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WITHOUT RELIGION, ANYTHING GOES?
Posted: 05 June 2008 02:59 PM   [ Ignore ]
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WITHOUT RELIGION, ANYTHING GOES?


Many religious people just love quoting a character from Dostoevsky’s “Brothers Karamazov” who says that “If God does not exist, everything is permissible”.
This statement seems irrefutable. Without God and therefore religion, what else could legitimate our laws? How would we be able to tell appart wrong from right, good from evil? A godless world seems to be condemned to chaos, anarchy, moral relativism and nihilism. It just seems so wrong! Isn’t it absurd?

The first problem with this statement is that it is fallacious. These people think that “chaos, anarchy, moral relativism and nihilism” are wrong exactly because they believe that all these things are against God’s laws. But if there were no God, how could these things be against his laws? The conclusion is also a premise of the argument. It begs the question!

The second problem is that this statement does not seem to correspond to reality. When it comes to the belief that chaos and anarchy would be the fate of a godless world, it seems very unlikely.
Rules are a human need. We can find them even in the most unlikely places. In prison, for instancy, criminal convicts have rules of their own. As a matter of fact, these rules are often very rigorous, and the punishment for those who violate them is gererally severe. The human need for rules may be explained on evolutionary grounds (by Games Theory, for example), and there is nothing supernatural about it. Even what we call “Natural Law” is, well, “natural”!
Besides, saying that non-religious people are necessarily “bad” is as absurd as saying that religious people are necessarily “good” (what about Osama bin Laden and Torquemada, for example?).

A secular world would not be lawless and barbaric. As a matter of fact, It would probably be better. Religion, as well as ideology, is frequently unsed to justify anything. When it is “for a higher cause”, anything goes! The Crusades, “holy” wars, Islamic terrorism, the Holocaust (before being “justified” on racial grounds, anti-semitism was nurtured for centuries by christians) and the Inquisition are only the most notable examples.

[ Edited: 14 August 2008 06:28 AM by acandrad ]
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Posted: 05 June 2008 03:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I pretty much agree. However, there is no God around to punish you making a post in all caps that is a complete article from your new blog. Seems kind-of spamish. You may be smote by an admin.

Regardless, good article.

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Posted: 05 June 2008 06:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I can’t agree that a secular world would probably be better. you will still have the same bunch of monkeys bashing each other on the head.

I do agree with the new agers that to get past the chimp and on to the bonobo we need a sea change in our global attitude…and age of Aquarius if you will…that seems slow going either with or without a heavenly monarch.

However to the oft quoted defense of god, I would say if community does not exist everything is permissible (look at the complex social rules in animalia, and the rogue or disperser once ostracized) To me God and religion is just a lattice set up by a community to build community, which is where the true rules of civility towards peers and the world in general (don’t urinate in the food store etc.,) is made.

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Posted: 20 June 2008 10:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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cgallaga - 05 June 2008 06:05 PM

To me God and religion is just a lattice set up by a community to build community, which is where the true rules of civility towards peers and the world in general (don’t urinate in the food store etc.,) is made.

But aren’t most of the problems attributed to gods and religions due to the fact they aren’t just lattices “set up by a community to build community….” When people start thundering commandments from their “one, true God” and try to force other people into subservience and obedience to those commandments, the net effect is usually more destructive than constructive.

Now any dogma can be ramped up into attacks on those who don’t accept it. It’s just that religions seem (to me at least)  to lend themselves more readily to those kinds of activities.

I agree, though, it’s community that generates the true rules of civility, the ethical and moral principles that guide us. Unfortunately, once a community is in the grip of a strong dogma, be it religious or otherwise, it can do considerable damage to other communities and to itself as well.

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Posted: 20 June 2008 12:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Any individual organism has the freedom to do anything within its power, but it is also at the mercy of more powerful organisms and outside events.  By joining with other organisms, one can gain the benefits of mutual protection and more support.  However, one must give up some of one’s freedoms, for example, to harm or steal from other members of the community.

In societies there are often parasites and predators, and some who use their greater power to the detriment of weaker members of the community.  The parasites and predators usually get punished eventually.  If there is too much disparity between the most and least powerful, and those at the bottom see that they are getting not enough benefits and too much punishment to warrant their efforts, they bring down the society.  Note that slaves would be considered resources and not members of the society.

When the members are uneducated and interested only in their own welfare, there must be a way of enforcing the rules of the society.  Introducing the concept of a god serves that purpose and also gives those who claim to speak for that god additional power.  This god is defined as knowing all, having great power, controlling events beyond the capabilities of the members, setting the rules, and punishing for transgressions. 

As the members become more educated, learn to recognize long-term and indirect benefits, and are taught empathy as children, the concept of a god obstructs further growth and freedom of action that doesn’t harm others. 

It would seem that rather than being the source of morality, the idea of a god only enforces acceptable behavior from basically immoral, ignorant people.  Educated, empathetic, aware members of a society don’t need a god to be moral.

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Posted: 20 June 2008 08:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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cgallaga - 05 June 2008 06:05 PM

I can’t agree that a secular world would probably be better. you will still have the same bunch of monkeys bashing each other on the head.

I can’t imagine any sort of perfect world that would be entirely free of problems.  But it would sure be quite an improvement if we could get rid of our religious ones.

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Posted: 24 June 2008 06:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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acandrad - 05 June 2008 02:59 PM

WITHOUT RELIGION, ANYTHING GOES?

by Alexandre C. de Andrade

Many religious people just love quoting a character from Dostoevsky’s “Brothers Karamazov” who says that “If God does not exist, everything is permissible”.
This statement seems irrefutable. Without God and therefore religion, what else could legitimate our laws? How would we be able to tell appart wrong from right, good from evil? A godless world seems to be condemned to chaos, anarchy, moral relativism and nihilism. It just seems so wrong! Isn’t it absurd?

The first problem with this statement is that it is fallacious. These people think that “chaos, anarchy, moral relativism and nihilism” are wrong exactly because they believe that all these things are against God’s laws. But if there were no God, how could these things be against his laws? The conclusion is also a premise of the argument. It begs the question!

The second problem is that this statement does not seem to correspond to reality. When it comes to the belief that chaos and anarchy would be the fate of a godless world, it seems very unlikely.
Rules are a human need. We can find them even in the most unlikely places. In prison, for instancy, criminal convicts have rules of their own. As a matter of fact, these rules are often very rigorous, and the punishment for those who violate them is gererally severe. The human need for rules may be explained on evolutionary grounds (by Games Theory, for example), and there is nothing supernatural about it. Even what we call “Natural Law” is, well, “natural”!
Besides, saying that non-religious people are necessarily “bad” is as absurd as saying that religious people are necessarily “good” (what about Osama bin Laden and Torquemada, for example?).

A secular world would not be lawless and barbaric. As a matter of fact, It would probably be better. Religion, as well as ideology, is frequently unsed to justify anything. When it is “for a higher cause”, anything goes! The Crusades, “holy” wars, Islamic terrorism, the Holocaust (before being “justified” on racial grounds, anti-semitism was nurtured for centuries by christians) and the Inquisition are only the most notable examples.

http://sciencereason.blogspot.com/2008/06/without-religion-anything-goes.html

We do ourselves and the world a great disservice by equating religion with belief in a god-being or the supernatural. There are several naturalistic religions without a god-being.

The original definition of religion comes from the Latin word religare, which means to look upon all things (re) and bind it all together (ligare, like a ligament) into a coherent whole. In this sense, religion is about causes higher than the self, but then so is this discussion forum. The idea behind the forum, and rational discourse generally, is that each of us puts aside the subjective to find common ground with others, and some measure of objective truth. No decent form of social organization is possible without a commitment to the higher cause of the common good, and no scientific progress is possible without a commitment to the higher cause of conforming one’s beliefs to reality.

I truly believe that if we are to make any progress as secularists, we must stop swallowing the definition of religion that has been given to it by those who have distorted and perverted it. A religion that adhered to a commitment to truth/reality and a respect for all persons would never have resulted in the historical horrors listed in the above post. It is precisely because the belief in God is so often just an excuse to believe what one wishes to believe (i.e., indulges the self in a distinctly anti-religious way) that it leads to such things.

People cannot be forced to define a word in a particular way, but as secularists we must at least acknowledge that there are different ways of looking at religion than those proferred by our worst antagonists. This must become Secularism 101 if we are to stop playing the other guy’s game. IOW, we MUST stop doing this if we are to succeed and grow.

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Posted: 25 June 2008 06:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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PLaClair,

I wholeheartedly agree with the spirit of what you are saying.  There is certainly something to the point that “religion” has a positive word meaning when taken by its etymological word origin.  Also, there are many qualities that are included within the common usage the term “religion” that I embrace.  For example, I consider myself to be philosophical and I look upon the world with a sense of wonder and awe.  I strive to be what I understand to be the best person that I can be and I wish to live an ethical life.  I have social and emotional needs.  In the sense that you refer to as “religion” I am most certainly religious.

However, there is something of a disconnect between this etymological meaning for “religion” and the common usage of the term today.  By the original definition for “religion,” physics, biology, chemistry and psychology are also religion.  The term is most generally used to refer to one of the various competing “world religions” or various smaller sects.  In other words, it is usually used to mean that one is christian, islamic, jewish, buddhist, hindu, etc.  So why isn’t apple picking regarded as religion?  It very well may have deep existential significance to someone.

One can try to insist upon the meaning that you propose but that seems, to me, a recipe for misunderstanding.  You may have a historical basis for claiming the word, but that just isn’t the way that most people use it.  And besides, what’s wrong with saying that we are “not religious” anyway?  Is it really being combative to say that all of that “religious” stuff is not for us?  Or is it that persons who have a problem with that point of view are the one’s who are being combative?

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Posted: 25 June 2008 07:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I think the basic point of that original quote by Dostoevsky anticipates basic materialism—if everything can be explained in terms of matter and energy, then there is no absolute right and wrong.  Everything is permissible.  Not everything is preferable or pragmatic, but certainly permissible because there is nobody to forbid.

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Posted: 25 June 2008 07:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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fmiddel - 25 June 2008 07:19 PM

I think the basic point of that original quote by Dostoevsky anticipates basic materialism—if everything can be explained in terms of matter and energy, then there is no absolute right and wrong.  Everything is permissible.  Not everything is preferable or pragmatic, but certainly permissible because there is nobody to forbid.

To be a materialist one only need believe that all that is is explained or constituted by the laws of matter. But that has no implication one way or the other about how we are to interpret ought claims.

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Posted: 26 June 2008 02:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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dougsmith - 25 June 2008 07:28 PM

To be a materialist one only need believe that all that is is explained or constituted by the laws of matter. But that has no implication one way or the other about how we are to interpret ought claims.

Yes and no. Broadly I agree except that surely the capacity to interpret ought claims must also be “explained or constituted by the laws of matter” otherwise are you not being inconsistent?

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Posted: 26 June 2008 02:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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fmiddel - 25 June 2008 07:19 PM

I think the basic point of that original quote by Dostoevsky anticipates basic materialism—if everything can be explained in terms of matter and energy, then there is no absolute right and wrong.  Everything is permissible.  Not everything is preferable or pragmatic, but certainly permissible because there is nobody to forbid.

Yes this is the basic point. The problem is we now know that absolutes are a fiction, regardless of the fictional status of god. Everything is by default permissible but there are ‘bodies to forbid’, just not god who is, indeed, nobody.

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Posted: 26 June 2008 03:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Occam - 20 June 2008 12:01 PM


When the members are uneducated and interested only in their own welfare, there must be a way of enforcing the rules of the society.  Introducing the concept of a god serves that purpose and also gives those who claim to speak for that god additional power.  This god is defined as knowing all, having great power, controlling events beyond the capabilities of the members, setting the rules, and punishing for transgressions. 

This was an interesting point.  Kind of like the “because I said so” rule of parenting…

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Posted: 26 June 2008 03:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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PLaClair - 24 June 2008 06:00 AM

We do ourselves and the world a great disservice by equating religion with belief in a god-being or the supernatural. There are several naturalistic religions without a god-being.

Yes there are, but most religions without a god-being do have supernatural elements, such as sangsaric religions like buddhism. 

PLaClair - 24 June 2008 06:00 AM

The original definition of religion comes from the Latin word religare, which means to look upon all things (re) and bind it all together (ligare, like a ligament) into a coherent whole. In this sense, religion is about causes higher than the self, but then so is this discussion forum. The idea behind the forum, and rational discourse generally, is that each of us puts aside the subjective to find common ground with others, and some measure of objective truth. No decent form of social organization is possible without a commitment to the higher cause of the common good, and no scientific progress is possible without a commitment to the higher cause of conforming one’s beliefs to reality.

Yes but “higher cause” is insufficient to qualify as religion, otherwise it loses all usefulness as a term of differentiation and description.

PLaClair - 24 June 2008 06:00 AM

I truly believe that if we are to make any progress as secularists, we must stop swallowing the definition of religion that has been given to it by those who have distorted and perverted it. A religion that adhered to a commitment to truth/reality and a respect for all persons would never have resulted in the historical horrors listed in the above post. It is precisely because the belief in God is so often just an excuse to believe what one wishes to believe (i.e., indulges the self in a distinctly anti-religious way) that it leads to such things.

Yes but such a religion has not usefully occurred in any form of popularity that matters. And again given its confusion you have noted, why bother to call such a thing religion? The distortion and perversions seem to be agreed by most religionists in Europe and the USA so not sure if it is right to characterize them as distortions and perversions.  Now what do you mean by secularist? I take this to mean wanting a state neutral to unsubstantiable beliefs such as, but not only, religion.

PLaClair - 24 June 2008 06:00 AM

People cannot be forced to define a word in a particular way, but as secularists we must at least acknowledge that there are different ways of looking at religion than those proferred by our worst antagonists. This must become Secularism 101 if we are to stop playing the other guy’s game. IOW, we MUST stop doing this if we are to succeed and grow.

Well I limit religion to having and acting upon supernatural beliefs, what is wrong with that? Or should I just call that superstition of which religion is only one type, albeit a large one? What must we stop doing in order to succeed? Now playing the religion definition game is what some religionists do - calling science a religion etc. - why pander to such approaches?

Anyway I am not bothered by religion or god-belief per se, only beliefs that can bring about harm to others and such beliefs do not only come from religion but non-religious sources (Marxism and Fascism for example).

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Posted: 27 June 2008 12:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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dougsmith - 25 June 2008 07:28 PM
fmiddel - 25 June 2008 07:19 PM

I think the basic point of that original quote by Dostoevsky anticipates basic materialism—if everything can be explained in terms of matter and energy, then there is no absolute right and wrong.  Everything is permissible.  Not everything is preferable or pragmatic, but certainly permissible because there is nobody to forbid.

To be a materialist one only need believe that all that is is explained or constituted by the laws of matter. But that has no implication one way or the other about how we are to interpret ought claims.

I’m not sure materialism can lead to any “ought” claims.

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Posted: 27 June 2008 12:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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faithlessgod - 26 June 2008 02:41 AM

Yes this is the basic point. The problem is we now know that absolutes are a fiction, regardless of the fictional status of god.

We do?  Is that an absolutely true statement?

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