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Spirituality: Friend or Foe? - Adam Frank and Tom Flynn
Posted: 22 March 2011 03:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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I’ve said “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual” a couple of times.  Both times I was trying to impress a girl.  No one in the real world uses “spiritual” other than in a supernatural sense.  Those who don’t mean something explicitly related to the “three great monotheisms” are making a lame self-righteous reference to their personal conception of stylish eastern religion.  Something like “Buddhism for barely-non-Christians.”  Spiritual in public discourse today inevitably means either theism or woo (something to do with Chi or The Law of Attraction).

Of course, when I say “no one,” I guess I’m being over-inclusive.  For some reason, Adam Frank and, apparently, Chris Mooney, are absolutely frantic to have “spiritual” mean what they want it to mean.  How many times did Mooney talk in this episode about how spiritual is evolving to a more naturalistic meaning?  To the point that Frank’s answer to Mooney’s 1st question, whether it’s not just semantics, was a completely impossible to understand mish-mash.  Someday “spiritual” may lose its supernatural connotation (also “sacred,” which in an impenetrable non-distinction is apparently Frank’s preferred word), but not until everyone who listened to this episode is long dead and buried.

By contrast, Tom Flynn very calmly and reasonably says something like, “Let’s just not say “spiritual”.”  Nothing aggressive or in-your-face.  Nothing judgmental.  Just a recognition that we have an entire language of perfectly good words out there and there’s no reason to call yourself spiritual if you’re an atheist, because if you do, 100% of the time it is understood as supernatural.  I guaran-damn-tee you that Adam Frank is no more moved by the beauty of a Hubble photograph than I am, or than millions of others are.  Why he insists on calling that feeling “spiritual” is beyond me.  And if he couldn’t explain it in a 20 minute interview with a very friendly Chris Mooney, I’d say he can’t understand it either.  My best bet is he’s trying to impress a girl.

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Posted: 22 March 2011 04:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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patrickdallas - 22 March 2011 03:50 PM

I’ve said “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual” a couple of times.  Both times I was trying to impress a girl.  No one in the real world uses “spiritual” other than in a supernatural sense.  Those who don’t mean something explicitly related to the “three great monotheisms” are making a lame self-righteous reference to their personal conception of stylish eastern religion.  Something like “Buddhism for barely-non-Christians.”  Spiritual in public discourse today inevitably means either theism or woo (something to do with Chi or The Law of Attraction).

Of course, when I say “no one,” I guess I’m being over-inclusive.  For some reason, Adam Frank and, apparently, Chris Mooney, are absolutely frantic to have “spiritual” mean what they want it to mean.  How many times did Mooney talk in this episode about how spiritual is evolving to a more naturalistic meaning?  To the point that Frank’s answer to Mooney’s 1st question, whether it’s not just semantics, was a completely impossible to understand mish-mash.  Someday “spiritual” may lose its supernatural connotation (also “sacred,” which in an impenetrable non-distinction is apparently Frank’s preferred word), but not until everyone who listened to this episode is long dead and buried.

By contrast, Tom Flynn very calmly and reasonably says something like, “Let’s just not say “spiritual”.”  Nothing aggressive or in-your-face.  Nothing judgmental.  Just a recognition that we have an entire language of perfectly good words out there and there’s no reason to call yourself spiritual if you’re an atheist, because if you do, 100% of the time it is understood as supernatural.  I guaran-damn-tee you that Adam Frank is no more moved by the beauty of a Hubble photograph than I am, or than millions of others are.  Why he insists on calling that feeling “spiritual” is beyond me.  And if he couldn’t explain it in a 20 minute interview with a very friendly Chris Mooney, I’d say he can’t understand it either.  My best bet is he’s trying to impress a girl.

QFT.

Very well put.

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Posted: 23 March 2011 05:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Gnostikosis - 22 March 2011 03:29 PM

I suppose it is like, “If it makes me feel good, it doesn’t matter whether the concept is based in reality.”

Sure, like art or sport or… reality television. We know all our emotions are illusions intended to replicate our DNA. That doesn’t make them worthless or subject to ridicule. It’s a human thing. Get over it already.

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Posted: 24 March 2011 03:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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Spiritual means one seriously reflects what it means for one to be in a universe in which one is only a tiny entity, and tries to find out what that means for ones thoughts, feelings and actions.

That is an activity that one can do when one is a christian, a moslem, a buddhist, or a naturalist. It’s all about fully opening to what one believes is given, be it god, karma or matter.

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Posted: 24 March 2011 09:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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ganzfeld - 23 March 2011 05:59 PM
Gnostikosis - 22 March 2011 03:29 PM

I suppose it is like, “If it makes me feel good, it doesn’t matter whether the concept is based in reality.”

Sure, like art or sport or… reality television. We know all our emotions are illusions intended to replicate our DNA. That doesn’t make them worthless or subject to ridicule. It’s a human thing. Get over it already.

There was no ridicule in my comments. I’m not for or against it. It was only an observation.

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Posted: 24 March 2011 09:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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GdB - 24 March 2011 03:20 AM

Spiritual means one seriously reflects what it means for one to be in a universe in which one is only a tiny entity, and tries to find out what that means for ones thoughts, feelings and actions.

That’s what it means to you and maybe some others…  grin

That is an activity that one can do when one is a christian, a moslem, a buddhist, or a naturalist. It’s all about fully opening to what one believes is given, be it god, karma or matter.

Do people have a choice in what to believe?  LOL

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Posted: 24 March 2011 07:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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Sorry, Gnostikosis. I didn’t mean to aim that at you.

I think your last question is also an excellent question. In the skeptical community we often hear people talking about what people “choose to believe”. But Free Will is as much of a fairy tale as gods and demons, in my opinion. In any case, there’s no evidence for it.

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Posted: 25 March 2011 03:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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ganzfeld - 24 March 2011 07:03 PM

Sorry, Gnostikosis. I didn’t mean to aim that at you.

I think your last question is also an excellent question. In the skeptical community we often hear people talking about what people “choose to believe”. But Free Will is as much of a fairy tale as gods and demons, in my opinion. In any case, there’s no evidence for it.

Gnos was just making fun of me… Here Gnos, a present: bombblow_e0.gif

Ganzfeld, then please show me the evidence in favor of it. But before you do, please read a bit of free will discussion in the philosophy group here… wink

Further I am waiting for those that think spiritual must have to do with belief in the supernatural. As nobody contradicts me, I assume… Ah well, let it be.

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Posted: 25 March 2011 04:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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Sorry for extreme concision here and vagueness.

But the political side of me agreed a lot with Mooney’s discussion with Frank.  Being in a state now where I cannot fathom being a believer, I still have that “born again” atheist tendency to want to convert, or wake up the minds of true believers.  This said, I can see wanting to change what people think when they here spiritual talk.  It is political…it is a decoy.  To me, it is like what Michael Dowd is doing with his “Thank God For Evolution”.

Are these secular political tactics maybe evolving on their own to help the conversion to this new way of thinking for those who need some similarity to their old way of thinking in order to swallow the pill?  Kinda like what is described in books like Suns of God (Acharya S) when one mythology story borrows from another so that the transition is easier?

On the other hand, I made my transition on my own.  It was like a light turned on one day and I just realized the pervasive bull shit.  It wasn’t too traumatic, but it was a very noticeable, huge change in my way of thinking.  The Four Horsemen and other author’s book’s helped the transition happen faster, but there seemed to be a “click” that sparked the urge to read them.

This said, I also agreed with the viewpoint expressed in the discussion between Mooney and Flynn.  Why should we have to use decoys?  Why do we have to be politicians?  We need to lead by example and work on changing our own language to be as consistent as possible.  We should not mislead.  It just makes the pill harder to swallow, but then self realizing that there is no pill to begin with is way more convincing than some revelation from someone else.

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Posted: 27 March 2011 05:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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I’d like to congratulate and thank Chris Mooney for a really excellent podcast. And the same to Tom Flynn, whose responses were among the most articulate and well-reasoned I’ve heard in a long time!

I’d like to add a point that was never really, certainly never sufficiently, addressed.  While I think everything Tom said was absolutely correct, the inevitable association of the word “spiritual” (and to only a somewhat lesser extent, “sacred”), with invisible friends and the like is only one subset of the overall problem with that term. The big problem with “spiritual” is that it serves as a shield and sugar coating for all kinds of wacky credulity.  And credulity is the root problem.  “Spirituality” is used to justify all manner of “comforting” nonsense that is at best placebo-like and at worst really dangerous.  See, for example, most of Brian Dunning’s work on Skeptoid.  Other illustrations that come to mind are found on Roger Nygard’s dvd, “The Meaning of Existence,” such as when Roger visits a new-age restaurant in California. 

Claims of “spirituality” are used to bolster the childish notion that anything that brings emotional ease need not be based in fact and evidence.  To question one’s “spirituality” in many quarters is considered the epitome of rudeness and insult, much to the benefit of snake-oil and snake-thinking peddlers around the globe.

And as an individual’s mode of thinking is something of a zero sum game - one cannot be both credulous and critically inclined about the same thing at the same time - supporting credulity, in this case by using credulity-supporting language, diminishes the use of, and the spread of, wise critical thinking.  This isn’t something in which Chris and Mr. Frank want to participate, is it?

Yes, a few scientists, who probably spend their lives in environments where there are few pathologically credulous people, use “spiritual” and other such freighted words in ways that actually do mean something and which actually do make sense.  Maybe they, and Chris and Adam Frank, should get away from the computer keyboard and out of the lab and take a car trip through middle America, or South America, or Africa, all places where “spirituality” is rampant, and spend some time talking to people who haven’t had social and educational opportunities and other good fortune equivalent to their own.

And yes, Einstein and Hawking even used the “r” word and the “g” word.  Hawking has come to rue his unfortunate metaphor, has he not? And does anyone really think Einstein would be using the same religion language were he alive today in this far less innocent age?

As Tom Flynn so eloquently stated, there are plenty of excellent and even more descriptive words available for use other than religiously freighted terms that act as subtext bullets in our feet.

To accommodate nonsense is to bolster nonsense by acquiescence.  That doesn’t mean, as Tom also mentioned, we should publicly howl “you morons!” at those whose minds and experience have led them to credulous ideas, as PZ Myers sometimes does to all our detriment.
Accommodation vs. confrontation is, IMHO, a misleading and unnecessary dichotomy.

clarencew4 - 25 March 2011 04:30 PM

...  We need to lead by example and work on changing our own language to be as consistent as possible.  We should not mislead.  ...

Those - leading by example and being careful not to mislead - are the keys!  We can do those with ACCURATE language.

A couple of last thoughts:

Mr. Frank made much of “tradition” in which, presumably, terms such as spirituality and sacred were used in useful and healthy ways.  Is “tradition,” without reference to current reality, ever an effective argument for anything?  Why do we sometimes stop following traditions, anyway?  There must be a reason…

Second, Mr. Frank (or was it Chris?) cited approvingly Karen Armstrong’s notion that myths which are no longer useful are discarded by society.  The truth or falsity of that statement has a great deal to do with how “useful” is defined.  For my part, I think Ms. Armstrong ought to accompany Chris and Mr. Frank on that car trip across the continents where regular people live.  Maybe she could share the driving.  Maybe Roger Nygard could make a “buddy trip” documentary out of the whole thing.  It would be great! cool smile

[ Edited: 27 March 2011 07:38 AM by Trail Rider ]
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Posted: 27 March 2011 06:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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Frank and Flynn… what a pair!  grin 

I’m torn between the two.  Language is important, the only point of talking is to be understood correctly.  I just don’t obsess over connotations, since they’re so ephemeral and change with the winds of politics, I don’t take them very seriously, instead I rely on the denotations primarily.  So I see “inspire”, and “spirit” quite secular denotations now-a-days, plenty of secular senses.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to face the bench with Scalia, Thomas, and Alito behind it, defending Secular Humanism as a philosophy not a religion, with a history full of spiritual language.  Flynn’s strategic points were very important. 

In the end I tailor my language for the audience, and lean away from religious/supernatural words. 

That Frank had some good ideas.  I wouldn’t call them needs, he didn’t say enough about the awe inspiring ideas, what ideas specifically?  Does he have some events in mind?

Excellent show Mooney.  smile

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Posted: 02 April 2011 05:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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I feel a bit stupid, but I honestly had no idea what the first guy was talking about (this is Adam Frank).

Admittedly, I was listening while walking and catching the train, but I just didn’t know what his point was, whether he had an actual argument or whether he was talking about lovely, fluffy things. Though I could certainly tell that he was evading some argument without having a very strong one in return.
“Spiritual… no sacred…”

It wasn’t until after Tom Flynn came on, I could understand anything being said.

Maybe this is my personality-type but the first guy really just sounded like he was running around trying to say the right thing, while being waffly and unreasonably flexible.

It felt like reading something in 800 words that could be said in 10 - frustrating and a waste of time.

And then Tom Flynn came on and spoke complete sense. I had to seriously think to myself whether this is my natural bias kicking in or whether the other guy really was speaking poorly.

I’ve decided it’s the latter wink

[ Edited: 02 April 2011 05:42 AM by FurryMoses ]
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Posted: 02 April 2011 09:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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FurryToes - 02 April 2011 05:29 AM

I feel a bit stupid, but I honestly had no idea what the first guy was talking about (this is Adam Frank).

I had the same reaction.  It happens to me rather a lot lately, especially when ‘debating’ theists and (some) philosophers or other mystics.  Either I just can’t relate to the very axioms of their viewpoints, or there is a subset of humanity that is not interested in making itself understood and enjoys being obscure.

I’ll stick with science.

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Posted: 11 April 2011 09:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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Spirituality is a word that can not be separated from the stuff you hear on Oprah.

I have no idea why it’s a subject of this podcast with endorsement from the host. It once again solidifys my belief that Chris Mooney has no business being the host of this show.

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Posted: 01 May 2011 01:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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ganzfeld - 19 March 2011 08:35 PM

  The fact of the matter is that “spirituality” or the “sacred” plays almost no role at all in science! It is neither the inspiration necessary for advance nor is it a great hindrance to progress. Over the centuries and still, many great scientists have been “spiritual” or whatever mumbo jumbo and many have had no such feelings. It simply makes little or no demonstrable difference.

If a scientific study had been done comparing one group of scientists who were motivated by a sense of awe and wonder and another group of scientists that had not experienced awe and wonder then we could have empirical evidence for whether “spirituality” or the “sacred” (as Frank defines them) played an important role among great scientists.  Since we don’t have studies such as this you are suggesting that we can’t make claims about the importance of “spirituality” in scientists.  Yet, without studies such as this you claim “it simply makes little or no demonstrable difference.”  I can come up with a long list of people who claim they were impressed by nature and the universe and that’s why they went into science.  I agree this is anecdotal, but the list is pretty long.  Maybe we just haven’t heard from the great astronomers who looked up at the stars when they were a kid and said with a sigh, “whatever.”  Many great scientists were religious, many were atheist. Belief in the supernatural did not make a difference.  They did share a sense of wonder.  I have a hard time believing that if someone was not impressed by nature and the universe that they would dedicate their lives to studying it.

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