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The only contribution that science can make to the ideas of religion
Posted: 27 August 2008 07:43 PM   [ Ignore ]
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the only contribution that science can make to the ideas of religion is atheism.

Interesting letter to Nature by Matthew Cobb and Jerry Coyne quoted in the
Pharyngula blog

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Posted: 27 August 2008 08:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Well put. Do you think this is exactly what the fundamentalist and evangelicals are most afraid of?

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Posted: 27 August 2008 08:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Why do people insist that religion must be about belief in a creator-god? This is demonstrably false, and yet many of our colleagues continue to paint themselves and our movements into that box.

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Posted: 27 August 2008 08:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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PLaClair - 27 August 2008 08:37 PM

Why do people insist that religion must be about belief in a creator-god? This is demonstrably false, and yet many of our colleagues continue to paint themselves and our movements into that box.

Please educate me(no sarcasm intended). Isn’t that what religion is all about? As well as their primitive version of ‘the beginning’, and cultural mores and rules surrounding their belief in a superior being? I would think that there would be more difficulty reconciling the bible or other ‘holy’ books stories with scientific proof, if the science were better taught in schools. (I think) what happens is that the two versions create conflict, and feeling they have to reject one, find it easier to reject science and keep the familiar comfortable version of their religious beliefs.

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Posted: 28 August 2008 04:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Well, there are religions without any creator God, for example certain forms of Buddhism or animism, so religion can’t only be about God. And religion is “about” a lot more than fineries of creed, anyhow, even though we should point out the creedal errors. Religions also have psychological and social meaning; they give people companionship and solace, etc. We may be able to peel off some of the more beneficial elements of religion and discard the false ones; at least some think so.

That said, it may be that this quote is about the creeds of monotheistic religions in particular, the “ideas” of these religions rather than their practice.

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Posted: 28 August 2008 05:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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asanta - 27 August 2008 08:57 PM
PLaClair - 27 August 2008 08:37 PM

Why do people insist that religion must be about belief in a creator-god? This is demonstrably false, and yet many of our colleagues continue to paint themselves and our movements into that box.

Please educate me(no sarcasm intended). Isn’t that what religion is all about? As well as their primitive version of ‘the beginning’, and cultural mores and rules surrounding their belief in a superior being? I would think that there would be more difficulty reconciling the bible or other ‘holy’ books stories with scientific proof, if the science were better taught in schools. (I think) what happens is that the two versions create conflict, and feeling they have to reject one, find it easier to reject science and keep the familiar comfortable version of their religious beliefs.

As Doug said, Buddhism is a religion without a creator-god. Ethical culture is a religion, as are many, if not all, branches of Humanism. So the argument “that religion must be about belief in a creator-god” is demonstrably false. To me, that’s not an open question, but an established fact.

For me, religion is our attempt to look upon all things (re) and bring everything everything together into a coherent whole (ligare). That is the original meaning of the word, as expressed by the Latin word religare, which I believe is the original word. If you think about early religions, with beliefs in sun-gods and rain-gods and thunder-god, for example, what were people trying to do? They were trying to explain natural phenomena. Their answers were unscientific and primitive. Well, of course they were. Primitive peoples did not understand the world. Yet there was nothing wrong with their desire, their longing, their yearning to understand. That is what has made progress possible. Where many religions have gone wrong is in asserting answers without a sufficient basis in fact.

For me, science is a central and essential part of my religion. I am a deeply religious person. In fact, I live and breathe my religion every moment of my waking life. There is no separation between my life and my religion. My life (this is my goal, toward which I am striving with every ounce of energy I can muster) is to take in and understand as much as possible, make as much sense out of it as I can and contribute to the world (our lives together) as best I can. To me, that is the essence of religion. It nurtures and invites a sense of awe and wonder, and yet I can stay fully grounded in reason, naturalism and science.

As a suggestion, asanta, think about the elements of religious belief, not just the whole package or the end result. There is great dignity in the religious quest. Our challenge is to see that dignity and find ways to express our point of view in a way that makes others want to join us. You could think of it as proselytizing, but I’m more inclined to think of it as an invitation. It’s much easier to get people to join you when you can point out to them - or better still, show them - what you have in common. You can’t do that if you don’t see the common ground.

That common ground is undeniably present. I’m saying, let’s be mindful of it and work to invite others to our way of thinking by recognizing the dignity in their lives, even as we reject some of things they’re doing and some of the ways they’re thinking.

[ Edited: 28 August 2008 05:44 AM by PLaClair ]
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Posted: 28 August 2008 03:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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PLaClair - 28 August 2008 05:41 AM

As Doug said, Buddhism is a religion without a creator-god.

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

There always seems to be some discussion about whether Buddhism is a religion or a philisophy.

However it does carry some of the superstitious baggage of religion in the concept of “Rebirth”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebirth_(Buddhism)
I’m not an expert on this at all but I think this is what is colloquially called “re-incarnation”

From Wikipedia:
Rebirth in Buddhism is the doctrine that the consciousness of a person (as conventionally regarded), upon the death or dissolution of the aggregates (skandhas) which make up that person, becomes one of the contributing causes for the arising of a new group of skandhas which may again be conventionally considered a person or individual. The consciousness arising in the new person is neither identical to, nor different from, the old consciousness, but forms part of a causal continuum or stream with it. The basic cause for this persistent re-arising of personality is the abiding of consciousness in avijja (ignorance); when ignorance is uprooted, rebirth ceases.

The contribution of science is that it makes clear that this is baloney.

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Posted: 28 August 2008 03:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Right, Jackson, we’ve discussed this quite a bit before on the Forum. Buddhism doesn’t (in certain of its incarnations) believe in a creator God, but it does typically assert reincarnation and karma. The latter two are, of course, just as false as the notion of a creator God, at least so far as we can tell scientifically. All I was getting at was that, as PLaClair said, there’s more to religion than God.

... and there’s more to religion than creed. Buddhism isn’t really a creedal religion, which is to say one doesn’t have to assert allegiance to some set of creeds to be formally considered a Buddhist. (Although the Four Noble Truths come close).

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Posted: 28 August 2008 03:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Digesting and processing….... (obviously) a point of view I hadn’t considered. You’ve given me something to think about.

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Church; where sheep congregate to worship a zombie on a stick that turns into a cracker on Sundays…

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Posted: 28 August 2008 03:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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It seems that if religions were only about god, spirituality, soul, reincarnation, karma, the metaphysical and similar myths they would die pretty rapidly.  However, each of them offers some philosophy, some answers (make believe) to unknowns, guidance by authority, assurance against fears, and forgiveness.  These tend to keep them going. 

Possibly, a problem is the word atheism which seems to refer only to the lack of a god.  We may need a more general word that covers all of the above myths.  “Reality” based beliefs would fit, but no one would understand the differential meaning of it.

Occam

edited to correct a typo.

[ Edited: 28 August 2008 04:22 PM by Occam ]
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Posted: 28 August 2008 04:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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dougsmith - 28 August 2008 03:39 PM

Right, Jackson, we’ve discussed this quite a bit before on the Forum.

Sorry—my main point was that link to the letter to Nature anyway…

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Posted: 28 August 2008 04:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Jackson - 28 August 2008 04:11 PM
dougsmith - 28 August 2008 03:39 PM

Right, Jackson, we’ve discussed this quite a bit before on the Forum.

Sorry—my main point was that link to the letter to Nature anyway…

I’m glad you did. I learned something—-I’m always happy to learn something new! smile

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Posted: 28 August 2008 05:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Oh dear, the perennial question of “what is a religion” raises its ugly head again. Paul doesn’t like our tendancy to define things to death, but I have to say I find his definition a bit forced and artificial. Not to say that I don’t like the idea of a religion in his sense without the supernatrual, I just don’t think his re-inventing of the word is going to get us any farther than eupraxsophy did.

I think, Asant, that religion almost inevitably involves viewing the world in terms of both the seen and the unseen, and it includes a lot of concepts that we usually label “supernatural.” Not always an individual creator god, necessarily, but almost always something beyond the materialist, natrualist universe that science concerns itself with. All the other things Doug and Paul identified are, indeed, part of many religious traditions, but I don’t think it makes sense to call something a religion that doesn’t concern itself to some degree with the ineffable, the unseen, the mysterious, and the inaccessible to scientific inquiry. Hence the core, I think, of the conflict between religion and science. It’s really a conflict about epistemolgy more than about specific ideas. What is “real” is fundamentally detemrined differently from the religious point of view. This is why I have a hard time thinking of humanism as a religion, though I liek to think of it as a possible replacement for religion. grin

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Posted: 28 August 2008 06:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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asanta - 28 August 2008 03:40 PM

Digesting and processing….... (obviously) a point of view I hadn’t considered. You’ve given me something to think about.

Everybody wins!

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Posted: 28 August 2008 06:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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mckenzievmd - 28 August 2008 05:06 PM

Oh dear, the perennial question of “what is a religion” raises its ugly head again. Paul doesn’t like our tendancy to define things to death, but I have to say I find his definition a bit forced and artificial. Not to say that I don’t like the idea of a religion in his sense without the supernatrual, I just don’t think his re-inventing of the word is going to get us any farther than eupraxsophy did.

I think, Asant, that religion almost inevitably involves viewing the world in terms of both the seen and the unseen, and it includes a lot of concepts that we usually label “supernatural.” Not always an individual creator god, necessarily, but almost always something beyond the materialist, natrualist universe that science concerns itself with. All the other things Doug and Paul identified are, indeed, part of many religious traditions, but I don’t think it makes sense to call something a religion that doesn’t concern itself to some degree with the ineffable, the unseen, the mysterious, and the inaccessible to scientific inquiry. Hence the core, I think, of the conflict between religion and science. It’s really a conflict about epistemolgy more than about specific ideas. What is “real” is fundamentally detemrined differently from the religious point of view. This is why I have a hard time thinking of humanism as a religion, though I liek to think of it as a possible replacement for religion. grin

But Brennan, it’s the original definition.

More important, it succinctly describes the essence of every religion. I can’t think of one to which it does not apply.

Maybe it seems forced to you because you’ve allowed yourself to be conditioned into seeing it in only one way. Ironically, that “one way” is the way of the theists, not the secularists. For me, seeing religion as the sum total of the human quest and experience is not forced. It is as natural to me as breathing.

That said, if you want to think of it as a possible replacement for religion, that’s fine with me - but then what does that mean? What must we dispense with? A sense of awe and wonder? A sense of being part of something other than or more than the self? A sense of belonging? A sense of meaning and purpose (and I don’t mean predestined purpose)? A yearning to find answers to great questions? The quest to know what seems beyond our grasp, or reach to achieve what has never been? Which of these shall we dispense with and cast aside?

The only things I can think of that we must dispense with are supernaturalist claims and blind obedience to arbitrary authority. If you can think of something else, I’ll happily add it to the list and thank you for it. But I suggest that the elements in the preceding paragraphs are fully consistent with the secular worldview.

[ Edited: 28 August 2008 06:56 PM by PLaClair ]
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Posted: 28 August 2008 08:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Well, as far as yours being the “original” definition, that’s sophistry. What words mean is not identical to their etymolgy. “Lord” comes from the Old English “Hlaford” meaning “guardian of the loaf/bread.” So do we really mean “The Baker is my Shepherd, I shall not want?” grin

I think I’ve been quite clear in these discussions what we dispense with when we give up religion-the supernatural. That which can only be know through revelation or private mystical experience and not accessible by other means. We agree on that, we just disagree on whether “religion” in the sense the word is used and understood by the consensus of contemporary English-speaking populations intrinsically includes this and that dispensing with it leaves us with something other than religion. I’m happy enough to agree to disagree and move on. It’s not a substantive disagreement, since we both believe everything else that religion contains, and all that might be of real benefit to individuals and society apart from the consolation of individual immortality, is available without the supernatural. I just think calling what we’re talking about “religion” creates confusion.

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