half often reminds me of this. I’m more of a student of the new testament than old testament, but I’m being brought up to speed. And there is great void in internal coherence in this artifact that you were describing. Of course, coherence is a problem all over the place in this artifact. Much quality scholarship that has brought this down out-of-the-clouds. Makes for spiritual and intellectual dim sum.

    Thanks for the heads-up about the three link moratorium potentially being lifted. BTW, Kevin Phillips is on Diane Rehm and I’m listening as I type. Best to ya…

  • cheesechowmain

    BTW, as a guttersnipe, I’m going to advocate a position that the Bonobos are God’s choosen beings and they are showing us the way to enlightenment.

  • Nikos

    Rycke: great post (11:21 AM). You capture the vital inconsistencies of the hodgepodge of scriptures informing Christian notions.

    What ‘god’ in his right mind would sanction such an inarticulate collection of contradictions? Especially the divinely orchestrated slaughter and enslavement in the Old testament and the radical message of unconditional love and forgiveness in the New?

    This is the ‘god’ I want to discredit.

    It’s simpler than that: murder is deocide. Violence done to humans is violence done to the divine. Greed and hoarding are ‘humanly’ demonic, not divinely approved.

    It’s a long, tiresome struggle. But we’re trying!

  • Nikos

    god bless you, ccm!

  • Raymond

    An Non-Nested Alternative to a Monolithic Thread

    Sorry in advance to all here who seek, in 30,000 words or less, answers to the hardest questions of the ages …

    But, Jon Garfunkel (and Brendan), here is a non-nested alternative to a single threaded forum … that also addresses lengthy and frequent posting.

    Why not post each contribution in summary, much as ROS does now when clicking on any nickname, and allow the reader to expand the contribution on command?

    Now, here is the good part. Count the number of times readers expand a contribution and report it alongside the summary, much as ROS currently does for the number of comments. This would allow the ROS community to measure the relevance of a contribution (not a contributor) to a particular topic. Readers then could decide what to read based at least in part on what other readers thought was relevant. Or, readers could be contrarian and read what others readers thought was irrelevant. And the measure of relevance would provide editorial feedback from the community to the contributor.

    Now to appease peggysue in advance, there are a number of pleasant ways to subvert this system. Readers could inflate their numbers by expanding their own contributios repeatedly. ROS could artificially inflate or deflate a contribution just to get it noticed or not.

    But I think it is more likely that the feedback would prove beneficial for the contributor and the ROS community.

    Just a thought …

  • Nikos

    Chris: thanks for the ‘Post-Game’ analysis (at the top of the comment thread).

  • I think that if we’ve had a religious upbringing our ideas of God can be so deeply embedded into our consciousness we don’t even know it.

    One reason I held off so long actually committing myself to the Buddhist path was because even though I have not been a practicing Christian for many years I still had a residual jealous God thing lurking deep in my consciousness. I thought I had to resolve my religious background before I became a Buddhist. I never did and now I just see it as layers. I left the Christian Church because of its inherent intolerance and insistence on being “the only way�. The more I learned about the world the less that rang true. But there were some things about my Christian upbringing that I cherish like the message of love that Jesus taught and in my own denomination we were taught to develop our own personal relationship with God. For me that meant God morphed from that hairy guy upstairs to something more akin to the Force of the Jedi.

    Getting back to my point though which is that you cannot assume that all religions are the one you grew up with, I have had a few aha moments. Like realizing that as Buddhism is not theistic (though the Tibetans have plenty of deities if you want one or more) I was not being disloyal to any would be jealous God after all. Or I will start to feel guilty about something and catch myself, hey wait, I’m a Buddhist, phew! I don’t have to feel guilty. The practice is, primarily for me anyway, sitting still and paying attention to what my mind does. But it’s not unusual for me to catch myself looking at Buddhism through my deeply embedded Christian filters.

    Another time I caught myself seeing other people’s religion through my Christian upbringing filter was one day when I was opening hate mail at the Earth First! Journal. We got a letter from a Souix woman who was livid because she’d heard that a bunch of white kids at an EF! gathering had built a sweat lodge. My first response was, “Oh geeze lady, white people sweat tooâ€?. She was accusing us of “stealing her religionâ€?. I thought no, we can steal your land, kidnap your children and kill you but how can anyone steal a religion? But the more I thought about this, the more I realized I was looking at it through the eyes of someone raised to believe that God is not the physical objects. I was raised a no frills Protestant. What I realized then was that in fact as a nature based religion for the Souix God is the objects. I still think white people ought to be free to build sweat lodges but I was able to see her point of view more sympathetically once I recognized my own filtered view.

    So Nikos, I’m just wondering, when you hear the word “religionâ€? if all the red flags that spring up aren’t popping up out of a Catholic upbringing? I’m just guessing

  • Raymond: Actually I think you have a very good point. Last night as I was searching through this lengthly thread for the Jon Garfunkel post about the Goddess vrs the Alphabet I had a hard time finding it – I wished that somehow this all could be condensed. I also wondered it the posts could be numbered for referencing back to earlier posts.

  • Actually I guess the Date/time already does number the posts in a way but my screen is set small so for me they are hard to read.

  • Potter

    Nikos And I’ll fight like hell against the dominance of the other style of ‘god’, because it’s a human projection, and a profoundly damaging one.

    I think I got your dukes up because you assume the “God” of “There is no God” in the Milosz is one you feel strongly you need to destroy for all the damage. That’s lilke wanting to destroy history. It’s man’s changing concept and interpretation of the God of the Bible through time that’s done the damage. And I would say some good too. The concept/interpretation evolves. I see no evidence of the Old Testament God either and even fundamentalists admit that time is gone.

    People believe in their versions of God which may be more or less evolved and metaphoric but it’s still God or they call it God. “God” can be believed to be the sum total of everything that is and is not.

    I don’t think you want to destroy all concepts of God. Right?

    One reason why evolution theory is having such a hard time being accepted in this country especially is because people feel that accepting evolution means they have to give up God, that they will be told definitively “there is no God”.

    But people need to ( and will in time) move their concept of God ( and thus their religion) accordingly. E.O Wilson said something to this effect recently.

    Are we still apples and oranges?

    Rycke: Potter, you seem to recognise that both belief and non-belief involve positive belief: i.e., a belief that God does not exist is more certain and positive than uncertainty on that point.

    A belief that God does not exist is more positive than uncertainty? Is saying “we cannot know” or “we do not know” less positive?

    Everyone who has an opinion believes something. Right. We all believe something.

  • Potter

    Note: Chris is inspired by the Bible.

  • cheesechowmain

    peggysue: “What I realized then was that in fact as a nature based religion for the Souix God is the objects.” I am going to riff off this: I can make the stretch and respect this POV ‘unilaterally’. I suppose where the rub is coming for me is a percieved underlying assumption that Prof. Dennett is making from a natural science philosophy: Belief is an object which can be studied with analytical tools. And analytical tools can be extremely violent.

    For some, to attempt to put this object on display for experimental/scientfic study is akin to removing an organ or significant skin tissue while the patient is still alive. The affects on the patient may be catastrophic; a psychic crises at some point. Belief is not a plaything. Nor is it the mere substance of experimental material. My concern is that a scientific POV, and in fact any fundamentalist POVs of any stripe, do not make the necessary incremental steps to explain fully the ramifications in plain, common terms (not scientific heavy, alienating terms). To make this study feasible, buy-in from a lay public must be obtained who often turn to a religion as a belief system because of an often overwhelming feeling of terror and anxiety. Without buy-in, this becomes a vacuous exercise.

    Thus, makes Prof. Dennett’s approach suffers the fate of a non-starter and potentially perceived as dangerous; though I perceive him as an honorable and honest broker of extreme courage and conviction. One rub, of many, is that belief cannot be studied in terms of interacting with a being once the animate process has ceased. A cadaver doesn’t allow for this inspection. Therefore, a fully animate person is required. We are missing incremental steps, told in common language that reduce anxiety, not increase anxiety. This sets the table for an explosive backlash. I have heard Prof. Dennett in other interviews with lay people. And though he is courageous, he is not getting buy-in or relieving anxiety from an important, non-disposible segment of the population. Finally, I personally do not feel the threat, but I know to make progress, one should recognize that other people may. And most importantly, putting core values and first principles out there for folks to understand, will in fact help sharpen-the-stick and improve the inquiry, not detract from the overall objective.

  • cheesechowmain

    I really blew on sentence one, paragraph three. I cannot even understand it. Let’s try this: Thus, this sets up Prof. Dennett’s approach to suffer the fate of a non-starter and potentially perceived as dangerous;…

  • Potter

    CCM to Peggysue: And though he is courageous, he is not getting buy-in or relieving anxiety from an important, non-disposible segment of the population. Finally, I personally do not feel the threat, but I know to make progress, one should recognize that other people may. And most importantly, putting core values and first principles out there for folks to understand, will in fact help sharpen-the-stick and improve the inquiry, not detract from the overall objective.

    CCM: Precisely and this ties in with what I am trying to say above. Your post above is germane to my line of thinking and though it seems like we are talking about different things, we are not I believe.

  • Nikos

    CCM: Dennett addresses your concerns at length in his early chapters. Aside from reiterating my vigorous reccommendation that you read the book before judging its potential validity or utility, let me point out that each of the other 3 ‘live’ guests on the show (to varying degrees) lauded Dennett’s attempt to further already extant investigation of religion by using a ‘natural selection’ lens.

    This lens uses ‘memes’. And it’s revolutionary. It doesn’t examine belief: it examines the conceptual ‘stuff’ of religious convictions. It asks how these memes found favor in human minds, who then refined them — and it asks: to what end?

    And don’t forget that the people lauding Dennett’s new attempt included religionists.

    One of the worst things about the show — and I can say this without rancor because I’ve read the book — is that the show tried to include so many voices that it lost tight focus on Dennett’s book and the search the book launches.

    Read the book. Judge it afterwards.

  • cheesechowmain

    One further follow-up. I believe Prof. Dennett’s book discussed here is an attempt to bridge the gap to the lay-public. But, I believe he has leap frogged over some important areas of consideration. Perhaps, he is not even the appropriate source to develop these incremental steps. Perhaps, his effort and others are just getting this cranked up and it will be refined. I would hate to lose a valuable exploration due to becoming excused as threatening or irrelevant.

    re: potter. I’ve been following your posts, as allows. And this sort of turned the crank for me…

  • cheesechowmain

    Nikos: “Read the book. Judge it afterwards.” I definitely am. I just started, so you are justified in suggesting I’m being premature. I would like to see other voices trying to bridge this gap. It is probably not necessary, but I think some of the other guests who have a religious/spiritual belief system which resonates with their scientific system may have a better chance of persuading people and alleviating anxiety. For this to work, there must be buy-in. And to be slightly calculated: Tone and how it is presented are of utmost importance. To reiterate: Belief is not the mere substance of experimental material. Best and thanks for keeping it honest!

  • Nikos

    CCM & Potter: I neglected just now to mention (it was in the show but only briefly) that Dennett’s proposal is this: “let’s study religion first, and after comprehending it decide what of its features are healthy, unhealthy, or neutral. Then professional religionists can sagaciously choose to alter their profession and its product toward the healthy.�

    That strikes me, at least, as a brilliant proposition!

  • Nikos

    CCM: re your 4:15 — that’s right. The work will surely be done by others. Dennett is simply offering a fresh starting point.

  • cheesechowmain

    Nikos @ 4:38. I disagree. We are web friends and spiritual guttersnipes. This may be a first disagreement. And as my friend, you should not back down nor give up on me. But, to reiterate: analytical tools can be extremely violent. This is an important consideration. This must be contemplated before any study is embarked upon.

    For one thing, it will tighten up the methodology and sharpen the focus before the study. And often a plan-of-action is revised when put to the test of being in the field. But, a proper period (undefinable) must examine the implications and effects on people. There are important incremental steps to make before beginning the study and they need to be layed out. I know you understand this deeply, but we must observe we are talking about people and belief is as important as a body part or an organ. I realize my view is contrary to some, but I view belief as a living being I coexist, a companion. It is no more a crutch, a convenience, or an impediment to living as my lungs or brain or liver or skin tissue. It must be handled with extreme care and caution. It must be nourish properly to maintain health. Experimental science and therapy has a dark history. Religion has a dark history. Both of these fields have done damage. Caution and prudence must be observed.

    Keep after us. It’s very helpful.

  • Nikos

    A few more thoughts for those exploring Dennett’s book:

    It deals with ‘memes’. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme

    Language is the fundamental human ‘memetic’ system.

    Music is a memetic system. We tend to believe that it’s ‘healthy’.

    Arithmetic is a memetic system. We usually think it’s healthy. 😉

    Cooking is a memetic system. Most of us like it, and it’s probably healthy, although ‘raw-food’ people think otherwise.

    Sports are physical activities but memetic systems. You can run without thinking, but the instant you call it ‘running’ you’re talking a meme. Timing your runs isn’t a single meme but a set of memes. Athletics, we deem, is healthy. (Although competitiveness might not be. It perhaps deserves a memetic study like that proposed by Dennett for religion. Especially since ‘big-time sports’ is a quasi-religious memetic system.)

    More coming later, but I gotta run for now. 🙂

  • Nikos

    CCM: re your 4:55 — my suggestion that competitiveness undergo an exam is my answer to your worries over Dennett’s study somehow being ‘violent’.

    I fear you might be overly (if understandably) threatened by his proposal.

    “Fear not the valley of the shadow of Dennett…”

    He’s an okay bloke, really.

    He’s just dead wrong about that ‘bright’ nonsense.

  • cheesechowmain

    Nikos @ 5:09. Excellent and LOL! You’re a friend and spiritual guttersnip indeed. I enjoy listening to Prof. Dennett and reading his works. I’m going to ponder upon this and try to get further with this current book over the weekend. I can see a need a reread of Dawkins. I really enjoy his works too. Most importantly, allow myself time to examine deeper the implications. It’s a drag to be 100th chimp. Best …

  • Potter, I’m thinking how much resistance a religious person has to examining their beliefs analytically might have to do with how important it is to them that say, the world is flat, if that is their doctrine. They could have a whole political/social system based on flat earth that could crumble painfully if it were exposed as untrue. I think this is the problem Galileo had and Christians who insist that evolution must be wrong if it discredits anything that is written in the bible. But to me as a religious practitioner, I think I would want to know the truth however painful it may be. That’s why I’m a Buddhist. I take some comfort in knowing that the Dalai Lama has said that if age-old doctrine, or for example belief in reincarnation, can be empirically proven to be wrong, Buddhism would have to change. I can see how Dennett’s ideas may be very threatening to some religious people but I think it is a worthwhile pursuit. I don’t know how far it can go because I think there will always be some mystery beyond which our human tinkering cannot reach.

    Now, something that keeps coming up in this thread is the idea that religion exists to quell people’s anxiety. I think that is just a very small piece of it. In fact if someone is truly “called by the spiritâ€? to fulfill a certain destiny it can require a great deal of sacrifice. There are big examples of this like Martin Luther King or Gandhi but even in my own life there have been moments where I felt I was living in my destiny and they were not exactly calming but I will say I have felt myself to be in a state of grace even with all hell breaking loose just because I had that feeling of doing what I was put on this earth to do. That is anyway something that I want from my religion, to find my own groove or flow in this amazing universe acknowledging that I may not know what that is and it may even mean that I get to be the sacrifice.

    Lately it seems like it’s been my destiny to sit at my computer partaking in this fascinating blog thread but Lord Almighty I’ve got to get some work done today! I sure hope I didn’t piss off Nikos. He is such a great guy.

  • Oh wait! As soon as I hit the button I realized I meant to address cheeschow not Potter… dang, oh well

  • but of course I ment to address Potter et al as well…

  • cheesechowmain

    peggysue: “Now, something that keeps coming up in this thread is the idea that religion exists to quell people’s anxiety. I think that is just a very small piece of it.”

    I couldn’t agree more. I’ll defer describing the spiritual belief system I hang my hat upon. I don’t feel it relevent for my advocacy. Let me say that anxiety can be motivating. I have observed other people very much operating in a mode of anxiety. It is clear in deed, word, action, and intention. But, even if this is the motivation, a prolonged reliance upon anxiety may lead to a superficial experience. Just as in good health practices, some folks understand the need without a traumatic event. Others need the fear to correct behavior. To sustain the behavior, something other than fear probably needs to kick in. However, to not recognize the role of anxiety, its presence/absence, is to miss an important group of people, an opportunity, and putting some brain power on bridging the gaps. The activity of building the bridge will improve the study. I see no downsides. It is likely to be a productive time use of brain cycles.

    Prof. Dennett can be perceived to be operating in a sort of ‘bulldozer’ mode that is prevalent among some in the science community. Can we stipulate that scientists have been known to get ahead of themselves without thinking through the effects of their work. I hope I don’t need dig up web links which point out the improper use of the scientific method on people and animals and our environment. And certainly there has been cynical abuses and misuses of religion upon people. Furthermore, in the search for truth/Truth both communities have been known to abdicate their ethical and moral responsibilities at times. The seduction are often too great.

    Perhaps I am perceived as overtly paranoid. As they say, am I being paranoid enough? But, seriously, the reason to point this out is I’ve observed Prof. Dennett and other fellow travelers (Prof. Dawkins to name just one of several) not persuading people who have the very worldview they are interested in scrutinzing. A worldview where you can find palpable anxiety. Therefore, a wall goes up. Perhaps this would be helpful: I can concoct a scenario which will explain from a religious POV the need to cure Prof. Dennett of his sickness without regards to its effects upon him or fellow travelers. I hope we understand the implications. A study of beliefs can be argued to be of the same potential effects as cure of a scientific sickness if you disregard the necessity of ruminating about the effects before beginning the exercise. Both POV objectify the belief to be studied. Only the methods and findings differ. Both seek to perform an act which comports with the fitness of their worldview. History is replete in a lack of prudence and goodwill with coercive machinations. Again, tone and presentation, along with sincerity and good judgement are extremely important. Due diligence before embarking upon the study. These imcremental steps and dialog are not bonus steps. They are of necessity. Otherwise, an opportunity will be lost.

    Mercifully, I will not be included into the process, so I’m beginning to understand, my thoughts upon this matter are of no practical consequence. Like I said, being the last monkey on-the-bus can be a real drag. Best to all…for the good of the thread, I’ll try to stay at periscope depth. Pardon my intrusion.

  • Potter

    In a way, simply put it’s about making the communication, getting through. It’s one thing ( for a scientist ) to observe and come to know something or see something ( a pattern) more clearly and it is quite another to share that so that it has effect. Scientists are not good at this. And those who are on board can argue these things until they are blue in the face and it is worse than for nought because walls will go up ( as they have already) which is counterproductive having the opposite effect. (This psychology is nothing new.)

  • cheesechowmain

    Potter, a very keen observation and much shorter @ 7:38. And peggysue, thank you for the affirmations of courage and commitment. To hopefully complete my thought process, I am probably arguing for something Prof. Dennett may be advocating. I just haven’t heard it. So, what’s missing: I need to read the whole book for starters. Second, his interview interactions (I’ve heard/seen him speak several times) are not expansive formats. It may be that he has not been able to discuss the small incremental steps that I am accusing him of leap frogging in a thorough way. Third, I need to unpack my baggage and hit my listen/thinking button. Okay, I really am off…I hope.

  • jazzman

    First I want to agree with Nikos’ point that >> One of the worst things about the show was the inclusion of too many guests – it should have been Chris & Dennett for the entire pledge interrupted hour. The guests probably worked better for Chris as his analyses of Dennett’s theses was soundly repudiated by Dennett repeatedly (his disembodied voice had a timbre and cadence that reminded me of Garrison Keillor) before the introduction of the guests which added very little IMO to the discussion. Peggysue’s Duke Ellington quip was the only mention of the bloggers at all (I guess if the Duke brought it back to life then Art Tatum is God as acknowledged by Duke himself.)

    The 2nd thing I noticed was that Dennett conflates the evolution of non-genetically based entities with Darwinian Evolution I agree that concepts, ideas and beliefs evolve as in they change over time, but the meme thing as I said in the Morality thread is a facile attempt to impart the scientific (almost universal) imprimatur of DE to sociobiology and psychology both soft if not pseudo-sciences IMO much like Lamarck and Lysenko sought and E.O. Wilson’s theories seek scientific cachet. I was fascinated by the idea of memes some years back but came to the conclusion that except for jumping on the bandwagon (usually due to the lack of examination of one’s beliefs and the reasons for holding those beliefs,) memes are as bogus as the 100th monkey phenomenon. That I agree with philo on music: Peoples’ musical “ears� and taste evolve and the music created to appeal to those people’s emotional response is successful or not by the same criteria. The constant exposure to pop/hip-hop or any genre creates a subliminal response in a large part of the populace who are peer conscious which then “mimetically� reproduces itself in sales which generates more of the same genre. This phenomena would be miraculous if memes were actually a physical mechanism (like virtual photons or gravitons- hah) that mediated the effect. Memes are among those agents Dennett so vehemently decries.

    I found Dennett’s assertion that he did not discount the possibility of miracles disingenuous. He adduces 1 in a trillion odds against DE but states the DE constantly beats those odds because he believes in it, accepts it as fact and wouldn’t question or bother to investigate it even in the face of the miracle it would be if true. The putative fact that inert elementary particles somehow became “ert� is an unexplained miracle that he accepts because “there is non- life and life so life must have come from non-life – how else could it be? The miracle of consciousness (cat or other) is seen as an emergent epiphenomenon. He asks: “What purpose does the common cold virus have?� They serve many purposes – they can boost our immunity to other viruses – give us an excuse to avoid unpleasant engagements/situations – provide down time to give our stimuli barraged selves a break yada yada yada. There are many more reasons including the viruses’ joyful expression and self replication. The idea of bootstrapping is fallacious – the origin of the cliché that one lifts oneself by ones own bootstraps says it all – it’s impossible. The modern notion of a computer bootstrapping gives rise to the something from nothing idea but that’s just a meme. Enough on the woebegone hour.

    I enjoyed Freethinker’s ideas and echo many of the sentiments. I may say something next week about them but I only have a limited time tonight.

    Potter: Regarding the Czeslaw Milosz poem. I agree with the idea that it is neither kind nor advisable in certain cases to “sadden your brother� but it is your brother’s decision to be saddened if and when he believes the assertion. He has to learn to decide for himself (as do each of us) what his belief is. I used to argue with fundamentalists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, LDS etc. for sport. I slowly realized it was inappropriate as I had nothing to offer as a replacement for beliefs that I logically decimated (to my mind and some of theirs) I caused disharmony in families and even though they made the decision to question some of their fundamental beliefs I was doing it out of less than ideal (ego) motives. I tried to talk to a couple of Muslim Engineers during the Salman Rushdie Fatwa about intolerance and they told me he should die for blaspheming Allah. That was when I realized that a person’s belief system is his/her religion and it is like a computer’s operating system. All data is processed according to the rules and the filters of their beliefs. This is the case for all humans – realizing that is the first step to change.

  • Nikos

    The energy and matter comprising us is earth and water, powered by sunlight and freshened by air. We each are ancient stardust made conscious by the seeming miracles that follow Earth’s absorption of sunlight. Therefore:

    Revere all other humans: they are you in different bodies. They see, on your behalf, what you cannot. On your behalf they hear what you cannot. On your behalf they smell what you cannot. On your behalf they taste what you cannot.

    And on your behalf they feel what you cannot.

    Revere all other creatures: they may not ponder as profoundly as you, but they feel just as deeply.

    Revere the plants: they feed you, whether directly or through animals that consume them, that you consume in turn.

    Revere the mountains and the valleys, the forests and the deserts, the wild steppes and the tamed plains. Revere all water, no matter its amount. Earth and water combine with sunlight to make you and all other life.

    Consider carefully – with empathy as your guide – the effect on other creatures and people any action you make.

    After empathy guides you, choose the action that harms the fewest other sentient creatures.

    Is this religion?

    I just made it all up. It’s nothing more than a quick distillation of precepts I try to live by, precepts I’ve never before tried to codify like this.

    If it’s religion, then I’m religious without knowing it.

    My favorite route for going to church is the grueling two-hour climb up the Maynard Burn Trail, to 7,000 feet above sea level and a 200-mile view to any direction. It’s one of the world’s most magnificent cathedrals, and I usually have it to myself.

    On reaching the summit, I sit, pant, and gawk in utter awe.

    Every time.

    The world I see up there is worthy of reverence – and even of veneration.

    And please note: not once do my precepts mention ‘god’. Not even ‘divinity’. I would suggest that this creed of mine is perhaps a purer form of ‘moral goodness’ than the morals propagated by most religious authorities.

    This is my latest attempt to meet halfway Potter, CCM, and any others offended by my insistence that the common, culturally accepted concept of ‘god’ is inherently flawed.

    This personal ‘creed’ is my best answer to Potter’s poem.

    Is this apples vs. oranges?

    Let me know. I’m still sussing it out.

  • beautiful Nikos. Some might call it religion. Some might call it Deep Ecology or Northwest Mysticism. I don’t think it matters what you call it but it reminds me I need to get outside more.

  • babu

    h wally: if you’re still around, aplologies for my 5:39 post. The oxygen bit was all a riff but my timing was off at the end.

    Nikos: I worship James Lovelock and Gaia. I think that with Gaia, Lovelock created a flashcard for the rest of us to ‘see, glimpse, intuit’ the huge fractal, pattern-making, self-organizing chaos-driven magesteria we would otherwise not be able to access personally.

    Your Gaia mention teased out a correlation between a conundrum I encounter in my work and the opus of this thread on religion. As a landscape architect I studied Gaia 101, but as a practitioner I interact with the public, who are conditioned to want, and therefore ask me for Roman villas. (I’n the interest of brevity, I’m generalizing) Our moral and aesthetic construct about working the earth is biblical, paternalistic, etc. Sustainable, green design sounds great but runs into a ‘fundamentalist’ wall in practice. Those weedy native plants look dead all winter and I’ve sadly concluded that people don’t want to be reminded of or live with their mortality……they prefer juicy, water-guzzling ornamental landscapes; oases signifying heaven on earth. I could go on, but this is a conversation for another context.

  • Nikos

    Perhaps I should explain a bit further and more precisely the responsibility I feel to publicly question ‘god’. Dan Dennett actively worries (in his book) that his famous willingness to investigate religion risks his life. I worry too.

    Let’s assume for argument that the Christian god and Allah are not only the same being but real, and that He is watching us.

    Which of His purported scriptural teachings are we to believe?

    If we accept that humans are imperfect (compared to god – and for the record, I don’t think we’re ‘imperfect’ because I don’t seriously believe in ‘ideal states’), then we must acknowledge the possibility that those claiming to know “God’s will� might actually not. The voices speaking in their minds might be none other than their own. Their teaching and the actions they advocate might not be divinely inspired at all – yet religion insists or at least suggests otherwise.

    Now, if you were God (or Allah), what would you do?

    How about this:

    Miraculously inspire a non-theistic rendition (like mine of the 8:46 PM, March 24, 2006) of the morals you want your people to follow, and, just to avert the risk of violence mistakenly done in your name teach that you don’t exist!

    This, in one ‘fell swoop’, obviates priesthoods.

    Wouldn’t this be much more prudent? Safer?

    And more divinely clever???

    You could still judge people by their adherence to the morals you covertly imparted, while safeguarding against tricksters earning a living by falsely representing you!

    If I were God, I would insist that I don’t exist!

    Which what? – makes cranky old Nikos a prophet! 🙂

  • Nikos

    PS to my admittedly tongue-in-cheek 10:27 PM March 24, 2006: it just occurred to me that, entirely by accident, it might be ingenious.

    Because if God’s intent is to judge a person’s true goodness, my seemingly silly model provides a more genuine test than one wherein fear of Hell, or, at least, the loss of paradise provides a carrot and stick.

    I mean, what does God want to test: our fear and/or greed for an afterlife, or our true, unselfish ‘goodness’?

    Any clergy reading this might want to suggest my spontaneously generated idea and model to your personal gods and saviors. 😉

  • You old anti-trickster Nikos. Love those ideas.

    If there were an all knowing, all powerful entity of some kind, it would also seem unnecessary to have places of worship and prayers, since that entity (let’s call it BT for Big Tofu, which is healthier than cheese) would know what is in people’s hearts and minds regardless (must have one hell of a big memory chip and brilliant data management program to keep track of all the details). And why would BT give so much power (free will) to the people in the first place? Just to test how true they are? No need, BT would already know. So it has to be a game. Then the BT wouldn’t really care about any single or any group of pawns (and please don’t tell me that BT would root for some underdog), so what would be the point of appealing, through some kind of sacrifice, repentance, sip of wine or the like? As Nikos says, BT wouldn’t need middle-men either because BT could use a much more efficient direct programming method.

    This then leaves two choices. One is that BT is not all knowing and all powerful. BT is more like a demi-god or, god forbid, one of the lessor gods, in which case BT is just competing with Ganga, Dionysus and the likes. Or maybe BT is only a celestial being, like an Apsaras. Or an angle. Or a fairy.

    The other choice is that BT is just a wish, a desire, a vision, a possibility, which tosses it all back to us and what as individuals, groups and societies (given the limitations of our genetic and evolutionary dispositions and time/space conditions) we come to make of this life.

    Some choose to walk with thunder and go out with a bang, but I prefer to tread lightly and, when the time comes, go gently into the night.

  • Nikos

    Hi jazzman. Nice to see your presence here. I was beginning to wonder if the ‘evolutionary’ premise had put you off the topic entirely.

    Now, you realize that your rejection of the ‘meme’ notion for its parallel to DE might just commend to the rest of us, don’t you? 😉

    Jests aside, and despite the truth that I’m merely a dilettante meme enthusiast and nothing like an expert, I disagree with your meme critique and here’s why:

    First, even common, everyday language is thoroughly underlain by metaphor. This is of course less true for abstract language, but I think the meme concept lies in between abstract and metaphoric. Thus, when it’s used in discourse, it sure seems like the speakers or writers are saying that memes have ‘lives of their own’ – as if they’d exist even without hosting minds – but that’s just the metaphor, not the reality. Of course they must have hosting minds.

    The first time a woman planted a seed she’d gathered, the ‘gardening’ meme was born. If the action hadn’t led to plants sprouting in the same location she’d planted, the meme wouldn’t have survived. Instead, plants sprouted and the gardening meme proved valuable enough to spread to other human minds for its cultivation – leading, obviously, to more and more experiments with crop cultivation. (Moreover, who knows how many unsuccessful attempts other ‘first-hosts’ of the gardening meme might have made by planting in poor conditions or inappropriate soil? But, once it worked and caught on, a whole memetic family evolved.)

    Stretching skin across an empty turtle shell started somewhere as a simple meme, was copied and developed by others, who cultivated it into drumming and scads of other rhythmic practices – which likely entail millions of memes. Yet music is obviously less ‘useful’ than agriculture. Even so, early musicians liked it, and enough so to cultivate and refine it. (Thank goodness!) And music, though splendid, likely doesn’t award a hard and fast evolutionary advantage.

    Isn’t it conceivable that human culture, regardless of its component ‘usefulness’, is the descendants of early memes?

    How about recent, purely ‘useless’ memes: like baseball caps. Then baseball caps worn at rakish angles. Then baseball caps worn backwards. Then baseball caps worn backwards and at rakish angles!

    None of this ‘style’ is in any way evolutionarily useful. Why do the styles evolve and persist? Because people like it, right? Yes, and that’s because it confers something of perceived value to whoever likes it enough to let it colonize his or her mind. (Disclaimer: I don’t like hats of any kind except for winter woolen ones and my Goretex rain hat for outdoors activities – and even then I remove them at first chance.) So, ‘perceived value’ is the same necessary predicate for the gardening and drumming memes.

    For all successful, persistent, and evolving memes.

    Now, religion entails a different family of memes from the others, and it probably has roots even more ancient than agriculture. Religion’s zillion memes have persisted through untold generations of variations and experiments and failures. The most useful – useful, that is, to the hosting minds, like emperors and popes and inquisitors – developed the refinements necessary to persist and flourish. In other words, these ideas — memes — evolved to suit their hosts. Symbiotically.

    Ultimately, ‘meme’ is only a concept for studying the spread and evolution of ideas. It’s a bit gnarly at first because it’s a concept about concepts, and yes, it relies on belief in evolution – but that’s why Dennett can make such convincing use of it in Breaking The Spell.

    And that’s why I think it revolutionary and useful enough for me to seek the fluency to use it correctly.

    Therefore, I would appreciate any feedback, blowback, or simple questions, from anyone so inclined, to force me into ever more accurate comprehension of this ice-cream-sundae of a novelty-idea.

  • Nikos

    First, a correction for the second sentence my post directly above: “Now, you realize that your rejection of the ‘meme’ notion for its parallel to DE might just commend it to the rest of us, don’t you?”

    Babu: I love the Gaia theory, but I’ve heard it hasn’t stood up to scrutiny. I’d welcome any references you can point me toward. I’ve got Lovelock’s book, and another whose title I can’t recall and don’t want to rummage through the mess to find. I’m hoping for something more recent than my mid-90’s era info, anyway.

    Next, no Peggy Sue, my religious upbringing was a bit schizophrenic, and not Catholic. It started in a Greek Orthodox church but was incomprehensible because the whole thing was recited and sung in Greek, which I barely understood. This made church very, very boring. The only things of visual interest were the weird costumes of the clergy and the altar boys, and the horrifying icons of the bleeding, dying man nailed to a big stick.

    Why, I ask, hasn’t anyone ever questioned the appropriateness of exposing small children to that sort of gore?

    Talk about unassailable sacred cows!

    Anyway, perhaps my Greek Sunday school teacher wasn’t much good, or maybe the morality she taught rubbed me the wrong way (probably!), but for whatever reason, I wasn’t much of a believer even while young enough to know of no alternatives…

    Well, that might not be exactly true.

    My father read to us kids a children’s version of the Iliad and Odyssey. And I loved the gods and goddesses in that stuff – a cast of characters so much more fun, expansive, and realistic than the tiny and tedious Christian pantheon. Plus, we had an illustrated book of Greek myths, and my dad had stashed away (but not well enough!) other illustrated books – including artistic representations of life in ancient Crete. (Bare breasts and all – and don’t believe the propaganda that little boys aren’t interested in naked women. It just ain’t so.) So, even as a kid, I yearned for a radically different religion than the incomprehensible and stern nonsense in church.

    Then just to confuse everything, I lived for a few years with my non-Greek mother – who took us to a Presbyterian church. This, at least, was all in English, and the pastor was progressive, patient, and forgiving. So, I prayed a lot. And I had a lot to pray for too: without going into the nasty details, my childhood was a pretty miserable affair. Yet none of my prayers earned any of the goodness I yearned for. So, at around 11 or 12, when an older relative confided the shocking truth that there wasn’t a god to listen to anyone’s prayers, I was at first crushed (like learning the truth of Santa), but my hard experiences had set me up for this sort of disabusing, and, after the inevitable moping, I accepted it.

    Then for years I trundled along as an agnostic/atheist, even while pining for something more ancient and pagan. Briefly tried Buddhism, but it didn’t feel authentic to me – I guess I wanted something more related to my childhood yearnings. And then, in the mini-explosion of neo-paganism, found it.

    And found, amid the questionable spirituality, a whole bunch of egomania-for-misfits. Now, I’m a quiet guy to begin with, so my ‘pagan’ period turned real quick into a solo practice. (Real quick, as in, about a week.) And, not long after that, I realized two things: my ‘rituals’ were little more than mediations to incenses, candles, and tiny icons, and my true sense of connectedness with the ‘earth spirit’ occurred outdoors, not inside. So, even after finding at last my childhood dream-religion, I wasn’t much of a ‘believer’.

    Ever since then, for my version of a ‘religious experience’, I go hiking, mountain scrambling, and canoeing.

    So, to answer your question, I’ve never found much to commend anything like ‘organized’ religion – even though it fascinates me and plays a central role in my fiction of empathetic pagan priestesses and their wild adventures.

    Is that a satisfying answer? If not, I’ll happily try to answer any other queries you might pose. Although it might be best to do this at our get-together instead of here in the forum?

  • Nikos: I am really looking forward to talking to you about….

    “my fiction of empathetic pagan priestesses and their wild adventures”

    I just wondered if Catholicism lurked somewhere in your past because the people I know who are also vehemently anti “God” or “religion” have suffered through Catholic upbringings and the negative reaction is understandable. I was just trying to understand how you came to have such intense views on the subject.

    Even as a child I was creating rituals and seeking out religious experience… so, maybe I did get the religion gene from my Mom ; )

  • I wonder if Dennetts religious meme is not just what Nietzsche’s death of god and Foucault’s death of man must look like in the age of genetics. Or is this what we get when we brew together structuralism, evolutionary theory and the resplendid replication?

    Let me get this staight. Sugar, through the tongue, sound through the ears, numbers through the fingers and faith from a breath of air found the perfect host in the human brain to evolve into taste, music, mathematics and religion, just because they could. Go figure.

  • Potter

    To Peggysue from http://www.radioopensource.org/is-god-in-our-genes/#comment-8242

    The whole post is good, and thanks for the anecdote of the Sioux woman’s anger and the evolution of your thinking. This, as a result of meditation practice no doubt. I meditated for five years practically daily which helped me enormously. I am aiming to get back to it. I do practice mindfulness and lovingkindness in my life. I am convinced that Buddhism is very advanced and has so much to offer those of us brought up in the Abrahamic religious traditions. Many Jews have gravitated to Buddhism and there are some prominent Buddhist teachers of Jewish background in this country. ( this is another subject)

    Peggysue I think that if we’ve had a religious upbringing our ideas of God can be so deeply embedded into our consciousness we don’t even know it.

    .

    To Nikos: I enjoyed reading your post above of 3:00 am particularly the part about your upbringing though I cannot believe you are a quiet guy.

    Regarding your creed/religion you write:

    Is this religion?
I just made it all up. It’s nothing more than a quick distillation of precepts I try to live by, precepts I’ve never before tried to codify like this.
If it’s religion, then I’m religious without knowing it.

    I don’t think you just made it all up, it’s been slow in coming and I would say it all is and has been embodied one way or another in and from others as well as in various religions. Those ideas have been transmitted to you and what you have done, as many of us have, is weed your garden and allow a few strong trees to stand. Weeding frees us up to grab onto music and soar with it, or shriek at the thrill of seeing a tiny frog drinking a dewdrop on a leaf.

    That is not to say either that fervent belief in a religion does not work the same for some.

    I think Joseph Campbell might say that once we get around, through, past these portals we should arrive at a place where we meet in spirit. If we do not then something is wrong. The first place to look is within.

  • Nikos

    Potter: right – I didn’t “make it all upâ€? any without outside influence. But I grounded it in the bare essentials of what life on earth is: a seemingly miraculous parthogenesis stemming from sunlight’s actions on the third stone from the sun in question.

    It’s not grounded in any sort of god. It’s ‘bare bones’, too.

    I posited it to show that one can lead an entirely ‘moral’ and empathetically grounded life with absolutely no personal ‘religion’ – in the organized sense, at least.

    And I stand by that.

    ‘God’ is not necessary. And if I were god, I would insist to humans that this is so.

    Religion is not necessary; and priests are not necessary.

    Many before me have observed this, but the memetic systems of religion have evolved defenses to discredit those whose freethinking has comprehended these truths.

    And Dennett’s book is invaluable for that observation if nothing else!

  • Nikos

    re the last two sentences of my 10:19AM — I’m very much looking forward to CCM’s view of the book for exactly this reason. If you’re a believer, and you see the sense of the argument — like Michael Murray said so on the show — then, like Murray, you must postulate that God has given us this analytical gift to help us to Him.

    I, unsurprisingly, found Murray’s argument a convenient new evolution of the religious meme system that seeks to secure its domain from any risk of disconfirmation. Which any successful memetic system must do.

  • Nikos

    crap. re my 10:19 again: “Potter: right – I didn’t “make it all upâ€? without any outside influence.”

    I should never type before drinking my morning coffee. 🙁

  • Nikos

    sidewalker: All I can say to your typically excellent 6:18AM (I loved your 1:15AM too, btw) is that this ‘meme’ stuff doesn’t make sense out of context — but makes crystalline sense in context. Just like we don’t truly begin to understand words until we hear them used in sentences, you’ve got to read Dennett’s book to grasp the sense of the ‘meme’ tool.

    And keep in mind: it’s no more or less a tool than any other concept.

    Tools that don’t perform as well as others rust away to dust in the bottom of the toolbox.

    I very much doubt that this will be the fate of the ‘meme’ tool.

    Try it, and let me know how you like its ‘action’ and utility.

  • Nikos

    Babu: I found what I was looking for in the ‘usual suspect’ place: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaia_hypothesis

    Potter: keep in mind that I am now God’s prophet of His nonexistence. You must therefore hereafter tolerate my open religious skepticism. 😉

    Everyone: a bit more about memes: it’s simply a concept, a metaphoric tool for comprehension of hitherto incomprehensible mysteries.

    This is exactly why it so threatens religion. Religion is a ‘memetic system’ that for millennia has brilliantly insulated itself from risk of disconfirmation.

    Again: scrutiny by way of a memetic lens can’t disprove ‘god’, but it sure can ask a whole new slew of penetrating questions.

    Murray’s reply to Dennett on the air was an example of memetic evolution at work. Murray warmly hosts the religion meme, and his suggestion that God has given us this new tool of the ‘meme lens’ to better understand His truths is a perfect and sterling example of how this meme persists in the face of all critical scrutiny.

    American belief that belief in God is a virtue is another example of the meme’s adaptability.

    Potter’s insistence that my reaction to the poem’s censorious intent is closely related to the meme’s pervasive influence and insistence that it must not be questioned.

    Fundamentalist Islam’s violent, coercive reactions to expressions of skepticism are a startling and abhorrent example of the meme’s successes in insulating itself from risk of disconfirmation. “Believe in me or die.”

    Again, if all this meme talk is Greek to you, read the Dennett book.

    I look forward to more conversation, should the prospect appeal to anyone.

  • Nikos

    Sheesh. Sometimes not even coffee is enough to make a dumb guy bright.

    Correction: “Potter’s insistence that my reaction to the poem’s censorious intent is misguided is closely related to the meme’s pervasive influence and insistence that it must not be questioned.”

    Sorry everyone!

  • babu: “I worship James Lovelock and Gaia”.

    just a note from the bookstore… James Lovelock’s new book is now out in the UK and we are awaiting it here. Title, Gaia’s Revenge. But this should probably go on the global warming thread.

  • opps really screwed up my bolds & italics

  • Nikos

    I’m not really trying to push this thread to 300 by Monday, it only seems like it.

    I just ‘memed’ a new way to talk in simple language about memes:

    Memes aren’t either ‘true’ or ‘false’. Cat litter scoops aren’t true of false either. Cat litter scoops are tools, and they are real. They are rather useful, too.

    Memes weren’t ‘real’ until Dawkins coined the term, inventing in-so-doing a new conceptual tool.

    Now, if memes can help religious professionals to clean the litter boxes of their faith traditions, are they not then potentially rather useful tools?

    Miraculous, even?

    Memes aren’t ‘true or false’, they’re simply ‘real’ to those that use them. Just like litter scoops.

  • Nikos

    oOpS! I failed to make the comparison plain: let’s please say that the ‘litter boxes’ in my metaphor aren’t the religions, but that the religions are the cats that the clergy tend and feed!

    And we don’t want our cats living in unhealthy bio-waste, now do we?

    Maybe your gods will appreciate your cleaning of the box!

  • Potter

    Potter’s insistence that my reaction to the poem’s censorious intent is misguided is closely related to the meme’s pervasive influence and insistence that it must not be questioned.�

    Nikos you said that Milosz poem was misguided and censorious. I did not feel censored by it. It awakened me, sort of like Peggysue was awakened to something in herself by the Sioux woman’s anger. I recognized in this poem that I arrived at a place where I no longer feel the need to battle other people’s religions out of them (my own family’s especially) to prove my own beliefs. I am relieved.

    And then I have come to see the beauty of these human creations. (Not to deny the harm.)

    I see the benefits those that I love derive from their practice.

    I think the “brother’s keeper” meme is a good one. I think you do too from your posts. ( Can I use “meme” for that?)

    Of course you are free to say whatever you want to whom you wish but sometimes it is not wise, nor moral, nor effective ( in my view). I can understand being on guard against any morality being imposed on you especially if you come from a strong religious tradition that you have left for those very reasons, maybe the same basic one that made me hit the road. But I trust that you are a caring person and wil not in fact trun through the streets shouting “There is no God” ( as if that would get you anywhere but into a straight jacket).

    But I don’t think this is about religion at all. This plea of Milosz comes from another place- outside of religion. Milosz is after all by saying “ifâ€? allowing for the possibility in himself that there may not be a God. He has taken that step. But he cautions about saying this definitively, authoritatively to one who would possibly be put into a depair,saddened. The brother who needs keeping, one needs to be more careful with, so be cautious. That’s compassion.

    In other words after religion, after God, there is still morality, we are still here caring for each other. This is a tree left standing.

  • Potter

    Nikos, I forgot to ask what meme ( exactly) “must not be questioned”. The existence of God? The need for religion? ( can you point me to your post on that?)

  • Nikos: I’ll refrain from appointing you the ‘God that doesn’t exist’ (for now) but how about the Grand PooBa of the New United States to whom is given the task of rewriting the Constitution? not quite all-powerful but significant none-the-less. Would you tamper with that meme we call the ‘Bill of Rights’ by rewording the part that guarantees the citizenry ‘Freedom of Religion’?

  • Bonobo theory: In his book Universe in a Sigle Atom the Dalai Lama, in the chapter on evolution mentions “One of Tibets own myths of creation tells how the Tibetan people evolved from the mating of a monkey and a fierce ogress (a theory he says he is not convinced of).

  • Nikos

    Peggy Sue: No!

    I’ve got lot’s to say especially to Potter but won’t have time till tonight. (It’s all love, Potter, don’t fret.)

    Except for this: Dennett doesn’t call for the abolition of religion either. Some genius earlier in this thread pointed out that Jesus tried to reform religion and got killed for it. Dennett is asking that religions examine themselves and don’t mind the help of others whose outsider perspectives can offer rich threads of insight.

    Dennett suggests that religions offer much beauty and value to human life — and much threat and misery too.

    It’s incumbent upon religion to rectify this, just as it is upon junkyards to remove refrigerator doors so that kids playing don’t get inveigled and pay with their lives.

    Lastly (for now, only for now), the bill of rights must also include a citizen’s right of freedom from religion — and from the perils posed by others’ religions!

    Religions, to be blunt and brusque, need to clean up their acts.

    Later, all.

  • Nikos

    PS: religionists armed with nuclear weapons?

    Religions need to clean up their act, and need to do so internally — and NOW.

  • Nikos: oh good. My understanding of freedom of religion is that it includes freedom of conscience allowing for personal beliefs including evangelical secularism.

    What I wish is that we could get rid of intolerance, cruelty, and violence (by any memes necessary!) whether it is cloaked in religion or justified any other way. Anti-religious forces can be just as horrific and murderous as any pro-religion force. I’m thinking of China in Tibet and all of the tortured and murdered monks and nuns, destroyed temples, libraries and religious art.

  • And Nikos: I do hope you know I mean this in the spirit of friendly banter.

  • Nikos

    Peggy Sue: here’s some friendly banter back at you:

    pssst! Peggy Sue, I secretly kinda like religion – just none of the world’s current ones!

    Don’t tell!

    But even if I were crowned World King, with the sovereign right to impose on whim any style of worship, I doubt I’d ever be much of a believer in anything apart from my non-religious earth reverence. I’d simply make everybody get outside on Sundays for a couple of hours or more, and listen to the voices of nature.

    Some ‘religion’, huh?

    ‘Real world’ religion is like motor racing: a hell of a spectacle, exciting, stirring, oddly beautiful and inspirational, and dangerous to its professionals and onlookers alike, and: a titanic industry. Yet its sudden disappearance would free massive amounts of resources for other more worthwhile uses, and we’d probably not lose much in the way of ‘real value’ in the bargain. (Although I could be wrong on this last wisecrack — I’m willing to ‘parley’ over the reputed positves of religion.)

    Anyway, here’s how a revised Article of Religious Freedom might work in practice.

    Freedom from Religion. This would not only ensure that a future government could never mandate religious observance; it would act to prevent use of the public airwaves to convey religious content. You’d have to ask your cable TV provider for the televangelist channels. It would be bundled into a ‘premium’ package instead of included in ‘basic’. Religious radio would have to move to satellite.

    On the street, proselytizers could set up sidewalk tables covered with their tracts and let interested people take them, but the passersby would have to initiate the exchange, not the religionists. AND: no more door-to-door proselytizing.

    Any such intrusive religious proselytizing would violate constitutionally guaranteed freedom from religion.

    As for Freedom from ‘Religiously Posed Peril’:

    Let’s say I start a new religion that (improbably) worships the ancient Greek Olympian pantheon. Part of this new creed is a paranoid preaching that claims that all Greek Orthodox Christians are secretly in league and plotting to recreate the Byzantine Empire in America – and therefore I preach that all unrepentant Greeks must be attacked, in hopes of either killing them off or forcing them out of the country from fear for their lives.

    Now, laughs aside, recall that the Pursuit of Happiness is a national credo. You can hardly pursue happiness if bigots are threatening your life by preaching your destruction.

    Free speech stops where threats and exhortations urging hostilities begin.

    You wanna ape the Nazis and preach that Jews are subhuman vermin? Fine, try it in solitary confinement in the Big House, pal. Try it while your written communications are burned before your eyes by your prison guards.

    No religion practicing hate speech ought be allowed to rupture or threaten any citizen’s pursuit of happiness.

    How’s that for a preliminary scheme?

    Oh, and think how relieved the ACLU would be to be obviated from protecting the constitutional right to hate speech! They could switch instead to protecting the constitutional rights of those threatened by paranoid and bigoted religionists.

  • Nikos

    This starts addressed to Potter, but, like most posts on this forum, it’s ultimately for everyone.

    One function of the blog style of writing is that it pays to be concise. Sure, this is true for all writing, but its truth is stronger here. We all know that I’m not very good at it, but that’s beside the point. I try, and one consequence of trying for conciseness is that it’s much easier to post your strongest feelings and neglect to express your moderate ones.

    If you feel that religion is an old menace growing stronger every year, it’s much easier to say why. It’s less easy to moderate your discontent: it might weaken the points you most want to represent. And it lengthens the post in the process. So, here’s a belated ‘moderation’:

    I’m not advocating the abolition of religion. As I said above (6:22 PM March 25, 2006), religion’s providers need to weed the fields of scripture from which they reap their seeds and crops. The rest of this post will try to express why in concise detail.

    Dennett in his Chapter 10 mentions and quotes Sam Harris, who says that

    “…there is a cruel Catch-22 in the worthy efforts of the moderates and ecumenists in all religions: by their good works they provide protective coloration for their fanatical coreligionists, who quietly condemn their open-mindedness and willingness to change while reaping the benefits of the good public relations they thereby obtain. In short, the moderates in all religions are being used by the fanatics, and should not only resent this; they should take whatever steps they can find to curtail it in their own tradition. Probably no one else can do it, a sobering thought:

    “If a stable peace is ever to be achieved between Islam and the West, Islam must undergo a radical transformation. This transformation, to be palatable to Muslims, must also appear to come from Muslims themselves. It does not seem much of an exaggeration to say that the fate of civilization lies largely in the hands of ‘moderate’ Muslims. (Sam Harris, The End of Faith, p.154, 2004)

    “We must hold these moderate Muslims responsible for reshaping their own religion—but that means we must equally hold moderate Christians and Jews and others responsible for all the excesses in their own traditions.� (Dennett, pgs. 299-300) (Emphasis in bold added by Nikos)

    I worry that the ‘martyrdom by suicide’ meme isn’t exclusive to Islam – hell, we know that Christians, Jews, and Hindus (at least!) have been willing in the past to die for their religions.

    Here’s a spy novel plot for anyone to steal (I don’t write spy fiction although I’m often happy to read it): the psychological crisis of an American Air Force Academy graduate…we’ll call him Jess. He’s in intelligence, undercover in Karachi, and learns all about the Pakistani nuclear arsenal and how to procure, with funds provided by the CIA, a nuke. This is a ‘sting’ operation of his anti-proliferation job, but Jess hides enough of his work from his superiors for them to provide the money and wait for their trusted spy’s timing to procure the thing. What his superiors don’t know is that Jess is a repressed homosexual and guilty as sin over it. His wife has left him, his personal life is in ruins, and he is a devout Christian – and eager for the Rapture. He knows he isn’t likely to get raptured himself because once while drunk he had a homosexual encounter and liked it. His self-torment hasn’t tainted his work – until now. An undercover Islamist persuades Jess that an action that starts WWIII and the biblical ‘end of the world’ might win him his place in the Rapture.

    Jess acquires the nuke, and, using his diplomatic cover, smuggles it into Israel…and detonates Armageddon.

    A fanciful tale? Sure. It needs many more details to be convincing – but that’s how novelists spin their webs of lies – by adding detail.

    The point is that the ‘end of times’ needn’t come from an Islamic action. It could well come from a Christian or Jewish one – or even a Hindu. I don’t know much about Hinduism, but I can tell you what I do know about. I grew up in more than one American working class neighborhood, and in one, my bigoted pals openly daydreamed of crusading in Israel to take back the Holy Land for Jesus! One of them joined the Air Force, too. (Needless to say, I had to ‘hold my nose’ more than a little in my youth.) And this, mind you, was in the mid-1970’s! Nowadays kids have internet access: access to hate sites and to religious extremism.

    How do we know fundamentalist Christianity isn’t quietly breeding a new slew of terrorists for Jesus? We don’t. What we do know is that it sure did just that (crusaders) a millennium ago.

    The problem is scripture: it needs weeding.

    It needs it badly. Too many religionists (regardless of creed) uncritically try to swallow the whole morass of their faith’s sacred texts – this leads to internally contradictory religious messages and to unacceptable bigotry too. (Not to mention millions of man hours wasted in ‘interpretation’ instead of in charitable activities!)

    Here’s a start. Imagine you are witnessing a World Convocation of all major religions. The first religion stands before the others and says:

    “My name is Greek Orthodoxy, and I am an addict. I have tried for centuries to be a force for good in the name of my Lord and Savoir, but in my youth I fell afoul of devilry. I am addicted to worship and to the money those I attract as worshippers bring to me.

    I am old now, in my dotage, and before I expire in my home continent’s increasing religious disinterest, I wish to redeem myself.

    I have for millennia fought wars and slain innocents. I have preached intolerance, exclusivity, and I have hypocritically condoned and fostered hatred.

    No longer.

    To this end, I disavow all of the Bible save Jesus’s message of unconditional love, forgiveness, acceptance, and the paupering of oneself through acts of charity.

    No Hell.

    No crucifixion.

    No resurrection.

    No Old Testament.

    Only good works in hopes of pleasing God.

    Jesus does not exclude souls – he forgives.

    I have decided therefore to cull from the gospels only the messages of love, forgiveness, acceptance, and sharing, and this small, retained fraction of the old Bible will hereafter become the entirety of our Holy Words.

    I know that this act might well diminish me: people needing the carrot of eternal salvation and the stick of a threatened Hell might abandon me for other, unrepentant preachers of unverifiable hellfire and damnation. Yet I can no longer countenance my addiction to worship and income.

    I must risk my relevance in service of the God I have misrepresented for most of my existence – and in hopes that His anger over my sins might fade to Christian forgiveness. Perhaps my act will inspire others to cleanse their own scriptures of their toxicities. I offer my very existence as a sacrifice to this end.�

    Now, don’t you think it peculiar that this little sketch is coming from an unbeliever?

    Just the other night I was typing away right here as I am now, and something took over my fingers: without knowing it, I typed God’s revelation:

    He long ago stopped speaking in the minds of the men who claim to represent him. These men selected their scriptures from false sources that projected not His message of love but their own images and their prejudiced, mistaken beliefs about people. These men polluted the essence of the teachings meant to illuminate humankind, in favor of messages that provide excuses for enrichment and the pursuit of princely powers.

    Your God, religionists, has lost patience with hypocrites that invoke Him to satisfy greed and to justify bigotry.

    He is so angry that He has chosen me – of all people, one who doesn’t believe in His existence! – to relay news of His retirement from concerns over earthy and human affairs, and to teach that He doesn’t exist.

    He is, in short, so disgusted that He is giving up on you.

    He is angry as sin that He has time and again reincarnated Jesus to spread the Word of love, forgiveness, and charity; yet religionists and the world’s leaders alike ignore the message. He has given you Jesus as Gandhi, as Martin Luther King, and as millions of progressive humanists and feminists.

    Yet none who ought listen pay His many messengers any heed.

    Religionists: your God is speaking through an infidel. He is challenging you to study your scripture and retain only the messages of love, forgiveness, acceptance, and charity.

    How about it, patriarchal monotheisms?

    How willing are you to risk your institutional bloat and influence, and strip down your message to the sweetest essences of your God’s goodness?

    Are any of you willing to dare to claim that you’ve hosted a new, corrective visitation from your God, instead of leaving His messaging to one who scorns you?

    Are you willing to host this Divine Visitation and afterwards trim the toxic fat from your scriptures – toxicity that oppresses, excoriates, judges, condemns, and advocates or condones violence?

    What sort of men are you really? Gutless conformists who fear the loss of stature and relevance?

    Or courageous men who will risk irrelevance – and in so doing just might recreate and reinvigorate religion – your religion – and with it capture the hearts and minds of all the world’s peoples? (And hasn’t this always been your egotistical goal?)

    Have you the testicular fortitude to admit and confess your self-absorbed excesses and meet the unbeliever’s challenge?

    Who knows – doing so might just inspire a new and approving real-world appearance of this God of yours I dismiss as fiction.

    Would you care to chance this, to prove wrong my scorning disbelief?

    An anxious world awaits.

    Sincerely,

    Guttersnipe Nick

    Unwitting Chosen Prophet of Your God’s Nonexistence

  • Nikos

    The italics thing is weird and touchy. Sorry. I don’t know why it spilled over from the Dennett/Harris quote, but it’s probably self-evident where it was supposed to stop.

    Also, Potter, I’ll look into your specific meme question tomorrow. My two long posts tonight — amid the routines of life — ate up all my time.

    See ya.

  • Nikos

    To be clear: the italics should have stopped @ “p.154, 2004)”

  • Nikos

    Two more thoughts about memes – one specifically for Potter (yet for everyone), and another general one (yet also for Potter as much as for everyone):

    Viewed through a meme lens (remember please, Jazzman, that memes aren’t ‘true or false’ but simply conceptual tools) religion’s spectacular success has depended in no small part on the memetic variant that says: ‘Perpetuation of this cultural entity (religion) is imperiled by any threat of the Supernatural Entity’s disconfirmation. Therefore: protect the Supernatural Entity from threat of disconfirmation no matter what!’

    ‘No matter what’ can be as abhorrent and severe as the possibility of death for Afghanistan’s Abdul Rahman (for converting to Christianity) – or as mildly censorious as the Milosz poem. (And yes, I still contend that it is at least mildly censorious – in fact, its very mildness lends it such emotional power that it’s likely a more effective censor [to Americans] than the Islamic threat of execution!)

    The ‘general’ point about the usefulness of memes can be illustrated by the notion in my 3:19 AM, March 26th that hate-preachers can and should be incarcerated.

    The ‘anti-Semitism meme’ was cultivated and ‘bred’ (artificial selection, to Darwin) in Christian churches. It evolved little over the appalling centuries of pogroms, but in the end infected political thought – and mutated into Nazism.

    Incarcerating willing hosts of such a malignant meme acknowledges that the concepts are virulent and transmissible. Incarcerating such willing hosts isn’t repressive – the preachers are repressive for posing threats to the happiness and well-being of those their hate-speech targets.

    And ‘meme’, for all its lack of ‘truth’ as a theory (which it isn’t), is a useful tool for perceiving these distinctions.

    I can imagine college students inspired by Dennett and Dawkins beginning an effort to ‘scientifically categorize and name’ (in Linnaean style Latin and Greek) memes like bacteria and viruses. This might earn them academic plaudits but is probably fool’s gold.

    Idea families would be very much harder to separate into arbitrary memes and meme groups than bacteria and viruses – although, as mind-candy, I’d happily read a pop-science distillation of the students’ most amusing categorizations!

    Potter, I hope this post satisfies and leaves you in peace with my critique of the Milosz poem. Perhaps in the end we must simply agree to disagree.

  • Nikos

    Sorry, it’s me again. One more potentially helpful thought on the meme thing: I don’t actually know (or care) whether Dawkins and/or Dennett think the meme idea is a ‘theory’. In my opinion, it is a metaphor that compares ideas to genes – it implies that ideas mutate spontaneously, and therefore are subject to selection pressures just like biological genes. The memes that confer the most favorable traits for ensuring the original idea’s survivability in the human mind – in human culture – persist and continue to mutate.

    This is why it’s a conceptual ‘tool’. It’s a metaphoric lens for comprehending the evolution of ideas.

    And that’s all it is. (In my opinion!)

  • Oh Nikos you wildman. It is easy for me to picture you running up and down the mountains on the pennisula in a lioncloth with chattering little monkeys clinging to your long matted hair as it flys out behind you – the wildeyed prophet of militant radical secularism!

    I for one agree to peacably and respecfully disagree.

  • Nikos

    Peggy Sue! Thanks for cracking me up!

    PS to Jazzman: your meme-dissent actually sparked the cobweb-cleaning of my latest meme cogitations, forcing me to better understand the propositon and perceive what it is and isn’t.

    I therefore — as usual — owe you a big Thank You!

  • Potter

    Nikos: Bonjour mon ami.

    You say above;religion’s providers need to weed the fields of scripture from which they reap their seeds and crops.

    Don’t forget that those who worship in a particular religion are deeply imprinted and I do not know if that can be erased or even modified so easily. “There is no Godâ€? is not a weed killer au contraire. Change may have to start with religious leaders becoming more enlightened through consciousness raising/education sessions to bring about (plants seed of)holistic thinking. This might have some effect in deemphasizing certain interpretations and practices that no longer serve humanity, gradually phasing them out altogether.

    A series of serious conferences of the world religious leaders could help. A movement that seeks to come up with an international universal creed (with signatories, fanfare and follow-through) could have it’s good effects. Religious extremist leaders beyond the pale, and would be suffocated out of the marketplace.

    This would be a far better crusade/jihad.

    To beat a dead horse: Bush destroyed any political capital that he might have had when the opportunity was great, when so many were awakened and attentive, towards that end.

    Regarding the poem that is causing us trouble Nikos:

    You don’t acknowledge the distinction between the phrase “If there is no God” (it’s qualifying “if”) and our shared distaste of the negative effects of religion and scripture interpretation. You conflate the two. I don’t. That is not my interpretation of Milosz.

    I will have to accept that for you it’s only about censorship. It folds nicely into the meme that you are warring: “perpetuating the Supernatural Entity at all costs”. This perhaps prevents consideration understanding or agreeing with another meme: “brother’s keeper” (in the sense that Milosz means, restraining from committing psychological violence- as per CCM’s post) which to my mind is at least an equal or competing if not higher moral precept.

    That’s our point of departure.

    These few lines have stirred up enough for Milosz lying peaceful in his grave.

    So we disagree peacefully on this and agree on other things.

    Memes seem like a good tool and thinking in those terms are helpful even revolutionary. I would like to read more on this. Maybe we also have to be careful with them?

  • Nikos

    Potter: if my notion that ‘meme’ is a ‘lens’ — then yes, we must be careful not to let so much light through the lens at once that it ignites the pine needles underfoot and burns the forest to ash.

    Dennett also, and often, in his book advocates a gentle investigation of religion as a natural phenonemen.

    I can only reiterate my plea that all concerned citizens of the globe (meaning you!) read the thing and ponder its message.

    Lastly, my friend: for all my writing and reading, I have a tin ear for most poetry!

  • LLL

    (I’m a constant listener but this is my very first post.)

    I’m having trouble getting my mind around memes as “natural phenomena.” Doesn’t the analogy with genes go too far? After all, we can physically isolate strands of RNA, can’t we? (Not sure on that.) Memes do not exist outside of human cognition – and don’t actually have a “life of their own” in a natural sense – and yet they are social, interpersonal phenomena. Wouldn’t it be impossible to isolate a pure meme? The meme for major league baseball must be slightly different in each individual. Would we say that the memetic information for baseball _as it exists on my synapses_ is an identifiable and natural phenomenon?

    Rather than call them “natural phenomena,” why not call them “synthetic phenomena”?

    I also want to add my voice to those calling for a return to this subject on ROS. Chris just didn’t seem at the top of his game or prepared for Bennett, and thus didn’t really give the ideas justice.

  • Potter

    LLL welcome! Good points. That’s what I meant when I said, maybe we have to be careful with this meme thing.

  • Nikos

    LLL: Who knows why, but the show seemed rather ‘rushed’. Which, considering the number of guests available, is odd. We only had a 28-hour ‘Warm Up’, which, considering the length of this thread, was in retrospect a disservice to its topic.

    And, with all due respect to Chris, I’m very, very skeptical that he’d read the book as purported. He didn’t understand the book’s basic premises. Katherine? You’re our resident ROS-goddess for this thread; what happened?

    My speculation is that Dennett became available before Chris was ready, and so clever Katherine lassoed together some guests who had read the book and understood enough of its topics to carry the conversational load. This, however, led to many more opinions being aired, and Dennett’s book slowly receding into the distance over the hour. The talk remained stuck on the book’s foundational premises, and never went on to discuss the book’s development of its important ideas.

    Now, having said all this, I hope I’m wrong, and will welcome a correction.

    LLL & Potter: ‘memes’ are exactly as ‘natural’ as arithmetic – they are concepts – just like numbers are. They are analogous to genes, but genes are physical – ideas are not. Not one ‘meme’ existed before Dawkins coined the term – and not one ‘genus’ existed before Linnaeus began his (somewhat arbitrary) taxonomy.

    Memes are as ‘true’ or ‘false’ as a Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night (now that’s a helluva meme!). A natural creature named Vincent created that gorgeous painting, and so Starry Starry Night is exactly as ‘natural’ as its creator. i.e., it’s an artificial representation of a natural scene, yet a creative extension of a natural creature’s mind at work – which makes it natural and artificial at once. It’s a ‘memetic lens’ for its night-sky subject that’s more emotionally provocative than a photo would be. Memes, on the other hand, are an attempt to photograph the evolution of ideas – although they’re less technological than a photo, and so more like a drawing done with the intent to reproduce its subject with ‘photographic’ accuracy.

    Let’s try it this way: if using the concept and lingo of memes describes the evolution of ideas as effectively as “7 x 6 = 42� (or any other arithmetic formula) is it ‘true’, or ‘real’, or ‘natural’?

    It’s important to distinguish between the concepts themselves and the realities they attempt to describe.

    As is, what’s more ‘true’ or ‘real’ or ‘natural’:

    1. Mount Rainier?

    2. The words (name) ‘Mount Rainier’?

    3. A photo of Mount Rainier?

    4. A painting of Mount Rainier?

    Memes are an attempt to describe the evolutions of ideas like an artist’s paintings might attempt to convey, in a ‘time-lapse’ sequence, the geological actions that made Mount Rainer – the volcano’s emergence, its growth via ongoing eruptions and lava deposition, its eventual quietude, and, as the sequence’s final painting, all the life now clothing its lower slopes and the glaciers frozen onto its upper slopes.

    That’s it!

    Nothing more, nothing less.

    The question is: how convincingly does it describe its subject?

    (Read the book and decide for yourself!)

    I find memes an excellently convincing lens for understanding the evolution of ideas. Yet, and for the record, I had some trouble grasping it on my first read through the book. Thus, only until, say, the second chapter wherein Dennett uses the meme lens, did I begin to ‘get it’. Even so, I’m still in the process of gaining a sense of fluency with the concept – like a kid understanding multiplication or division as a concept instead of as a memorized set of tables.

    To be honest, I’m not entirely sure whether Dawkins or Dennett understand that their meme notion is only a tool – just like Linnaean taxonomy is. (Of course I suspect that they do, however. They use conceptual tools all the time after all, and must therefore comprehend the nature of these tools better than the rest of us. At least, one would hope so.)

    I hope this makes the meme concept a bit less mysterious and gnarly.

  • LLL

    Potter, it’s nice to be aboard. Thanks.

    Nikos, thanks again for your further exposition on memes. Like you, I’m also just starting to bring myself up to speed on memetics. As for Dennett’s book, I’ve only read the chapter summaries you kindly provided farther up in the thread. Chapters 4, 5 and 6 seem especially powerful. (I gotta get that book soon!)

    The sense you get from a web search on memetics is that the field is in such an early stage that concepts haven’t been operationalized yet. These papers might interest you:

    http://www.cam.cornell.edu/~rclewley/jom.html

    http://jom-emit.cfpm.org/1998/vol2/gatherer_d.html

    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=memetics+operationalization&btnG=Google+Search

    So, could ROS possibly invite Dennett back for a follow-up interview?

  • Nikos

    LLL: your 2:28’s last sentence belongs in the ‘Suggest A Show’ thread – and if both of us hammer away at ‘em, the wonderfully accommodating ROS staff just might oblige us. 😉 In fact, after posting this, I’m gonna type up a suggestion to that effect – and please feel free to second my suggestion in the ‘Suggestion thread’ you’ll find its link on the right side of the web-page).

    We’ll be a tag-team. (Wait, I don’t like wrestling.)

    Ah, a relay-runner team!

    (Track is better.)

  • Hey Nikos,

    At the bookstore, saw this poem and thought of you…

    Lad of Athens, faithful be

    To Thyself

    And Mystery

    All the rest is Perjury

    Emily Dickenson

  • Nikos

    And I thought the Milosz poem was inscrutable! 😉

    (I mean, I thought ‘he is not permitted…(to say)’ is essentially censorious, but Potter tells me otherwise — confirming my fear that I’ve a tin ear for poetry, because I don’t understand ‘poetic lisence’. So, I don’t understand the Dickenson either — although Peggy Sue’s post sure did get me laughing! Thanks!)

  • LLL
  • OK, just read the above posts. – A finger pointing to the moon is not the moon (but it is a real finger). A painting is just as real as a mountain. A painting is not a real mountain. A painting is a real painting. A photograph of Mount Rainer is a real photograph of Mount Rainer even as it may also be a representation of the real Mount Rainer. A sign reading “Mount Rainer” is a real sign and the words are real words that also symbolically refer to Mount Rainer.

    I was thinking that if memes are tools of conceptual evolution then it is the artist’s job to tweak the memes. Or as Bertolt Brecht said, Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.

    Does that sound right? (I confess I’m a slow reader and haven’t read the book) but I have watched the video series Darwin’s Dangerous Idea I think it was a PBS series? and they talk about memes.

  • ps I was paraphrasing Brecht so that may not be verbatim

  • Potter

    Aha! Nikos you took “he is not permitted” defensively. I read it as a moral appeal, . That does not mean that you are wrong.

  • jazzman

    Nikos: We each are ancient stardust made conscious by the seeming miracles that follow Earth’s absorption of sunlight. This is a phrase that you have posted many times in many threads, and it is one of your ideas that attracted me to your writing. You always overlook the obvious implication in this supposition. Inert stardust does not become conscious by the absorption of sunlight. In that model sunlight would destroy life especially with no oxygen to ameliorate the radiation (not to mention spontaneous biogenesis would be rampant if that were the case) but you did mention the seeming miracles which would be true miracles if that’s what happened. Stardust is conscious and hardly inert. You seem to realize (in your more lucid moments) that the Universe (Multiverse) is We and that is 1 of your informing principles (meme) although Dennett would probably say that it is not a useful or compelling meme as it is not widespread in the population and will likely die out due to natural selection, absent reinforcing evidence and beliefs.

    Nikos: Is this religion? I just made it all up The preceding paragraph to which your question refers, sounds suspiciously reminiscent of the tenets of Absolute Morality.

    Nikos: “Now, you realize that your rejection of the ‘meme’ notion for its parallel to DE might just commend it to the rest of us, don’t you?� It sounds like you are casting the ROS regulars into a group of ODD (opposite defiant disorder) ad hominem advocates. However they might feel about my rejection of DE, my meme analysis bears no relation to my disbelief in DE. I state that the evolution of ideas (memes) which is merely a label for the concepts of lore, individual and mass beliefs, and what passes for knowledge is conflated with DE (which for this purpose does not matter whether it is true or not) for the purpose of riding on the coattails of an almost universally accepted (especially to secularists) phenomenon and thereby acquiring the benefits of Scientific Cachet.

    Nikos: Remember please, Jazzman, that memes aren’t ‘true or false’ but simply conceptual tools I never thought that they were anything else, just as I stated above – a jargon name to impress/intimidate laypersons. You state that memes didn’t exist until Dawkins coined the term – clearly the phenomena that the term describes did. Dennett believes by own words that memes are more than concepts. He states that some have a free-floating nature; just hanging out in the memesphere waiting to infect a receptive host. I still maintain that ALL this fancy meme dressing amounts to individual and group beliefs. Music is NOT a meme it is an arrangement of superimposed electromagnetic waves in the frequency range (for human ears) of approximately 15 Hz to 20 KHz which are physically translated into the motion of air molecules. Memes relating to music are the beliefs in the relative emotional value judgments regarding the reaction one internally creates to the arrangement, composition or performance. Agricultural memes are lore and from the observation that seeds are known to sometimes germinate or not depending on the conditions present. The beliefs as to why and what conditions are optimal for germination and growth (right amount of water, phase of the moon, time of year, fertilizer, tillage, weeding etc. are lore that are oral or codified (see The Old Farmers Almanac) and passed among persons who are interested in that lore. ALL memes are spread this way. There is NO meme that isn’t merely someone’s or some group’s belief. As I have stated before it is the critical examination of ones beliefs and the reasons for retaining those beliefs that is the key. The problem is most people do not wish to closely examine the reasons for their beliefs and many would rather die than divest or alter their beliefs. There is nothing mysterious about memes – human behavior is the mystery and it’s ALL: about beliefs. Ideas don’t evolve. People evolve ideas as they refine them to comport with their belief system. Dennett would ask cui bono? (Who benefits?) In modern times we say follow the money or power. Memes without a belief in them are only abstract ideas. They are as real as our belief in them. That’s an example of a Meta-meme.

    Nikos: Freedom from Religion. This would not only ensure that a future government could never mandate religious observance; it would act to prevent use of the public airwaves to convey religious content… Free speech stops where threats and exhortations urging hostilities begin… No religion practicing hate speech ought be allowed to rupture or threaten any citizen’s pursuit of happiness… How’s that for a preliminary scheme?…The ACLU would be to be obviated from protecting the constitutional right to hate speech! That scheme is hardly ideal, that whole paragraph gave me the willies and sounds suspiciously like well intended HATE SPEECH.You are better than that (mostly.) Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. You can’t be intolerant of intolerance or hate hatred without falling into the same boat as the ones you decry. Europe and Canada have intolerance for hate speech and construe it such that the persons who in effect deny that the Holocaust occurred may now be and for one such person is incarcerated. Violence in the name of non-violence – the end justifies the means – fanatical stances all, some people never learn! That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed your 4:20 AM follow-up to the 1st Amendment hatchet job. BTW the provincial “:hate the othersâ€? or anti-Semitic memes (beliefs) are born out of the inculcation of FEAR, IGNORANCE and brainwashing by fearful functionaries and authorities – from the parents on up. The web promotes a free flow of ideas (some of them questionable) and may stem the flow of fear and ignorance and make it harder to brainwash individuals – this is its greatest feature IMO.

    Nikos: Poetry is the underwear of the soul – Ferlinghetti

  • Nikos

    Peggy Sue & LLL:

    Two kinds of comparison:

    Simile: “That Johnny is like a filthy little rat!�

    Metaphor: “That Johnny, he’s such a filthy little rat!�

    Simile is unpretentious: it openly declares that it’s a comparison.

    Metaphor doesn’t: it pretends that the two subjects are the same things.

    Metaphor conflates two different things.

    When I read Dennett, I don’t permanently believe that ‘memes are the genes of ideas’. Genes are physical world realties.

    Memes are the invention of Richard Dawkins.

    Because I work with fiction, I understand the difference between ‘Johnny is a rat’ and Johnny is like a rat.’

    I am however beginning to believe that perhaps the folks debating the validity and minutia of memes are conflating metaphor-for-comparison with the evolution of ideas they are hoping to describe.

    This is a waste of time and effort.

    If meme talk accurately describes the evolution of ideas, then it’s a damned good metaphor.

    But it’s only a metaphor.

    PS to LLL: the thundercloud named Brendan shot down our twinned effort to get another Dennett show. However: you sure can write a damned good show suggestion! Great job!

    Potter: thanks. That’s the problem: for all my fictioneering, I’m a literalist, I guess.

  • jazzman

    Potter: Maybe it should be He is not permitted to sadden his brother without reaping the repercussions that may follow this lack of empathy?

  • jazzman

    Metaphor Schmetafor it’s a $10 dollar jargonistic term to describe ordinary beliefs.

  • Oh my goodness. here it comes. “Warning, Will Robinson, warning!” Its a rant coming on:

    Ok, I haven’t read through all these posts. Too tired today. But my question about why we are trying to determine if “god” is in our genes or not, is still unsettled in me. The few responses to that question didn’t satisfy.

    Different people have different belief systems. Some have said that this inquiry is to understand why in order to figure out to deal with terrorists. People don’t become terrorists because of their religion. They become terrorists because they feel victimized and have lost all faith in humanity to help them toward a safe/secure life.

    And the feeling I get – this is where I have to own my own reading of things, as I don’t know any of you and can’t see you or hear you to read your tone – is that some of you think that you can either debunk someone’s religious beliefs by offering science to discredit the existence of a meta-physical being, or you can “better understand”. Which feels rather condescending.

    But this so-called science is a belief system in its own right. It can’t prove or disprove the reality of a meta-physical consciousness. It seems like all this ‘scientific’ exploration is replacing the concept of respecting one another, being intuitive about each other’s needs and feelings and bing concerned for the well-being of those we consider ‘others”.

    I remember when there was a scientific study that finally confirmed that animals have emotions. No, kidding. Ask anyone who has ever had a pet. Until that study, scientists refused to acknowledge that animals had emotions and treated pet owners as silly, emotionally challenged eccentrics.

    Anyway, I don’t care whether god is in our genes. I don’t need to “understand” why someone needs to have the concept of a ‘higher’ being to guide them through life. I do care whether we take responsibility for the atrocities we have committed around the world in the name of democracy – when its really about money and power – and how that has affected people. Or how we have refused to come the aid of suffering people when we are the reigning superpower. When we realize how much suffering we create or condone, we might see why people become so hopelessly enraged that they lose any sense of the value of life. Sometimes, when you are becoming so dark in your soul, you can only stand yourself if you believe that a god is on your side.

    Is there really anything more to get? Do we have to deconstruct everything? god or no god, humans will fight and kill each other over power and resources for an eternity it seems. If you care to make any attempt at stopping that cycle, forget proving or disproving the reality of god, the importance of religion, etc. Just stand up and work towards something different. Starting with ourselves. We need to leave the red herring of religion out of it. Decide to create peace. Or don’t.

  • Nikos

    Crap, I didn’t finish one of my most important thoughts:

    “When I read Dennett, I don’t permanently believe that ‘memes are the genes of ideas’, any more than I actively believe that ‘Johnny is a real rodent of a species of the rat genus’!�

    Johnny is a human; rats are rodents.

    The metaphor tries to characterize Johnny by conflation. Memes try to characterize ideas by conflating them with genes.

    The question is whether they succeed in their effort to describe the evolution of ideas. (I believe they do.)

    How’s that?

    Better?

  • Nikos

    Jazzman: how about a God’s sanction of his Chosen people’s willful dismissal of their empathy?

    We non-believers are tired of being scorned by the faithful. We don’t feel their ’empathy’ at work.

    They are unempathetic to our feeling of threat by their judgmentalism.

    And I, for one, am sick and tired of the sacred-cow status of self-important religious ‘righteousness’.

    More later — gotta fetch more firewood now.

    Allison: ‘god in our genes’ is a glaring misrepresentation of the subject!

    It wasn’t about that!

  • But Nikos, One could just as easily say…

    We believers are tired of being scorned by the scientists. We don’t feel their ‘empathy’ at work.

    They are unempathetic to our feeling of threat by their judgmentalism.

    And I, for one, am sick and tired of the sacred-cow status of self-important scientific ‘righteousness’.

  • not that I feel that way mind you. I just feel frustration because on both sides people are so rightious and defensive it is hard to really delve into the topic.

  • Nikos

    Here’s a little tale for any of you considering me an empathetic hypocrite:

    After moving here a year and a half ago, my sister wanted to introduce me to a churchgoing single friend of hers. From my sis’s description, I was interested – but leery.

    On meeting, I learned immediately that my (mono-) atheism was unacceptable. The lady was interested in me – but not really – because my lack of belief is a part of me.

    Sure, I could have played along. I could have debated with her over god and faith – but empathy informed me strongly that such a debate would have been hurtful to her.

    So, we didn’t’ get together again.

    That lady’s presumption that my personal beliefs were deficient was not merely arrogant, it was unempathetic.

    Her religion sanctioned her intolerance of me-as-I-am-and-not-as-she-wished.

    It’s a pity: she was as intelligent and cultured as she was opinionated and pretty. We could have been friends.

    But I don’t blame her – I blame Russian Orthodoxy. I blame proselytizing religions that can’t take ‘no thank you’ for an answer because their variant of the ‘Our religion cannot be exposed to risk of disconfirmation’ meme mandates religious imperialism.

    So, friends, who was lacking in empathy?

    Stick that in your hypocrite-radar.

  • Nikos

    Peggy Sue: forgive my ire, but science suggests that ‘God’ isn’t necessary for life on earth. Religions find this threatening.

    Leave us the frick alone, please. We don’t need your imperialist gods.

    Now, having said that, I apologize for the powerful expression of my ire, but consider please this country’s deepening scorn of unbelievers, then use your empathy, and then tell me is my insistence that my viewpoint be as honored as the Pope’s is out of line.

  • Nikos –

    Was it that she found you intolerable? Or just incompatible?

    and maybe the title of this thread does a injustice to the book, but the thread has been about exploring the “need” for belief systems. the semantics of the title and my reference to it don’t change the nature of the thread.

  • Nikos

    btw Peggy Sue, I don’t consider buddhism any more imperialist than neo-paganism. My ire is focused squarely on patriarchal monotheism.

    So, I wasn’t talking to you but to them.

  • Nikos

    allison: anyone who tells you that ‘you’ve got to change before I can appreciate you’ is unempathetic and intolerant.

    I’m really tired of the conceit that religion is above reproach.

    It isn’t. Demonstrably so.

  • This has degenerated into a “how dare you reject my system” dialogue.

    People don’t find other people’s belief systems threatening. They find the way people who have other belief systems treat them threatening.

    Nikos, I’m sorry, friend, but religions can’t find anything threatening. only the people who ascribe to a religion. this whole process of deconstructing in order to “understand” when it really is an agenda to “debunk” is problematic. This “scientific” approach isn’t working. Your anger about how people have acted in the name of religion is skewing your objectiveness. How ’bout we simply get back to creating a safe place for people to co-exist?

    Can we prevent the coming Water Wars with all this exploration? Id on’t’ think so. Its not about what people believe or if memes are a spot on tool. Its about how we create space for all of us to have our essential needs met and live in peace

  • Nikos

    Allison, I respectfully disagree.

    And yes, “Your anger about how people have acted in the name of religion is skewing your objectiveness.”

    That’s exactly right.

    Millions of people have died and suffered in the name of ‘God’.

    That’s hypocricy. But honestly, Dennett’s book doesn’t advocate the abolition of religion. It offers an insight suggesting that religious intolerance needn’t be an intractable problem. It offers a way to look at it through a less subjective lens than the clergy of the religions have ever been willing to do on their own.

    Read the thing and then we can talk more constructively than we can while you’re operating under assumptions about the book that I feel are unfounded.

  • Nikos

    PS: the book never addresses whether God exists.

    It can’t. That’s an unverifiable proposition either way!

    What if God is actaully speaking through Dennett???

    Jesus tried to reform the brutal religion of his time, and got killed for it. Was God speaking through Jesus? Christians believe so.

    What if God has made Dennett an unwitting agent of a call for reappraisal of the faiths He has inspired?

    Can you disconfirm this idea?

    Are you sure?

  • Nikos

    Allison, this isn’t an attack but a comparison.

    You wrote: “scientists refused to acknowledge that animals had emotions and treated pet owners as silly, emotionally challenged eccentrics.�

    Religionists equally refuse to acknowledge the feelings and sensibilities of the non-believers. They condescendingly say that we are benighted until we accept the ‘truth’ of their God’s words. To them, we are “silly, emotionally challenged eccentrics.�

    My defensiveness stems from this culturally pervasive arrogance of religion’s professional and volunteer representatives.

    I don’t want the opprobrium. I resent it.

    My viewpoint should be as culturally honored as the Pope’s – just as should Bishop Carlton Pearson’s viewpoint, who lost his congregation and was excoriated as a heretic for coming to the entirely sensible conclusion that Hell can’t exist because Jesus’s love wouldn’t allow such a monstrosity!

    Now that’s a brave man. His modest attempt to reform Christianity is an example of what Dennett advocates.

    A religion without Hell and Satan would be a much more humanist institution than the hellfire and brimstone fearmongering currently ascendant in the religious domain.

  • Nikos

    Jazzman: oddly, you and I agree that belief and metaphor are conflated. We both agree that the dominant paradigmatic explanation of evolution is inadequate. I simply see that the explanation is flawed, not the processes of change over time that the explanation misrepresents. The evolutionary model currently ascendant conflates people with machines and life to ‘engineered systems.’ As you know, I deplore this.

    But I don’t take the metaphoric failing as a disconfirmation of the phenomenon. My own intuition and the logic offered by writers like Vijtalbe is enough for me to overlook the metaphoric silliness of the scientific explanations.

    I try not to conflate the descriptions with the process inappropriately described.

    Scientists would do well to grasp this distinction too. As it stands now, they seem all too willing to ‘believe the metaphor’, to conflate the explanation with the reality, and to oversubscribe to the inappropriate implications of this conceptual misunderstanding.

    Yet this metaphoric model, for all its inadequacies, has enabled advances in allopathic medicine unimaginable only a century ago. Organ transplant and bionics come to mind.

    It dehumanizes, yes, yet is in its practical effect a humanistic boon.

    Perhaps not forever though. Perhaps it subliminally promotes dehumanization in other, non-scientific regions of culture, society, and politics.

    In fact, I’m pretty damned sure it does just that.

    Nevertheless, that isn’t enough for me to disbelieve evolution.

    So, yes, I believe that ‘memes = genes (of ideas)’ adequately describes the evolution of ideas. I also believe that ‘memes = genes’ is a metaphor, not a $10 synonym for belief.

    As for my ‘constitutional freedoms’ propositions, I really only advocated them to represent the counter-conventional case for ‘leave me alone!’ Government ‘plays neutral’, but it’s more friendly to proselytizers than to nonbelievers who want to be left alone. It’s also worth positing that other countries see the distinctions and dangers informing my propositions. Other countries recognize that hate speech is felonious. And other countries don’t give away their airwaves to self-serving religionists.

    I know, I know, it’s ‘un-American’.

    Sigh.

    It dulls the axe I’m trying to grind!

    Lastly, re your Ferlinghetti quote: I eschewed underwear for a couple of silly, rebellious years in high school – it obviously tinned my poet’s ear!

    Oppositionally and defiantly yours,

    N

  • Nikos

    Another apology to Peggy Sue: I really was talking to ‘patriarchal monotheism’ in my 10:04 PM, but I was pissed off and typing too fast — and I had to leave.

    I should have instead left the post unfinished until after I calmed down.

    Mea culpa.

  • Guttersnipe of Athens,

    you said…

    “Tell me is my insistence that my viewpoint be as honored as the Pope’s is out of line”.

    Why not at all! You are just about as full o hooey as the Pope is. Did you want us to kiss your ring?

    (haw, just messin’ with ya my friend)

  • Nikos

    A peace offering.

    Yes, I got more than ‘a little cranky’ Monday night. And I do apologize for the offense I must have inflicted.

    But my ire isn’t baseless.

    The conversation in this thread has been hampered by a misrepresented topic and by opinionated responses – and ignorant ones too, because many if not most contributors obviously haven’t read the book in question.

    For me, it’s been a bit like talking Van Gogh with blind people. And doing it in a forum that prizes brevity instead of the lengthy explanations the blind would need – ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ – remember?

    Worse, faithful people are so protective of their beliefs they’re usually not willing to ponder how their zealotry affects others.

    But this isn’t a theocracy, and the faithful owe sensitive consideration to nonbelievers.

    Do non-believers owe consideration to the faithful?

    Sure, but:

    Do we have a choice?

    Christianity isn’t the official ‘theistic opinion’ of the USA, but it’s the de facto one. Pretending otherwise is disingenuous.

    Allow me to point out the preponderance of believers to non-believers in this country we all share, and allow me to point out further that our sharing the country ought to manifest with mutual respect.

    Yet the very act of proselytizing is disrespectful.

    To pretend otherwise is unimaginatively orthodox – and insulting.

    Does science proselytize?

    Or does it simply find no evidence of God?

    Does it therefore find no rational reasons for the claims of the world’s major religions?

    And is it not obligated to report this?

    Conflating science with religious belief is American conventional wisdom – and it is wrong.

    Allison, to this: “religions can’t find anything threatening, only the people who ascribe to a religion…�

    I must offer the following dispute: religions are the people that espouse the doctrines and dogma.

    Religions don’t exist outside the believers’ minds any more than memes do.

    And this: “this whole process of deconstructing in order to ‘understand’ when it really is an agenda to ‘debunk’ is problematic…�

    You’re asserting this while ignorant of the process you’re dubbing ‘problematic’.

    Read the book first. Read it with a mind open enough to allow room for the positions of those of us frightened by religion (see below), and then we can discuss the thing constructively.

    And this: “This ‘scientific’ approach isn’t working…�

    It hasn’t even been tried yet!

    Are you willing to condemn stem cell therapy before clinical trials on humans?

    To pretend that religions are harmless refuges for troubled souls is an incomplete rendition, and typical of pollyannaish Americans.

    Christianity and Islam are in an unadmitted, quasi-covert struggle for suzerainty in the world. I’m not talking governments – although Iran’s has openly declared that it’s in the fight – I’m talking religionists.

    To pretend otherwise is pollyannaish.

    The Middle East is a powder-keg because of religion. We can focus on state-imperialism, but to ignore the religious sanction of the Israeli settler-movement, or that of the Islamist suicide bombers, is pollyannaish.

    It’s religion.

    The nuclear cold war between India and Pakistan is nationalist – but the nationalism is grounded in religion.

    To pretend otherwise is pollyannaish.

    We in this country are insulated. We fear Islamic extremism, but only because we see it on TV – unless you live in New York or New Jersey.

    Saudi women ‘live’ Islamic extremism.

    Afghani women ‘live’ Islamic extremism.

    Palestinians ‘live’ Zionist extremism.

    The followers of Jim Jones ‘lived and died’ Christian extremism.

    Is religion really an ‘above-reproach’ or ‘above-scrutiny’ topic?

    Are you sure?

    And at least can you begin to comprehend my concerns – not as an unbeliever but as a humanist for cryin’ out loud! – and the parallel concern of Daniel Dennett?

    Both he and I want a better, more tolerant and humanistic world.

    Must we be pariahs for simply asking religions to take active responsibility for their extremist fringes?

    That request shouldn’t be threatening.

    And if it is, then the objecting religion deserves obsolescence.

    And now – before some crazed zealot ignites Armageddon.

  • Nikos

    Peggy Sue, I electronically adore you, but to ridicule my belief that the possiblity that God doesn’t exist deserves equal cultural respect to the belief that He exists and ‘saves our souls’ is a bit unkind.

    On the other hand, maybe I had it coming, eh? 😉

  • Nikos

    PS: Potter gets dibs on Post No.300.

    If you don’t know why, don’t ask.

    Potter always has dibs on the record numbers!

  • Potter

    Thanks Nikos…. hear that everyone. It’s MINE!!!! ( besides I already have my post planned)

  • Potter

    Allison: I agree with your emphasis on morality.

    Jazzman: Is there such a thing as knowledge? Or is it all belief?

    Allison: I think she found him (Nikos) intolerable, a feisty fellow(to be kind). Though he would have been useful for getting her wood chopped.

    To all: “chosen people” is misunderstood vis a vis Jews. For one it is an idea that has kept the group together. My understanding is that it is about setting an example morally, disseminating God’s word through example. Unfortunately this is perceived as claiming superiority. That is not to say that some, like any other believers, do not believe that their belief system is superior. It’s glaringly obvious that this psychology is not unique to one group. Unfortunately it has become part of the anti-semitic tirades.

    I believe there was a line in the show about religious groups forming boundaries (by definition and necessity) which is problematic.

    Nikos: I agree that any way of thinking that can help us out of our boxes has potential. On the other hand one must not abuse that tool, make it into a hammer. ( a thought, not an accusation necessarily)

    Nikos: the book never addresses whether God exists.

    Has Dennett been (mis)interpreted to be in effect saying “There is no God” to cause controversy perhaps (sell books?) Is there as a result more defensiveness and rancor happening than enlightenment?

    My viewpoint should be as culturally honored as the Pope’s

    I think we established that religion is about absolutes, so there is little if any room for question. That is a negative aspect of religion and it exerts a drag on all of us. Totally agree.

    A recent University of Minnestoa poll: Atheist’s America’s Most Mistrusted Minority

    Nikos: Worse, faithful people are so protective of their beliefs they’re usually not willing to ponder how their zealotry affects others.

    Agreed. There was probably good reason for this development. (needs study? Is that what Dennett is saying?)

    Nikos But this isn’t a theocracy, and the faithful owe sensitive consideration to nonbelievers. Do non-believers owe consideration to the faithful?_Sure, but:_Do we have a choice?_Christianity isn’t the official ‘theistic opinion’ of the USA, but it’s the de facto one. Pretending otherwise is disingenuous.

    Now you know what it’s like to be Jewish (non-Christian – to not believe in Christ, which is heresy) in the USA.

    Nikos Does science proselytize?_Or does it simply find no evidence of God?_Does it therefore find no rational reasons for the claims of the world’s major religions?_And is it not obligated to report this?

    It probably does not speak loudly enough. Scientists are quiet types. That is why Dennett is causing such a ruckus.

    Conflating science with religious belief is American conventional wisdom – and it is wrong.

    Agreed. Totally.

    Nikos: The Middle East is a powder-keg because of religion. We can focus on state-imperialism, but to ignore the religious sanction of the Israeli settler-movement, or that of the Islamist suicide bombers, is pollyannaish._It’s religion.

    The religious sanction of the Israeli settler movement would have meant nothing without the okay/neglect of the secular government/ people. This might also be true of Islamists extremists. It is not about religion per se, but how it is used, interpreted.

    If it’s because of religion that the world is in such bad shape, then perhaps it’s through religion that it can most easily right itself. I think you agree Nikos but at the same time as an atheist you come off as warring against religion ( as perhaps Dennett does) which brings unnecessary battles in which heels get dug in.

    Nikos Must we be pariahs for simply asking religions to take active responsibility for their extremist fringes?

    That request shouldn’t be threatening. And if it is, then the objecting religion deserves obsolescence._And now – before some crazed zealot ignites Armageddon.

    No, It should not be taken or given as a threat. I think we need an ongoing world conference, something on the order of (old?) National Conference of Christians and Jews. http://mb-soft.com/believe/txn/chrisjew.htm (to which I was a delegate many years ago).

  • Nikos,

    Sorry, I did not mean to be cruel. Just, ya know, if you’re going to dish it out…. some might come back at ya. You’ve been dishing it out pretty good here.

  • Nikos

    Part 1

    First, let me dispel some brewing assumptions about me and the would-be lady-friend.

    She didn’t find me intolerable – she found me ‘flawed (by my irreligiosity) yet very worthy of the work of reconstructing me’.

    ’Scuse me, but I found the presumption that I was ‘in need of reconstruction’ demeaning.

    I dropped the budding friendship; she didn’t.

    I didn’t care that she was a practicing Christian – she cared that I wasn’t.

    Our ‘incompatibly’ stemmed from her unwillingness to accept me as I am, not from a mirroring unwillingness on my part to accept her.

    And let’s not pretend that religious differences make people automatically incompatible. Obviously people of different faiths – or lack thereof – can get along just fine.

    Zealotry is the problem, not religion per se. Yet religion promotes zealotry.

    This ain’t no secret, friends.

    In truth, I am a quiet, thoughtful, and empathetic person. I articulate better and more freely while writing than while speaking. And I would appreciate my pen-pals here in ROS to know this and not presume that my attempts to turn unworthy conventional thinking on its head are symptoms of a ‘difficult personality’. Should we ever meet, you’ll likely have to adjust your preconceived ideas about me. (Same for me with you, of course!)

    I am repeatedly willing to stick my neck onto the ROS chopping block to champion misrepresented or underrepresented ideas.

    Potter wrote: “If it’s because of religion that the world is in such bad shape, then perhaps it’s through religion that it can most easily right itself. I think you agree Nikos but at the same time as an atheist you come off as warring against religion (as perhaps Dennett does) which brings unnecessary battles in which heels get dug in.�

    Touché, my friend.

    Yet to be fair to Dennett, I am much more ‘warlike’ than he in Breaking The Spell. I regret it, but I am boggled – and frustrated – that 298 posts into this thread the premise and subject of the book is still grossly misunderstood and buried under an avalanche of opinionated, ignorant opprobrium.

    I hate to say it, but our pals at ROS really butchered the topic. And there’s an unmistakable ‘editorial bias’ in Chris’s misassumptions about the book’s premises, and in the inclusion of the ‘Salty Vicar’ at the end of the hour, and in Brendan’s choice of quotes from the blog last night in the second break (although I was gratified to hear him read CCM & Peggy Sue).

    So please forgive my ire – it’s born of frustration more than from intolerance. Heck, my sister, who I love more than any human in the world, is a Christian. She doesn’t try to convert me, and I don’t try to un-convert her. We settle on the middle ground that institutional Christianity has misrepresented and debased Jesus’s message, and leave it there. She’s less interested in salvation and more interested in the message of unconditional love, forgiveness, acceptance, and charity. And I am happy to champion these same virtues without the Christian vehicle.

    The notion that we ought to make our blog contributions as brief as possible mandates a preference for ‘zingers’ and ‘sound-bites’ over lengthier, equivocating prose. So yes, I’ve been dishing it out hard, too hard perhaps, and yet in service of the secular humanism I believe is misunderstood and underrepresented in this increasingly theistic culture.

    I’m turning my cheek.

    Forgive me my excesses, please.

    Now, will religion’s advocates kindly turn their collective cheeks and rectify their doctrines and dogmas that mandate intolerance of secularism?

    Secular humanism is quite possibly the only realistic road to a better, more tolerant, and less in world. You can build ‘religious humanism’ atop the secular base, but the presumption of ‘Our God is the only way to light and truth’ must be effectively nullified first. Otherwise the fighting will go on forever.

    So, I’m fighting a fight I don’t even want.

    And though I wish that Potter’s sentiment that “perhaps it’s through religion that (the world) can most easily right itself� were plausible, I very much doubt it.

    Religion must play a vital role in it, but religion as it is currently accepted by the unimaginative conventions of a world still in the thralls of religious excesses is in no position to play that vital role…yet.

    Dennett’s book is a plea from the incredulous that the credulous examine the biases of their presumptions, and then, after admitting the many institutional flaws and doctrinal excesses, repair the product.

    That’s not too much to ask.

    In fact, this seemingly strident secular humanist is abjectly begging for it.

  • Potter

    The Salty Vicar was a bit too salty for my taste too.

    Salty Vicar: Market fundamentalism is the religion that is really moving things? sports events precipitate religious behavior? Banks as cathedrals? They give forgiveness? Greenspan as Pope? economists as theocrats? (baloney)

    Scientists study as opposed to the religious view which is to revere? They go in different directions but the impulse is the same (?) So scientists do not revere, they are not in awe? (baloney!)

    Salty Vicar says a bit too hautily :”I think the world could use a little more reverence”

    Nikos- thanks you ‘ol strident sec humanist- I also bristle at religious authority.

  • Potter

    Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,

    There is a field. I’ll meet you there.

    When the soul lies down in that grass,

    the world is too full to talk about.

    Ideas, language, even the phrase each other

    doesn’t make any sense

    RUMI

    Quatrain #158 from Open Secret

    ( Thanks for #300)

  • Nikos

    Part 2

    First a ‘clean up’: One sentence in the 2:44 PM just above – “Secular humanism is quite possibly the only realistic road to a better, more tolerant, and less iniquitous world.�

    An hour or two ago, I heard Gloria Steinem on the radio say something to this effect: “Feminists want to examine and undo power relationships, not partake in the established institutional ones. The goal is to level the hierarchy, not accept it.� (Although she said it much more diplomatically than my imperfect paraphrase!)

    Such a goal is obviously fraught with peril, since the powerful don’t want their relationship networks and pyramids disturbed – they take for granted their hierarchies and their suzerainty at the tops of the pyramids. They consider naïve and truculent any suggestions that these institutionalized inequities are unnecessary and harmful.

    Patriarchal monotheism sanctions these hierarchies.

    Patriarchal monotheisms are hierarchies.

    Patriarchal monotheisms cast opprobrium on anyone hoping to undermine hierarchy – even their own clergy, like the ‘liberation theologists’ quashed by the papacy a few years back.

    Now, this is a nice parallel to my goal: to revisit the presumptions of ‘rightness’, and righteousness’ that promote religious imperialism. No religion, or class of religions, has any ‘divine right’ to suzerainty – no matter what their professional zealots claim!

    Buddhism is at least as deserving of cultural acceptance as the patriarchal monotheism (in my opinion, perhaps more deserving), yet in this country it is snidely lumped with ‘unenlightened paganism.’

    What’s worse is that you can make a convincing case that Jesus was influenced by Buddhist sensibilities. In fact, if you look at it objectively, it’s a pretty easy inference to draw. But Christian dogma would never admit to this because it would undermine the conceit that Jehovah spoke through Jesus.

    Religions talk a good talk about ‘tolerance, acceptance, and mutual support’, but that’s only because the lack of scientific evidence for a god’s existence has put them of the defensive, and so they make common cause.

    This seeming allegiance is only a truce. If secular humanism fails its promise, the old wars of faith will resume – and aren’t they already between Islam and the Christian West as secular humanism retreats to ivory towers and retains only Europe as a regional stronghold?

    And remember, please, that having grown up in their midst, I consider the Christian lunatic fringe potentially just as threatening as the Islamist. The Islamists have struck first in this round of the old war, but that might be breeding a Christian terrorist reaction. Timothy McViegh might someday become a saint – or martyr – to this lunatic fringe.

    Presumptions of agency

    My sister lives in the lower floors of this house. Last year, from mercy and not from ignorance of feline social instincts, she added three cats to the pre-existing clan of four in the house. Ever since, catly territory is at a premium. Hence I’ve ‘adopted’ the smallest kitty (who believes without a shred of doubt that she is God – and that I am an all-too-frequently inadequate worshipper). Jests aside, the other cats, even before the new arrivals, had bullied this poor kitty. The new cats made her persecution complex painfully acute. So, now she lives in her own little palace up here on the top floor, and we keep the doors shut to allow her a sense of peace.

    Now, whenever I place a book or CD in a precarious position (I’m not the brightest bulb in the string, after all), and it falls to the floor, my poor kitty jumps and studies the fall and the likely place the item fell from.

    She is looking for one of the aggressive cats – her first instinct is that somehow one snuck in and is creeping around the bookcases.

    She is looking for agency.

    Her first presumption isn’t ‘gravity’ – she’s only a kitty, she can’t possibly have a concept of gravity, even though, on a daily basis, her little body is a marvel at scorning gravity (man, can cats jump).

    Her first presumption is agency.

    Dennett and Chris discussed this in the show. It’s an evolved response, because presumptions of agency can save your life, whether you’re a cat, a mouse, a hare, or a human.

    Why assume that that crashing tree-limb fell from wind? It might have fallen from a creature’s agency.

    It might portend peril.

    The instinct to presume agency underpins the human presumption that God creates weather, and trees, and cats, and mice, and hares, and humans.

    This is my answer to Jazzman’s first paragraph in his 8:07 PM, March 27 post.

    I believe your presumption that life cannot be parthogenetic is a presumption of agency.

    And I respectfully disagree. (And yes, I have recovered from my stupid ire over the allegations of hypocrisy. I know me, and am happy to know that it just ain’t so.) 🙂

    As for ‘Absolute Morality’ informing my personal creed – if it does, then it’s subliminal.

    I stand by the notion that if you first recognize that everybody and everything on Earth is unified, then my creed is a very simple progression. And it’s doesn’t need a $10 phrase like ‘Absolute Morality’! 😉

    Moreover, the presumption that all beings are not unified but separate and untrustworthy (which is often true) is an extension of the presumption-of-perils posed by agency!

    Lastly, I stand by my contention that memes are a metaphoric lens and not a ‘belief’. I don’t want to add more words to this contention, except that I regret that my best effort to make the case came in two posts – the 8:09 PM and the 8:36 PM March 27th – instead of in one.

    Potter: Your Post No.300 got my tear-glands going.

    Thank you, you sweetie.

    And Potter: Jews aren’t the only ‘Chosen People’. Mohamed said Muslims – and only Muslims – are. Christians proselytize in part to swell the ranks of their self-appointed claim to ‘Chosenness’.

    Each of the monotheisms claims exclusive presumptions to godliness.

    Each of them is wrong.

    Trust me – I’m God’s unwitting Chosen Prophet of His Nonexistence. 😉

    Peace, everyone.

  • Potter

    Thanks Nikos- so we don’t have to argue this poem?

  • jazzman

    Potter & Allison This post is out of chronological order due to the long reply to Nikos – the sheer volume of his material makes it hard to conduct a dialogue or multilogue or multiblog and address the myriad points that beg to be addressed without losing the thread, coupled with the problem that I only have about an hour or so on weekdays to form a post. I find myself coming to work earlier just to have time to devote to this exchange.

    Potter Jazzman: Is there such a thing as knowledge? Or is it all belief? I believe that knowledge exists but I don’t know it for a fact. Ultimately everything we hold in our consciousness and assume to be true is a belief. (The case could be made that tautology is truth by definition but that those truths really aren’t very useful.) It doesn’t really matter if beliefs are or are NOT true. We operate under the assumption that they are true until we believe otherwise. Mathematical manipulations that follow the rules could be said to be true and knowledge of the rules of whatever form of mathematics could be considered knowledge. Knowledge is essentially a collection of beliefs about our experiences with life, what we have been taught or absorbed and believe to be an accurate representation of reality. It is created or accepted by ourselves in the form of beliefs that we hold. I used to believe I had a working knowledge of DE and upon examination of that belief and due to the evidence of other beliefs decided that the former knowledge was an erroneous belief and the knowledge now has evolved into an academic knowledge of DE as espoused by believers in the theory.

    Allison Starting with ourselves. We need to leave the red herring of religion out of it. Decide to create peace. Or don’t. I agree with and applaud your (as usual) rational pacifism but as I agree that �we have refused to come the aid of suffering people when we are the reigning superpower.� you and I have discussed the use of violence to attempt to alleviate suffering in the world and believe we agree in principle. Because we have squandered our “moral authority� by the use of violence and totally misguided neo-con imperialistic democratization attempts, our diplomatic cachet has suffered. We still should try diplomacy and appeal to nations’ innate humanism but until a critical mass belief in humanistic principles is achieved, oppression will continue.

    Allison but the thread has been about exploring the “need� for belief systems. Every person on the planet has a unique, complicated, multidimensional belief system. The “need� is for belief systems that can peacefully co-exist with each other. I maintain that the chief obstacle to peaceful is FEAR abetted by IGNORANCE.

    Allison Can we prevent the coming Water Wars with all this exploration? Id on’t’ think so. Its not about what people believe or if memes are a spot on tool. Its about how we create space for all of us to have our essential needs met and live in peace Don’t be so pessimistic – water is widely available. Potable water may cost a lot more to produce but it is not beyond technical know how. This exploration (as with all ROS explorations – deep or trivial) is about exposing our various BELIEFS to each other with the hope that we can each glean something of value from these “brain droppings� to replace dearly held but perhaps outmoded beliefs.

  • jazzman

    Nikos Jazzman: how about a God’s sanction of his Chosen people’s willful dismissal of their empathy? The God created by whichever Chosen people can sanction anything those people can rationalize within their belief systems.

    Nikos I simply see that the explanation is flawed, not the processes of change over time that the explanation misrepresents. Scientists would do well to grasp this distinction too. As it stands now, they seem all too willing to ‘believe the metaphor’, to conflate the explanation with the reality, and to oversubscribe to the inappropriate implications of this conceptual misunderstanding. Yet this metaphoric model, for all its inadequacies, has enabled advances in allopathic medicine unimaginable only a century ago. Organ transplant and bionics come to mind. A flawed explanation is due to the fact that DE can only be explained in storybook terms (much like Genesis.) If it could be rationally explained a posteriori then I wouldn’t dispute it. The reason that they are willing to believe the metaphor is because it is a BELIEF and an oversubscribed belief in memes as (meme = gene) and therefore capable of evolution (not DE) is unnecessary and jargon. ALL concepts can evolve (change over time) by our perceptions and the introduction of new beliefs. This is NOT a new idea – just a different label – we get it – beliefs can change – a meme by any other name would smell like a rose. It conflates the idea that beliefs evolve as genes do mechanistically (your anathema.) I repeat: Beliefs evolve by one’s sculpting or reshaping them based on other beliefs that they currently hold – by design or default (not questioning one’s personal status quo vis a vis the meme vying for hosting.) How’s that for anthropomorphic conflation of Dennett’s “agents� with memetic belief?

    BTW I don’t know whether Dennett has thought of this regarding “Free Floating Memes� (FFM) but with the 24/7 media barrage, FFM are beamed into peoples’ consciousness like a steady stream of subatomic (subliminal) particles. This amounts to a menu of secondary information that finds receptive hosts greedily absorbing, mostly unquestioned, other entities’ memetic offerings (primary information is stimuli from your immediate environment, in other words REAL world info – secondary information is virtual information – UNREAL world information but it affects one’s body and beliefs in the same way as if it were primary information. Adrenalin surges – fight or flight responses are activated – stomach acid churns in response to a non-existent (for oneself) situation. The only time this information is questioned is when it contravenes held beliefs, or during introspection which seems to be a lost art (ironically the most introspective people these days are fundamentalist religious types – it’s just that the introspection is filtered thru the fundamentalist meme lens.)

    Nikos Other countries recognize that hate speech is felonious. And other countries don’t give away their airwaves to self-serving religionists. Hate speech is a felony? Espousing hate connotes the subtext of fear and ignorance and is not ideal but hardly felonious sticks and stones etc. – I wouldn’t want you in charge of society despite my regard for some of your ideas. The airwaves have off switches and channel changers. The governments that punish hate speech are they that speak (and codify) their hate for hate speech. Your insisting to Potter that it’s OK to disabuse believers by informing them of your certitude in the lack of God could be considered hate speech. BTW crime is crime and to apply more draconian standards to putative Hate Crimes or speech is criminal in my book. The so-called victim is no better or worse off from being abused by a hater than one would be abused by a mugger or drunk.

    Nikos Yet religion promotes zealotry I would venture that religion abets zealotry rather than promotes it. Most religions are put off by zealotry as it threatens the status quo. One of my stances in the sport of religious fundamentalists baiting was to portray myself as more zealous than they and it usually had the desired affect of quickly ending the conversation. I am not proud of this but I blame it on my ignorance and lack of empathy and youth. Nowadays I look at their well intended proselytizing with a slight emotional reaction and wish I had the certainty that informs their lives even as I believe it to be ultimately misguided. If I’m find myself in the position of dealing directly with them, I thank them for their intentions, tell them I admire their faith, take whatever literature they have and wish them well.

    Nikos I believe your presumption that life cannot be parthogenetic is a presumption of agency. And I respectfully disagree. I presume the no agency other than that consciousness is a universal property of all matter/energy and also believe that this Trinity is a fundamental physical gestalt MATTER=ENERGY=CONSCIOUSNESS If you who know that we are all ONE with the physical universe believes in abiogenesis you are on shaky ground both physically and scientifically. The 2 biggest questions are “Why is there something rather than nothing?� and “How did life originate from inert matter?� The 1st is easy “You can’t get something from nothing therefore you have to have always had something.� The 2nd is more problematic, we see life everywhere so it must be easy to create but only life can create more life and no one has ever remotely approached the creation of life from sterile inert material. Yet you believe that it is reasonable to assume inert star (fairy) dust sprouted life and evolved into us. That is as dogmatic as any religion. I just maintain that consciousness manifests itself in infinite ways.

    Nikos As for ‘Absolute Morality’ informing my personal creed – if it does, then it’s subliminal. Subliminally picked up from our exchanges.

    Nikos I stand by the notion that if you first recognize that everybody and everything on Earth is unified, then my creed is a very simple progression. And it’s doesn’t need a $10 phrase like ‘Absolute Morality’! Maybe a $1 label for a simple concept that eludes most of mankind.

    Nikos Moreover, the presumption that all beings are not unified but separate and untrustworthy (which is often true) is an extension of the presumption-of-perils posed by agency! I have never come close to presuming any agency (other than the aforementioned consciousness) and have assumed the unification of all entities for the majority of my adult life. Memes are in fact a agent in Dennetts usage.

    Nikos Lastly, I stand by my contention that memes are a metaphoric lens and not a ‘belief’. I don’t want to add more words to this contention You believe that memes are a metaphoric lens – that’s a belief. You belief memes are not beliefs yet you can adduce no memes that aren’t beliefs. You can dress a pig and call it a queen but it’s still a pig. It doesn’t matter what you call them – they are whatever you want them to be, you’re just fooling yourself if you believe that jargon is better than plain language.

    Peace to ALL – Jazzman

  • I really apologize for posting without reading any of the thread, but Chris said something (and Dan too actually) that I thought clashed with my recent thinking on evolution.

    Chris repeatedly referred to the ‘purpose’ of evolution. I think that the most informative way to view evolution is that it is all meaningless and preference-less, it is simply a record of what happened. Some organisms had offspring and some didn’t, and as a result of that some are more likely to be around today, but that’s not a basis for thinking that one is in any way better than the other, or that anyone ever intended that to be the case. You can attach many characteristics to the ability to procreate, but my point is that you cannot assign a moral value to any of these.

    This is conceptually significant, among other reasons, because it speaks to the openness of evolution – whether we could have evolved into something else or whether our form was ordained by its fitness. And I think that the random occurance of evolutionary events suggests that we are as we are by chance, by probability, and not by necessity. It strikes me as very ironic that evolution created a creature that has so arrogantly changed the rules by which animals can survive and procreate. It remains to be seen whether the trait for setting the habitat back to a livable balance is unnaturally selected for, or not.

    Dan Dennett claimed that we are the only animal that can overlook the drive to procreate, and judge ourselves on different criteria. Although most of the animals that have survived until this era have done so with the help of a prioritization of procreation, I think its entirely possible that they could do so without that priority, or could have evolved beyond it. Whales strike me as one possible host for this kind of enlightenment – that procreation is in a way arbitrary, and that there are other actions that may be more significant (the fact that whales make music puts them in a special place in light of the comments on the show).

  • Potter: nice choice for #300 post.

    Nikos: I appreciate your refined target in the above post. To me there is a huge difference between the terms “monotheistic patriarchy” and “religion”. When you condemn religion with a huge sweeping brush you condemn me and many people that I admire. Naturally, I felt compelled to shoot a few spit wads your way (metaphorically speaking) but I do apologize if I was being insensitive.

  • Come, come whoever you are

    Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving

    Ours is not a caravan of despair

    Though you have broken your vows 1,000 times

    Come, come again

    – Rumi

  • Nikos

    Jazzman wrote: “…the sheer volume of Nikos’s material makes it hard to conduct a dialogue or multilogue or multiblog and address the myriad points…�

    Right. Sorry. Yet harken and hearten: I am slowly (not yet, yet inevitably) running out of things to say, and even out of new ways to frame the points I most want to represent…

    What’s that sound…?

    Ah, yes, it’s the rising crescendo of cheers from blog-readers all around ROS Nation!

    (Are you pleased I’ve kept my ugly Greek byline out of the other threads this week?

    Thought so! 😉 )

    However, I’m game to at least converse point-by-point, if not posit big dumps of argument, soooo…

    Hate speech: by your own standards of self-responsibility, Jazzman, I think this notion is questionable: “Your insisting to Potter that it’s OK to disabuse believers by informing them of your certitude in the lack of God could be considered hate speech.�

    That relies on a medieval climate of intellectual self-awareness, not the modern, Western one.

    Moreover, does your frightening ‘possible extrapolation’ of the hate speech definition apply to scientists who aver that science has yet to find any evidence of any conventionally defined divine entity?

    Forgive me this opinion, but I think you overstated the case – which is fine, because that’s your job as our ‘devil’s advocate’! 😉

    And this is highly questionable too: “The so-called victim is no better or worse off from being abused by a hater than one would be abused by a mugger or drunk…� because hate speech isn’t a random risk like muggers and drunks.

    It’s a form of harassment, an implied threat, and, most importantly, an organized threat.

    We don’t let people threaten each other.

    We can have people charged and incarcerated for stalking and harassment.

    Hate speech promotes the same evils.

    And in Austria, hate speech is a felony. I applaud this.

    As an American, you’re free to hate on your own, but publicly advocating harassment, violence, and injury to others should be a federal felony. Period.

    J: “’Yet religion promotes zealotry’ — I would venture that religion abets zealotry rather than promotes it.â€?

    N: I respectfully disagree. Either way, Dennett’s proposal includes examining the veracity of my contention. Let’s investigate before concluding.

    Dennett’s implication is that zealotry is an inevitable amplification of ‘cocksure’ memes – and don’t take my word for it, don’t take as equivalency my inadequate attempts to speak for Dennett: read the book and decide for yourself.

    I like – no love – your ‘Matter = Energy = Consciousness’.

    It jibes beautifully with my notion that the universe is more ‘alive’ that ‘inert’. (Note the use of quotes – I don’t necessity mean literally ‘alive’. Perhaps ‘life’ is the universe’s non-inert nature evolved into an extra ‘dimension’? A ‘higher state’? — Although I deeply dislike that ‘new agey’ term. And I don’t believe in the nonsense of ‘ideal states’, either.)

    I’m not sure this negates my notion that your belief about life’s genesis doesn’t rely on agency, however. Are bees the agents of beehive-creation? Conventional wisdom says yes, yet this CW relies on an incorrect presumption that bees can pre-exist without hives (I’m talking the Euarasian honey bee, just to be clear). So, I think you’re on the verge of persuading me, but I’m still sussing it out.

    And regardless, I look forward to scientific study of your equation. However, this would require a theory, or, at the very least, a testable hypothesis (or must it be a theory?).

    Of course, the likelihood of a scientist formulating any such theory worthy of investigation is miniscule while the ‘mechanistic’ metaphor is accepted as fact instead of as a lens by scientists.

    All the more reason to replace it.

    As for a parthogenetic origin of life: I’d like this studied too. Yet until it is disconfirmed, I have no reason to disbelieve it. I see no disconfirming reason for the supposition that sunlight stirred amino acids into proto-life, and the process of earthly life began its evolutions from there.

    I laud your devil’s-advocate skepticism, but am not at all persuaded by your arguments. Intrigued, but hardly persuaded.

    It would help me personally though if you argued with less academic/philosophic terminology and with more plain language – like simile and metaphor – because I am in truth a simpleton and not at all well-educated.

    I am far more ignorant than I am enlightened. And my hope of rectifying that shortcoming is why I come to ROS!

    As for your influence on my personal creed: I hate to say it pal, but Alan Watts had much more to do with it. This isn’t to deny that you’ve helped my recent distillation of ‘the creed’, but Watts, back in my early twenties of the late-70’s, gave articulation to my nebulous feeling that I wasn’t separate from the world but simply one of its individuated agents. My ‘creed’ then evolved from there, and with Watts’s considerable guidance.

    Nevertheless, our electronic pen-pal-ing is a boon to it too.

    I like your sentiment – and humor – in the next paragraph of your 8:34 PM, March 28, 2006!

    Your several other points deserve attention, but I’ll have to give it in a sequel to this post.

    Affectionately, N

  • Nikos

    The predicates of evolution, and the implications

    Dennett includes appendices in Breaking the Spell offering potential avenues for applying his proposal in a scientifically neutral manner.

    ‘Appendix A’ begins with this from the Oxford Encyclopedia of Evolution:

    (begin quote)

    It has long been clear that in principle the process of natural selection is substrate-neutral – evolution will occur whenever and wherever three conditions are met:

    1. replication

    2. variation (mutation)

    3. differential fitness (competition)

    In Darwin’s own terms, if there is a “descent�[1] with modification [2] and “a severe struggle for life�[3], better equipped descendants will prosper at the expense of the competition.�

    (end quote)

    The reason I find ‘memes = genes’ an accurate metaphor to apply to study of the evolution of ideas is this:

    The transmission of an idea from one mind to another is replication.

    The minds hosting the idea (meme) are human minds, not unimaginative computers, and will inevitably vary the ideas – ‘mutating the memes’. (Pretending otherwise is silly.)

    This will result in ‘differential fitness’ (competition) as simple and innocent as ‘I can whistle that tune better than you can’, or, ‘I can chip a sharper edge to that stone ax than you, and I’ll prove it like this…’, to ‘my idea of god is more right that yours’ – like this:

    Two men with a religion meme who are in the same drought-stricken clan offer hopeful solutions. The first says, “If we pray to the Great Rain God Zoro, He will oblige us.�

    The second says, “Yes, but we should also sacrifice to Zoro an ox.�

    Now, it isn’t vital whether or not the rain comes, because the clan aren’t likely willing to take a chance that the first man is right! (And, eventually, the rain will come or the people will die out, and their religion will die with them — or the second man’s idea will earn credence.) Especially since the second man’s greater piety covertly awards the people with the prospect of a meat feast – and, more importantly, a calming sense that the effort at placating Zoro with one of their clan’s assets is ‘morally upright’. (Emotional satisfaction is quite likely religion’s most appealing product.

    The prospect of eternal salvation is an example: is you believe that you have a ‘soul’, you’ll likely find religion’s promise of ‘salvation’ invaluably satisfying, thus making the religion something you’ll want to believe in – and will fight ‘with all your heart and soul’ any intrusion that argues against your belief. Anyway…)

    The clan will likely sacrifice the ox – and thus the idea – the ‘religion meme’, has evolved a new adaptation.

    You can argue whether my ‘example’ is a good one (I’m not sure it is, and if I had any sense I’d plumb Dennett’s book for better ones), but what you can’t argue – not if your believe that the Oxford Encyclopedia of Evolution is correct, anyway – is that the three preconditions of evolution apply to ideas.

    Ideas replicate, vary and mutate, and compete.

    I can’t imagine any way around this.

    Ideas clearly evolve: academia is nothing if not the ‘living institutional housing’ of idea-evolution.

    Most importantly, the evolutionary paradigm that life is an ‘engineered system’ (which I deplore for life), just might apply more accurately to the evolution of ideas!

    Because all ‘engineering’ is a product of human minds (bee hives and ant-colonies are ‘accidentally engineered, since no bee or ant is operating from a blueprint). (Bird nests might be an in-between step along the continuum.)

    Human minds ‘engineer’ ideas.

    The ‘meme = gene’ metaphor describes this admirably.

    Is it perfect?

    I’m too ignorant to judge this with any certainty, but the explanatory use Dennett put the metaphor to in Breaking The Spell is convincing enough for me.

    This is my latest reply to Jazzman – but it’s for anyone to poke and prod. Such poking and prodding will likely spark a clearer understanding in me while I struggle to articulate the answers to questions any of you might pose on the blog.

  • Potter

    I am posting this before I have read Nikos just above. Lately reading and making posts takes a lot of time and thought.

    Jazzman: I agree for the most part that hate speech is not felonious. Saying for instance “There is no God” or speaking against religious beliefs can be construed (misconstrued) as hate speech. The ability to speak freely should be (mostly) tolerated. I think in Gr. Britain, after the subway bombings there was heated discussion about guidelines as to when hate speech crosses a line to be considered a danger directly related to ( a cause of) violence/terrorism and therefore require preemptive/preventive action (ie deportation). Mere criticism of religion is not in that category.

    Matter=Energy=Consciousness implies evolution if you define/confine consciousness as/to animal/human. “Rock consciousness”,though it may be (how do we know or measure or define that?) is not human consciousness. So I am not sure we should even use the same word for your apparent wider definition of consciousness. Moreover human consciousness appears very much to have evolved from lower forms.

    DE does not (to my understanding) speak to how life itself originated, whether it originated from say rocks, plants. When we say “lifeâ€? we normally do not include everything in the universe. But if you believe M=E=C, wouldn’t that mean that would have to be the case (everything evolved)? How else aside from Divine Intervention? That regards the 2nd question: How did life originate from inert matter? but it does not answer the “how” part. It did, it had to have, but we do not know how. (Maybe there are some ideas.) Yet you, Jazzman, also believe it is so by implication (if you do not believe in ID or divine intervention that is).

    The 1st question (not the 2nd) is the harder: “Why is there something rather than nothing?”. You answer “You can’t get something from nothing therefore you have to have always had something.” “Always” implies time. Before time? That also depends on what “somethingâ€? includes and therefore what “nothingâ€? stands for. Maybe you can get “somethingâ€? from “nothingâ€?. You have to start, for the purposes of the conversation with agreement about what words mean.

    For my money Nikos belief that life sprouted from inert material is not inconsistent with your own belief, Jazzman, that “consciousness manifests itself in infinite ways”.

  • Nikos

    Allison, your Rumi poem is gorgeous.

    It invites and forgives.

    It’s maternal, not judgmentally paternal.

    My argument with patriarchal monotheism is its harsh judgmentalism, which, as we have learned from science, isn’t grounded in any God’s wisdom that can be empirically verified.

    And I don’t want to live under the moral codes of those who believe in unverifiable supernatural entities – especially the nasty, judgmental ones. I just want to live according to the personal creed in my 8:46 PM, March 24, 2006 (about two-fifths of the way back toward the top of this thread).

    My fury with religious imperialism is that it’s as inherently unempathetic as military imperialism.

    And so I want it reformed. If this threatens the putative ‘validity’ of the beliefs, that’s not my problem or my responsibility, that’s the responsibility of the believers.

    Not me or Dan Dennett.

    They owe us a socially responsible product just as building owners owe society fire-suppressing and –extinguishing equipment.

    Peggy Sue: I do wish I’d been more specific all along.

    Dennett is wiser than me: he makes abundantly clear early in the book that his use of the word ‘religion’ mostly refers to the Abrahamic faiths.

    I ought to have taken the same care in this thread’s beginnings.

    And I probably would have too, had I not felt so ‘rushed’ by the sudden emergence of the thread in the On Deck circle and without any Warm Up.

    Oh, well…

  • Nikos

    And PS: I called for a Dan Dennett page in Warm Up weeks ago — had we had it, I will dare to say that my understanding of the book would have shown up in the blog — and it might have helped Chris to better guide the discussion.

    I’m saying this NOT from arrogance or self-importance, but because it was clear from the show’s first five minutes that I’d read the book much more clear-headedly than Chris had.

    Big topics like this warrant lengthy Warm Ups!

  • Nikos

    Michael Schwab: right on.

    Evolution has no goals. A strong strain of conventional wisdom believes otherwise: that humans are the ‘end result’ of evolution’s discreet purposes.

    This is obviously a leftover from religious conceits, and it is wrong.

    Humans are one temporary form of the Earth’s evolution of its archaic, fossilized star-stuff into self-aware individuations.

    That on its own is more stunning a truth than anything in either science’s ‘mechanistic universe’ or in religion’s selfish preoccupation with the eternity of unverifiable individual ‘souls’ – which, in my opinion, is a religiously cloaked synonym for ‘ego’.

    My ‘ego’ is the Earth, not ‘Nick’!

    Nick is just one tiny manifestation of the living Earth. And by living I mean: Earth’s life. That’s all I am, and that’s plenty enough for me.

  • jazzman

    Michael Schwab: I think that the most informative way to view evolution is that it is all meaningless and preference-less, it is simply a record of what happened. Dennett agrees with you and corrected Chris on that point. If DE proceeds as advertised then I agree with your point as well, however I don’t buy DE as many of the ROS regulars are aware. Dennett also says that DE is cleverer than we (ironic in light of the next point.)

    Michael Schwab: It strikes me as very ironic that evolution created a creature that has so arrogantly changed the rules by which animals can survive and procreate. It should strike you as ironic – we are not products of DE, we are products of consciousness and as such have the free will to create and shape our lives and the rules – we make the rules.

    Michael Schwab: Although most of the animals that have survived until this era have done so with the help of a prioritization of procreation, I think its entirely possible that they could do so without that priority, or could have evolved beyond it. The current paradigm which is (non-human) animals controlled by instinct and procreation limited by Malthusian boom/bust resource cycles, suggests that your scenario is unlikely to be viable.

    Michael Schwab: (the fact that whales make music puts them in a special place in light of the comments on the show) The fact that whales create vocal vibrations that we humans record and sell as “music� called the “Song of the Humpback� (a means of communication that probably is a “love song� to seduce receptive mates) doesn’t mean that it’s music. The music is created by the ear (brain) of the behearer and because it is modulated and vibrates in the range of discernable tones that comport with our notion of musical notes we erroneously call it music and anthropomorphize its source. It is no more music than birdsong or any animal’s vocalizations or cricket knee rubbing or the wind howling or any random air molecular vibrations. Music is a singularly human contrivance – if whale or birdsong were music then the musicians would be free to vary their intonations widely within the species but it seems they only vocalize the same old tunes. That’s why species can be recognized by there sounds. Enough pedantry, I have no right to sadden my brother by telling him there is no music other than the music he creates.

  • jazzman

    Nikos:This is my $1 Absolute Morality or my Religion or Creed if you prefer from the Morality Thread. (On reflection I agree with you it’s worth at least $10.)

    1) Do Respect and Honor ALL Life/Nature. EVERYTHING in the universe has purpose, meaning, and an innate right to exist. (No need to invoke God or Evolution)

    2) Do EMPATHIZE with others in all transactions. Consider the effect of your actions vis a vis others. Don’t take advantage of people via trickery or superior intellect. This is the root of the Golden Rule – no vengeful tit for tat.

    3) Do not kill more than is needed for physical sustenance. I believe that most people would agree that the deprivation of life for gluttony is less than ideal and should be discouraged.

    4) Do not commit violence on yourself or others, life, or the environment.Violence is a result of unexpressed pen up aggression, fostered by a sense of powerlessness to attain desires by the incompetent, ignorant or impatient and NEVER justified.

    5) Do not attempt to attain an IDEAL by violating any of the above propositions. The “All of the aboveâ€? Meta-rule – IDEAL ENDS NEVER JUSTIFY LESS THAN IDEAL MEANS.

    Compare to your Creed or Religion if you prefer.

    1) Revere all other humans: they are you in different bodies. They see, on your behalf, what you cannot. On your behalf they hear what you cannot. On your behalf they smell what you cannot. On your behalf they taste what you cannot. And on your behalf they feel what you cannot.

    2) Revere all other creatures: they may not ponder as profoundly as you, but they feel just as deeply.

    3) Revere the plants: they feed you, whether directly or through animals that consume them, that you consume in turn.

    4) Revere the mountains and the valleys, the forests and the deserts, the wild steppes and the tamed plains. Revere all water, no matter its amount. Earth and water combine with sunlight to make you and all other life.

    5) Consider carefully – with empathy as your guide – the effect on other creatures and people any action you make.

    After empathy guides you, choose the action that harms the fewest other sentient creatures.

    I’d say your #’s 1, 2, 3 & 4 are encompassed in my #’s 1 & 3 and your 5 is encompassed in my 2 & 4. Many of your posts reject my #5 but I’ll continue to press you on that one until we are in “moral� harmony.

  • jazzman

    Nikos: Hate Speech:… Moreover, does your frightening ‘possible extrapolation’ of the hate speech definition apply to scientists who aver that science has yet to find any evidence of any conventionally defined divine entity? Forgive me this opinion, but I think you overstated the case I didn’t say that I considered it hate speech but change GOD to ALLAH and see if some consider it “Hate Speech� and would possibly kill you for saying it.

    Nikos: And this is highly questionable too This BTW was referring to Hate Crimes. Hate speech is a crime in your worldview not mine I was arguing the opposite. I said a so-called victim (you know how I feel about victims) receives the criminal abuse and it doesn’t matter if the perpetrator hates the victim or it’s a mugging or someone physically harms someone for any reason. BTW the current overcorrection of political correctness is in response to people’s lack of self censorship and poor judgment when dealing with others. My company mandates sensitivity training every year because of the spate of “hostile environment� and “sexual harassment� lawsuits in the overly sensitized climate. Maintaining male to female unbroken “unwelcome� eye contact for more than 8 seconds is considered hostile.

    Nikos: We don’t let people threaten each other. We can have people charged and incarcerated for stalking and harassment. Hate speech promotes the same evils. And in Austria, hate speech is a felony. I applaud this. As an American, you’re free to hate on your own, but publicly advocating harassment, violence, and injury to others should be a federal felony. Period.

    Man you are HARSH, possibly psychotic, and definitely a fanatic. What constitutes hate and who are you to condemn it? God? Oh wait I forgot you are God’s unwitting (witless?) prophet. Stalking is usually misguided infatuation – harassment has an unclear definition. Hate speech only promotes evils by people who are of that persuasion and if they commit actual crimes against others then they are criminals. I daresay you would not be swayed to act improperly by hate speech then why do you believe these hater’s ideas are dangerous? Your vehement words portray your hate for these haters – you should be locked up as a dangerous maniac before you commit the crimes of passion you obviously are intending to perpetrate in your attempting to save the world from the haters you detest. See how dangerous drawing abstract lines in the sand is?

    Signed, The devil’s advocate! 😉

    BTW you said you were cutting down on the flood of words – I will have to address the rest – and there’s a lot to address – later.

  • Nikos

    Oh! Now I get it!

    It took 24 hours for the parallel to sink in. (I’m writing this while the thread stands at 313 posts, and it therefore might seem outdated by the time I post it.)

    ’Scuse me, Mr. Prosecutor, but have I ever once done any of the following:

    Advocated church-burnings?

    Mosque burnings?

    Temple burnings?

    Persecution of religious people?

    Violence inflicted on religious people?

    Persecution of religious professionals?

    The abolition of religion?

    I’ve obviously botched my attempts at building a case that religions are no more worthy of a cultural ‘free pass’ than Exxon or Citibank.

    So let me try it again.

    The two patriarchal monotheisms that most concern me both operate something like this:

    They recognize people’s anxiety over the possibility of death’s obliteration of personal consciousness.

    This is easy in the conceptual framework of the world’s dominant languages because the metaphoric underpinnings of these languages say that we ‘have’ bodies, not that we ‘are’ bodies.

    They then say that the sense of self that ‘inhabits’ the body is eternal, not a temporary ‘operational executive awareness’ of the organism. (Sorry about the unimaginative metaphor, but I’m writing fast.)

    This ‘soul’ corresponds to the consciousness and to ego. Yet its putative eternity is unverifiable, despite the many apocryphal (and unverifiable) accounts of ‘out of body’ experiences.

    Prove it empirically, please.

    Next, religion offers a putatively ‘exclusive route’ to not only an unverifiable afterlife, but to an equally unverifiable paradise or hell, whose judge is an unverifiable supernatural entity that intuitively corresponds to ‘father’.

    Religion sells reassurance against fears of death – yet is no more empirically plausible than snake-oil cures and preventatives against disease.

    Were religion not a cultural sacred cow, this slate of unverifiable presumptions would be viewed as a moneymaking scam.

    Some of us think it is.

    But I’m not suggesting we abolish the institutions – I’m saying we encourage reform, and Dennett offers a lens for the examination that the reform could be grounded in.

    Now look, I love CCM, but his fear that examining religious beliefs is akin to ‘surgery without anesthesia’ was emotionally overwrought, as he seemed to tacitly admit shortly thereafter.

    Such sentiments are entirely understandable and only to be expected, however, in a cultural climate that uncritically awards religion a ‘free pass’ – and an unwarranted free pass.

    Does religion provide many benefits?

    Almost surely.

    Is it abused for personal gain?

    Look at televangelism objectively, and let me know.

    Is religion’s claim to be ‘above scrutiny’ predicated on fear that its litany of conceits is grounded in a foundational litany of unverifiable superstitions?

    You may say ‘no’, but I say: let’s examine it and see.

    If religion’s many claims to benefit humankind are true and not propaganda, then no religionist should fear this challenge.

    Now I’m gonna post this, and, after seeing the new posts since 313, will probably wish I’d understood the ‘parallel’ earlier.

    I didn’t because the ‘parallel’ is way too farfetched. Egregious, even.

    Look, if my case against religion is tantamount to ‘hate speech’, then telling children that Santa Claus isn’t real is tantamount to child abuse.

    Think about it.

  • Nikos

    btw Jazzman: I’m not angry, but role-playing.

    We’re in a new sort of ‘court’, and we’re mixing the ‘discovery phase’ with the ‘submission of evidence to the jury’.

    It’s a bit unsettling at times, but, I think, potentially useful.

    And, for the most part, it’s fun.

    Even when I’m on the defensive under ‘counter-examination’.

    So, don’t let my lawyerly rhetorical trickery slow you down any. 😉

    PS, it doesn’t help any that I write so damned fast.

  • Nikos

    PPS: Jazzman, I love your 7:23 PM. I’ll need some time to absorb the rest, but that’s to be expected. Thanks.

  • Nikos

    Hey gang: for an example of ‘harassment via speech’, have a look at posts numbers 19, 20, & 21 of the March ‘Suggest A Show’ thread.

    And don’t feel abashed from bolstering — or weakening — my opinions with your own sensibly worded votes.

    I know, I know, I’m in deep trouble.

    But I’m honestly speaking my mind — and knowingly sticking my neck onto the chopping block.

    (At least you can’t say I’m unwilling to fight hard for the causes I feel are underrepresented.)

  • Holopupenko
  • Potter

    Jazzman: Enough pedantry, I have no right to sadden my brother by telling him there is no music other than the music he creates.

    You play with words, stretch and shrink( confine) meanings.

    If rocks have consciousness, then whales make music.

  • Potter

    Jazzman: How about “there is no music other than the music we perceive”

    ( ie-the wind whistling through the reeds)

  • Potter

    Jazzman: The music is created by the ear (brain) of the behearer and because it is modulated and vibrates in the range of discernable tones that comport with our notion of musical notes we erroneously call it music and anthropomorphize its source. It is no more music than birdsong or any animal’s vocalizations or cricket knee rubbing or the wind howling or any random air molecular vibrations. Music is a singularly human contrivance – if whale or birdsong were music then the musicians would be free to vary their intonations widely within the species but it seems they only vocalize the same old tunes. That’s why species can be recognized by there sounds. Enough pedantry, I have no right to sadden my brother by telling him there is no music other than the music he creates.

    This is not to say that birds or whales are making music in the same sense that we make music, but rather we hear it as music and so call it “music”. ie Birds “make” music.

    Are we now discussing the nature of creativity, (only humans can “create”, animals cannot?) Were humans the first creatures to practice art? What are the origins of art?

    Word games?

  • but it seems they only vocalize the same old tunes

    ever listen to classic rock radio? (I had a job where it was on all the time and learned to love Led Zepplin at 6 am every morning)

  • you can read about whale communication and listen to people playing music with whales here….

    http://www.interspecies.com/

  • Nikos

    Ever hear a mockingbird, or thrasher, or catbird?

    Each is dubbed a ‘mimic thrush’ because the males listen to the songs and calls of the other species of birds in their territories and combine these into strings of melodies. No two birds does it quite the same way.

    Isn’t this a kind of “I can whistle that tune of yours too!”???

    Isn’t it possible that birds have a sense of melody? It’s how they communicate, after all.

    And Potter, at 7:08 AM, says it right: If rocks have consciousness, then whales make music.

    So do birds. And Led Zeppelin.

    (But I prefer bird song at dawn to rock and roll.)

  • Do Whales have Buddha nature?

    “In 1986 we invited five musicians onto our boat/studio, with the intent of forming an ensemble to interact with the whales. We also invited a Tibetan Lama, to chant his Buddhist prayers through our underwater sound system into the water. Whereas the Western musicians elicited either a clear response or complete disinterest from the whales, the Lama’s chanting often caused the orcas to turn dead silent. In this recording, two whales are huddled around our underwater speaker, listening in silence. Midway through the excerpt you can hear one orca informing the rest of the pod where he is.â€?

    Jim Nollman – Interspecies Communication

    http://www.interspecies.com/pages/lama%20sound.html

  • Nikos

    Holopupenko, I read your piece and thanks for link to the the contribution.

    I must reply by stating what to me is obvious: in your essay, you predicate your opinion on the opinion of John Paul II – an opinion of human nature that is not verifiable.

    Your ‘Limitations On Modern Empirical Science’ is an extension of this.

    I laud your humanistic intentions, and I myself have plenty negative to say about science’s unwillingness to revisit its inherited conceptual/metaphoric lens that conflates life with machinery and ‘engineered systems’ (see my contribution in this thread of 1:06 AM, March 23rd 2006 – it’s the 7th post).

    However, when you castigate Dennett and Richard Dawkins as ‘partners in crime’ and as ‘intellectually dishonest’, you are castigating me, too.

    I believe this is a reaction to Dennett’s, Dawkins’s, and my shared unwillingness to swallow uncritically the unverifiable assumptions informing the late Pope’s unscientific opinions.

    I understand your defensiveness, yet I find your castigations offensive.

    Dennett, Dawkins, and I do not believe in God, yet not from ‘intellectual dishonesty’.

    Science has yet to find a single shred of evidence for the existence of any ‘divinity’ as conventionally defined. Claims of ‘evidence’ crop up periodically, yet do not stand up to scrutiny.

    You are free to believe whatever you like, but your castigations unfairly impugn others – and so do the ‘morals’ advocated by religionists. Such morals putatively originate in the ‘words’ given to prophets by their gods, but these supernatural entities are unverifiable. When moralizing religionists castigate unbelievers, they are doing so from assumptions of ‘divine wisdom’ that rely entirely on faith.

    We do not share your faith, yet we too wish for a better, more humanistic world. We too wish for a more moral world, but not for moralities that deny the basic human right to sexual freedom, to name but one of several objectionable doctrines.

    It is not our fault that your deity’s existence cannot be empirically verified.

    It is not our fault that science does not support the pillars of your faith.

    And it is not our fault that we, in our desire to escape society’s misguided and anti-humanistic moral castigations and other superstitions, are willing to openly declare what science cannot verify.

    When new Popes are elected, the agents casting the votes are men – Catholic Cardinals – enacting, they say, God’s will. I find it curious that oftentimes many votes must be taken before ‘God’s will’ finally becomes evident.

    I suggest that the College of Cardinals’ conflation of ‘God’s will’ with their political process is much more fundamentally ‘intellectually dishonest’ than anything ever produced from the minds of Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins.

  • jazzman

    Potter – thanks for your interest and questions.

    Potter: You play with words, stretch and shrink( confine) meanings. OK you got me I admit it I am a logophile, I play with words, I love words (and because I can.) The bon mot, puns, irony, the wry tongue in cheek etc. are generally my attempts to inject levity into communication (Nikos usually picks up on this which to me is the nature of wordplay.) (Lewis Carroll sums up my philosophy regarding words rather tersely in “Alice in Wonderlandâ€? – “That’s a great deal to make one word mean,â€? Alice said in a thoughtful tone. “When I make a word do a lot of work like that,â€? said Humpty Dumpty, “I always pay it extra.â€?) I like to make words work harder than they do normally and I pay extra for humor. I try to be humorous above all else (life is too short not to laugh at oneself – and others when warranted) except when riled which is thankfully rare.

    Potter: If rocks have consciousness, then whales make music. That is a non-sequitur and an invalid comparison. Rocks are conscious, whales are conscious and whales and rocks make sounds. I’ll address the music issue below.

    Potter: Jazzman: How about “there is no music other than the music we perceive� ( ie-the wind whistling through the reeds) Yes, perception is the sense, meaning, or order we individually create internally from external data. It can also be entirely internal – such as dreams, mental projection, or imagination. This applies to everything in your experience – not just music.

    Potter:This is not to say that birds or whales are making music in the same sense that we make music, but rather we hear it as music and so call it “music�. ie Birds “make� music. Animals make sounds and are not musicians in the sense that humans are, human musicians compose music in infinite ways. We make (create in the mind) music according to our beliefs. As I said before, animal’s songs are instinctual and serves their individual species purposes (mating, warning etc.) The songs have little variance within a species. We personally create the musical experience and decide for ourselves whether it fits our definition of music. Many people would say that some modern music, say the aleatory compositions of John Cage or Yoko Ono are not “music.� It is each of us that creates the music from our emotional responses to vibrations and their structure. Again perception is creation. I used to perceive symphonies by putting my ear to an electric power generating station and create order from the white noise produced by the dynamos. When I was a student at Berklee in Boston, I wrote a quartet for 3 chainsaws and a jackhammer. I called it music, others disagreed. It all depends on how evolved your aural sense is.

    Potter:Are we now discussing the nature of creativity, (only humans can “create�, animals cannot?) Were humans the first creatures to practice art? What are the origins of art? ALL consciousness creates, what is art? Is it only what are defined as “the fine arts?� Arts, like music is in the eye of beholder and in the emotions that art evokes in the individual (again created by each individual.) Nikos perceives art in nature, who is the artist? Nikos is the artist! Purposeless DE is incapable of producing art. Nature, the handmaiden of evolution, cannot create art. Sunsets, foliage, and flowers however beautiful they appear to you are not art without your perception. Chimps and elephants produce abstract arrangements of color on media that rival IMO many abstract expressionists. Is it art or engaging in behavior that may produce a reward? It’s art to you if you BELIEVE it is. My definition of art has its roots in the meaning of ARTIFICE and is an intentional creation of the artist, which obviously applies to intentional creations of ALL entities. I define art as “Work – well done.� The work is the intentional part and the well done is in the eye of the beholder. It could be refined to “Art is work for art’s sake� kind of tautological but valid IMO even though that reduces to “It’s art because I say so� which is my original premise. BTW I believe that there is art (artifice) in word games as well.

    Nikos:Isn’t it possible that birds have a sense of melody? It’s how they communicate, after all. Melody is a sequence of vibrations (tones) so in that sense they have a sense of melody. If they had a sense of harmony and were capable of manipulating the patterns in infinite variety and spontaneously create personal tunes, rather than mimic species or repeat instinctive mating calls, maybe. Parrots can learn to mimic tunes, singing and whistling away but I wouldn’t define it as music, but if you want to believe that birdsong and whale song is music to your ears, then it is, but know that’s a product of your belief system and not mine. BTW The Greek Orthodox Service chanting seems quite similar to whale song when you look at is as communication first and music second. For that matter all religious chanting music fits this analogy. Kyrie Eleison anyone?

    P.S to Nikos: Work is getting busy so it may take some time to address your points.

    Peace – Jazzman

  • Nikos

    This is yet another belated offering to the thread – belated because it might have helped negate much of the simmering misunderstandings manifest in the discourse to date.

    This is one writer’s definitional understanding of a family of near synonyms. From weakest to strongest:

    Conjecture/Speculation

    Opinion

    Belief

    Faith

    Zealotry

    Conjecture: “To infer from inconclusive evidence, to guess.� (American Heritage Dictionary)

    I often interchange ‘speculation’ for conjecture, but that’s a bit of intellectual sloppiness on my part, since conjecture seems to mean the same thing but a bit more accurately. Additionally, I think of both words together as meaning: ‘the whimsical ponderings that, if convincing enough, can become opinions’. Speculations and conjectures are the rawest ‘material’ of the ‘belief’ family of words. Speculations are related to superstition, yet superstition is something of an untamed and untamable maverick in this family of approximate synonyms.

    Opinion: “A belief or conclusion held with confidence, but not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof.� (A.H.D.)

    By this definition’s ‘burden of proof’ clause, most if not all religious convictions are opinions.

    However: “Opinion is applicable to any conclusion to which one adheres without ruling out the possibility of debate.� (A.H.D.)

    So, people holding religious beliefs would naturally find objectionable the proposition that their beliefs are mere ‘opinions’ – most especially because such beliefs are not commonly considered appropriate for debate.

    In any event, I deem ‘opinion’ the intermediate step between mere conjecture and firm ‘belief’. Opinions are easy to revise or abandon in the face of contradictory evidence.

    Belief:

    1. “The mental act, condition, or habit of placing trust or confidence in a person or thing; faith.�

    2. “Mental acceptance or conviction in the truth or actuality of something.�

    3. “Something believed or accepted as true; especially a particular tenet of body of tenets, accepted by a group of persons.�

    (A.H.D.)

    It seems to me that the trouble all starts in definition no.3. Group belief is systematically reinforcing, even against factual rebuttals.

    Despite this, beliefs are often characterized as ‘firm’, yet are still prone to failure under the erosive powers of critical rebuttal.

    Beliefs can (or not) include stronger emotional attachments than opinions do; yet not as strong as…

    Faith, which, by my understanding, is notably stronger than belief. Faith is an ‘unshakable’ belief or matrix of interdependent beliefs that the thinker is unwilling to expose to examination, for fear that the beliefs might be exposed as mere opinions, or worse, conjectures, or worst, unfounded superstitions.

    American Heritage defines ‘faith’ as:

    1. “A confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.

    2. “Belief that does not does not rest on logical proof or material evidence: faith in miracles.�

    3. “Loyalty to a person or thing; allegiance.�

    4. “Belief and trust in God and in the doctrines expressed in the Scriptures or other sacred works…�

    5. “A system of religious belief…�

    Faith resists inspection, and often does so with belligerence. This manifests as…

    Zealotry: faith in physical manifestation. This can be as benign as prayer, or worse: proselytizing, crusading and jihadism.

    Lastly: Superstition, the feral beast of the belief-family:

    1. “A belief that some action or circumstance not logically related to a course of events influences its outcome.�

    2. “Any belief, practice, or rite unreasoningly upheld by faith in magic, chance, or dogma.�

    3. “Fearful or abject dependence upon such beliefs.�

    I have doubtlessly and regrettably evoked powerful antagonism by my comparisons of religious beliefs to superstitions. However, in an era wherein science’s empirical tools might well find evidence of supernatural entities were any such evidence to be found, any religious skeptic can use the implications of American Heritage Dictionary’s definitions of superstition to support my seeming ‘felonious’ or ‘unempathetic’ comparisons.

    Especially definitions 1 & 2.

    Without a verifiable God, prayer fits definition no.1 of superstition.

    Much if not most of religion’s other conventions could be argued to fit the same definition and that of no.2 as well.

    Sorry. Really.

    But I prefer to live by reason, not by conjecture, or faith, or zealotry, or superstition. And I would very much like to invite my fellow humans to join me in this life-by-reason, and not castigate me for my unwillingness to ‘play along’, or to give religion a ‘free pass’, and to uncritically excuse it its many demonstrable, opprobrious excesses.

    Enlightenment beats unsubstantiated beliefs any and every day.

    And, at the very least, please respect my yearning for a life and a world governed by reason.

  • Nikos

    Peggy Sue, my admittedly patchy memory of Alan Watts implies that Buddhism’s ‘Buddha-nature’ is essentially the awareness that you don’t ‘inhabit’ a body, but are your body. And that this body is intimately connected with every other manifestation of existence, even the least significant.

    Is this right?

    Or is this Zen’s adaptation of Taoism?

  • Nikos

    And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

    Dennett uses this quote from Jesus of Nazareth (John, 8:32) in his second chapter while discussing the propriety of examining religion as a natural science, under the sub-chapter heading “Would neglect be more benign?�

  • There is a Zen koan (unanswerable riddle that can trip the mind into enlightenment like the question, “What is the sound of one hand clapping”) this Zen koan asks, “Does a dog have Buddha nature?” I was playing on that when I asked the question, “Do whales have Buddha nature?”. Whether dogs or whales actually have Buddha nature doesn’t really matter. It’s pondering the question that is supposed to trip your mind out of its usual mode. There is no right answer.

  • Pingback: Dennett on Open Source Radio at Blog to Eleven()

  • Nikos

    Most truths are so naked that people feel sorry for them and try to cover them up.

    — Edward R. Murrow

  • Potter

    Nikos: Right on cue- this story which I know you will love.

    http://news.bostonherald.com/localRegional/view.bg?articleid=132932&format=&page=1

  • Thanks Potter, that is one picture worth at least a thousand words.

  • jazzman

    Nikos:Dennett’s implication is that zealotry is an inevitable amplification of ‘cocksure’ memes – and don’t take my word for it, don’t take as equivalency my inadequate attempts to speak for Dennett: read the book and decide for yourself. Nothing is inevitable except change (and death and taxes.) Cocksure memes is jargon for unquestioned beliefs and most religious people are NOT zealots – even the ones that are totally certain of their faith. The cocksure meme only becomes zealotry in the unbalanced or fanatical mind. You are quite zealous in your condemning of hate speech, and many other perceived injustices in your mind especially when they seem to apply to the human female and you are certain that you are right in your zealotry. Dennett belief that change (in the form of DE) is the prime mover (which implies agency) and Dawkin’s Selfish Gene (which implies agency and motivation) are examples of how they inconsistent in the own beliefs (among too many to detail) so I don’t give credence to their philosophy or $ to their publishers – I’d rather buy a jazz CD and let you digest the material for me.

    Nikos:I’m not sure this negates my notion that your belief about life’s genesis doesn’t rely on agency, however. The agency is consciousness as I have repeatedly stated.

    Nikos:Of course, the likelihood of a scientist formulating any such theory worthy of investigation is miniscule while the ‘mechanistic’ metaphor is accepted as fact instead of as a lens by scientists. As I stated to Potter, science doesn’t want to deal with consciousness. It’s not called the Hard Problem of Consciousness for nothing. Scientists believe their own consciousness would taint any results of their experiments so unless they figure how to quantify this elusive property with machines or search within their own consciousness for answers they are mostly content to label it as epiphenomenal or emergent. Quantum Physics has come a long way in this research but so far has only deduced the role of consciousness in physical reality (and it looks like CEM.)

    Nikos:As for a parthogenetic origin of life: I’d like this studied too. Yet until it is disconfirmed, I have no reason to disbelieve it. I see no disconfirming reason for the supposition that sunlight stirred amino acids into proto-life, and the process of earthly life began its evolutions from there Parthenogenesis is just asexual reproduction (reproduction of living organisms with out the introduction of genetic material from a member of the opposite sex.) NOT abiogenesis (creation of life from inert matter – you uneducated simpleton!) It has never been confirmed so there is no reason to believe it either except you need a spark to start the ball rolling. Sunlight is the enemy in your scenario until sufficient life exists to use it. This is not very different from the current religious dogma that says “God created the universe and breathed life into inert matter which via DE got us to where we are today.

    Nikos:Ideas replicate, vary and mutate, and compete. I can’t imagine any way around this. Ideas clearly evolve: academia is nothing if not the ‘living institutional housing’ of idea-evolution. Ideas are like viruses they can’t mutate (evolve) without a host (Human mind) to refine, debunk, or harbor them. I don’t think anyone ever doubted that this is the case. ALL of our compartmentalizeddata, (beliefs, information, knowledge) is subject to change or we would become extinct. Again my argument is: The label meme is redundant, unnecessary, and carries no connotations that are not present in the term belief. The problem arises when people like Dennett believe that they are more than that and believe that they have a life (not a metaphorical life) of their own and behave like parasites – hanging out in the memesphere waiting to infect a host. He compares memes with a parasitic sheep liver fluke which infects a secondary host, an ant. The infected ant climbs a blade of grass so that the sheep will ingest the fluke which then becomes the primary host. He clearly believes these memes have a more than abstract existence. Because he believes that DE has no purpose operates thru inexorable brute force trial and error, he believes that the symbiotic ant/sheep secondary/primary host relationship is also purposeless. I consider it a co-operative arrangement mediated by consciousness.

  • jazzman

    Potter:Jazzman: I agree for the most part that hate speech is not felonious. How can ANY speech be felonious or even a misdemeanor hate or otherwise? Anyone who ACTS on the exhortations of hate speech is the criminal. If I say for example, (disclaimer: The following text does not represent the views of the writer and is devil’s advocate speaking.) Nikos is a Greek and we hate Greeks. All Greeks should be extirpated. That is hate speech. If someone agrees with that statement and harms Nikos, I believe the perpetrator of the harmful action is the guilty party. The statement just expresses an opinion (Nikos would have me punished for that opinion – a federal felony, period.) Now, it is not ideal to condemn any group, condemn the actions and the ideas. To criminalize vocalizations (intentional vibration of air molecules) or written words is a slippery slope that I for one would not venture down. There is no conceptual difference (only in severity) between the executions of infidels for their words and incarcerations of those that deny the holocaust. The right to free speech is one of the most forward thinking ideals in our Constitution and should not be abridged. The proscriptions (canards) of “Yelling Fire in a Crowded Theater�, slander, and libel were codified to protect people from themselves and have no business modifying the 1st amendment.

    Potter:Matter=Energy=Consciousness implies evolution if you define/confine consciousness as/to animal/human. “Rock consciousness�, though it may be (how do we know or measure or define that?) is not human consciousness. So I am not sure we should even use the same word for your apparent wider definition of consciousness. Moreover human consciousness appears very much to have evolved from lower forms. I don’t confine/define consciousness to/as human/animal, I define it as stated i.e., Matter=Energy=Consciousness. This is physics, ALL THAT IS is comprised of CEM in that order. Consciousness begets energy (light) and energy begets matter (solid light). There are no lower forms of consciousness. Consciousness manifests as energy, elementary particles, viruses and humans. I mentioned to you before, that the phenomenon we call gravity results from the innate attraction of consciousness to itself. That’s the missing link to a Unified Field Theory but SCIENCE has a problem with consciousness because they haven’t yet figured out a way to measure it with machines so most of them ignore it or term it emergent epiphenomenalism and believe it is somehow generated from the complex physical structure called the Brain/. They use their minds to derive their formulae but deny its existence apart from the brain.

    Potter:DE does not (to my understanding) speak to how life itself originated, whether it originated from say rocks, plants. When we say “life� we normally do not include everything in the universe. But if you believe M=E=C, wouldn’t that mean that would have to be the case (everything evolved)? What is the line between life and non-life? We define life as entities that meet the criteria that arbitrarily are assigned to “living� (incidentally plants are usually considered to be alive) ALL energy and matter (and consciousness) are composed of the same building blocks. Why are some special arrangements of these building blocks considered alive and others not? Only the definition decides what is and isn’t alive. The “we� that normally does not include everything in the universe as living doesn’t include me. As I stated above consciousness manifests, and also evolves, just not in the Darwinian sense.

    Potter:The 1st question (not the 2nd) is the harder: “Why is there something rather than nothing?�. You answer “You can’t get something from nothing therefore you have to have always had something.� “Always� implies time. Before time? That also depends on what “something� includes and therefore what “nothing� stands for. Maybe you can get “something� from “nothing�. You have to start, for the purposes of the conversation with agreement about what words mean. Always not only implies time, it also implies direction – infinitely dimensional direction. Time is an illusion and relative to the speed (also an illusion) of light, Einstein stated this and it has been proven experimentally. The reason we experience time as a phenomenon is because of the neural transmission across synapses, this forces us to experience a series of linear events so it appears that before and after are realities – a mental illusion. Light does not experience “time�, it is instantaneously emitted and absorbed from its point of view no matter how far the distance between emission and absorption. As energy and matter are manifestations of consciousness the same is true for everything. Time is an infinite series of dimensionless NOW points. Nothing is the absence of anything. Something is the existence of anything. Therefore nothing is something, it is the concept of the absence of something. I use the common meaning of words for conversational purposes (despite Nikos’ protestations that I use academic and philosophical terminology that is beyond his ken as an uneducated simpleton.) One of the physical principles is that you can’t derive physical substance (CEM) from the absence of something. Consciousness exists period. There is no before or after only the infinitely dimensional NOW with consciousness infinitely manifest.

    Potter:For my money Nikos belief that life sprouted from inert material is not inconsistent with your own belief, Jazzman, that “consciousness manifests itself in infinite ways� It’s indeed not inconsistent, just incomplete. The key is that the material is NOT inert, it is consciousness manifest but that is not yet a part of Nikos’s worldview or philosophy – I believe he will include it when he is ready (don’t let him fool you, he’s no simpleton.)

  • jazzman

    Nikos:’Scuse me, Mr. Prosecutor, but have I ever once done any of the following: Advocated church-burnings? Mosque burnings? Temple burnings? Persecution of religious people? Violence inflicted on religious people? Persecution of religious professionals? The abolition of religion? You advocate the persecution of hate mongers, condoned the collateral damage of houses of worship in the name of liberation, the persecution (violent elimination) of religious people (especially professionals) whose religion you disagree with (Taliban, Wahabi, etc.) and I can deduce you would not be sorry for religion to self destruct as absent a metaphysical deity the need is obviated (not to mention your rants against monotheistic patriarchal religions and all their excesses and negative (to you) history.)

    Nikos:Were religion not a cultural sacred cow, this slate of unverifiable presumptions would be viewed as a moneymaking scam. Some of us think it is. But I’m not suggesting we abolish the institutions – I’m saying we encourage reform, and Dennett offers a lens for the examination that the reform could be grounded in. Why bother?

    Nikos:Look, if my case against religion is tantamount to ‘hate speech’, then telling children that Santa Claus isn’t real is tantamount to child abuse. Think about it. Depending on the method of disabuse in the belief in Santa – a case for child abuse could be made. The fact that you (well intentionally) lied about the veracity of Santa to begin with bears culpability. Lying to a child could easily be construed as abuse. (Signed the DA)

    Nikos: Conjecture/Speculation Belief that something is possible

    Opinion Belief that something is a probably a fact

    Belief Belief that something is a fact for operational purposes.

    Faith Belief that something is a fact even though it’s not provable. (DE for instance)

    Zealotry Belief that something is a fact even though it’s not provable but the belief is so strong all contravening facts are discounted (DE for instance.)

    Until the next exchange – maybe next week, Peace to ALL – Jazzman

  • Potter

    Peggysue ( and Nikos) : I heard the NPR version of this story. They had an expert in hand gestures on ( funny) and he said that this gesture could be interpreted differently if you live in Northern or Southern Italy, HOWEVER he gave his “definitive” interpretation as someting like “bug off”. BUT the NPR piece never mentioned this part : Smith said Scalia said, “To my critics, I say, ‘Vaffanculo,’ â€? while making the gesture. That’s Italian for (expletive) you.

    The representatives of the Church preferred to fire the photographer ( the messenger).

    Jazzman Music is sound organized to express feeling. This is most advanced ( or so we think) in music created by humans. I think it is fair to say that animals also communicate their feelings by organizing sounds. So I will add to my definition that birdsong ( for instance) is music because we hear it as music, but also because the bird organized those sounds to communicate pure feeling to other creatures ( which also happens to affect us as music).

    Today I was listening to frog songs from my neighbor’s pond, repetitious yes, but so is the music of Phillip Glass.

  • Potter

    Jazzman My definition of art has its roots in the meaning of ARTIFICE and is an intentional creation of the artist, which obviously applies to intentional creations of ALL entities. I define art as “Work – well done.� The work is the intentional part and the well done is in the eye of the beholder

    Nature, the handmaiden of evolution, cannot create art.

    You seem to be conradicting yourself.

    The Bower Bird is an artist and “nature” ( as we are). http://www.montereybay.com/creagrus/bowerbirds.html

    It could be refined to “Art is work for art’s sake� kind of tautological but valid IMO even though that reduces to “It’s art because I say so� which is my original premise.

    “Art for Art’s sake” is not a tautology. It means just what it says but you have transposed it- art that does not have another purpose, ie neither a practical purpose, function, meaning, nor created to instruct. A lot of of what we call art, including primitive art was created for religious reasons. Modern art was liberated from that. see http://witcombe.sbc.edu/modernism/artsake.html Art is not “work” either, And art is not well defined by the phrase “work well done”.

    It’s art because I say so You can say whatever you want. That does not make it art as far as I am concerned.

    BTW I believe that there is art (artifice) in word games as well.

    Oh the word games ( glad you brought that up) – oh the meanings stretched and narrowed! Artifice means “clever” or “trick”. You are a trickster I suspect 🙂

  • Potter

    Energy ( plus time)=Matter (plus time)=consciousness

    This implies evolution, DE in particular involves animate matter to conciousness.

  • Potter

    Correction-

    Energy=Matter (plus time) = consciousness. ( Energy is matter, matter is not necessarily consciousness)

    This implies evolution, DE in particular involves animate matter to conciousness.

    Panapsychism is a belief,what we call DE is science.

  • Nikos

    I feel like the guy at the end of Soylent Green: shouting out to his society a stark truth that cannot be culturally countenanced.

    I can sense the disapproval of my peers. Comparisons of my stridency to child abuse sting, even if they aren’t meant wholeheartedly.

    I feel embattled, embittered, burnt out, and baleful. But don’t feel sorry for me, for cryin’ out loud.

    I am a self-admitted ignoramus, yet that’s a good thing since it means I have been for years (decades, really) working hard to un-ignorant myself. Please allow the possibility that in my search for underlying causes and logical solutions to redress the current inequities rife in our human family’s parochial societies and cultures, I just might have comprehended a truth or two that you haven’t yet deduced yourself. (Again: I said yet.)

    From this soapbox of tentative and imperfect comprehension, I will try one last time to offer a constructive and valuable dissent to my society’s beloved (or, at least, tolerated) unreflective, un-self-critical conventions. (And in so doing hope to earn a measure of forgiveness for my apparent intolerance.)

    In pages 105-108 of What It Means to be 98% Chimpanzee (the answer to which incidentally, turns out to be ‘nothing truly meaningful’), the genetic anthropologist Jonathan Marks examines the recent excited claim by the pseudo-scientists (my characterization, not his) called sociobiologists, operating under the guise of ‘behavioral geneticists’, to have found the ‘aggression gene’. It turns out that these ‘scientists’ thought they had found the gene for a rare condition known as Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, which is implicated in self-mutilation. Marks writes:

    (begin quote)

    It’s fairly obvious that the geneticist is self-interested when he tries to convince you that Lesch-Nyhan syndrome is caused by a “behavior gene�. The syndrome is real, and the affected children are tragic. But effectively none of the violent behavior in the human species over the span of world history—from the battle of Vicksburg to Mike Tyson biting Evander Holyfield’s ear, from the assassination Julius Caesar to Custer’s Last Stand to the My Lai massacre—has anything whatsoever to do with Lesch-Nyhan syndrome. These are violent acts by genetically normal people and not the subject of the genetic data being invoked here.

    And in spite of the news division of the journal Science trumpeting ‘Possible Aggression Gene Found’, the Dutch geneticists who studied a genetic syndrome called monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) deficiency made no claim that their work had any bearing on the causes of aggressive acts in modern society, which are overwhelmingly carried out by genetically normal people. In fact, Hans Brunner, the senior author of the MAOA study, made his thoughts very explicit in print: “Although genetic studies cannot explain why impulsive aggression occurs, they may help to improve our understanding of how impulsive behavior happens.�

    Fair enough.

    Lesch-Nyhan syndrome and monoamine oxidase deficiency produce abnormal violent behavior. Violent behavior in normal people in ordinary or extraordinary contexts (sports, crime, discipline, politics, etc.) is untouched by genetic knowledge about those conditions. But it’s the “normal� violent behavior that we’re interested in when we here about “genes for behavior.� Why does it get trotted out, for example, by the sociobiologist E.O.Wilson, in his recent book Consilience, as an example of the influence of genes on behavior—when even the geneticist who did the work doesn’t interpret it that way?

    What on earth is going on here?

    Welcome to behavioral genetics, where the social and natural sciences square off and we learn that nature really does beat nurture—at least, if you believe the behavioral geneticists. But then, of course, they’re behavioral geneticists, after all. And their work, however tentative or irrelevant, can then be uncritically invoked by people who hold concordant social and political beliefs about the innateness of social problems because it appears to support them scientifically. It’s thus in the interest of both groups to get you thinking that behavior is genetic. Just as it is in the interest of a Buick salesman to convince you that Buicks are the best cars on the toad. But on the other hand, would they tell you if they weren’t?

    (end quote)

    To reiterate Marks: What on earth is going on here? Why am I quoting a genetic anthropologist in a thread that should have been titled: “Can religion be studied as a natural science�?

    Why? Because that passage from Marks is rich with ironic parallels to the case I’ve been trying to build, yet have thus far made so regrettably and ineffectively: profound religious reform is imperative, and not simply optional.

    For starters, the quote’s penultimate sentence could be easily reworded thusly: “Just as it is in the interest of a Greek Orthodox priest to convince you that Greek Orthodoxy is the best faith tradition for ensuring the ‘eternal salvation’ of your (unverifiable) soul.�

    And if the contentions of Greek Orthodoxy to that end are undermined by the findings of science, ask yourself whether Greek Orthodox religious professionals likely to:

    1. Ignore the erosive debunking of their claims and soldier on against the vested interests of the other, competing religions? Or:

    2. Make a truce and common cause with other religions in a frantic effort to stanch the erosion of their unverifiable collective presumptions? Or:

    3. Follow the lead of Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong in his 1998 Why Christianity Must Change Or Die: “The way reality was perceived when the Christian creeds were formulated has been obliterated by the expansion of knowledge…â€? who then proceeds to pen chapters with titles as tantalizing as: The Meaning of Prayer in a World with No External Deity. Bishop Spong also wrote Rescuing The Bible From Fundamentalism, which became a surprise bestseller – which implies quite baldly that the ‘critical mass’ necessary to ignite widespread religious reform isn’t an eccentric pipe dream. But no such pervasive reform will ensue without the insistence of believers, who must demand it from their hitherto comfortably supported religious professionals. (Keep in mind they’ve no impetus to change while living comfortably and while unchallenged.)

    Now, the focus of this post of mine is the dangers posed to humankind not by option no.3, which is obviously the most sensible, but the dangers posed by the reality that most religions are practicing a herd-instinct combination of options no’s 1 & 2. However, before exploring that, please consider the implications of this:

    What if I’m right that:

    1. Science describes ‘consciousness’ not as an inhabitant of a body, but as the organism’s ‘operational executive awareness’ – that is, it is an evolved phenomenon that allows the organism choice – i.e., liberty from over-reliance on instinct. (The implications of which, I reckon, the sociobiologists won’t much like, but that’s okay because I don’t much like them, either.) What if I’m right that this freedom-boon called ‘consciousness’ is so powerfully evolved in humans that, when combined with the unique human natural phenomenon called language, creates an impression that it exists distinct from the organism? And that it is somehow not ‘natural’ but supernatural?

    2. What if this freedom-boon called consciousness also carries another evolutionary Good Trick to a new level: the life-saving suspicion of agency behind every action in the physical world whose provenance is not immediately understood? Isn’t it safer to fear that a bear is moving those tree limbs, and not a mere gust of breeze? You can happily accept that your fear is wrong, after all. (It’s called ‘relief’!) Yet this tendency to ascribe agency can evolve in our clever species to ever more elegant flights of fancy: the tree limbs are moving not from wind but from invisible ‘elves’ or ‘nymphs’ (because people don’t necessarily distinguish ‘air’ from ‘spirit’, after all; in fact: ‘spirit’ originally meant ‘breath’). Did our ancestors understand that wind is the movement of atmosphere from high pressure to low pressure? They couldn’t have. What they did know is that ‘breath’ and ‘life’ were synonymous. That could easily lead to the idea that every gust of wind was evidence of big, invisible entities breathing nearby. Such flights of fancy can evolve further, and have, I submit, into belief in the agency of ever more powerful supernatural entities. And ideas that are shared – especially poetic, inspirational ideas – tend to evolve toward ever greater levels of elegance or complexity.

    Now you have the essential raw materials of the world’s dominant religions: belief in a ‘self’ that is distinct from the body, and belief in a supernatural entity that, by evolution through art and poetry (at minimum), comes to mean ‘mother’ or ‘father’. Combine this with ancestor reverence and you get a deity that, by wish-projection, will ‘ensure the survival’ of your consciousness after the fearful organism’s inert return to the moist, fertile star-dust that comprises the biosphere.

    If all this is even approximately correct and not merely my opinion, what are the implications?

    For one thing, it cheapens life: people needn’t worry about their lives ‘on earth’ because the supernatural entity promises better days in the great beyond. Worse, the conceits that accompany the disregard of your own life often translate into imperious disregard for the lives of others. It’s bad enough that you might end your only chance at consciousness by killing yourself, but to kill others from the same sets of presumptions is…unforgivable. There’s no other word for it.

    Unforgivable.

    What if there is no God or afterlife?

    How dare you steal another person’s only opportunity for experiencing life on earth!

    And even if your religion preaches love, kindness, and charity, it might also accidentally sanction a life of cruelty to others by offering the magic of ‘God’s forgiveness’ via the right formula of piety and expressions of remorse as your death nears. After all, the Catholic Church for centuries sold entry to heaven, and often to society’s cruelest tyrants on their deathbeds.

    By preaching the existence of an unverifiable afterlife governed by unverifiable supernatural entities, religions collaborate, perhaps unintentionally, to dampen human curiosity and to effectively hijack human reason. Remember Galileo?

    Religious dogma often pirates the basic human right to seek peaceful fulfillment, even while religion proclaims that it offers more choice—and more humanism—than the “walking sack of biochemical reactions� science’s reductionistic conceptual lens foolishly and unnecessarily paints life to be.

    Speaking of the ‘walking sack of biochemical reactions’…

    Curiously, sociobiologists and religionists are walking parallel paths. Sociobiology, by implication, blithely ignores the likelihood that the astonishing evolution of human consciousness has actually eroded the genetically endowed instincts our distant ancestors once shared with other creatures. How many animals can you name that would ignore the imperative of survival-by-any-means by willfully dying for a cultural cause? Or even from the despair of jumping off the heights of a building or bridge-span? Human conscious is nearly miraculous, but it is a trickster too.

    Sociobiology might, as Marks allows, offer a few accidental insights into the ‘hows’ of human behavior, but it is blinded to the ‘why’ questions it claims to explore. Does nature play a role in human behavior? Of course, but not like it does for amoebas – who actually are ‘moving sacks of biochemical reactions’.

    Humans are nature’s (current) champions of instinct-free living. This is the gift of evolved consciousness.

    Humans choose.

    Ignoring this leads, by implication, to travesties like the 1994 The Bell Curve and its spurious claim that ‘race’ somehow determines ‘genetic fitness’ for educability.

    What’s next – the gene for suicide bombing? Get that junk out of here. Disperse the sociobiologists from their junk-science founded on the notion that social stereotypes are linked to genes of all things! – and send them instead to fields of study not blindly wed to the mechanistic, reactionary model of life. We aren’t pistons and flywheels.

    We have consciousnesses.

    Humans choose, and their choices are informed by a dense matrix of cultural influences.

    One these influences, and one of the most powerful, is religion.

    Both sociobiologists and religionists claim that human actions are predicated not by culture but by nature: sociobiologists point to genes, while many religionists ascribe the agency to an ‘inherent proclivity for evilness’, and blame demigods like Satan. (This, of course, conveniently overlooks their God’s implication in this shell game since He could do away with Satan if He were as mighty and omniscient as purported.)

    Both of these groups, sociobiologists and religionists, are chasing justification for their professional enterprises.

    Do either group of professionals deserve a cultural ‘free pass’?

    I predict the effective extinction of sociobiology before the middle of the century; yet I cannot so confidently predict a similar extinction for hoaxster religionists like the televangelists who prey on the worries and wallets of conventionally-minded people.

    Only their coreligionists can inspire change for the common good: by pressure.

    Bishop Spong writes: “If the God I worship must be identified with the (obsolescent) ancient creedal words in any literal sense, God would become for me not just unbelievable, but in fact no longer worthy of my devotion. I am not alone in this conclusion. Indeed, I am one of a countless host of modern men and women for who traditional religious understandings have lost most of their ancient power. We are the silent majority of believers who find it increasingly difficult to remain members of the church and still be thinking people. The church does not encourage us in this task. That institution seems increasingly brittle and therefore not eager to relate its creeds as a set of symbols that must be broken open so that the concept of God can be embraced by new possibilities.� (Spong, 1998; Harper Collins.)

    Bear in mind that Spong wrote this eight years ago, and that fundamentalism hasn’t abated any in the years since: it has increased. Why? Because too many folks want to just ‘leave religion alone’. As if they know in their hearts that ‘of course it’s not real, but we mustn’t say so aloud!’

    That, I contend, is a dereliction of your duty to humanity – and here’s why:

    Institutional religions like to characterize themselves as ‘Houses of God.’ Okay, I’m game, let’s say that these Houses comprise a neighborhood that corresponds to the world’s billions of people – and remember please that before any of us are Asians or Africans, or Americans or Laplanders, or Muslims or Buddhists, we are all descended from one mitochondrial ‘Eve’ – we are all one massively extended family.

    Family members, if they are to be honored by their kin, are considered responsible for the safeguarding of their the parents and grandparents and siblings and children. This kinship-duty is only common human decency after all, and perhaps the most fundamental decency. We ought to care for one another, and care enough not to let our kin murder our other kinfolk, or to imprison one another for simple acts of human curiosity or because of acts to satisfy the human urge for pleasure and personal fulfillment.

    We sensibly agree to proscribe murder, yet we fiercely feud with one another over simple human rights of sexuality. At least two of the world’s dominant religions use ancient and factually baseless beliefs about sexuality ensconced in scripture to fight the growing modern sensibility that sexuality isn’t ‘God’s purview’ but a person’s human right. This fundamentalism pushes dissenters out of the neighborhood’s Houses and across the street, where we’ve patched together a ramshackle hovel on the shore of the mosquito-ridden swamp. This hovel houses the atheists, agnostics, freethinkers (and yes, even a few of those confused sociobiologists!).

    From the hovel we shout our dissent toward the Houses of the pious. Dissent like this:

    Why, after you religions have effectively ‘retired’ ancient rites of animal sacrifice ensconced in scripture, are you unwilling to retire ignorant scriptural proscriptions against homosexuality or women’s sexual urges?

    The Saudi woman Wajida Al-Huweidar has taken an honored place in our hovel of dissent. She writes that: “All Arab countries, without exception, harbor covert animosity and open discrimination against women. Arab countries’ legislation patently discriminates against women and clearly denies their rights, which affronts them as human beings. (Women) are still treated as though they contaminate purity, and arouse temptation and immorality. What is astounding is that most Arabs, at all levels and in every area – whether governments, institutions, or individuals – still consider women’s issues a religious issue, and thus believe that her concerns should be dealt with through outdated chauvinist [religious] interpretations…

    “It is known that in the Muslim countries the system permitting buying and selling slaves was abolished, as was the jizya [poll tax] system imposed on the dhimmi s – the Jews and the Christians – from the Islamic conquests until the last century. This is despite the fact that there are still religious texts that permit slave trading and the poll tax – but both of these were suppressed so that [Muslims] could act according to [modern values]… “These practices were abolished years ago, and people have forgotten them… because they violated civil and human rights… It is also time to abolish all chauvinistic interpretations that incite to violence, discriminate, and persecute women, and deprive them of their rights…â€? [2]

    http://www.metransparent.com/texts/arab_feminists_on_women_s_rights.htm

    Why haven’t Islamic religious professionals answered Al-Huwaider’s logical inquiry?

    I’ll tell you why, but not before this:

    ‘As documented by the preeminent scholar of dhimmitude, Bat Ye’or, numerous Koranic verses and hadith (sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad) associate the Jews with hell and Satan. She notes three compelling examples of this association. First, that Ibn Abdun (d. 1134) a Muslim jurist from Spain, quoted from the Koran (58:20) to this effect in a legal treatise, “…Satan has gained the mastery over them, and caused them to forget God’s Remembrance. Those are Satan’s party; why Satan’s party are surely the losers!â€? Second, a decree by the Caliph al-Mutawakkil (850), directing “…wooden images of devils be nailed to the doors of their homes to distinguish them from the homes of Muslims…â€?. Finally, Jewish cemeteries were considered a part of Hell, to which the dhimmis were destined. Professor Robert Wistrich, a scholar of anti-Semitism, summarizes the overall Koranic image of the Jews as follows:

    ‘“…there are some notably harsh passages in which Muhammad brands the Jews as enemies of Islam and depicts them as possessing a malevolent, rebellious spirit. There are also verses that speak of their justified abasement and poverty, of the Jews being ‘…laden with God’s anger…’ for their disobedience. They had to be humiliated ‘…because they had disbelieved the signs of God and slain the prophets unrightfully…’ (Sura 2:61/58).’ http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Printable.asp?ID=4738

    Is this sort of bigotry worthy of inclusion alongside the many other manifestly beautiful and humane Islamic scriptures?

    The folks inhabiting the Houses on Religion Street don’t like us critical freethinkers in the swamp-side hovel. They band together to rail against our logical dissent. They are willing to call a truce to their own inter-religious wars to fight against the onslaught of modern knowledge’s erosive influence on their ancient, obsolescent creeds.

    In so doing, they accidentally acquiesce to each other’s religious bigotries and inhumane treatment of the people born into the cultures held captive by their religions. This unintentional acquiescence reinforces the willingness of the religionists to fight the secularists, and this fight can intensify, not lessen, the abhorrent inhumanity we so deplore.

    Now, if you are a believer living in one of those opulent Houses, you may be party to this fight against dissent – even if only by uncritically failing to call your religious professionals to task for ignoring any sensible answers to the dissent mounted by loudmouths like me. Is it possible then that you are also party to the accidental sanction of the following: sexism, intolerance, bigotry, and murder?

    If you ‘just want to let religions alone’, because ‘it’s not fair to attack the beliefs of others’, might you be – intentionally or not – party to crimes against humanity?

    If you think that the detailed criticism of my strident call for religions to examine themselves and to ‘retire’ their objectionable doctrines and dogmas is cruel and unempathetic, then I have challenge for you:

    Every time you hear the following phrases: “female genital mutilation�, “execution for homosexuality�, and “suicide-bomber�, look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself this:

    “Is my willingness to ignore and acquiesce to religion-as-practiced in my own country and around the world accidentally endorsing these abominations?�

    I don’t expect much reaction from this post. I may, over the past week and a half, have made my byline into an unwelcome intrusion. So, I have to accept the possibility that I’ll get no reaction. If so, this will be my last contribution, because it’s as pointless to talk to a wall of resentment as it is to the concrete wall of Winston’s ideology (which, btw, I’ve often been willing to do if only to distract him from the rest of you).

    On the other hand, one lonely positive reaction will likely persuade me that my unconventional thinking still has a purpose here. So feel free to react.

    But I gotta tell you, I’m heartsick and weary of feeling embattled, misunderstood, and persona non grata.

    Good luck with WSD.

    Oh, and it was fun while it lasted! 🙂

  • Hey Nikos, I am finding the most amazing treasures at my local public libray. Yesterday I found a DVD of … SOYLENT GREEN! I checked it out and will think of you…

    “I feel like the guy at the end of Soylent Green: shouting out to his society a stark truth that cannot be culturally countenanced.”

  • Later that night….

    Nikos: OK, now I’ve read your whole post above (didn’t have time earlier). I do think much of your criticism of religion is valid. My frustration with your arguments has been in that they are so vastly overbroad – like making the whole class stay after school because one kid was shooting rubber bands into the heater. The fact that I practice a religon in no way means that I endorse autrocities. (Maybe my buying gasoline does – but that is another topic).

    I don’t resent you at all. Keep posting. Well, OK, this subject is a dead horse that has been beaten into a gelatinous pulp but I’m sure ROS will come up with many more engaging topics for us all to thrash out and of course your unconventional thinking has a purpose here. I will always be grateful to you for your encouragement to continue when I first started posting and LYB threw those nasty comments my way. Your friendly extravagance is valued.

  • Potter

    Nikos : I am with Peggysue. I have not known what to say after I read your post above, probably too late last night, ending in such a distraught way. I just re-read it which shows some affection and respect for you.

    I think that you are trying too hard to hammer your view in, and as though you are completely misunderstood or your points are being totally rejected. That you “may have comprehended a truth or two” that some of us may also have arrived at (or not) is still a long way from having the power to do anything about it even if you knew what to do, where exactly or IF to do ( had the immense wisdom necessary to judge and weigh for all of humanity the benefits versus the harm ). This weeding out has been happening slowly in history. Perhaps it has gotten stuck in certain areas and not happened in others (Islam) or generally not happened fast enough. This kind of evolution I guess like all evolution is very slow. So it seems that you are wringing yourself out ultimatley even though you do have some general agreement here.

    I am not at war with the protoscience sociobiology either. It is not a science and I do not take it as such. But there may be insight from it. At the moment I adore E.O. Wilson.

    I agree with you about religion, that people, in the name of religion have been ( and are) misguided and caused ( still cause) a lot of suffering in this world. In addition I think it is a mistake to think that all the effort that goes into posting here is going to change much at all. The resistance, from me at least, comes from knowing not only that you are right about certain things but that your judgment is not complete, not based on the whole story, nor could it be. More importantly, religion has deep roots and is not about to go away no matter how much you turn yourself inside out about it. So it is probably wise to save yourself and retreat about the matter ( for your own health) and cultivate your own garden.

    Regarding one of your conclusions, I must object: religion does not necessarily or always cheapen life, sanction killing. The opposite is true at least equally.

    There were/are also intimations that life after death is not exactly heaven and immediate forgiveness without punishment- (limbo purgatory hell) This is not part of Judaism either. Repentance and forgiveness is common to both religions. ( I do not know about Islam.) Forgiveness, Lovingkindness (of/to self and others) is in Buddhism. This latter is an incredibly advanced practice. None of this is without personal suffering however and promise of change, actual change for redemption or relief of suffering here on earth. That’s good (in theory and practice).

    Your ( very well meaning) cris de Coeur, moreover, incorporates history citing and emphasizing how religion was grossly misused in order to make the strong case. There is no question religious hierarchy has striven (and strives) to hold and keep it’s authority, that it fosters repression, punishes doubt and criticism. But we do have all kinds of schisms and rebelelions from that throughout history. That history brings us to today. There is enough to deal with today without dragging the baggage of the past horrors of history into it. Accept and praise reforms that have already happened. We are evolving sociologically, slowly, but in the right direction it seems to me.

    It sounds to me anyway like you are at war with both scientists (sociobiologists included or especially) and religionists. (You posit scientists-biologists as well as sociobiologists) as viewing human life as only “a sack of biochemical reactions” or as if they are machines. I question that portrayal as universal and all pervasive. They are all individuals… not a “gestaltâ€? as Jazzman would say.)

    NIkos: If you ‘just want to let religions alone’, because ‘it’s not fair to attack the beliefs of others’, might you be – intentionally or not – party to crimes against humanity?

    Either way this is true in my view.

  • cheesechowmain

    Nikos, don’t go wobbly now amigo. Keep posting. Silence does not equal a wall-of-resentment. It may mean people are thinking about what you’re posting. Thinking takes time. Mind changing takes time. Understanding takes time. Patience amigo. Moreover, acceptance of a differences of opinion will help you invite discourse and not repell it. An acceptance of the ignorance of others without using it against folks will help you invite discourse and not repell it.

    I will add that from strictly my perspective, you have been advocating that people read the book first and not speak from a position of ignorance. This sort of due diligence takes time. I should mention that I have read several books, articles, and op-eds by both Prof. Dennett and Prof. Dawkins. I have heard them in several public forums. This latest book by Prof. Dennett is not one I had read before the show, so my critiques were premature. Though in my current end-to-end reading, my critiques have actually become much more severe, yet sharper. Probably not the desired effect. I am writing them up as I go and then will explore a proper avenue to make them public.

    Quick questions for Nikos: Are you here on ROS to change minds? Sharpen your talking points? Improve understanding? Vent frustration? Find fellow travellers? Seek consensus? Recreational thought? Etc. Asking and answering these questions and others will help you ascertain why you’re here and lessen frustration. By all means, share with us why your here.

    Finally, in an effort to get to the particular, my critiques are not based on defensiveness nor offenseness wrt Prof. Dennett. Furthermore, I’ve not made explicit which systems of belief and knowledge I hang my hats upon. It would be presumptuous for you to assume a critique of Prof. Dennett is a defense of religious systems. I’ll be out-of-pocket for a while, so my commenting will be very sporadic for a while. Don’t presume silence is resentment. Best to ya amigo…

  • Nikos

    Thanks Peggy Sue.

    From my perspective as a nonbeliever, the trouble with refraining from ‘painting all religions with too broad a brush’ is that it risks looking like favoritism, or, at minimum, that I’m picking harder on one or two religions than I am willing to on the others.

    Of course this is true: I quietly question whether the cultural entity called ‘Buddhism’ is even in the same family of cultural entities called ‘Christianity’ and ‘Islam’.

    But because our language has this sloppy, all-inclusive word called ‘religion’, I feel compelled to paint with a broad brush, even though I’d rather not.

    If our language didn’t have a single word – ‘food’ – but instead had two that distinguished between ‘animal matter ingested for nutrition’ and ‘vegetable matter ingested for nutrition’, we could talk about cuisine in a different (yet perhaps clumsier) manner. Same with religion. (And I made that parallel specifically, because even though Buddhists have been known to kill, I believe—perhaps mistakenly—that it doesn’t preach intolerance and imperialism like the two ‘meat’ religions that so concern me do.)

    This is why I consistently use pathetic little Greek Orthodoxy as my speculative ‘whipping boy’: I have to show no taint of favoritism.

    And, like it or not, the world currently awards ‘free passes’ to at least two religions that don’t deserve such kid-gloves-treatment.

    Ultimately, if most sects of Christianity followed the lead of Bishop Carlton Pearson and dumped the myth of Satan and Hell, and then followed Bishop Spong’s lead in promulgating a notion of ‘Godhood’ that is immanent instead of external and parental, I don’t doubt for an instant that this glorious reform would, over time, influence Islam, too. They’d have to begin a parallel evolution, or look even more medieval than they already do. (And apart from the Islamists, Islamic religious professionals are terribly concerned with image.)

    I suppose this is the hope for reform I’m trying to represent.

    And somebody’s gotta take the hard line: such militancy makes the greater tolerance of others influence the dialogue more profoundly. Know what I mean?

  • Nikos

    CCM: nice to hear from you. I look forward to your reviews.

  • jazzman

    Potter: Music is sound organized to express feeling Music is the ART of the composer, and may or may not express the composer’s feelings (tastes and predilections more likely dictate the organization of the sound). In any case whatever is created by composers is for themselves, only they know what they are attempting to express. The listener creates an internal response to the arrangement of sound that may or may not have any relation to the composers’ intents when they created the ART.

    Potter: I think it is fair to say that animals also communicate their feelings by organizing sounds. The sounds humans use for communication is primarily spoken words. Except encoded sounds like whistles, bugle calls, Morse code etc. Animals have very little leeway when it comes to organizing sounds and communication is limited to concepts such as mate attraction, warnings, and not intended for ART in the same way music is. If birdsong is music to your ears – enjoy. To me (and I love to hear natural sounds and can create mental compositions inspired by those sounds) they are as much music as a wolf whistle or Scalia saying Vaffanculo or as they say in Boston, ba fun gool. BTW which means up yours, not blank you or any human speech.

    Potter: the bird organized those sounds to communicate pure feeling to other creatures ( which also happens to affect us as music). Today I was listening to frog songs from my neighbor’s pond, repetitious yes, but so is the music of Phillip Glass. The bird organized the sounds to communicate a limited set of feelings to its own kind, and warnings and threats to other creatures, (which also happens to affect YOU as music. It’s your co-creation with the bird, it’s music/ART because you say so.) Glass, IMO is sort of a trance music composer and the repetition is like chanting and meditation repetition. The music does vary slowly and hypnotically but doesn’t float my boat.

    Potter: Jazz man wrote: Nature, the handmaiden of evolution, cannot create art. You seem to be contradicting yourself. The Bower Bird is an artist and “nature� ( as we are). The nature I referenced was natural phenomena usually deemed to be beautiful natural art such as sunsets, flowers, and foliage (New England autumnal especially) not art created by mostly humans. Many of the higher creatures create works that could be looked at as art but the artistic quality is for practical purposes and instinctive – not for the “sake of art�

    Potter: Art is not “work� either, And art is not well defined by the phrase “work well done�. How can you say art isn’t work and be accurate? If it was created by an entity, work was done. I say that there is ART in ANY work done well. How do you define art?

    Potter: Jazzman wrote: It’s art because I say so The statement means it’s art because the person for whom it qualifies as art deemed it thus, so it does make it art as far as you are concerned if you say it is. Each of us is the qualifier as to what is art. You define it for your self – I merely gave it a broad range of qualification but, defined it as “work� – the creating of art, and “well done� – the judgment of whether it qualifies as art to whomever is judging it.

    Potter: Wordgames: Oh the meanings stretched and narrowed! Artifice means “clever� or “trick�. You are a trickster I suspect. I use these definitions: Artifice 1) A handicraft; a trade; art of making. 2) Workmanship; a skillfully contrived work 3) Artful or skillful contrivance. Poetry stretches and narrows meanings. There are word games intended to deceive: Bill Clinton and lawyer’s parsing tricks and word games to enlighten (Zen koans) and word games for humor (puns). I try to confine my games to humor and enlightenment.

    Potter: Energy=Matter (plus time) = consciousness. ( Energy is matter, matter is not necessarily consciousness) This implies evolution, DE in particular involves animate matter to conciousness. Panapsychism is a belief,what we call DE is science. I explained to you why time is an illusion and doesn’t exist. Therefore time doesn’t come into the equation. I say that ALL matter/energy IS composed of consciousness and ALL 3 forms are manifestations of each other but consciousness is the basis of ALL THAT IS. There is no implication of evolution except in YOUR definition which is not my thesis or consciousness changing forms into matter/energy which is. DE involves a persistent, faith based and zealous belief that many call science, even though it doesn’t pass scientific muster and is unfalsifiable. If consciousness is assumed to be an emergent epiphenomenon as Dennett, Dawkins, and possibly your hero, E.O Wilson believes then there’s no explanation for it, it’s just a word game or label for a phenomenon that is known to exist but is too hard to deal with, the mechanism cannot be adduced. If it’s a FUNDAMENTAL building block of everything then DE is not necessary to explain anything.

    Peace – Jazzman

  • Nikos

    CCM: I’ve been pondering these questions from you:

    Are you here on ROS to change minds? Not ‘change’ so much as ‘influence’ – see essay below for detail.

    Sharpen your talking points? Yes, absolutely yes. This forum is rich with critical thinkers – like you – and communicating here is invaluable to my own cogitations.

    Improve understanding? Again: absolutely yes – as outlined in the answer just prior to this one. I can’t begin to fairly assess how much I have learned from you, and Potter, and Peggy Sue, and Allison, and nother, and…and…dozens of others. Dozens. I’d have to guess that my life’s worth of knowledge has probably doubled in the past year, from this radio show and most especially from its blog, because I’ve had to read a whole lot of books to keep up with you all!

    And I’d like to think I’ve contributed a pearl or two of wisdom back to you, too. I’ve been willing to employ all my writerly tricks in the effort. Some of these tricks are more effective and less abrasive than others – but hey, I’m still learning the process.

    Vent frustration? (sigh) Sometimes…yes, and that’s regrettable. But I’m just a sinner like everyone else, right? 😉

    Find fellow travelers? Yes, and haven’t I?

    Seek consensus? Not so much ‘seek’ as have a hand, however insignificant, in forging a path toward a new culture-wide consensus. Is this overly ambitious? Maybe. But why not try it, at least? It can’t hurt to try. And it’s more satisfying than simply sitting on my hands — or wringing my hands while passively lamenting the inequities so rife in the world today.

    Recreational thought? Well…the whole thing is a kind of hobby, even when I’m acting as a deadly serious activist, and angry as hell.

    However…

    I’m not here to insult people.

    It’s obvious that some folks take attacks on their beliefs personally. That’s inevitable but regrettable. Look, I believe that I am a single manifestation of the biosphere’s ongoing transformation of the planet’s top layers of star-dust into self-aware individuations, and not a supernatural entity called a ‘soul’ temporarily inhabiting this body. This belief is an important part of my identity as the guy named Nick who masquerades on ROS as ‘Nikos’.

    But I don’t identify with it so strongly that your saying that I’m wrong would insult me. And I’m certainly not willing to die for my belief.

    Does this comparatively lower threshold of emotional attachment (and lesser inherent volatility) negate the honorableness of my personal belief?

    Many ‘traditional’ religionists would say: ‘YES, of course it does! You can’t expect us to take your silly little personal belief seriously: we have 2,000 years of cultural centrality supporting our claim that your personal belief is misguided and naïve!’

    This is why they rail against neo-paganism (and disrespect Eastern religions too): it’s not a ‘proper’ Western or culturally respected enough belief system to warrant the social grace called ‘honor’ – at least, not in their eyes.

    Well, I take umbrage to that. And why not? My belief is much more grounded in empirically verified evidence than the fundamentalist interpretations of the ‘traditional’ religions.

    Look, what if I’m right that ‘soul’ and ‘God’ are both creations of inspired but scientifically ignorant ancient poets and hopeful ‘prophets’?

    What if these two most vital pillars of fundamentalist Christianity and Islam aren’t real but imaginary?

    Consider how many other ancient beliefs we know without doubt are baseless: beliefs about the age of the earth, the origins of species, women and femininity, homosexual activity, and the putative ‘demonic influences’ on these last two misunderstood aspects of human nature and reality?

    These factually baseless beliefs are intimately intertwined with belief in ‘God’ and ‘soul’.

    If I’m right, then tens of thousands of people right now are suffering and dying in confused efforts to reinforce belief in baseless fictions. And countless millions have over the centuries suffered horribly and died while praying to an imaginary divine savoir in the service of perpetuating these same fictions.

    If my words, however incendiary, can influence the thinking of others the same way you all have influenced me, then I can live with myself. I can even live with the knowledge that I’ve lessened my likeability.

    I owe it. I owe it to the women whom my gender historically and currently mistreats under the culturally accepted excuse of ‘religion’.

    If I simply sat on my hands and muttered: ‘No, I can’t attack the beliefs of others’, then I wouldn’t be able to live with myself.

    Your beliefs aren’t more important than the lives and rights of others.

    (Neither, for that matter, are mine.)

    I can’t acquiesce, even by polite silence, to honor-killings, to genital mutilation, to wife-beatings and wife-murders (which happen in our country, and sometimes via the excuse of religion—see Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-1400032806-4 ), to religiously grounded bigotry, and to the church-supported effort to ‘forget’ the inquisitions and other religious imperialisms.

    Am I overreaching in thinking that my lowly, ignorant blogger’s voice can contribute to meaningful change? Perhaps, but I’m willing to risk it. It can’t hurt to try.

    I am willing to provoke. I owe it to my underrepresented non-American brethren and sisters. I owe to girls who will never experience an orgasm because an ancient and misguided religious obsession with sexuality retains a ‘memetic home’ in a ritual act of genital mutilation. I owe to girls killed by brothers and fathers for the same misguided sexual obsessions. I owe it to the boys strapping bombs onto their bodies to die for unverifiable supernatural entities that curiously can’t take the ‘insult’ called ‘disbelief’ from mere mortal humans.

    I am willing to agitate. For all the same reasons.

    I am even willing to bait and to evoke ire – because sometimes shock is the fastest way to awaken our sleepy countrymen out of their conventional ignorance.

    And I am willing to accept reprimands for my excesses.

    However, I’m not willing to continue in the forum if my stylistic tricks have bred more resentment than reflection. Which was the point of the beginning and end sections of my 4:56 PM April 2, 2006. I’d rather just drop out and read the rest of you. I wouldn’t learn as much if I couldn’t interact (and it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun), but the last thing I want to do is intrude after wearing out my welcome.

    I hope this answer satisfies.

    And I look forward to more dialogue with you, CCM. Especially you (but not exclusively you, not by any means).

    See ya.

  • Nikos

    PS to CCM: I have no illusions, btw, that I’m some kind of great spokesman. I’m just a mediocre writer with hopes of producing a better novel than the last one, and in the interim am keeping my feeble chops in practice here. I’m not brilliant and I’m no diplomat for great changes. No Ghandi or Rosa Parks me. But that doesn’t mean I should keep my electronic mouth shut. Last night we were joined on the Morality thread by a newbie: bright young blogger, who, for all I know, may eventually represent the next generation of religious thinkers, or perhaps a diplomatic liaison between secularists and religionists. I’m willing to take the chance that my out-of-the-box promotion of Bishops Spong and Pearson and the feminist gem Wajida Al-Huwaider might influence an impressionable young mind, who might in two decades hence spark the sweeping reform of religion Pearson, Spong, And Al-Huwaider call for. It might take that long for worldwide humanity to be ready for it, and who knows whether my measly agitations here in ROS might be the first exposure of those folks to the young person or persons who will ultimately undertake the work.

    Even a shadow-slim chance is worth the effort I put into my posts. And it’s worth the angst, even if it accidentally loses me friends.

    Nobody’s beliefs are more valuable than the lives and basic human rights of those born into religiously sanctioned oppression. Especially the medieval beliefs of the oppressors.

    I’m only too happy to attack those beliefs. Somebody’s gotta.

  • cheesechowmain

    Nikos, I just popped in for a few moments. I have several jinormous tasks I’m wrestling with, so I’m very sorry about a lack of thorough response. I read your last two posts twice. As usual, it was great enjoyment. BTW, one rosa parks, one ghandi, one nikos is all that is needed to make significant, though tiny, movements for a more humane existence.

    The following is an extremely non-trivial point. I point it out, because it is a diamond and full of opportunties for guiding the endeavor:

    “Does this comparatively lower threshold of emotional attachment (and lesser inherent volatility) negate the honorableness of my personal belief?

    Many ‘traditional’ religionists would say: ‘YES, of course it does! You can’t expect us to take your silly little personal belief seriously: we have 2,000 years of cultural centrality supporting our claim that your personal belief is misguided and naïve!’”

    This is huge. You stated it brillantly! Huge understanding on your part. If you can push through any attachment to residual resentment you may or may not have, you can us this to inform tactics for neutralizing this problem. I have volumes to say about this issue, but I need to flesh this out.

  • Potter

    Jazzman Music is the ART of the composer, and may or may not express the composer’s feelings(tastes and predilections more likely dictate the organization of the sound).In any case whatever is created by composers is for themselves, only they know what they are attempting to express. The listener creates an internal response to the arrangement of sound that may or may not have any relation to the composers’ intents when they created the ART.

    Jazzman, My understanding of music is that it is sound organized to express feeling AND to transmit those feelings. The art or craft part relates to how it is organized. ART is yes created for the artist in the sense that this expression is from an inner need but it is not only for the artist. Music especially, is created to be heard by others. Yes of course what is received is not necessarily what is intended. Most living artists are not bent out of shape about that from what I notice. The act of creating and releasing the creation to make whatever impression is enough. The recognition, communication, may or may not happen in an artist’s lifetime or at all in fact. It’s still art in a sense but it has not fulfilled it’s mission. It’s dead in a way, unappreciated until it is received and felt.

    Jazzman Animals have very little leeway when it comes to organizing sounds and communication is limited to concepts such as mate attraction, warnings, and not intended for ART in the same way music is. If birdsong is music to your ears – enjoy.

    How do you know birds are not making ART (music, creating pretty nests) for their “own sake�, ie that their music is strictly intended for the “concepts� that are only related to survival and do not go beyond that? Is, by the way, so-called “art for art’s sake� not about survival at all? The musician who is creating the music may feel that it is necessary for HIS/HER emotional survival, sanity (personal need) ie survival (well being).

    Jazzman The bird organized the sounds to communicate a limited set of feelings to its own kind, and warnings and threats to other creatures, (which also happens to affect YOU as music. It’s your co-creation with the bird, it’s music/ART because you say so.)

    That does not negate what I said except I had nothing to do with the creation part anymore than I created Beethoven’s Piano Sonata #16 simply by listening to it. I am NOT a co-creator simply because I received a communication. I would love to be the co-creator of a Degas painting.

    Jazzman The nature I referenced was natural phenomena usually deemed to be beautiful natural art such as sunsets, flowers, and foliage (New England autumnal especially) not art created by mostly humans. Many of the higher creatures create works that could be looked at as art but the artistic quality is for practical purposes and instinctive – not for the “sake of art”

    Again, it’s not clear that the Bower Bird(or ferrets or that bird that collects shiny things)is not creating for the “sake of artâ€? to please itself beyond what is strictly necessary. (Aside: Art that is not created for the “sake of artâ€? only is still eligible to be ART… religious art, primitive/tribal art).

    Jazzman How can you say art isn’t work and be accurate? If it was created by an entity, work was done. I say that there is ART in ANY work done well. How do you define art?

    I said art was not WELL defined (if defined at all) by “work well done�. There is art (small “a�) in “work well done�. A carpenter can do great work but it is not ART though it is his “art�( meaning craft). A potter can throw pots well but not every one is ART, it’s art (craft) “well done�. ART is more special.

    Is it ART if the artist does not think so but someone else does? Yes, because what the artist THINKS of it is besides the point. What Van Gogh thought of his paintings is besides the point. How many works of ART have we dug up that an artist hid? It’s the expression of feeling that counts, not the thinking. ART is a higher form of communication.

    Art is the investment of and thus communication of feeling/emotions- through a sense of beauty/aesthetics- using sound for instance or paint, clay, found objects, words. It must communicate on a profound/high/deep level to be ART. It is not confined to the mere act of someone who would call him/herself an artist, in my opinion. It not ART either merely because I say so; it’s ART because I say so AND it achieves that level of communication. Art is something more than craft, more than “work well done�.

    If “Each of us is the qualifier as to what is art� and “You define it for your self� and “the judgment of whether it qualifies as art to whomever is judging it� then ART must be entirely self-referential. I disagree as I have said, but that would still mean that I can declare birdsong ART without argument from you.

  • Nikos: “I feel like the guy at the end of Soylent Green: shouting out to his society a stark truth that cannot be culturally countenanced.â€?

    I sure hope you don’t feel like we beat you up as bad as Chuck Conners beats up Charlton Heston at the end of Soylent Green. I just watched it last night. I’d forgotten what a great movie it is.

    So, if you were riddled with bullets and being carried away with your blood soaked hand held defiantly in the air and you could say 4 words comparable to Heston’s “Soylent Green is People!” (you are losing blood quickly which requires extreme brevity) what are your 4 words?

  • Nikos

    Peggy Sue: I can’t do it in four words.

    How about: “The way you choose to believe in God is killing people!�

    The follow-up then, must be “Please re-imagine your idea of God! And then spread that ‘Good Word’ to spare the lives and rights of your fellow human beings!�

    It seems to me that the conceptual building blocks of conventional religions are so deeply imbedded in our culture that it takes a long, exhausting series of rebuttals to cogently argue that it’s more humanistic to sacrifice your long-held beliefs in a personal, external, and parental god than to unreasonably cling to them while blaming the messengers of science.

    Would you give up a mere belief to save lives?

    Is it worth the sacrifice?

    Besides, might it not ultimately please you more to learn that the ‘divine’ lives within you, not beyond, and that your divine family is all around you in the bodies of every other human (and even those less that fully humanly conscious animals)?

    Four words aren’t enough – but if you, with your razor wit and enviable gift for brevity can do it, please share it with me!

  • Nikos

    oOpS: ‘less than fully humanly conscious animals’

  • Potter & Jazzman,

    Having gone through the art school experience I just have to chime in here on defining “art� or is it “Art�? It’s a pretty slippery eel either way. There are artists like Duchamp who really tried to stretch that definition as when he took a regular toilet (found object) and put in an art show with the title “Fountain�. Whether or not that was art is still being debated but you will find it in Art History textbooks (does that make it art?). It was his way of making a statement about what art is, not the object itself but the idea and made it art (or failed to). Then there are cultures with no word meaning “art� and yet their artifacts end up in our Art Museums, does that make it art? As an artist myself I came up with my own definition at least in terms of what I strive for. For me it is the combination of craftsmanship and concept that make what I would call art. If it is all concepts, I can appreciate a concept but without the physicality it crosses over to philosophy for me. If it is just great craftsmanship it may be an object of high quality and beauty but lack the creative spark or original idea that make it a work of art. At the same time I recognize that originality is a very modern western value. To me an interesting idea or original concept expressed in an object of quality craftsmanship is art at its best. But like I said it is a slippery eel. I do think other creatures have impulses toward beauty and pleasure. Birds may be another culture that has no word for art yet their songs may be categorized as music by we who make such distinctions

    Potter & Jazzman,

    Having gone through the art school experience I just have to chime in here on defining “art� or is it “Art�? It’s a pretty slippery eel either way. There are artists like Duchamp who really tried to stretch that definition as when he took a regular toilet (found object) and put in an art show with the title “Fountain�. Whether or not that was art is still being debated but you will find it in Art History textbooks (does that make it art?). It was his way of making a statement about what art is, not the object itself but the idea and made it art (or failed to). Then there are cultures with no word meaning “art� and yet their artifacts end up in our Art Museums, does that make it art? As an artist myself I came up with my own definition at least in terms of what I strive for. For me it is the combination of craftsmanship and concept that make what I would call art. If it is all concepts, I can appreciate a concept but without the physicality it crosses over to philosophy for me. If it is just great craftsmanship it may be an object of high quality and beauty but lack the creative spark or original idea that make it a work of art. At the same time I recognize that originality is a very modern western value. To me an interesting idea or original concept expressed in an object of quality craftsmanship is art at its best. But like I said it is a slippery eel. I do think other creatures have impulses toward beauty and pleasure. Birds may be another culture that has no word for art yet their songs may be categorized as music by we who make such distinctions

  • gee sorry for the duplicate… not sure how I did that!

  • Potter

    Peggysue I agree with your description except where you say the combination is craftsmanship and “concept”. I would replace concept (or add) feeling/emotion or producing feeling or emotion. Art can be concept I suppose… I am not sure. Impressionism is sort of concept but there is definitely emotion in it. Op art is more conceptual. see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conceptual_art

    The definition of ART seems to be expanding.

  • jazzman

    Potter: They are all individuals… not a “gestalt� as Jazzman would say. Science is a gestalt (more properly many gestalts), scientists are individuals.

    Potter: If music (or art) is created to express and transmit feelings then they are not a very robust means of communication, which is why we have words. Words have definitions that are formalized so that a semblance of communication can exist via their usage. Music and art have no formal definitions in the communication sense unless encoded with superimposed information. The feelings of emotion, artiness, or musicality are judged/created by the one who experiences the sensory input. The artist’s ego notwithstanding, the art fulfils its mission by being expressed by the artist. It has a life of its own like a child of the artist and that life is its history. Again it is you that creates the ART by your perceptions. One person’s ART may be another’s (as in your statement) “It’s not art as far as I’m concerned.�

    My belief is that animal’s creations are instinctual and survival oriented and not art for art’s sake. I don’t know this for a fact but I believe it. If their work qualifies as ART to you, then by my ultimate definition, i.e., “You define it for yourself� as you state in your final sentence, then it definitely is ART (to you.) As there can be NO objective ART except by tautological definition, hence my “Work – Done Well.� While this is my subjective definition, it includes a broader range of candidates for the label ART. Here is something to think about (may set off your word game detector). Work done poorly for the sake of avoiding being asked to perform that work in the future could be an art form in itself.

    Potter: I would love to be the co-creator of a Degas painting. In fact you are the co-creator of all art and music you perceive, as I have stated before it simply cannot be otherwise.

    Potter: Art that is not created for the “sake of art� only is still eligible to be ART… religious art, primitive/tribal art. I could argue that the “ART� which was intended for other than arty purposes (such as drawing of animals to ensure a good hunt) are attempts at prayerful communication, but that is why “work – done well� is my definition, it includes those efforts. Again I believe the gaudy displays or accumulations by animals are informed by instinctive behavior rather than esthetics. I could be incorrect but it would be difficult to ascertain in either case. Again it is natural phenomena such as sunsets and hurricanes that are described as natural art that I unequivocally stated that it’s not art created by nature but art created by US.

    Potter: A potter can throw pots well but not every one is ART, it’s art (craft) “well done�. ART is more special. Who decides the specialness? Each of us! Who draws the line between art and craft? Each of us!

    Potter: Art is the investment of and thus communication of feeling/emotions- through a sense of beauty/aesthetics… It must communicate on a profound/high/deep level to be ART… It’s ART because I say so AND it achieves that level of communication. Art is something more than craft, more than “work well done�. Whose sense of esthetics? Yours!!! (Word game: Is it more esthetic to spell esthetic – aesthetic?) Whose deep level? Yours!!! Who says it achieves the level of communication? You!!! If there were a line between ART and CRAFT then it is in your definition of “well done� both require work to generate what is to be experienced and the emotional intensity evoked by your response to that work decides how well in your opinion it was done.

    BTW Any meanings stretched and narrowed in your perceptions of word games are also your creations. You stretch the definition of ART and music to include animal sounds and animal dwellings but narrow the meanings to only include your sense of esthetics and demand that it supersedes your threshold of speciality to qualify as ART. It all is “ART because one says so� because it is special to they that believe it is.

  • jazzman

    Nikos: And, at the very least, please respect my yearning for a life and a world governed by reason. You have a life and a world governed by reason – you just have to believe that you do.

    Nikos: Comparisons of my stridency to child abuse sting. A suggestion, if you make defensive statements, you may expect to be challenged. You brought up child abuse – I seriously doubt the comparison would have arisen otherwise. You are well intended, but perhaps overzealous when dealing with topics that activate your personal emotional sense of injustice. Don’t ask for opinions if you only want your views echoed. If you live up to your professed code of morality in all your transactions (including Absolute Morality Tenet #5 wouldn’t hurt either) then it would be difficult to attack your point of view.

    Nikos: profound religious reform is imperative, and not simply optional. This is reminiscent of “The final solution� differing only perhaps in the method of reform. Religions will reform themselves when the people that comprise them no longer find the tenets useful. No amount of exterior “logic� will dissuade a believer to reject the interior logic of whatever belief system is subscribed to unless that person believes that it is more useful/sensible to adopt the new belief. There is massive inertia in established religions and requires a massive force to redirect it. Your opinion, if balanced, can add to that force. If it is unbalanced, it becomes just another fanatical, zealous anti-religion religion and will not convince anyone but likeminded zealots. If you can peacefully convince others to agree with your balanced approach so much the better. Start with the neighbor downstairs.

    Nikos: Humans are nature’s (current) champions of instinct-free living. This is the gift of evolved consciousness. Humans choose. See my comments in the “Morality� thread regarding Creation Myths (apt from a religious standpoint) on January 27th, 2006 at 8:31 pm and also my comment to Allison February 22nd, 2006 at 7:07 pm.

    Nikos: Do either group of professionals [religionists, sociobiologists] deserve a cultural ‘free pass’?…too many folks want to just ‘leave religion alone’. As if they know in their hearts that ‘of course it’s not real, but we mustn’t say so aloud!’ That, I contend, is a dereliction of your duty to humanity. In a free society (if there were one) all beliefs deserve a free pass as long as they don’t violate what you call your religion. What do they know in their hearts is of course not real? Religion? It’s quite real. God? What does that label include? If God is ALL THAT IS then it is as real as anything. My duty to humanity is to live up to the tenets of Absolute Morality to the best of my ability and encourage others to do likewise. I don’t see it as my duty to FORCE anyone to do anything.

    Nikos: Is it possible then that you are also party to the accidental sanction of the following: sexism, intolerance, bigotry, and murder? If you ‘just want to let religions alone’, because ‘it’s not fair to attack the beliefs of others’, might you be – intentionally or not – party to crimes against humanity? The fact that I choose to only not engage in your following and speak in favor of an Absolutely Morality does not mean I sanction it. By existing on the planet NOW, I am an intentional party to all the horror and crimes that are extant. I am responsible for attempting to peacefully suggest that NO person has the right to commit violence on others. The fact that I am made aware of such events is a reminder to be empathetic and be thankful that I am not in another’s shoes. I have told you before that there are no victims, only participants in co-operative events. Again if you believe in LUCK and random events, you don’t believe that this is the case, some people are just unlucky or victims of fate.

    Nikos: Is this sort of bigotry worthy of inclusion alongside the many other manifestly beautiful and humane Islamic scriptures? Your system of logic doesn’t comport with their system of logic, they believe that they are justified in their “bigotry�. It isn’t bigotry to them; it is the way their belief system operates. The only way it will change is from within. I doubt you will cause them to see the error of their ways, but a new prophet might.

    Nikos: Is my willingness to ignore and acquiesce to religion-as-practiced in my own country and around the world accidentally endorsing these abominations? But I gotta tell you, I’m heartsick and weary of feeling embattled, misunderstood, and persona non grata. Good luck with WSD.

    Oh, and it was fun while it lasted! The way religion is practiced is only of concern where it impacts your primary reality. The acquiescence isn’t forced on you except as you allow it to be. You are the one giving it the power over your life. You have worked yourself into despondency over secondary information. Keep blogging, we need your impassioned point of view. Maybe Frederick will get some ideas from your posts and change the world for the better. WSD has not evolved intellectually to the point where your rebuttals would be appreciated, the biblical reference “casting pearls…� may be apt.

  • jazzman

    Peggysue: Thanks for chiming in (and sort of supporting my thesis.)

    Peggysue: For me it is the combination of craftsmanship and concept that make what I would call art. Craftsmanship = work well done. Concept = Your reaction to the artist’s work. Your concept may or may not comport with the artist’s concept or intent, but your perception is what matters.

    If it is just great craftsmanship it may be an object of high quality and beauty but lack the creative spark or original idea that make it a work of art. Originality is a rare commodity, most creativity is derivative but original to the creator. We decide whether it is high quality, beautiful, or a work of art or not.

    To me an interesting idea or original concept expressed in an object of quality craftsmanship is art at its best. But like I said it is a slippery eel. I do think other creatures have impulses toward beauty and pleasure. Birds may be another culture that has no word for art yet their songs may be categorized as music by we who make such distinctions

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I would hesitate to call birds a culture and imbue them with an abstract sense of art but who knows what attracts the opposite sex to the nest? If it isn’t all instinct, maybe the art of nest arrangement is the deciding factor for some birds. My thesis IS that it is we who make the distinction of whether it is or isn’t music. I hear music in wind chimes and tires on metal bridges but I know it’s me making the music by choice.

  • jazzman

    Nikos: It’s obvious that some folks take attacks on their beliefs personally. That’s inevitable but regrettable. Got mirror? Attack the belief not the person. Better still offer counter beliefs and empathy, why label it an ATTACK?

    Nikos: I believe that I am a single manifestation of the biosphere’s ongoing transformation of the planet’s top layers of star-dust into self-aware individuations, and not a supernatural entity called a ‘soul’ temporarily inhabiting this body. If there were a soul, why would it have to be supernatural? It would be as natural as an internal organ. Like I have mentioned before, your autonomous system functions could never be managed by your Nick personality, something subliminal is making your heart pump and your breath inhale and exhale. If it’s temporary then when it leaves, you’ll die, but your sociobiological bag of chemicals and elementary particles composed of consciousness that knew itself as Nick MAY recombine and know itself as Nicolette or something else, it could be possible especially if C=E=M.

    Nikos: And I’m certainly not willing to die for my belief. What would you be willing to die for?

    Nikos: we have 2,000 years of cultural centrality supporting our claim that your personal belief is misguided and naïve!’ Bandwagon fallacy, the same as: We have 150 years of DE supporting our claim that your personal belief is misguided and naïve.

    Nikos: My belief is much more grounded in empirically verified evidence than the fundamentalist interpretations of the ‘traditional’ religions. You believe your belief is much more grounded in empirically verified evidence than the fundamentalist interpretations of the ‘traditional’ religions. (Potter would call this a word game.

    Nikos: Look, what if I’m right that ‘soul’ and ‘God’ are both creations of inspired but scientifically ignorant ancient poets and hopeful ‘prophets’? What if these two most vital pillars of fundamentalist Christianity and Islam aren’t real but imaginary? It doesn’t matter whether it is real or imaginary, what matters is the beliefs that people hold. As I said in my response to your hierarchy of beliefs, beliefs are facts for operational purposes. The only truths that are not beliefs are truth by tautology or definition. I believe that the panpsychic model of reality is a better one than DE or any religion’s but I only have deduction and possibly quantum mechanics to support it. It may well be incorrect, but I’ll take it until I find a more satisfying one.

    Nikos: I owe it. I owe it to the women whom my gender historically and currently mistreats under the culturally accepted excuse of ‘religion’. If I simply sat on my hands and muttered: ‘No, I can’t attack the beliefs of others’, then I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. Why do you believe you owe anything to women who for their own reasons cooperated with your gender, if you didn’t/don’t mistreat women you owe them only your condemnation of mistreatment of women by others – you have a hyperemotional response to this topic as I’ve mentioned on several occasions – your concern is laudable but possibly problematic. No attacks – at least you realize that all this is about beliefs whether or not they are called fancy words like memes, dogma or FACTS.

    Nikos: I am willing to provoke. I owe it to my underrepresented non-American brethren and sisters. I owe to girls who will never experience an orgasm because an ancient and misguided religious obsession with sexuality retains a ‘memetic home’ in a ritual act of genital mutilation. I owe to girls killed by brothers and fathers for the same misguided sexual obsessions. I owe it to the boys strapping bombs onto their bodies to die for unverifiable supernatural entities that curiously can’t take the ‘insult’ called ‘disbelief’ from mere mortal humans. Whence derives this sense of obligation? What did you do to feel this way? You say you were abused as a child and your sister was abused by a person of her choosing, but I don’t believe that is the root of your obsessive attitude. This is galahadism – you can’t right the world’s wrongs except by loving and promulgating peace. Your obsession borders on fanaticism. You are intolerant of intolerance and that is a recipe for self-destruction.

    Nikos: However, I’m not willing to continue in the forum if my stylistic tricks have bred more resentment than reflection. Which was the point of the beginning and end sections of my 4:56 PM April 2, 2006. I’d rather just drop out and read the rest of you. I wouldn’t learn as much if I couldn’t interact (and it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun), but the last thing I want to do is intrude after wearing out my welcome. Cut the petulant crap, nobody wants you to stop posting, I still need you to question DE among other things. When in your higher mind and not your despairing one you seem to “get�: things better than most. That’s why I pick on you – besides your posting a wealth of ideas to debate. I’ve said it before – please don’t take my criticism personally, I just want you to be your best self.

    With Love & Empathy – Jazzman

  • jazzman: I hear music in wind chimes and tires on metal bridges but I know it’s me making the music by choice.

    reminds me of John Cage

  • Potter: You’re right. I forgot about the emotional content, important espcially in the romantic painters. Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People. Not to preclude emotional content, the big idea with Impressionism is about light.

  • Nikos

    Okay, Jazzman: here’s my ‘best self’. Strap yourself in.

    For months now I’ve been puzzled by your willingness to nitpick people’s posts—and not merely mine, but many others. Something about your methodology seemed somehow peculiar – questionable even – but only this evening, after a confluence of influences from this thread and others, did comprehension finally slap me hard in the face.

    Here’s a noun with two meanings:

    ‘Junk’:

    “Scrapped materials such as glass, rags, paper, or metals that can be converted into usable stock.� (American Heritage Dictionary)

    and: “A Chinese flat bottomed ship with a high poop and battened sails.� (A.H.D.)

    Obviously, the intended usage of this word with two distinct meanings should be distinguishable in the context of most sentences.

    How about ‘absolute’:

    1. “Perfect in quality or nature; complete.� Which differs from:

    4. “Not limited by constitutional provisions or other restraints.� Which differs from:

    5. “Unrelated to and independent of anything else.� Which isn’t quite the same as:

    6. “Not to be doubted or questioned; positive; certain.� (A.H.D.)

    Here we have only four of several distinct meanings of one word.

    How about:

    Belief:

    1. “The mental act, condition, or habit of placing trust or confidence in a person or thing; faith.�

    2. “Mental acceptance or conviction in the truth or actuality of something.�

    3. “Something believed or accepted as true; especially a particular tenet of body of tenets, accepted by a group of persons.�

    (A.H.D.)

    In the case of ‘belief’, American Heritage definition no.2 is distinct from the other two meanings because the usage of ‘acceptance’ coupled with ‘actuality’ implies a threshold of evidentiary support for this meaning of ‘belief’.

    Worse, ‘belief’ definitions no.s1 & 3 are, unfortunately, nearly synonymous with all of this:

    Faith, which American Heritage defines as:

    1. “A confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.

    2. “Belief that does not does not rest on logical proof or material evidence: faith in miracles.�

    3. “Loyalty to a person or thing; allegiance.�

    4. “Belief and trust in God and in the doctrines expressed in the Scriptures or other sacred works…�

    5. “A system of religious belief…�

    One flaw in the beautiful English language is that it contains many words that probably ought to be multiple words.

    Single words sometimes mean two, three, or more different things.

    This phenomenon is biting our dialogue in the butt.

    But at least I now understand your nitpicking.

    When I use ‘belief’ here:

    “My belief is much more grounded in empirically verified evidence than the fundamentalist interpretations of the ‘traditional’ religions…�

    I mean definition no.2, not 1, or 3, and certainly not ‘faith’.

    You wrote:

    “You believe your belief is much more grounded in empirically verified evidence than the fundamentalist interpretations of the ‘traditional’ religions. (Potter would call this a word game).�

    My answer: I have no ‘faith’ in my ‘belief’ that I am the body and not the inhabitant of the body whose fingers are typing this, nor do I have ‘faith’ that the biosphere is converting ancient, cold star-dust into life – it simply seems obvious to me based on the scientific evidence.

    My ‘beliefs’ in both these instances are open to contradictory evidence. I am neither ‘faithful’ nor ‘loyal’ to any bigger matrix of beliefs that demand unquestioning subscription.

    This is fundamentally different from ‘belief’ definitions no’s 1 & 3.

    I’m not emotionally attached to my beliefs. This is fundamentally different from the religious beliefs you seem to conflate with my usage of ‘belief’ when I apply it to my own notions that are ‘stronger than opinions’ but ‘weaker than faith’. They are, in fact, provisional.

    Moreover, as I reflect on our many quibbles (and on your quibbles with others apart from me, including recent ones in this thread) I am increasingly of the opinion that your usage of ‘belief’ never assumes the possibility that your correspondents actually mean definition no.2.

    This explains a lot. At the very least, it allows me to dismiss your many criticisms, and here’s why:

    I submit that our language is the problem, not you or I. ‘Belief’ definition no.2 probably deserves its own, distinct word, and even more so than the two meanings of ‘junk’ do.

    If we can all take one thing from this exchange, I hope it’s another lesson that concepts are nebulous at best, and concepts that must share identifying words with other, distinct concepts are in even worse shape than the rest of the lot!

    Now:

    I wrote: “It’s obvious that some folks take attacks on their beliefs personally. That’s inevitable but regrettable.�

    And you replied: “Got mirror? Attack the belief not the person. Better still offer counter beliefs and empathy, why label it an ATTACK?�

    Who exactly did I attack?

    I have certainly worked at least as hard to undermine what I considered humanly destructive religious beliefs as you have so tirelessly in your efforts to undermine belief in Darwinian evolution…so should I similarly imply or allege that you are an unempathetic hypocrite?

    You sure you wanna play this game with me, old pal? Let’s not. I value our electronic friendship too much.

    And besides, can you honestly tell me that your attacks on D.E. and mine on religion aren’t equivalent?

    Well, you could if you’re willing to admit that you’ve understood all along the difference in emotional quality between ‘belief’ definitions no.2 and the other two (i.e., that one is ‘provisional’, like that of scientists, and the other ‘faith-like’, as in ‘religious’). But then your attack on me as an ‘empathy hypocrite’ begins to look a bit shoddy and…well, hypocritical, now doesn’t it?

    Are attacks on religious beliefs more egregious than attacks on scientific beliefs?

    Why?

    Which are more destructive?

    (If you answer ‘D.E.’ then we’re beginning a rift in rational thinking that ought to end swiftly in a mutual agreement to end our correspondence. Because, as far as I know, millions of people haven’t suffered and died to defend belief in evolutionary theory.)

    Look, all I’m suggesting is that you’ve been unintentionally and mistakenly conflating two distinct meanings of ‘belief’. Hey, it’s understandable. People misunderstand the variety of meanings of words all the time.

    In fact, if you can convince me that I, while wrongly conflating two different meaning of words or concepts, have ever wrongly smeared your character, I’ll happily apologize. (And yes, this is a hint that you just might owe me a little ‘mea culpa’ too. I don’t let my pride confuse my sense of propriety – or empathy – and neither should any of us.)

    To be honest, I was irate after your reading your most recent ‘rebuttals’. Then, after realizing your ‘absolute’ (definition no.6) loyalty to the two meanings of the word ‘belief’ I most usually don’t intend to imply in my descriptions of my own provisional beliefs, I lost the ire – because it’s understandable that the language is confounding. I’m a writer: my familiarity with the language should have cued me in months ago that you were misunderstanding my usage of ‘belief.’ Hell, I’m willing to shoulder the blame for not catching this earlier.

    But I hate being called a hypocrite unjustly. I just hate it.

    My usage of ‘belief’ in describing my notions that I am ancient star-dust brought to life is qualitatively distinct from the ‘religious’ connotations we have been arguing in this thread.

    My beliefs aren’t religious. If you sincerely disagree, then we’re beginning to speak different dialects of the English language.

    And if my weaker ‘scientific’ beliefs turn out to be wrong, I won’t whine or scream (not publicly anyway), because I’m open to newer knowledge. And that’s not something you can say for most people’s attachment to religious beliefs.

    Which beings me to this: it seems to me that you consistently conflate belief in scientific knowledge – that’s definition no.2 again – with religious belief (no’s 1 & 3, and much of the ‘faith’ definition). It may well be your right to do this, since we don’t police sloppy thinking, but it’s another reason we might be better off ending our correspondence.

    They are not the same.

    They are not the same.

    Only a hatred of science with an intensity akin to the ideological or religious could insist that these two meanings of ‘belief’ are equivalent.

    I’ve got much more to say, including my posing an intellectual challenge to you, but this is enough for now.

  • Potter

    Jazzman

    If music (or art) is created to express and transmit feelings then they are not a very robust means of communication, which is why we have words.

    Normal speech and writing are for everyday communication. But words can be used for poetry (ART) as well.

    Music and art have no formal definitions in the communication sense unless encoded with superimposed information. The feelings of emotion, artiness, or musicality are judged/created by the one who experiences the sensory input.

    ART is at the top of the scale as far as sensory/emotional experience goes. We reserve this term for that position.

    Again it is you that creates the ART by your perceptions. One person’s ART may be another’s (as in your statement) “It’s not art as far as I’m concerned.”

    If I look down at my floor tile and say “Wow! That’s art!� That does not mean it’s art.

    My belief is that animal’s creations are instinctual and survival oriented and not art for art’s sake. I don’t know this for a fact but I believe it. If their work qualifies as ART to you, then by my ultimate definition, i.e., “You define it for yourself” as you state in your final sentence, then it definitely is ART (to you.)

    I admit that I have allowed animals to be artists because there are instances that I feel they achieve this: exquisite birdsong, fabulous nest building for instance. This is because I accept the notion that animals have feelings that they express through extraordinary skill. We are animals. We create. So it does not seem to me that animals cannot on some level. We are on a continuum with other animals, related. But it is a broadening of the term ART. Maybe I should call it ANIMAL ART. But again we are animals too.

    As there can be NO objective ART except by tautological definition, hence my “Work – Done Well.” While this is my subjective definition, it includes a broader range of candidates for the label ART.

    You mean ART is ART? I know it when my feelings and senses tell me? I say not entirely. There is an attempt to define art objectively but you do not have to subscribe to it however. By that I mean the choices/recognition of those who are more tuned into the various arts (museum curators, art historians, musicians, artists, composers, teachers etc.) These folks bridge the gap between “lay� folks vis a vis what ART is and the “art world�- the world of those who create ART.

    Of course you are free to call anything you wish ART. And you are free to say it is “work well done�. I think that is not special enough to define ART, as I have said.

    Here is something to think about (may set off your word game detector). Work done poorly for the sake of avoiding being asked to perform that work in the future could be an art form in itself.

    C’mon Jazzman. That is not ART. It may be an art though ( small “a� meaning skill). That is a good example of how rubbery your definition is.

    Potter: I would love to be the co-creator of a Degas painting. Jazzman: In fact you are the co-creator of all art and music you perceive, as I have stated before it simply cannot be otherwise.

    Why? Because you say so? This is stuff you made up. I am not the co-creator of anything I perceive unless you want to talk about a philosophical concept. Then we go off a cliff.

    Potter: Art that is not created for the “sake of art” only, is still eligible to be ART… religious art, primitive/tribal art. Jazzman: I could argue that the “ART” which was intended for other than arty purposes (such as drawing of animals to ensure a good hunt) are attempts at prayerful communication, but that is why “work – done well” is my definition, it includes those efforts.

    Precisely not. An African mask hanging in a museum or a Mozart Requiem is much more than merely “work well done�. Again this is not an adequate definition of ART in my opinion.

    Again I believe the gaudy displays or accumulations by animals are informed by instinctive behavior rather than esthetics. I could be incorrect but it would be difficult to ascertain in either case. Again it is natural phenomena such as sunsets and hurricanes that are described as natural art that I unequivocally stated that it’s not art created by nature but art created by US.

    There you go again. There is a bright line between animal/human and natural phenomena even though it’s all nature. Animals ACT. They have feelings. They make things. Some things rise to the level of ART. That last, I admit I am allowing for because of my own experience. I’d be willing to accept that this is somewhat controversial, but not more controversial than what some call ART these days.

    Potter:ART is more special. Who decides the specialness? Each of us! Who draws the line between art and craft? Each of us!

    Yes and no. Each of us ultimately perhaps when we talk about it, but also from consensus that is informed, tuned in to such matters. There is an article I want to recommend on this I have to find it, by Helen Vendler.

    Potter: Art is the investment of and thus communication of feeling/emotions- through a sense of beauty/aesthetics… It must communicate on a profound/high/deep level to be ART… It’s ART because I say so AND it achieves that level of communication. Art is something more than craft, more than “work well done”.

    That’s correct, Potter.

    Whose deep level? Yours!!! Who says it achieves the level of communication? You!!!

    The potential is there for more than just me or you. Maybe that is the point.

    If there were a line between ART and CRAFT then it is in your definition of “well done” both require work to generate what is to be experienced and the emotional intensity evoked by your response to that work decides how well in your opinion it was done.

    There is a line between ART (which includes craft) and only craft. Both are “well done�. Both require work (energy). The floor tiles in my bathroom were made skillfully and they bring me pleasure, but there is no potential in them to make my heart soar. But a Michelangelo Pieta can do that and on more than one level and for many. Both are work well done but the latter is so much more. Your definition is inadequate.

    BTW Any meanings stretched and narrowed in your perceptions of word games are also your creations. You stretch the definition of ART and music to include animal sounds and animal dwellings—-

    Yes I admit that and I say why. I am otherwise very strict about my definition. I am allowing animals to achieve ART. This is a relatively recent decision based on my own experience and reasoning and acceptant of DE, that we are on a continuum and that it is hard to believe that creativity is special only to humans. We see that animals play. Why can’t they then create?

    —-but narrow the meanings to only include your sense of esthetics and demand that it supersedes your threshold of speciality to qualify as ART. It all is “ART because one says so” because it is special to they that believe it is.

    ART is special. Not every animal nest or song or painting or musical composition is ART. In fact I would say that very few are, particularly in this category ( of mine if you will ) animal ART.

    When I go to a museum or a concert I am open to more than my own sense of aesthetics and threshold of what I think is special enough. I have grown to appreciate what others are pointing to: to see, feel, hear things that others, more tuned in than I, have elevated to that category. (Except I cannot fathom atonal dissonant music).

  • Nikos

    Update to Jazzman: I’m working, as time allows throughout the day, on my ‘intellectual challenge’ for you. However, it’s lengthy and I’m a bit under the weather today, so it might not be ready until tonight or even tomorrow.

    In the interim, it’s occurred to me that we might all be better served here in ROS by an informal but commonly accepted distinction between ‘belief supported by scientific evidence’ and ‘belief akin to faith.’

    What we really need is an English word or distinction between ‘belief stronger than opinion and supported by scientific evidence’, and ‘belief stronger than opinion, yet unsupported by scientific evidence.’ But, until Oxford gives us such a useful new conceptual marker…

    How about ‘s-belief’ which is synonymous to ‘I subscribe to the theory of evolution (or the Big Bang Theory, or String Theory, or what-have-you)…

    And ‘f-belief’, for the meanings of the word nearly synonymous with ‘faith’?

    We’ve got to know what each of us mean in any given sentence, after all, lest we waste hours writing rebuttals that don’t accurately address the original points under scrutiny.

    And then waste subsequent hours incorrectly parsing the new rebuttals in order to rebut them anew. It’s like a moibus strip, where none of us ever convey our points to the others.

    A little definitional clarity will spare us all gobs of time.

    And anyone with better, less klutzy suggestions than s-belief and f-belief ought to feel free to offer them!

  • Nikos

    PS to Jazzman, Peggy Sue, & Potter: it might be fruitful as you ponder your ongoing and fascinating exchange over the ‘natural continuum’ of art and music to evaluate whether you are applying conjectures, opinions, beliefs, or faiths — http://www.radioopensource.org/is-god-in-our-genes/#comment-8634

    This suggestion isn’t secretly loaded with a ‘Nikos’ opinion or point of view, because I haven’t had the time to go back over your three-way conversation to evaluate the points through the definitional lens – and it’s not my conversation anyway. It’s yours, and yet you each might make more sense to one other (and to your own searching minds) if you apply the definitional lens to the points you strive to convey and and absorb from the others.

    See you all later.

  • jazzman

    Peggysue I was once an admirer of John Cage but now I view his work as conceptual music/art or A NAME AND A FRAME valid and sometimes interesting but I have better ways to spend my time.

    Potter: But words can be used for poetry (ART) as well Is all poetry ART? Is all Prose ART? We each decide. The weight of bandwagon authority opinion (experts, curators, critics, artists, etc.) does not bridge the gap (there is no gap) or supersede an individual’s opinion. Many claim Christo is an artist and a genius, I have my doubts but give him and his work (framework) the benefit of those doubts.

    ART is at the top of the scale as far as sensory/emotional experience goes. We reserve this term for that position. Your scale, your senses/emotions, your experience. You reserve the term for your definition. There is NO objective ART (or anything ultimately as one’s entire experience is subjective.)

    Why? Because you say so? This is stuff you made up. I am not the co-creator of anything I perceive unless you want to talk about a philosophical concept. Then we go off a cliff. I say so, but I didn’t make it up. We are ALL co-creators of our experience which is defined by our perceptions. This is more than a philosophical concept. If you are myopic or color blind you create a different picture, everyone creates a unique picture represented by your perceptive faculties. If you listen to what you perceive to be dissonant music I may find it beautifully moving and evocative. BTW there is NO atonal music, only relationships between tones that are not perceived by the hearer (co-creator) as harmonious. If philosophy drives you off a cliff, learn to fly.

    Precisely not. An African mask hanging in a museum or a Mozart Requiem is much more than merely “work well done�. How about “work VERY well done?� I’ll admit the requiem does have mass appeal. Majolica Ceramics have mass appeal, I find them unappealing. Does the pottery of George Ohr have mass appeal? He is considered an artistic genius by many and many people wouldn’t give his pots house room. Is it special enough to be classified as ART? Is it work well done? BTW did you ever check out Marlene Miller’s work? Is it ART or CRAFT?

    There you go again. There is a bright line between animal/human and natural phenomena even though it’s all nature. The ghost of Ronald Reagan appears, (you don’t want to quote him do you?) My point was exactly that there is a bright line, no, a wall between animal and human creations and natural phenomena, and the point is YOU derive any ART there to be found in natural phenomena. I included that example because it is more obvious than the fact that you co-create ALL ART.

    The potential is there for more than just me or you. Maybe that is the point Potential is not real, is only abstract possibility and meaningless without realization. In binary terms it is 0 or nothing and if and when it becomes 1 then it is something. There are no point 5’s or almost somethings. As Yoda said to Luke “Do or Do not – there is no try.� The point is, it is your co-creation, you are all that is required for the artistic experience.

    The floor tiles in my bathroom were made skillfully and they bring me pleasure, but there is no potential in them to make my heart soar. They could possibly make an enthusiastic apprentice tiler’s heart soar or someone who had never been exposed to such works. If they were laid by Picasso or (your favorite artist/person) would it make your heart soar? If the tiles were arranged in mosaic patterns like in ancient Rome or Greece would that make a difference? If they were ART DECO inspired? You decide.

    We see that animals play. Why can’t they then create? Who said they can’t create? I just said they have a limited palette in their creative ability and are bound by instinct and don’t appear to be able to express themselves in an infinite capacity. You say we are animals, I say we are classified thusly by biology but we are more, we are special, we are ART.

    ART is special. Not every animal nest or song or painting or musical composition is ART. In fact I would say that very few are Because in your opinion they weren’t WELL DONE, others may disagree.

    When I go to a museum or a concert I am open to more than my own sense of aesthetics and threshold of what I think is special enough. I have grown to appreciate what others are pointing to: to see, feel, hear things that others, more tuned in than I, have elevated to that category. If you accept their pointing and tuning without sensing the esthetics, you are paying lip service, bowing to the fallacy of authority and jumping on the bandwagon. If you truly experience the ART in things that were not previously special enough then you have altered your perception, co-created that experience and deemed it ART. Many of your statements during our exchange imply that you realize that it is your perception that makes art ART and some state it unequivocally. Why do you attempt to evade the responsibility for your own magnificent creations? Without accepting responsibility for one’s experiences, then one is a victim of circumstance and luck’s whim.

    Peace and ART – Jazzman

  • Nikos

    Ahoy, Jazzman: apologies are in order for the belatedly evident (to me) ire still swirling about in my 2:53 AM April 5, 2006.

    (As if we needed any further proof that I’m a lousy writer and an overly emotional fool.)

    I was falling asleep and unknowingly falling ill at the keyboard, and didn’t edit or end the thing as I should have.

    Allow me at least to fix the finish:

    “Americans all too commonly conflate religious belief with the subscription of one’s credulity to scientific theory and evidence. The two are not the same, no matter how commonplace and popular this conflation is. Fundamentalist Christians and Muslims alike hate Western science for its failure to support the pillars of their faiths. And only a hatred of science of such intensity could insist that the two distinct meanings of ‘belief’ are equivalent – which I’m sure doesn’t apply to you.�

    Mea culpably yours,

    N the hothead.

    PS, feel free to take me to task for the rest of it, anyway.

  • jazzman

    Nikos: First of all I do owe you an apology. You didn’t commit an ad hominem attack. The Got Mirror was to suggest that you took attacks on your beliefs personally, as regards the equating of child abuse with disabusing a child’s belief in Santa. I suggested an argument could be made depending on circumstances. As far the attack on what you termed your empathetic hypocrisy I did not mean to attack you personally and I apologize for my stridency. My rebuttal to your defensive postures regarding your stridently stated lack of tolerance for intolerance and your documented willingness to condone violence against they that you think deserve it due to their reprehensible behavior will have to stand. If you consider this an allegation of being hypocritical, remember hypocrisy is the handmaiden of the ideal. If you still are irate at me for responding negatively (in your view,) remember; you asked the questions and I belief your cool-headed best self knows that hating haters is self-defeating. If you are empathetic to a victim, in my view the perp is actually more in need of empathy and understanding. I feel as strongly about non-violence and intolerance as you do about the ills of what you call religion.

    To answer your questions regarding our respective crusades against religion and DE, I would say that they are crusades for critical analysis and probably both quixotic given the dogmatic entrenchment of each in the general population but not equivalent.

    You ask: Are attacks on religious beliefs more egregious than attacks on scientific beliefs? Why? Which are more destructive? I don’t attack the majority of scientific beliefs, DE in particular, probably there are others I could take exception to but in general I applaud the search for truth and pure knowledge that has generally been the hallmark of science. Unquestionably misguided acts in the name of religion or Belief Systems Communism, for example (no God), have been responsible for human destruction and tragedy. Consider this: The realized ideas of Science has given humankind the expedient tools to destroy the entire planet and create far more human destruction than religion alone without science’s marvelous weapons of mass destruction. Combine fatalistic religious zealotry with science’s inventions and I’d say both have the potential for major destruction but I don’t fault the quest for knowledge I fault misguided, unexamined beliefs.

    While we are defining – I think a definition of religion is necessary. I define a person’s belief system his/her religion. It is a set of filters (beliefs about the nature of reality and existence) thru which all phenomena and interaction with the world is viewed. What you may call formal religion is a structured system of beliefs, usually hierarchical, patriarchal, and codified. Science also easily fits the formal religion structure if a metaphysical being is not codified, (however many scientists believe in God.) There are less rigidly structured natural pagan or humanistic belief systems and these tend to be less judgmental than formal religions. Potter says I stretch and narrow definitions but I would say that most of my definitions include a wider set of meanings as I try to be open ended to capture essences and abstractions not generally considered in a narrow reading, not that some meanings aren’t very specific.

    Segue to definitions:

    Belief: from the AHD; my modifications from above.

    1. “The mental act, condition, or habit of placing confidence in a thing; idea, or abstract concept� – e.g., opinion.

    2. “Mental acceptance or conviction in the truth or actuality of something.� My operational definition.

    3. “Something believed or accepted as true� same as #2

    Faith from the AHD

    1. “A confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing. same as Belief #1

    2. “Belief that does not does not rest on logical proof or material evidence The crux of the impasse

    When I use the word belief I am basicly using the 3 definitions from the AHD even though the lazy lexicographer egregiously used the word believe in #3. (I have a low regard for the AHD even though I own the 2nd college edition. I prefer Webster’s collegiate for general purpose and I also own a copy of the OED.) I also include in my definition of beliefs, the 1st 2 definitions of Faith minus the trustworthiness of persons and your addition of faith in miracles. This is no mistake or sloppy thinking, belief is belief. The attempt to confine beliefs to ‘belief supported by scientific evidence’ (s-belief) and ‘belief akin to faith’ (f-belief) is OK but the majority of human belief falls into the f-belief definition or what I will call n-belief (neither science nor faith – just things people happen to believe. Let’s take the operational definition. Mental acceptance or conviction in the truth or actuality of something. ALL beliefs that one maintains the certainty of (as well as willing to allow that their opinions could be in error) are accepted and assumed to be true and actual. It doesn’t matter whether they are true or not, they are operationally true for the believer. This is the same for ALL beliefs s-beliefs, n-beliefs or f-beliefs – they are the same. They are operationally the same. Most beliefs are not in the realm of science and science conspicuously avoids dealing with them, witness Dennett’s lone mission to investigate a phenomena that most scientists want no part of. The sociobiologists are interested in nf-beliefs but mistakenly (I believe you agree) are looking for chemo-mechanistic based answers. My main contention (and your bone of contention) is that many if not most human beliefs fall into the n or f-belief definition; in many f-cases believed to the point of zealotry.

    Now let’s take your beliefs, I’m sure in your layman’s reading of scientific concepts you create erroneous s-beliefs, which by your own admission you will be happy to modify any mistaken s-beliefs when disabused to your satisfaction (which is the way we form our a-belief (all of the above) systems.) You also hold n-beliefs about religions, nature, society, mankind, the arts, morality, right and wrong, ancestry, interpersonal relationships, etc. the list could go on and on. These n-beliefs are thornier than scientific opinion and are much less likely to be examined closely than simple QED fact based s-beliefs. You do however entertain f-beliefs about the nature of your body, the mind, consciousness, DE, memes, and others outside the purview of rigorous scientific inquiry. It doesn’t matter to me, how they are classified, beliefs are beliefs operationally. I do like your suggestion of being clear about what we mean by the words we use. It will likely save a lot of crossed purposes. If I use a word you question my definition of, then bring it up and I’ll state what I mean and I will do the same for your words; that is if you still want to communicate after reading this post.

    In response to your statement: And only a hatred of science of such intensity could insist that the two distinct meanings of ‘belief’ are equivalent – which I’m sure doesn’t apply to you. I am a champion of science and the scientific method. There are beliefs and beliefs are operational whether you believe the moon landing was faked or GW is a genius or 72 virgins are just waiting for you to blow yourself and others to kingdom come or time travel is possible or anything else. The results which occur due to the beliefs are not equivalent but the beliefs are just ideas, electro-chemically synapse leaping signals that we and sociobiologists assume to be valid for operational purposes.

    I am going away on family business and won’t have computer access until the middle of next week. I await your Intellectual Challenge and here’s 1 for you.:

    If you had to take the universe as it exists today and had to devise a system of operational reality i.e., universal laws by which freewill is guaranteed and inequity could not exist, in other words a fair universe without advantage for any entity, what would the system be?

    PS to Potter: Will you be #400?

    Until then – Peace to ALL – Jazzman

  • Potter

    I don’t know about taking #400 I feel kind of piggish. I would have to prepare…….

  • jazzman

    Hey Nikos, I’m ba-aack!!! I see you are busy on all the current threads and GS-Alley as well. If you’re still conversing with me, I await your challenge.

  • Nikos

    Jazzman: whatever prior pretensions I harbored of submitting a ‘challenge’ to you are gone. Part of it is that for days now I’ve been unusually fuzzy-headed. This happened last spring too (my first spring in Washington State) which leads me to wonder if I’m not mildly allergic to a local pollen. The other part is that I don’t think we can constructively converse while you deny the validity of my distinction between provisional beliefs in scientific and empirically validated facts and the unverifiable faith-synonymous beliefs in religions, etc. I really don’t like the supposition that your understanding of conceptual ‘reality’ trumps mine. And even if that’s an unfair, subjective analysis of your April 6th, 2006 @ 5:55 PM, the truth is that I’m weary of our conversation resembling a Moibus strip. We talk in endless loops, past each other instead of communicating using mutually comprehensible concepts. This isn’t to say that there’s nothing in your 4/6/06 5:55 I didn’t like. I liked lots of it. And maybe this weekend I’ll find the clear-mindedness to articulate it. Not today though.

    Nevertheless, the remnants of the post I’d originally envisioned as a ‘challenge’ will show up here before the end of the day (I hope).

    Feel free to ignore it. However: Thanks for your input on the Iran thread, and for supplying us with the lyrics of one of my favorite Randy Newman songs!

  • Nikos

    Science, Religion, and Social Responsibility

    In What It Means to be 98% Chimpanzee http://www.powells.com/biblio/65-0520240642-0 , genetic anthropologist Jonathan Marks examines at length the claims of the quasi-science called Behavioral Genetics. He explains with humor and in plain English why these scientists are making the same errors as the geneticists of the 1920’s whose mistaken social and biological presumptions led to appalling junk like eugenics and the ‘scientific’ support of Nazi racism. He writes:

    (begin quote)

    The question for behavioral genetics is this: What do we know now that makes this modern science? What have we gained from Davenport, or Hooton’s study of criminals, or the XYY syndrome, that makes us believe that there is a biological basis of crime, and that we can study it scientifically? What do we know that they didn’t? Can we show that they are not just committing the same intellectual mistakes over and over again—only now aided by different and newer-fangled technologies?

    The tragedy is that we usually can’t. Between the self-interested pronouncements of the behavioral geneticists and the conservative social and political interests who recognize that an innate basis for behavioral deviance complements their agenda, we really have little to guide us in locating the ostensible scientific basis for understanding human behavior.

    Often one hears the challenge to “find something wrong with the study�—to shoot it down. You have criticized it, you’ve raised questions, so the challenge goes, but you haven’t refuted it. The answer is simple: I don’t have to.

    The burden of proof always falls on the claimant, not on the critic. The challenge “prove me wrong� is the classic signature of the quack and the charlatan—the one who wants you to believe that Martians built the pyramids, or that they are communicating with the dead, or that their body encases the reincarnated spirit of Queen Atlantis. Scientific credence requires high standards of evidence. Speculations are cheap, and you’re entitled to believe whatever the hell you want, and even to make a buck off it, but if you lay claim to the authority of science for your beliefs, you must expect to be subjected to extraordinary demands.

    (end quote)

    Later, after explaining why he criticized a book whose topic was the perceived (and fallacious) ‘racial’ explanation for the prevalence of black athletes in American professional sports, he writes:

    “…as we noted earlier, it is a basic tenet of science that the burden of proof always falls on the claimant. I don’t have to refute the claim that blacks are racially superior athletes any more than I have to refute the claim that angles cause mutations, or that stepping on a sidewalk crack breaks your mother’s back. If you want to participate in the scientific discourse, you have to abide by its rules, or you’ll end up shaking your fist at the sky and muttering, ‘The fools! They called me mad! But I’ll show them…I’ll show them all!’�

    Later:

    (begin quote)

    It is the responsibility of the scientific community to distinguish for everyone else the science from the pseudoscience: promote the former and debunk the later. The geneticists of the 1920’s were either unwilling or unable to do that. The geneticists of the twenty-first century have to learn from their predecessors’ mistakes. Behavioral genetics as a community has to meet the obligation of skepticism—it cannot be up to others to question the validity of the work; science has to be rigorously evaluated from within.

    Behavioral genetics has to be done in the context mot merely of scientific knowledge but of humanistic knowledge. We are not starting at ground zero here. Without the benefits of confronting the class issues and history surrounding the genetics of criminality, or the race and culture issues around the genetics of intelligence, it cannot be good scholarship. And if it isn’t good scholarship, it cannot be good science. That is the burden imposed just by tackling tough and important questions.

    (end quote)

    Marks points to the ethical burden of scientific practice, particularly because it affects the real lives of people. He explains that a scientist’s professional interests cannot excuse social irresponsibility. He says on page 93-4:

    “Science is not about what is known, but what is knowable. That is why atoms are within the domain of science and angels are not. It is why individual potentials, like angles, lie outside the domain of scientific discourse and within the domain of ‘folk knowledge’…This distinction is vital to keeping science from being tarnished by those few scientists who have chosen to invoke it as a validation of odious social and political doctrines.�

    All this leads to several obvious or not-so-obvious questions.

    It is not uncommon for social policies to be informed by scientific explanations for human behavior. 1994’s The Bell Curve was an odious use of pseudoscience precisely because it implied that the chauvinism called ‘classism’ is a natural and therefore acceptable outcome of inherent differences in human potentials between the wealthy and the rest of us (to varying degrees). This book bolstered social conservatives and the many apologists for our common social and governmental neglect of the ravages of classism. Marks spends much of his book revealing the fallacious prejudices that informed The Bell Curve’s authors, and the attendant fallacies of Sociobiology, Evolutionary Psychology, and Behavioral Genetics.

    This, he says, is his duty as an ethical scientist – even though his criticism has the potential to dry up funding sources for other scientists in related fields. He is more concerned that science does no harm than with any professional loyalties.

    Religion, especially in its moralizing forms, also informs public social policies. Religions tell us that life begins at conception – even though science suggests something rather different. Religion judges sexuality and castigates those whose nonconformist realities differ, yet harm no one. Religion assigns putative ‘differences’ to the two sexes, even while science finds fewer and fewer of these tenets of ‘folk knowledge’ to be in any way valid.

    Now, considering the pervasive and millennia old impact religion has had on the domains of public policy and politics – why should not religion be made to prove the validity of its positions regarding human behavior and potentials just as science must?

    Why must those of us outside the religious world-view be held hostage to its age-old conceits?

    Why should the government ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’ take moralizing religious claims any more seriously than “believ(ing) that Martians built the pyramids”?

    You say Satan is misguiding my opinions?

    Fine: the burden of proof is on you.

    Prove it. Empirically.

    Prove that your God exists, that He speaks the only truth for all humans, and that only your interpretation is valid.

    Use science, if you dare.

    Prove it. Empirically.

    And if you can’t, then withdraw your lobbyists from halls of the money-slaves called Senators and Representatives. Quit pretending that your unverifiable religious conceits are as valid a source of information for policies that affect all of us, believers and nonbelievers alike, as those of science – whose ethics and methods are challenged consistently by those within the scientific community.

    To steal a page from jazzman, here’s one of my favorite songs:

    Sex Is Not The Enemy (copyright 2005, Garbage: Shirley Manson, Butch Vig, Steve Marker, and Duke Erickson)

    The revolution

    Sometimes it suppresses me

    The same old same oh

    We keep repeating history

    The institution curses curiosity

    It’s our conviction:

    Sex is not the enemy

    A revolution

    Is the solution

    A revolution

    Is the solution

    I don’t feel guilty

    No matter what they’re telling me

    I won’t feel dirty and buy into their misery

    I won’t be shamed cause I believe that love is free

    It fuels the heart, and sex is not my enemy

    A revolution

    Is the solution

    A revolution

    Is the solution

    True love like gold

    There’s not enough to go around

    But then there’s god and doesn’t god love everyone?

    Give me a choice

    Give me a chance to turn the key and find my voice

    Sex is not the enemy

    A revolution

    Is the solution

    A revolution

    Is the solution

    http://www.cduniverse.com/productinfo.asp?pid=6840788&style=music&cart=329348525&BAB=M

    (It’s a great hard rock record, btw, and fully deserving of your attention — if you like rock, anyway.)

  • jazzman

    Nikos: I really don’t like the supposition that your understanding of conceptual ‘reality’ trumps mine. I don’t know how you arrived at this conclusion from the 5.55 post. If I consider the aggressive tenor in many of my posts, I can see how you may n-believe that my faith in my a-belief system regarding reality might seem to mean that my understanding of conceptual reality trumps yours. I don’t suppose this at all. My definition of conceptual reality is that your mind (or consciousness) by the translation of electrical stimuli by the brain filtered thru one’s belief system creates conceptual reality. You previously stated that you are cognizant of this philosophy and didn’t find it useful. I believe that the recognition of this mechanism and I believe to be a fact, if understood in its ramifications, would be the way to dispose of the religious problem you decry.

    We talk in endless loops, past each other instead of communicating using mutually comprehensible concepts. If you agree to define your terms and I mine as suggested in the 5.55 post then this would be moot. How can I discuss a new constitution in GS-Alley if you take offense at my POV? BTW Jonathon Marks seems like a pretty savvy scientist. What does he have to say about DE?

  • Potter

    I misposted my response to Jazzman on this thread on the other “God” thread. I am getting my God threads mixed up. The exchange starts above the last of Jazzman to Potter ( above that lots of posts- ignore Nikos as usual 🙂 and Peggysue also jumps in) and continues here ( link below) with me, then Allison jumping in and then Jazzman:

    http://www.radioopensource.org/morality-god-given-or-evolved/#comment-9378

    Confused? Well read this and you will be more confused.

  • Nikos

    jazzman: it’s not impossible that the nuances of your 5:55 went straight over my head the day I read it. I’ll parse it again, and see if I can figure out whether you’re acknowledging the distinction or not. (Sometimes I get confused by your prose — that’s not criticism but a simple limitation of mine.) Thanks.

    Oh — hey pal, just pony up the pennies and read Marks for yourself! I think you’ll find his style amusing, and his iconoclasm refreshing. Let me know.

  • morganc

    “Mythology is often defined as ‘other peoples’ religions’, religion can be thought of as misinterpreted mythology.” He [Joseph Campbell] asked people to step back and examine their own religious traditions as mythology, and in doing so, people with doubts as to the literal interpretations of religious texts could get more meaning from the mythological symbolism instead. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Campbell

    “Read myths. They teach you that you can turn inward, and you begin to get the message of the symbols. Read other people’s myths, not those of your own religion, because you tend to interpret your own religion in terms of facts — but if you read the other ones, you begin to get the message.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Campbell#Quotes

    God created man & man returned the favor. http://www.goodstorm.com/stores/afunpov5

  • Potter

    This is a response to Allison’s post from the other “God” thread: http://www.radioopensource.org/morality-god-given-or-evolved/#comment-9455

    I am attempting to redirect the coversation back here where it started.

    allison Says:

    Ok, I’ll bite. If ART is subjective, then no one can define what is ART to me. And, though, there may be critics who for an ‘authority”, Shakespeare may be art to every one else on the planet, but if I cannot find/experience the connection, then it is not ART to me. (I do like Shakespeare, I’m just borrowing your example.)

    It’s not ART to you but it’s still unquestionably ART.

    A: I guess I could argue that every human expression is ART and nothing at all is ART. My daughter paints and they are certainly ART to her and to me, and often to others. She also appreciates Rembrandt (yes, she loved the exhibit at the Boston MFA when she was 4). Right now, she’s really into the sculptures there. And she can very definitively tell you what she finds compelling. And the day that she’s into the sculptures, the paintings are meaningless. They are not ART to her. Tomorrow, they might be.

    This is a philosophical argument that says that every human expression is ART and nothing is ART. Neither of which I understand. That destroys ART altogether which is either denial or rebellion. Your daughter’s art is art and probably artistic and delightful. And it’s great that she responds to what is in the museums But on the day that she does not like the paintings, or they are meaningless, it does not mean that they are not ART to everyone or most or some others. You don’t go to the Boston Museum of Maybe Art Depending Upon Your Mood.

    A: I am the same way. That which is profound for one cannot be determined to be so for another.

    True. And that which is profound for one can be profound for another in a different way entirely.

    A: So, is ART the actual item? Or the experience of it? And, can an item be ART to some and not to others

    Art is the object,the work,not the experience of it. It can be ART to some (have deep meaning emotionally, conceptually, sensually) and not to others who are not in the mood. That it is not art to some does not mean it is not ART.

    A: Is ART an immutable label?

    For some ART yes. For others maybe not. Great ART is immutably ART by overwhelming consensus. It has potential to evoke deep response, inspire. ( Venus de Milo, Michelangelo’s Pieta, Rembrandt’s paintings, Song Dynasty ceramics, Basho’s Haiku, Shakespeare etc. etc.) There is no question.

    A: And why do we need this distinction between things that some ‘connosieurs” deem to be ART and things that they don’t?

    Connoisseurs are guides, gurus. If you went to a strange country you would want someone to tell you which special places to visit and to point out their significance. When you study art you may need someone to open the door to your perception to have an experience that is deeper than you would other wise have or might not have at all. That is not to say that you need this. Not at all. Sometimes this gets in the way. But connoisseurs have keen, sharpened senses by training and experience. They can help you but are not gods.

    A: Does it really matter? Can’t we all just experience each others’ expressions without this need for judgement

    Yes for sure. Also making and appreciating creative efforts also heightens your senses and prepares you to experience what great ART is. We appreciate art for the experience, not because it is great ART and we are compelled. Still you go to a museum to see ART because you know that is where it is- you want that deep experience. Otherwise you would just ride the subway and read the advertisements.

  • Nikos

    This is a long-belated reply to jazzman. I would dearly appreciate the thoughts and feedback of others on the substance of this reply.

    Jazzman, from your 5:55, April 6th, 2006:

    ‘Belief: from the AHD; my modifications from above.

    1. “The mental act, condition, or habit of placing confidence in a thing; idea, or abstract concept� – e.g., opinion.’

    N: I reject your use of ‘opinion’ here. Opinion is weaker than belief. Opinions are the notions that beliefs can arise from. See below for the berries comparison.

    ‘2. “Mental acceptance or conviction in the truth or actuality of something.� My operational definition.

    3. “Something believed or accepted as true� same as #2

    Faith from the AHD

    1. “A confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing. same as Belief #1

    2. “Belief that does not does not rest on logical proof or material evidence

    The crux of the impasse’

    N: Yes, this is the crux of the impasse. See below.

    ‘When I use the word belief I am basically using the 3 definitions from the AHD even though the lazy lexicographer egregiously used the word believe in #3. (I have a low regard for the AHD even though I own the 2nd college edition. I prefer Webster’s collegiate for general purpose and I also own a copy of the OED.)’

    N: I’m sorry my dictionary is inferior to yours. I’ll shop for a better one.

    ‘I also include in my definition of beliefs, the 1st 2 definitions of Faith minus the trustworthiness of persons and your addition of faith in miracles.’

    This is no mistake or sloppy thinking, belief is belief.’

    N: According to you. See below.

    ‘The attempt to confine beliefs to ‘belief supported by scientific evidence’ (s-belief) and ‘belief akin to faith’ (f-belief) is OK but the majority of human belief falls into the f-belief definition or what I will call n-belief (neither science nor faith – just things people happen to believe.’

    N: This lays the seeds for a pretense that you accept my premise – but then miss the point and therefore reject it. You create a new category –‘n-belief’ – that subsumes the s-belief meaning and thereby once again conflates the two meanings I am trying to demonstrate are distinct. It’s either naïve, or trickery. If it’s the latter, then it’s frickin’ insulting. See below for why.

    ‘Let’s take the operational definition. Mental acceptance or conviction in the truth or actuality of something.

    ALL beliefs that one maintains the certainty of (as well as willing to allow that their opinions could be in error) are accepted and assumed to be true and actual. It doesn’t matter whether they are true or not, they are operationally true for the believer.

    This is the same for ALL beliefs s-beliefs, n-beliefs or f-beliefs – they are the same.

    They are operationally the same.’

    N: Sorry, they’re not.

    If I tell you that I can distinguish the difference between the powdery blue of ripe blueberries and the waxy indigo of bunchberries (if I’m rightly recalling the proper name of the second fruit, that is), and you tell me they’re the same, I may try to describe the distinctions to you.

    If you consistently come back with responses like: “No, blue is blue. They are the same,� I will eventually have to assume that your vision is lacking whatever elements allow me to perceive the differences between the two shades and tones of the two blue berries.

    I don’t doubt that you think you’re right. What’s maddening is your assumption you’re your faith in your perceptions preclude the possibility that I might be perceiving distinctions that you can’t.

    It’s a conversation-killer.

    I’ve said already (April 5th, 2006 at 2:53 am) that the word ‘belief’ is hamstrung by having to do double duty: signifying two closely related yet distinct concepts of ‘mental acceptance’.

    All I have been asking of you is to accept that I can use the this word – ‘belief’ – to mean “mental acceptance of the probability that empirically validated premises are true and not illusory. Mental acceptance dependent on empirically supported tenets, as distinguished from faith-like ‘belief’ in unverifiable tenets.�

    This post has been slow in coming mostly because I cannot decide whether you are deliberately jacking me around, or simply and authentically ‘colorblind’ to the distinctions I have been trying to outline.

    I have often thought that you take words and concepts to be ‘absolutes’ instead of imperfect ‘proxies’ (approximations) for the real-world energies and entities they are meant to help us distinguish and comprehend. To this end, I have been considering proposing a broadening of the meaning of the word ‘subscribe’.

    Would it help you to grasp my point if I replaced the ‘s-belief’ signifier with ‘subscript’ or ‘subscription’? If scientifically supported ‘beliefs’ were ‘subscriptions’ or ‘subscripts’? (This, btw, is why I proposed the ‘s’ prefix for ‘s-belief’ – not for ‘science’, but for ‘subscribe’.)

    Your answer is crucial, because I’m tired of the Moibus strip discourse we’ve been having. You have a fine mind, and several of your regular correspondents enjoy penpaling with you. But I’m more than weary of what I can only assume to be an ‘absolutist’ acceptance of the meanings of words and concepts (like that of ‘speciation’). It’s as if we’re debating the early Christian controversy over whether God and Christ were made of the Same Stuff or Similar Stuff (homoousion vs. homoiousion). That debate was a waste of mental energy (and led, absurdly, to tens of thousands of deaths in heresy-slaughters), and we ought not waste our time similarly.

    So, can you accept a new, non-standard-English distinction: ‘belief’ – to mean additionally “mental acceptance of the probability that empirically validated premises are true and not illusory. Mental acceptance dependent on empirically supported tenets, as distinguished from faith-like ‘belief’ in unverifiable tenets�, so that we can converse constructively again?

    Or should I draft the ‘subscribe’ family of words into our frustrating struggle for commonly shared meaning?

    (And please don’t again use ‘n-belief’ to subsume – and thereby negate – the meaning I give in the paragraph above this one. It’s the Moibus strip all over again.)

    I would very much appreciate the feedback of others concerning this discourse.

    (And I’ve got a follow-up in the works. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, I can post it sometime over this weekend.)

  • Nikos

    Duh.

    Part of the problem I’m having with this weird, seasonal, cogitational ‘fog’ is that I forget things from one moment to the next. Fer instance, from the post above ( http://www.radioopensource.org/is-god-in-our-genes/#comment-10097 ):

    “‘This is the same for ALL beliefs s-beliefs, n-beliefs or f-beliefs – they are the same.

    They are operationally the same.’

    N: Sorry, they’re not.�

    And then I forget to explain why not!

    So, here it is:

    ‘Subscript-beliefs’ are provisional. When the weight of empirical evidence undermines their credibility, the subscript-believer can do either of two things:

    1. modify her subscript-belief to comply with the newer evidence, or

    2. cling to the belief, making it into ‘faith-belief’ (like sociobiologists transmuting their unverifiable ‘alchemical’ presumptions into Evolutionary Psychology!).

    Obviously, option no.1 is preferable. However and additionally, reasonably-minded people sometimes proceed through option no.2 for a time before grudgingly admitting the validity of the newer evidence, and then, belatedly, modify their subscript-beliefs-cum-faith-beliefs back into empirically supported subscript-beliefs, as modified by the newer evidence. (As Jazzman will eventually do with I.D./D.E.???) Scientists do this sort of theing regularly – which is precisely the ‘operational’ difference between ‘subscription-beliefs’ and ‘faith-beliefs’. All ‘beliefs’ are not the same!

    Got it?

    (This is not, btw, the follow-up I mentioned at the end of my previous post. The follow-up will be lengthy but worthwhile – I promise!)

  • Nikos

    Sheesh.

    Correction:

    Obviously, option no.1 is preferable. However and additionally, reasonably-minded people sometimes proceed through option no.2 for a time before grudgingly admitting the validity of the newer evidence, and then, belatedly, modify their subscript-beliefs-cum-faith-beliefs back into empirically supported subscript-beliefs, as modified by the newer evidence. (As Jazzman will eventually do with I.D./D.E.???) Scientists do this sort of thing regularly – which is precisely the ‘operational’ difference between ‘subscription-beliefs’ and ‘faith-beliefs’.

    All ‘beliefs’ are not the same!

    Got it?

    (Wish me luck on the working up of my ‘follow-up’! I’m gonna need it, at this rate of mental decay…

  • Nikos

    I mentioned this already in the Racism thread, but it began here in this belated ‘follow-up’, and it bears repeating:

    It occurs to me through my ongoing thought-fog that the reason “…mental acceptance of the probability that empirically validated premises are true and not illusory; mental acceptance dependent on empirically supported tenets, as distinguished from faith-like ‘belief’ in unverifiable tenets…� is stuck sharing the word belief is that scientific empirical study is relatively new. The Western world was once home to fraternities of monks who ‘studied’ the ‘reality’ of ‘God’. They have been replaced (thankfully) by fraternities of scientists who study the apparent realities of existence (and I’m with them, not the monks, who were naively projecting their wishful-thinking into putatively ‘scholarly’ texts and theology).

    Yet this shift is, in the glacial time-scale of cultural change, so new that we’re still using the religious-milieu’s word and meanings of ‘belief’ in lieu of an appropriate word to signify a still nebulous concept like the ‘mental acceptance’ stuff in the paragraph above this one. Scientists are diligent observers, but not, it seems, particularly creative thinkers.

    As I understand this better and better and day by passing day, I lose my ire and want instead to further my growing understanding – and to share it.

    Here’s one way to share (all bolded words are my blogitorial emphases):

    Metaphors We Live By — George Lakoff and Mark Johnson; Chapter 1: Concepts We Live By:

    (begin quote) Metaphor is for most people a device of the poetic imagination and the rhetorical flourish—a matter of extraordinary rather than ordinary language. Moreover, metaphor is typically viewed as characteristic of language alone, a matter of words rather an thought or action. For this reason, most people think they can get along perfectly well without metaphor. We have found, on the contrary, that metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.

    The concepts that govern our thought are not just maters of the intellect. They also govern our everyday functioning, down to the most mundane details. Our concepts structure what we perceive, how we get around in the world, and how we relate to other people. Our conceptual system thus play a central role in defining our everyday realities. If we are right in suggesting that that our conceptual system is largely metaphorical, then the way we think, what we experience, and what we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor.

    But our conceptual system is not something we are normally aware of. In most of the little things we do every day, we simply think and act more or less automatically along certain lines. Just what these lines are is by no means obvious. One way to find out is by looking at language. Since communication is based on the same conceptual system that we use in thinking and acting, language is an important source of evidence for what that system is like.

    Primarily on the basis of linguistic evidence, we have found that most of our ordinary conceptual system is metaphorical in nature. And we have found a way to begin to identify in detail just what the metaphors are that structure how we perceive, how we think, and what we do. To give some idea of what it could mean for a concept to be metaphorical and for such a concept to structure an everyday activity, let us start with concept ARGUMENT and the conceptual metaphor ARGUMENT IS WAR. This metaphor is reflected in our everyday language by a wide variety of expressions:

    ARGUMENT IS WAR

    — Your claims are indefensible.

    — He attacked every weak point in my argument.

    — His criticisms were right on target.

    — I demolished his argument.

    — I’ve never won an argument with him.

    — You disagree? Okay, shoot!

    — If you use that strategy, he’ll wipe you out.

    — He shot down all my arguments.

    It is important to see that we don’t just talk about arguments in terms of war. We can actually win and lose arguments. We see the person we are arguing with as an opponent. We attack his positions and we defend our won. We gain and lose ground. We plan and use strategies. If we find a position indefensible, we can abandon it and take a new line of attack. Many of the things we do in arguing are partially structured by the concept of war. Though there is no physical battle, there is a verbal battle, and the structure of an argument—attack, defense, counterattack, etc.—reflects this. It is in this sense that the ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor is one that we live by in this culture; it structures the actions we perform in arguing.

    Try to imagine a culture where arguments are not viewed in terms of war, where no one wins or loses, where there is no sense of attacking or defending, gaining or losing ground. Imagine a culture where an argument is viewed as a dance, the participants are seen as performers, and the goal is to perform in a balanced and aesthetically pleasing way. In such a culture, people would view arguments differently, carry them our differently, and talk about them differently. But we would probably not view them as arguing at all: they would simply be doing something different. It would seem strange to even call what they were doing “arguing�. Perhaps the most neutral way of describing this difference between their culture and ours would be to say that we have a discourse form structured in terms of battle and they have one structured in terms of dance.

    This is what it means for a metaphorical concept, namely, ARGUMENT IS WAR, to structure (at least in part) what we do and how we understand what we are doing when we argue. The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind thing in terms of another. It is not that arguments are a subspecies of war. Arguments and wars are different kinds of things—verbal discourse and armed conflict—and the actions performed are different kinds of actions. But ARGUMENT is partially structured, understood, performed and talked about in terms of WAR. The concept is metaphorically structured, the activity is metaphorically structured, and consequently, the language is metaphorically structured.

    Moreover, this is the ordinary way of having an argument and talking about it. The normal way for us to talk about attacking a position is to use the words “attacking a position�. Our conventional ways of talking about arguments presuppose a metaphor we are hardly ever conscious of. The metaphor is not merely in the words we use—it is in our very concept of an argument. The language of argument is not poetic, fanciful, or rhetorical; it is literal. We talk about arguments that way because we conceive of them that way—and we act according to the way we conceive of things.

    The most important claim we have made so far is that metaphor is not just a matter of language, that is, of mere words, we shall argue that, on the contrary, human thought processes are largely metaphorical. This is what we mean when we say that the human conceptual system is metaphorically structured and defined. Metaphors as linguistic expressions are possible precisely because there are metaphors in a person’s conceptual system. Therefore, whenever in this book we speak of metaphors, such as ARGUMENT IS WAR, it should be understood that metaphor means metaphorical concept.

    (end quote)

    That’s the whole of chapter 1 http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/biblio?inkey=1-0226468011-1 .

    It’s ‘pregnant’ (another metaphor) with implications.

    Our language is ‘built on (another metaphor)’ metaphor, in thousands and thousands of ways. Yet if our language’s metaphors don’t accurately enough represent (by comparison) the realities we intend to comprehend by using them, the realities seem unreal. (This is the crippling, self-defeating flaw with the ‘mechanistic universe’ metaphor I excoriate at length in http://www.radioopensource.org/is-god-in-our-genes/#comment-8013 .)

    As things stand now (another metaphor), our language has no commonly understood conceptual distinction between ‘mental acceptance of empirically validated tenets’ and ‘mental acceptance of religiously validated tenets’. This lack leads us to conflate the two types of ‘mental acceptances’. This conflation leads in turn to actions that attempt to deny the claim of conflation. And these actions take place within the domain of the ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor.

    Now, for an alternative, have a look at this: http://www.radioopensource.org/garry-wills-on-jesus/#comment-9631 —which just might be an example of the tenuous ARGUMENT IS DANCE metaphor Lakoff and Johnson give above.

    I’d like to pursue this more, and soon too, with another follow-up, but for right now I gotta run.

  • Nikos

    Fer cryin’ out loud! Here the above post again with the italics mistake fixed — hopefully!

    I mentioned this already in the Racism thread, but it began here in this belated ‘follow-up’, and it bears repeating:

    It occurs to me through my ongoing thought-fog that the reason “…mental acceptance of the probability that empirically validated premises are true and not illusory; mental acceptance dependent on empirically supported tenets, as distinguished from faith-like ‘belief’ in unverifiable tenets…� is stuck sharing the word belief is that scientific empirical study is relatively new. The Western world was once home to fraternities of monks who ‘studied’ the ‘reality’ of ‘God’. They have been replaced (thankfully) by fraternities of scientists who study the apparent realities of existence (and I’m with them, not the monks, who were naively projecting their wishful-thinking into putatively ‘scholarly’ texts and theology).

    Yet this shift is, in the glacial scale of cultural change, so new that we’re still using the religious-milieu’s word and meanings of ‘belief’ in lieu of an appropriate word to signify a still nebulous concept like the ‘mental acceptance’ stuff in the paragraph above this one. Scientists are diligent observers, but not, it seems, particularly creative thinkers.

    As I understand this better and better and day by passing day, I lose my ire and want instead to further my growing understanding – and to share it.

    Here’s one way to share (all bolded words are my blogitorial emphases):

    Metaphors We Live By — George Lakoff and Mark Johnson; Chapter 1: Concepts We Live By:

    (begin quote) Metaphor is for most people a device of the poetic imagination and the rhetorical flourish—a matter of extraordinary rather than ordinary language. Moreover, metaphor is typically viewed as characteristic of language alone, a matter of words rather in thought or action. For this reason, most people think they can get along perfectly well without metaphor. We have found, on the contrary, that metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.

    The concepts that govern our thought are not just maters of the intellect. They also govern our everyday functioning, down to the most mundane details. Our concepts structure what we perceive, how we get around in the world, and how we relate to other people. Our conceptual system thus play a central role in defining our everyday realities. If we are right in suggesting that that our conceptual system is largely metaphorical, then the way we think, what we experience, and what we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor.

    But our conceptual system is not something we are normally aware of. In most of the little things we do every day, we simply think and act more or less automatically along certain lines. Just what these lines are is by no means obvious. One way to find out is by looking at language. Since communication is based on the same conceptual system that we use in thinking and acting, language is an important source of evidence for what that system is like.

    Primarily on the basis of linguistic evidence, we have found that most of our ordinary conceptual system is metaphorical in nature. And we have found a way to begin to identify in detail just what the metaphors are that structure how we perceive, how we think, and what we do. To give some idea of what it could mean for a concept to be metaphorical and for such a concept to structure an everyday activity, let us start with concept ARGUMENT and the conceptual metaphor ARGUMENT IS WAR. This metaphor is reflected in our everyday language by a wide variety of expressions:

    ARGUMENT IS WAR

    n Your claims are indefensible.

    n He attacked every weak point in my argument.

    n His criticisms were right on target.

    n I demolished his argument.

    n I’ve never won an argument with him.

    n You disagree? Okay, shoot!

    n If you use that strategy, he’ll wipe you out.

    n He shot down all my arguments.

    It is important to see that we don’t just talk about arguments in terms of war. We can actually win and lose arguments. We see the person we are arguing with as an opponent. We attack his positions and we defend our won. We gain and lose ground. We plan and use strategies. If we find a position indefensible, we can abandon it and take a new line of attack. Many of the things we do in arguing are partially structured by the concept of war. Though there is no physical battle, there is a verbal battle, and the structure of an argument—attack, defense, counterattack, etc.—reflects this. It is in this sense that the ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor is one that we live by in this culture; it structures the actions we perform in arguing.

    Try to imagine a culture where arguments are not viewed in terms of war, where no one wins or loses, where there is no sense of attacking or defending, gaining or losing ground. Imagine a culture where an argument is viewed as a dance, the participants are seen as performers, and the goal is to perform in a balanced and aesthetically pleasing way. In such a culture, people would view arguments differently, carry them our differently, and talk about them differently. But we would probably not view them as arguing at all: they would simply be doing something different. It would seem strange to even call what they were doing “arguing�. Perhaps the most neutral way of describing this difference between their culture and ours would be to say that we have a discourse form structured in terms of battle and they have one structured in terms of dance.

    This is what it means for a metaphorical concept, namely, ARGUMENT IS WAR, to structure (at least in part) what we do and how we understand what we are doing when we argue. The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind thing in terms of another. It is not that arguments are a subspecies of war. Arguments and wars are different kinds of things—verbal discourse and armed conflict—and the actions performed are different kinds of actions. But ARGUMENT is partially structured, understood, performed and talked about in terms of WAR. The concept is metaphorically structured, the activity is metaphorically structured, and consequently, the language is metaphorically structured.

    Moreover, this is the ordinary way of having an argument and talking about it. The normal way for us to talk about attacking a position is to use the words “attacking a position�. Our conventional ways of talking about arguments presuppose a metaphor we are hardly ever conscious of. The metaphor is not merely in the words we use—it is in our very concept of an argument. The language of argument is not poetic, fanciful, or rhetorical; it is literal. We talk about arguments that way because we conceive of them that way—and we act according to the way we conceive of things.

    The most important claim we have made so far is that metaphor is not just a matter of language, that is, of mere words, we shall argue that, on the contrary, human thought processes are largely metaphorical. This is what we mean when we say that the human conceptual system is metaphorically structured and defined. Metaphors as linguistic expressions are possible precisely because there are metaphors in a person’s conceptual system. Therefore, whenever in this book we speak of metaphors, such as ARGUMENT IS WAR, it should be understood that metaphor means metaphorical concept.

    (end quote)

    That’s the whole of chapter 1 http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/biblio?inkey=1-0226468011-1 .

    It’s ‘pregnant’ (another metaphor) with implications.

    Our language is ‘built (another metaphor) on’ metaphor, in thousands and thousands of ways. Yet if our language’s metaphors don’t accurately enough represent (by comparison) the realities we intend to comprehend by using them, the realities seem unreal. (This is the crippling problem with the ‘mechanistic universe’ metaphor I excoriate at length in http://www.radioopensource.org/is-god-in-our-genes/#comment-8013 .)

    As things stand now (another metaphor), our language has no commonly understood conceptual distinction between ‘mental acceptance of empirically validated tenets’ and ‘mental acceptance of religiously validated tenets’. This lack leads us to conflate the two types of ‘mental acceptances’. This conflation leads in turn to actions to deny the claim of conflation. And these actions take place within the domain of the ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor.

    Now, for an alternative, have a look at this: http://www.radioopensource.org/garry-wills-on-jesus/#comment-9631 —which just might be an example of the tenuous ARGUMENT IS DANCE metaphor Lakoff and Johnson give above.

    I’d like to pursue this more, and soon too, with another follow-up, but for right now I gotta run.

  • Potter

    I have not read the above yet, Nikos, though I am looking forward to it, but here is something for the #400 in advance :

    Rock and Hawkby Robinson Jeffers

    Here is a symbol in which

    Many high tragic thoughts

    Watch their own eyes.

    This gray rock, standing tall

    On the headland, where the seawind

    Lets no tree grow,

    Earthquake-proved, and signatured

    By ages of storms: on its peak

    A falcon has perched.

    I think, here is your emblem

    To hang in the future sky;

    Not the cross, not the hive,

    But this; bright power, dark peace;

    Fierce consciousness joined with final

    Disinterestedness;

    Life with calm death; the falcon’s

    Realist eyes and act

    Married to the massive

    Mysticism of stone,

    Which failure cannot cast down

    Nor success make proud.

  • Nikos

    More from Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By

    2 – The Systematicity of Metaphorical Concepts

    Arguments usually follow patterns; that is, there are certain things we typically do and not do in arguing. The fact that we in part conceptualize arguments in terms of battle systematically influences the shape arguments take and the way we talk about what we do in arguing. Because the metaphorical concept is systematic, the language we use to talk about that aspect of the concept is systematic.

    We saw in the ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor that expressions from the vocabulary of war, e.g., attack a position, indefensible, strategy, new line of attack, win, gain, ground, etc., form a systematic way of talking about the battling aspects of arguing. It is no accident that these expressions mean what they mean when we use them to talk about arguments. A portion of the conceptual network of battle partially characterizes the concept of an argument, and the language follows suit. Since metaphorical expressions in our language are tied to metaphoric concepts a systematic way, we can use the metaphorical linguistic expressions to study the nature of metaphorical concepts and to gain an understanding of the metaphorical nature of our activities.

    To get an idea of how metaphorical expressions in everyday language can give us insight into the metaphorical nature of the concepts that structure our everyday activities, let us consider the metaphorical concept TIME IS MONEY as it is reflected in everyday English.

    TIME IS MONEY

    — You’re wasting my time.

    — This gadget will save you hours.

    — I don’t have the time to give to you.

    — How do you spend your time these days?

    — That flat tire cost me an hour.

    — I’ve invested a lot of time in her.

    — I don’t have enough time to spare for that.

    — You’re running out of time.

    — You need to budget your time.

    Put aside some time for ping pong.

    — Is that worth your while?

    — Do you have much time left?

    — He’s living on borrowed time.

    — You don’t use your time profitably.

    — I lost a lot of time when I got sick.

    Thank you for your time.

    Time in our culture is a valuable commodity. It is a limited resource that we use to accomplish our goals. Because of the way that the concept of work has developed in modern Western culture, where work is typically associated with the time it takes and time is precisely quantified, it has become customary to pay people by the hour, week, or year. In our culture TIME IS MONEY in many ways: telephone message units, hourly wages, hotel room rates, yearly budgets, interest on loans, and paying your debt to society by “serving time�. These practices are relatively new in the history of the human race, and by no means do they exist in all cultures. They have arisen in modern industrialized societies and structure our basic everyday activities in a very profound way. Corresponding to the fact that we act as if time is a valuable commodity—a limited resource, even money—we conceive of time that way. Thus we understand and experience time as the kind of thing that can be spent, wasted, budgeted, invested wisely or poorly, saved, or squandered.

    TIME IS MONEY, TIME IS A LIMITED RESOURCE, and TIME IS A VALUABLE COMMODITY are all metaphorical concepts. They are metaphorical since we are using our everyday experiences with money, limited resources, and valuable commodities to conceptualize time. This isn’t a necessary way for humans to conceptualize time; it is tied to our culture. There are cultures where time is none of these things.

    The metaphorical concepts TIME IS MONEY, TIME IS A LIMITED RESOURCE, and TIME IS A VALUABLE COMMODITY form a single system based on subcategorization, since in our society money is a limited resource and limited resources are valuable commodities. These subcategorization relationships characterize entailment relationships between the metaphors. TIME IS MONEY entails that TIME IS A LIMITED RESOURCE, which entails that TIME IS A VALUABLE COMMODITY.

    We are adopting the practice of using the most specific metaphorical, in this case TIME IS MONEY, to characterize the entire system. Of the expressions listed under the TIME IS MONEY metaphor, some refer specifically to money (spend, invest, budget, profitably, cost), others to limited resources (use, use up, have enough of, run out of), and still others to valuable commodities (have, give, lose, thank you for). This is an example of the way in which metaphorical entailments can characterize a coherent system of metaphorical concepts and a corresponding coherent system of metaphorical expressions for those concepts.

    That’s the whole of chapter 2. http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/biblio?inkey=1-0226468011-1

    See next post for follow-up.

  • Nikos

    Now, I’ll admit that Metaphors We Live By isn’t the most riveting reading you’ll ever do. But it might just be the most illuminating, since Lakoff & Johnson will show you the innards of the way our minds process input from our senses.

    Human consciousness, in order to categorize its sensory inflow, doesn’t only differentiate, it compares too. Metaphor is comparison. Metaphor and differentiation work together, hand in hand (another metaphor) to categorize sensory inflow and to conceptualize all the information human consciousness perceives.

    Here are more metaphors Lakoff and Johnson examine (In chapter 3):

    IDEAS (OR MEANINGS) ARE OBJECTS

    LINGUISTIC EXPRESSIONS ARE CONTAINERS

    COMMUNICATION IS SENDING

    (In chapter 4) Orientational Metaphors:

    HAPPY IS UP; SAD IS DOWN

    CONSCIOUS IS UP; UNCONSCIOUS IS DOWN

    HEALTH AND LIFE ARE UP; SICKNESS AND DEATH ARE DOWN

    HAVING CONTROL OR FORCE ARE UP; BEING SUBJECT TO CONTROL IS DOWN

    MORE IS UP; LESS IS DOWN

    FORESEEABLE FUTURE EVENTS ARE UP (and AHEAD)

    HIGH STATUS IS UP; LOW STATUS IS DOWN

    GOOD IS UP; BAD IS DOWN

    VIRTUE IS UP; DEPRAVITY IS DOWN

    RATIONAL IS UP; EMOTIONAL IS DOWN

    That’s not all: that’s only chapters 3 & 4 — of 30! And it’s easy reading, if not exciting.

    I’d love to discuss it with anyone who gets to it. It will make all our discussions here on ROS much more fruitful—and you can take that ‘to the bank’.

    “Thank you for your time!�

  • jazzman

    Nikos: First I’m glad I took your advice and ponied up the bucks for the book. (Marks’ 98%.) I have to say that it is the most informed and well written work by a scientist I’ve read since Richard Feynman’s books. I echo your sentiments and highly recommend it to everyone. Marks is a jewel among scientists and accurately documents the general lack of rigor in the history of wetware science thru 2003 and the outright fallaciousness of its pseudoscientific offshoots (E.O. W. and Dawkins don’t seem to impress Marks very positively) but I can see why you enjoyed the writing. Does his style remind you of someone? I bet if he applied the same rigorous approach to determining the validity of DE, he wouldn’t be so sure about it either. I believe he echoed my original premise that given the choice between C/ID and DE that “evolution is the best empirical explanation for life as we know it� because we don’t have any other explanation. I propose CM for Conscious Manifestation. Anyway thanks for the prodding, the $18 was well worth the expense.

  • jazzman

    Nikos: I am disappointed that you would think that I would “jack� you or anyone around. I would hope that my writing conveys my sincere intentions even if they appear to be applying macadam to the Stygian Thoroughfare.

    My definition of the term beliefs subsumes all the contents of our minds (cognitions) that are held to be true. This is true of your “Mental acceptance dependent on empirically supported tenets�, as well as mental acceptance of faith-like ‘belief’ in unverifiable tenets.� I can agree on the most basic level that each belief is different and distinctive. So empirically supported tenets and tautological beliefs (beliefs which are true by definition) are different from faith based beliefs. I use belief in the Meta sense (interesting that you are currently pursuing METAphors – I will address metaphors later) and the salient point of the meta (overarching) sense is the assumption of truth about what is believed, it doesn’t matter whether it’s verifiable or not, we operate as if they are TRUE. The berries example will suffice as an illustration. If I believe that blueberries are the same as other berries that are blue irrespective of the shade, (blueberries are good, these are blue berries, therefore good – no matter that eating blueberries will benefit me for the antioxidants and the others may make me sick or die) then the belief that all blue berries are equivalent is operationally true for me and I won’t hesitate to eat non-blueberry blue berries (as long as they’re tasty.) My belief may be so strong that if I get sick by eating poisonous tasty blue berries that I will not ascribe the symptoms to the ingestion of the berries and attribute it to the flu or other agency. This would be due to the fact belief in the empirically true fact that blueberries are good (because I ate them and they were tasty) and the belief that the other blue berries were good (because I ate them and they were tasty), I just happened to be coming down with the flu. The beliefs for me are operationally the same. People think that their beliefs are true (that’s why they are beliefs) so ALL beliefs verifiable or otherwise (just because something is not readily verifiable (verify means: to make true) doesn’t mean it is false) are operationally (believed to be true) the same. If you want to restrict your definition of s-beliefs to empirically supported tenets then that is a miniscule subset of total beliefs and as I state below, empiricism vis-a-vis oneself is largely faith based.

    The belief that subscription beliefs are provisional and that is what constitutes the difference from other beliefs is erroneous. (By subscription, I presume you mean beliefs that are presumed to be true because some authorities said that they were true. This has to be based on faith in the authorities and their methods as you can’t empirically verify most scientific assertions yourself. Jonathon Marks adduces many examples of misplaced faith in authorities and the dubiousness of their methodology.) ALL beliefs are provisional; that is how we decide what we believe, when a belief is no longer useful or no longer believed it is replaced.

    When I use the word belief hereafter, I mean a mental concept held to be true. I do try to use commonly understood words with unambiguous definitions and try to avoid semantic nuances (unless I’m being punny or humorous.) I don’t see these distinctions as a mobius strip (as it is topologically one sided and not metaphorically one-sided.) I’m attempting to capture the essence or meta meaning of the concept we’re discussing, details that are subsumed by a larger concept are usually beside the point. (Like Marks’ “How do Humans, Chimps and Mammals differ?�) It seems to me that you are still irate at me for contradicting your “Have I ever?� protestations. That was a condemnation of the “our (perceived good) ends justify any expeditious (even violent) means� philosophy. I warned the members of ROS that I would and will decry this philosophy when espoused by anyone. I again apologize if that appeared personal. I value the breadth of your opinion and hope to continue to exchange ideas with you and everyone else.

  • jazzman

    Nikos: I again offer you or anyone else this exercise:

    Proposition:

    Givens:

    1) The universe is as we experience it today.

    2) Everything is fair and equitable – No one has advantage over anyone else by birth or circumstance.

    Question: What is condition or law is required to support the proposition?

  • jazzman

    Metaphors we live by: The problem with the incredible pervasiveness of metaphors in our worldview and in correspondence is that they are so common that we forget they are metaphors and operate as if they are the concepts they analogize.

    Argument is War (or is a surrogate for war as sports and competition are) the belief in the analogy as reality causes problems, hurt feelings, and in many cases death. It would behoove us to recognize the inherent dangers of belief in violent metaphor as reality. I try and believe I mostly succeed in operating using the Argument is Dance metaphor as a guiding principle, anyway that is my intent. If I’m aggressive, vehement and insistent about a point it may seem more like break dancing than waltzing but I always attempt to argue academically and not personally.

    I also try to use commonly understood terminology instead of jargon so that I or my correspondents avoid the fallacy of imbuing metaphoric constructs with the connotative baggage that these metaphors carry (like I use beliefs instead of memes unless I intend the memetic baggage to accompany the concept I’m elucidating.

    Here’s one for Potter: A metaphor is an iceberg, the tip is the seemingly innocuous analogy but the danger is hidden underneath the surface of the concept. (BTW This will make #397 and unless you want your poem to stand in proxy for #400 so that an hwally doesn’t usurp your rightful due, post soon.)

    Peace to ALL – Jazzman

  • Nikos

    jAzzman: you’re very welcome, and I’m still checking this thread — I’ve bookmarked to save time slogging through the archives.

    Now, I love your Conscious Manifestation notion, but…well…it’s not exactly verifiable, is it? (Not currently, at least.)

    So, I’m sticking with evolution.

    But hey, the good news is that we’ve this thread to ourselves. (Although I’d love it if Potter and others would join in too.)

    Let’s talk! 🙂

    You go first — I’ve left you plenty to respond to lately.

    And thanks!

  • Potter

    Hello All- they took our thread off the main page so we’ll have to slog it out in the archives:-)

    Jazzman Says on

    April 12th, 2006 at 6:35 pm I define the WORK part as creative intention by the artist and the WELL DONE part as a value judgment by of whomever experiences the creative intent.

    This is the first time you define “work” ie as “creative intention by the artist”. This is a special definition of work because work means the expenditure of physical and/or mental energy and is associated with a task, duty, assignment. ( the creative meaning is #7b of 11 meanings in Webster) STILL I find this use inadequate for ART. The WELL DONE part regarding art is according to some consensus or standard. There should be no doubt or question about whether something is well done or not. Still this does not make it ART.

    Allison asks: Can’t we all just experience each others’ expressions without this need for judgement?

    Jazzman answers: IMO everything that doesn’t contravene my definition of Absolute Morality is inherently neutral and just as we create the artistic experience it is we who judge for ourselves the value of actions, items and events

    We carry a morality that has been transmitted to us. There is a limit, a severe one, on your own “virgin� judgments about morality, if there is such a thing. We don’t live in a vacuum; we did not spring out of the blue. So too you are welcome to say something is art, but if it is not ART, it’s only your opinion that it is. (You can live in your own world. We all do to an extent.)

    Jazzman to Allison: I was only trying to suggest to Potter that it is she who creates the experience. The artist creates the “work” and each of us including the artist creates our personal experience. The “work” is neutral.

    So why go to a museum, a play, a concert. Save money, stay home and create your own experience!

    April 12th, 2006 at 6:46 pm

    Jazzman to Potter: All poetry is not ART. All poetry is not POETRY. All prose is not ART. All painting is not ART. All pots are not ART. Etc.Who decides what of these art forms rises to their CAPITALIZED forms? You say the consensus’ imprimatur – Van Gogh was disdained and considered a hack artist by the consensus of his peers in his day. The impressionists (my favorite painters – Cezanne in particular) were also initially rejected.

    I capitalize ART in this discussion to separate it from it’s other many meanings. I refer to “work� that has meaning, is aesthetically extraordinary and/or moves or has potential to move us, awaken us, our senses. ART embodies universals, is an expression of timeless essentials, is inspired and has potential be inspire us more deeply. This is through the power of form and expression of the artist him/herself. There is a lag time between the creation and the acceptance of most (especially modern) ART The lag time as far as appreciation/experience of modern/post modern art goes is due to the profound change in art due to a new sense of freedom. This requires a change in attitude of the beholder. (For further on this Meyer Schapiro’s essay on “Abstract Art� is very good.)

    Potter says: This not bandwagon. It is consensus however… That’s what gives them the authority. Jazzman says: The fallacies of bandwagon, consensus, and authority are all names for the same phenomenon. Because the majority believes something to be true does not make it true.

    The majority in this case are those people who devote their lives to understanding, experiencing/focusing on these expressions. That is not to say that there are no “fallacies� (eventually corrected) or that there is no “bandwagon effect� (eventually sorted out). You sweep it all away, as with (parts of) “Darwinian Evolution� and for the same broad brush unsubstantiated reasons about consensus.

  • Potter

    That last para should not be italicized.

  • Potter

    Jazzman(regarding my “maybeâ€? on Christo): Framing nature? Central Park “gates”? That (in your terms) is a rubbery definition of ART.

    I do not say it is Art or is not ART. It is obviously controversial, like some music. This is an example of lag time. It may be that it never quite gets accepted by the general public. This does not mean it is or is not ART. It is obviously conceptual. Art is about Art as well. It may mean something to other artists, in terms of freeing them up, making them see things or in a way they had not before. In that sense, even as you indicate when you say “framing nature�, it has a value. Velasquez ( and certain other painters, Delacroix) for instance was called a “painter’s painter�. They inspire other artists. This is by no means a rubbery definition. The inspiration part is still there, the aesthetic part is still there: form and expression. This work also has the potential to be transcendent.

    Potter: A Shakespeare play is ART whether you feel it or not. A Puccini opera is ART whether it moves you or not. A Tang Dynasty horse is ART whether you appreciate it or not. Jazzman Etc Again – who says so? How about those master fake Tang Artifacts – they often fool experts. Art or artifice?

    That’s how experts get good. They are finding phony Rembrandts now after all these years. So what? A good fake is a good fake. It takes off on it’s prototype. With a real Rembrandt, who would or could fake one? And if you focus, you too will see the difference between the expression of the master and his copier for no one can be Rembrandt.

    Potter: Your experience is subjective. ART is not only subjective. Jazzman: ART without subjectivity is a neutral action/event/object – and has no meaning. If a tree falls in the forest and there is no observer – there is no tree and no forest. Not philosophy, quantum mechanics!

    That’s a contradictory statement! Neutral is one thing (a value, or non-value), non-existent is another.

    So every work of art/ART that you have not yet experienced does not exist??

    Not to take away from that essential point but are you telling me that the trees that fell behind my house this winter did not fall? That all the trees in the deep forests of the world did not fall because no one saw them? What about all the CO2 they are releasing from their decay? Are you telling me there are no forests, no trees? (???#%*!!!)

    Potter: *Everyone then “creates” a different tree by dint of the fact that everyone’s perception is different. That’s not the meaning of “create” I at least am using. Jazzman: Yes that’s exactly my meaning of create. There are as many different trees as there are observers including the tree’s own self.

    I think this gets to the bottom of our discussion. We disagree on language and you are talking in philosophical terms. You have an underlying philosophy which challenges all points made that are not within it.

    Potter: How about EXCEEDINGLY well done? (I’ll consider it.) A Faberge egg or the Book of Kells is “exceedingly well done”. Is a Mark Rothko painting? I would say no. They are [all] ART. Your definition is not good enough I say. Jazzman: So what is your definition? You say some art poorly done is ART and some well done art isn’t. It’s you who decides, as Allison says, no one else can define ART for you – including me.

    You are putting on me your position. The ART is there. I can engage/experience it, fully or partially, or not. ART exists, the expression that is ART exists outside of me. Within the ART “category� there is quite a variety of potential experience. Everything that is ART is not necessarily recognized by consensus ( yet). In other words the tree fell but we have not noticed it yet. You can notice it. You can call it a tree But if it’s not a tree, it’s not a TREE. It may very well be a tree. It has to meet the definition of TREE (a consensus).

    By the way Miller’s work looks like it is well done but it did not move me. It might if I saw it in person. But it might not even then.

    Potter: I am not co-creating in any case. I am receiving a communication on a deeper level. JazzmanAgain while they are generally considered things of natural beauty, sunsets, flowers, the Grand Canyon, and trees are not art. Who communicates on that deeper level? Your eyes receive emitted photons and translate them into mental images, and your ears translate the motion of air molecules into sound. The communication is a creation of your brain, and can range from gibberish to profundity depending on your attitude and perception. You are indeed not a co-creator you are an individual creator.

    Oy Gevalt! Well I have taken birdsong out of our discussion because it confuses things, but things of natural beauty are different from things created by human consciousness. It’s essential to differentiate human (I would include some animal but not in this discussion) consciousness from all else. Someone has to create from their senses/impulses/cognition what goes into your sense organs/ cognition/responses. This comes through a universal language that transcends time and physical boundaries. Art is in that realm. It draws on that universal power that connects us. But it comes through a human consciousness to another.

    By the way you have not switched from advocating “co-creation� to “individual creation� which does not even need an artist on the other end. This is truly/totally “conceptual� (and a dead end in the art conversation imo).

  • Potter

    In the last para I meant: By the way you have switched from advocating “co-creation� to “individual creation� which does not even need an artist on the other end. This is truly/totally “conceptual� (and a dead end in the art conversation imo).

  • Potter

    Jazzman: the above is in reference to this post of yours: http://www.radioopensource.org/morality-god-given-or-evolved/#comment-9505.

  • Potter

    Potter: I thought you said animals could not create ART. We agree then that they create. Aren’t we bound by instinct too, plus psychology, society, culture etc. Jazzman: ALL consciousness creates, my experience is that animals may create things of what consensus may term beautiful, it was not created by the animal for the purpose of art, i.e., for function not form (except where form is coincident with function.) I define instinct as an innate drive that exists in non-human entities and implies lack of free will. We have free will and can make conscious choices to go for or against reactive or emotional (often miscalled instinctive) behavior. We are only bound by our beliefs and then only bound if we believe we are. (WG alert)

    What is a “WG� alert? I missed that.

    Isn’t “free will� specific to human consciousness (or perhaps higher animals) just as art as opposed to trees or rocks? Regarding the “purpose of art�, an artist does not sit down (or stand up) and say “Now I am going to create art/ART!� That might be true for your “work well done� definition, not mine. Art or ART is special. There is another component, let’s say “spiritual�.

    Perhaps you are talking about “art for art’s sake alone when you exclude animals. I question that and I question your declaration that animals have no free will. If people have free will, then some animals may (we are on a continuum with animals from the beginnings of life.) But I do not want to sidetrack the discussion into animal art, as I have said (even though I am engaging in it).

    Jazzman:You say we are animals, I say we are classified thusly by biology but we are more, we are special, we are ART. Our physical bodies are one of our most personal expressions of ART. In that we create the experience of ART we are also artists

    Some people dress artfully/or artistically. Some are even artists in the way they dress. Do they create ART out of themselves? It’s a concept to consider. But that is not what I think you mean. I think you mean that our whole being is art, our perceptions are art. That stretches the definition to the point where it has no specific meaning. Expression alone is not art. Reaction/response alone is not art. George Ballanchine’s ballets and Suzanne Farrell’s performances are ART though, no question about it.

    Potter: It’s not a matter of opinion. It’s ART or it is not whether others agree or disagree. If I don’t like a Jackson Pollack painting, it’s still ART. Jazzman Au contraire. There’s no Platonic ideal model for ART.

    This is a misinterpretation of Plato and/or what I said.

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

    ART is real, not ideal. Your argument is about it’s designation as such without your approval. That is not a Platonic argument near as I can tell. I am not saying that ART exists independent of particulars. Particulars are in fact essential to art/ART.

  • Nikos

    jazzman, I haven’t had time to finish my latest post to you. Here’s a preview:

    So jazzman, I have to tell you I was excited to read your 7:20 PM, and typed out my 7:30 PM in reply. By the time I finished and submitted, you’d added your 7:22 PM, 7:23 PM, and 7:25 PM, making my 7:30 PM out-of-date – even though it was brand new.

    Then I read your 7:22 PM, and my heart sank.

    The reason I thought it possible that you’ve been ‘jacking me around’ is that it’s so obvious to me that all ‘knowledge’, or, more precisely – provisional ‘knowledge’ – isn’t ‘beliefs’ makes your insistence on conflating it seem at least eccentric, if not…

    …to be continued!

  • Nikos

    Jazzman: I might need until next week for my reply. However, I’m always happy to read your input in the other threads (even though I usually/lately don’t have time to reply there, either), but please don’t think I’m ignoring or forgetting! I’m just embroiled in a problem elsewhere.

    Talk to you soon, I hope!

  • jazzman

    NIkos and Potter: I too am very busy these days and will answer you and Potter as soon as I can. It takes more reflective cogitation to respond to you all than to rant on less interesting (but interesting enough to bother) threads.

  • mejensen1

    I think one reason that people are religious has to do with supernatural phenomena and the need to organize often barely noticebale events. Religion often explains the above.

  • jazzman

    Anent: http://www.radioopensource.org/is-god-in-our-genes/#comment-10405#comment-10405

    Potter: I’m all I define the WORK part as creative intention by the artist The creative intent part is to subsume “conceptual� art like Christo and ART created by the “Name and a Frame� people as I define ALL creative work by humans art and reserve the WELL DONE part for the value judgment of others.

    Potter goes: The WELL DONE part regarding art is according to some consensus or standard. As I repeatedly state, consensus is a bandwagon fallacy and the standard is in your mind.

    Potter’s like: We carry a morality that has been transmitted to us. I’m like: We carry a morality (beliefs) that we select from ALL possible morals by either accepting transmitted values (inculcated by authorities) or by conscious choice. Potter’s all if it is not ART, it’s only your opinion that it is. I’m like: It’s your opinion that it isn’t. It’s our opinions that create ART for each of us.

    I’m all: The artist creates the “work� and each of us including the artist creates our personal experience. The “work� is neutral. Potter goes: So why go to a museum, a play, a concert. Save money, stay home and create your own experience! I’m like because if I stay home the work is neutral. When I create my own experience it’s not neutral it’s ART (if I think it is.) BTW I’m not into saving money I spend it as fast as I get it – it’s worth less every day and spending keeps the economy moving.

    Potter’s all: I refer to “work� that has meaning, is aesthetically extraordinary and/or moves or has potential to move us, awaken us, our senses. I’m like: Meanings are construed by individuals, esthetics are in each persons mind, and everything has the potential to move us. We decide whether or not we are moved.

    Potter goes: ART embodies universals, is an expression of timeless essentials, is inspired and has potential be inspire us more deeply. I’m like: What are universals? What are timeless essentials? Who’s the decider? Inspiration takes the form of intent and everything has the potential to inspire us. Again, the deeply part is our decision.

    Potter’s like: There is a lag time between the creation and the acceptance of most (especially modern) ART….This requires a change in attitude of the beholder. I go: Snap. You recognize that the beholder’s (your) attitude is responsible for the ART – the thesis of most of this exchange.

    I’m like: Because the majority believes something to be true does not make it true. Potter’s all: The majority in this case are those people who devote their lives to understanding, experiencing/focusing on these expressions.…You sweep it all away, as with (parts of) “Darwinian Evolution� and for the same broad brush unsubstantiated reasons about consensus. I’m like: If people devote their lives to understanding, and focusing on a field, that doesn’t guarantee they understand or have the TRUTH regarding that field. What I sweep away is the assertion that because a majority of people believes anything, that makes it a fact. That is the Bandwagon fallacy period. The majority may be in agreement but wrong, or they may be right. The majority of the pre-Copernican thinkers believed the Earth was the center of the solar system. The majority of the inhabitants of Olde Salem MA believed that some people were witches. The majority of people in the nineteenth century were against woman sufferage. The majority of people in the U.S. (and in the world) believe in God and capital punishment. The majority of voters voted for GWB. Consensus!!!

  • jazzman

    Anent: http://www.radioopensource.org/is-god-in-our-genes/#comment-10407#comment-10407

    Potter on Christo: It is obviously conceptual. Art is about Art as well. It may mean something to other artists, in terms of freeing them up, making them see things or in a way they had not before. In that sense, even as you indicate when you say “framing nature�, it has a value. Velasquez ( and certain other painters, Delacroix) for instance was called a “painter’s painter�. They inspire other artists. This is by no means a rubbery definition. The inspiration part is still there, the aesthetic part is still there: form and expression. This work also has the potential to be transcendent. It’s the artist’s and the viewer’s concept. Conceptual art allows, not makes, artists to see things differently. The value of framing nature is decided again by the observer. Obviously Christo believes it has value (people pay him) but inspiration, esthetics, and transcendence are provided by the beholders who transmute the potential from latency to actuality for themselves.

    Potter on fakes: And if you focus, you too will see the difference between the expression of the master and his copier for no one can be Rembrandt. I doubt if I could tell the difference on most good imitations, the major difference is their respective values. The intrinsic values of each are close to equal but the piece with the cachet of expert provenance is worth whatever the market will bear, ultimately decided by the purchaser.

    Jazzman to Potter: ART without subjectivity is a neutral action/event/object – and has no meaning. If a tree falls in the forest and there is no observer – there is no tree and no forest. Not philosophy, quantum mechanics! Potter replies: That’s a contradictory statement! Neutral is one thing (a value, or non-value), non-existent is another. ART sans subjectivity is neutral. Art without an observer is non-existent.

    Potter: So every work of art/ART that you have not yet experienced does not exist?? Yes – art/ART not experienced by you doesn’t exist in your experience except as an abstract concept (the set of all art/ART that could be experienced by you)

    Potter: Not to take away from that essential point but are you telling me that the trees that fell behind my house this winter did not fall? That all the trees in the deep forests of the world did not fall because no one saw them? What about all the CO2 they are releasing from their decay? Are you telling me there are no forests, no trees? (???#%*!!!) You are one of the many observers. Your house’s back behind is as you observe it.

    Potter: I think this gets to the bottom of our discussion. We disagree on language and you are talking in philosophical terms. You have an underlying philosophy which challenges all points made that are not within it. That is true of ALL belief systems. I am talking about the world as I believe it manifests (that all experience and existence is a function of observation.) This bandwagon has many riders, although it may not be correct but this is the current position of leading edge physics. Each of us has a philosophy (belief system) that challenges points that are not within it, that is what you are doing when you challenge any positions in the ROS blogs or anywhere else. That is how we alter and enlarge our worldviews.

    Potter: You are putting on me your position. The ART is there. I can engage/experience it, fully or partially, or not. ART exists, the expression that is ART exists outside of me. Within the ART “category� there is quite a variety of potential experience. Everything that is ART is not necessarily recognized by consensus ( yet). I asked for your definition of ART. The Object/Action/Event is there – you make it ART – consensus notwithstanding. Your experience is the decider. ART exists because you have parameters that define ART. The expression (work) exists outside of you but the ART is inside. On one hand you say ART is not necessarily recognized by consensus and the other that consensus makes it ART.

    You say Miller’s work doesn’t move you, and it’s possibly not ART – I, on the other hand, was moved enough to purchase several of her works (they aren’t inexpensive) which generally elicit positive comments (most commonly regarding the intense visceral reaction they experience) when viewed by friends. My son said he was creeped out by one of her clay faces and doesn’t like her creations.

    Potter: things of natural beauty are different from things created by human consciousness….Someone has to create from their senses/impulses/cognition what goes into your sense organs/ cognition/responses. This comes through a universal language that transcends time and physical boundaries. Art is in that realm. It draws on that universal power that connects us. But it comes through a human consciousness to another. By the way you have switched from advocating “co-creation� to “individual creation� which does not even need an artist on the other end. This is truly/totally “conceptual� (and a dead end in the art conversation imo). Beauty is in the eye of the beholder (you) – you decide what goes into your senses by your focus. Someone may have created the scene but you pick and choose. What is this universal language and power that connects us and operates in other dimensions? The realm is in your mind. It comes through a human consciousness to another alright but it flows from your consciousness to the other not the other way around.

    If you reread my thesis regarding “individual creation� vs. “co-creation�, you’ll see I was stating that in terms of Nature’s art, you are the individual creator the only artist in that scenario is you (unless you anthropomorphize Nature or subscribe to God the artist.)

  • jazzman

    Anent: http://www.radioopensource.org/is-god-in-our-genes/#comment-10411#comment-10411

    Jazzman to Potter: We are only bound by our beliefs and then only bound if we believe we are. (WG alert) WG = Word game

    Jazzman to Potter: I define instinct as an innate drive that exists in non-human entities and implies lack of free will. We have free will and can make conscious choices to go for or against reactive or emotional (often miscalled instinctive) behavior. Potter replies:Isn’t “free will� specific to human consciousness …Art or ART is special. There is another component, let’s say “spiritual�. Yes free will takes the place of instinct in humans. The other component IS spiritual – your spirit creates it.

    Potter: If people have free will, then some animals may (we are on a continuum with animals from the beginnings of life.) I doubt that animals are able to override their instinct by conscious choice. As to the continuum you know where I stand on that.

    Potter: Some people dress artfully/or artistically. Jazzman:. According to themselves and those who agree. Potter: But that is not what I think you mean. I think you mean that our whole being is art, our perceptions are art. Jazzman:. No – I mean one’s physical body as grown by one is ART – one’s shape, moles, bunions, creases, pocks, personality etc. not to mention tattoos and piercings if applicable. Potter: That stretches the definition to the point where it has no specific meaning. . Jazzman:. Work –Well Done Potter: Expression alone is not art. Reaction/response alone is not art. George Ballanchine’s ballets and Suzanne Farrell’s performances are ART though, no question about it. If expression is well expressed and I react to it and respond in a manner that is ART to me then it’s ART. Balanchine’s and Farrell’s work constitutes are for you no question, others may disagree, and that is the point. YOU create what you deem ART.

    Potter: It’s not a matter of opinion. It’s ART or it is not whether others agree or disagree. If I don’t like a Jackson Pollack painting, it’s still ART. Jazzman Au contraire. There’s no Platonic ideal model for ART.

    This is a misinterpretation of Plato and/or what I said. From your wikipedia link: Begin Quote

    Platonic idealism is the theory that the substantive reality around us is only a reflection of a higher truth. That truth, Plato argues, is the abstraction. He believed that ideas were more real than things. He developed a vision of two worlds: a world of unchanging ideas and a world of changing physical objects. A particular tree, with a branch or two missing, possibly alive, possibly dead, and initials of two lovers carved into its bark, is distinct from the form of Tree-ness. A Tree is the ideal that each of us holds that allows us to identify the imperfect reflections of trees all around us.

    End Quote

    In other words there is no higher truth or ideal that is ART. No ideal that is the ABSOLUTE standard for art to compare lesser art forms to its ART-ness

    Potter: ART is real, not ideal. Your argument is about it’s designation as such without your approval. That is not a Platonic argument near as I can tell. I am not saying that ART exists independent of particulars. Particulars are in fact essential to art/ART. ART is real in your mind and other’s minds only. I’m saying it’s not a Platonic argument. You seem to believe ART exists as a concept independent of our minds eye which would make it a Platonic form. I’m not saying ART exists independent of particulars either. I’m saying you decide what constitutes those particulars. This is what I mean when I say you don’t want to take responsibility for your creations, co or individual.

  • jazzman

    Nikos: I will jot a squib to your to be continued if you don’t get the opportunity to finish your thoughts.

  • Nikos

    jazzman: hold off. I’ll get to it.

    I’m just kinda burnt out and demoralized right now.

    Gimme a couple of days.

  • Nikos

    Btw, jazzman: I’m not demoralized about anything you’ve written. On the contrary, you’re one of the reasons this site is worth reading (notwithstanding your wrongness on insistently conflating belief with scientific subscriptions!).

    No, I’m bummed out in part by the Time and Space Vigilantes who are trying to impose their limitations on the rest of us (see the Alley and Nir Rosen for details).

    And, more dispiriting than that—by far—is the Spiked Helmet-Worshiping conformity of Americans. (See: http://www.radioopensource.org/presidential-signing-statements/#comment-10809 & http://www.radioopensource.org/presidential-signing-statements/#comment-10810 .)

    It’s not just that Americans are woefully ignorant about the pitiful deficiencies of our government-as-constituted and the comparative virtues of responsive parliamentary democracies abroad – it’s that we’re so friggin’ content in our woeful ignorance.

    It’s very, very dispiriting.

    Anyway, I’ve a response to you in my head (and partly written) but I need more time to listen to the Lisa Randall show again to find a quote I want to include in my response. I expect to do so overnight or over the weekend.

    Thanks for your patience.

  • Potter

    Jazzman— thanks for all the thought you have put into responding as always. I need to read it all and think. I will be away for awhile, hopefully not too long. I keep this thread bookmarked.

  • birdbrain

    Pssst!

    Jazzman!

    I’m posting on behalf of an old birdbrain penpal of yours!

    He says he’s sorry he couldn’t finish up your conversation with him before he had to go. But he hopes to continue corresponding with you through email. Ask Allison, he says, to facilitate an email exchange.

    He says he’s sorry he was crippled for weeks by what seems to be an annual springtime “faux Alzheimer’s� that made his thinking fuzzy and his emotions frustrated and cranky.

    He says: “You’re right about this:

    ‘The problem with the incredible pervasiveness of metaphors in our worldview and in correspondence is that they are so common that we forget they are metaphors and operate as if they are the concepts they analogize…’

    …because that’s exactly the problem with using the religious notion of ‘belief’ as a metaphor for subscription to scientific thought.�

    He says, “It’s like using the phrase ‘War on Poverty’ for an national social program. It sounds strong and intuitively proper, but it’s only a metaphor, not the reality.�

    And he wants to talk it over with you.

    Email Allison at her web-site and ask her to forward the email to him.

    Thanks.

    He misses you, he says.

  • jazzman

    Birdbrain: If you are still monitoring this thread, I e-mailed Allison over a week ago and can only assume that she is too swamped to read or forward her e-mail. If you have a direct connection, remind her to please look for and forward the mail from me to you. Hoping to hear from my erstwhile penpal soon. Jazzman

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  • dan

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