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Guy P. Harrison - 50 Reasons People Give For Believing In A God
Posted: 17 August 2008 09:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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jholt - 17 August 2008 08:17 AM

... But, Kristof does go beyond what he intends I believe by confusing the term ‘faith’ and what the evidence he presents may tell us.

A propensity to faith in some form appears to be embedded within us as a profound part of human existence, as inextricable and perhaps inexplicable as the way we love and laugh.

I’m not sure we can run to the word ‘faith’. But, as a more appropriate substitute (which I think is being said, but clumsily) would be to say some type of feeling of ‘spirituality’ and how that is interpreted by individuals, groups and society.

My own view is that humans are wired to pick one person as a leader, even in a group of two. There’s always a sergeant, a captain, a foreman, a spokesperson - we have an incredible number of words for this role. Religion is just us projecting this from the visible and imperfect to the invisible and perfect - but non existent. Even popes, kings, mikados and emperors are not perfect - the invisible man in the sky may be believed to be (although the evidence says he is not).

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Posted: 17 August 2008 11:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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I’m actually a fan of EP and am greatly intruigued by the new field of behavioral genetics. My problem with a book like The God Gene (which I have not read) is that I do not think humans are innately religious.
People are innately sexual, for example. At puberty every healthy human will start to assert some sort of sexuality regardless of what they know or don’t know, regardless of what they are exposed to or are not.
People who are born into a secular society/family rarely (though assuredly sometimes) start becoming religious. They usually stay nontheistic and left alone will not understand another person’s religious “need” to believe.

I think there are reasons why most societies are or were religious ones and that those reasons are even rooted in biology but the root is not an A-to-B need for God or magic. It is more like optical illusions. To ask if there is a gene for optical illusions would be absurd. Religion could be a by-product of naturally selected machinery that is actually useful even if the by-product is not.

The fact that over time and social progress societies are becoming less and less religious supports this view. Cognitive illusions like optical ones, do not fool us forever.

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Posted: 17 August 2008 11:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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Well said, sate. The only quibble I have is that, sadly, I think cognitive illusions likely will fool us (collectively, as a species) forever. They are, presumably, based in our biology as much as optical illusions, and while there is unlikely to be “a gene” for them, there is likely to be a fundamental structural or functional feature of our brains that predisposes us to them, and that makes it hard to envision ever entirely overcoming them, as does any study of history.

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Posted: 17 August 2008 04:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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.

[ Edited: 19 August 2008 04:55 PM by jholt ]
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Posted: 18 August 2008 12:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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mckenzievmd - 17 August 2008 11:28 AM

Well said, sate. The only quibble I have is that, sadly, I think cognitive illusions likely will fool us (collectively, as a species) forever. They are, presumably, based in our biology as much as optical illusions, and while there is unlikely to be “a gene” for them, there is likely to be a fundamental structural or functional feature of our brains that predisposes us to them, and that makes it hard to envision ever entirely overcoming them, as does any study of history.

Thank you Mckenziemd. I look at history and see precisely the opposite. I think the demise of wide-scale religiosity is certain. Well, certain presuming trends of the last few thousand years continue (trends toward literacy, economic growth, political equality).
Our biology might predispose us to religiosity but only under certain conditions. Consider two Christians meet. One is from 1563 and knows that blasphemy is a capital offense, that demons inhabit people and witches must sometimes be burned. The other from today who could not name 3 different books from their bible if their life depended upon it. Both typical of their society and time. Numbers of adherents to faith are measured but what is meant by “adherent” almost never is.

Also I propose a challenge: name me any society on Earth with high literacy/education, robust economy, and relative sociopolitical equality in which religion is a dominating force. (btw: no points for saying America. By the standards of the truly “religious” societies, our religion is laughable and impotent)

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Posted: 18 August 2008 01:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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sate,

I agree that religion exerts considerably less direct control over political institutions in the developed world than it once did here and still does elsewhere, but I’m still not as optimistic about the decline in religiosity as you are. I think people have learned to accept the findings of science in practical, everyday matters and yet completely suspend reason and skepticism when it comes to the myths they’ve learned as children. Religion may occupy a smaller role in the economy and government and in how people spend their daily lives today as compared with the Middle Ages, but it still has deep meaning for many people, and defines their sense of purpose and identity. It still influences policy very directly (c.f. the “culture war” issues). And even apart from religion, the same general mistakes of thought that support religious belief support a vibrant and virulent acceptance of unscientific believes in medicine (the domain I struggle most directly against it) and other areas of life. And let’s not forget that more deirect religious control of science, political life, and daily life is still widespread in much of the world outside the developed West.

Have you had a chance to read Thomas Kida’s Don’t Believe Everything You Think or some of the other recent books on how our brains fool us? I think the evidence is strong that for all the real progress in knowledge and reason, we are still very irrational creatures by nature, and the most “progressive” of us (in the sense of leaving superstition and cognitive illusions behind) are still more in the grip of faulty, irrational ways of thinking than we care to admit. Of course, I don’t think the situation is hopeless, since progress does occur. But I think we have to be careful not to underestimate the pervasiveness of the behavioral mechanisms that lead to relgiion and other forms of illusion, and I am not sanguine that these will ever go away. Hopefully, they can be marginalized at least.

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Posted: 18 August 2008 02:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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mckenzievmd - 18 August 2008 01:26 PM

sate,

I agree that religion exerts considerably less direct control over political institutions in the developed world than it once did here and still does elsewhere, but I’m still not as optimistic about the decline in religiosity as you are. I think people have learned to accept the findings of science in practical, everyday matters and yet completely suspend reason and skepticism when it comes to the myths they’ve learned as children. Religion may occupy a smaller role in the economy and government and in how people spend their daily lives today as compared with the Middle Ages, but it still has deep meaning for many people, and defines their sense of purpose and identity. It still influences policy very directly (c.f. the “culture war” issues). And even apart from religion, the same general mistakes of thought that support religious belief support a vibrant and virulent acceptance of unscientific believes in medicine (the domain I struggle most directly against it) and other areas of life. And let’s not forget that more deirect religious control of science, political life, and daily life is still widespread in much of the world outside the developed West.

Have you had a chance to read Thomas Kida’s Don’t Believe Everything You Think or some of the other recent books on how our brains fool us? I think the evidence is strong that for all the real progress in knowledge and reason, we are still very irrational creatures by nature, and the most “progressive” of us (in the sense of leaving superstition and cognitive illusions behind) are still more in the grip of faulty, irrational ways of thinking than we care to admit. Of course, I don’t think the situation is hopeless, since progress does occur. But I think we have to be careful not to underestimate the pervasiveness of the behavioral mechanisms that lead to relgiion and other forms of illusion, and I am not sanguine that these will ever go away. Hopefully, they can be marginalized at least.

Hey Mckenzie. I will submit to readily to built-in frailties of the human pysche.. capacity for self-deception and the astoundingly awful proliferation of psuedo science but then the topic on the table is religion. I recall Penn Gilette saying that progress is like a graph of the stock market. Any one segment.. any one day it goes up or down seemingly at random.. but stand back and look at 100 years and there is no mistaking the direction (even including the great depression). Stand back and look at all recorded human history on one graph and there is no mistaking the direction religion is heading. It would require magical intervention indeed to reverse all the factors that have driven it that direction for thousands of years. Progress hasn’t simply been made, progress has been stark and in the big picture, unstoppable. The fact that it has not been instant and reached every corner of the globe is not an argument to the contrary. In fact I would argue the fact that atheism is tied so closely to economic and political growth, that religion dominates poor/autocratic nations proves the point rather well. The number of autocratic nations has fallen over time and the trend is unlikely to cease.

The only evidence that would convince me otherwise would be widescale reversals such as a Nation-state reverting to chiefdom, chiefdom reverting to feudal system or tribal groups etc.., This sort of thing of course is sometimes observed, but these occurences are like an occasional Black Monday on the market. A drop in the proverbial bucket of nations and time.

Religion, superstition and other awful ideas will never be 100% gone but certainly religion will one day enjoy the same population ratio that the Flat-Earth society now enjoys (which by the way, also once dominated thought).

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Posted: 10 September 2008 10:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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As a believer, i found this book to be best on the questions regarding God or Gods because a lot of the reasons that people gave were some the responses that i would give. It’s different than books by Hitchens, Dawkins, or Harris by looking first through the eyes of a believer. Some people who have faith will never be convinced that there might not be a god. But i think this book does the best job in looking at faith and might give believers some doubt or skepticism. Most believers will probably not pick up this book which is a shame. Questioning your beliefs will do two things, either strengthen your faith, or change it completely. I would recommend this book to everyone, but most importantly people of all faiths.

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