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Hitchen’s is seriously wrong… why religion doesn’t really poison everything.
Posted: 26 May 2010 02:43 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Article:
http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100525/full/news.2010.260.html

Excerpt:

You also study religion from an evolutionary perspective. Why would religion be adaptive for humans?

The empirical evidence points to substantial group-level benefits for most enduring religions.

Benefits include defining the group, coordinating action to achieve shared goals and developing elaborate mechanisms to prevent cheating. The same evolutionary processes that cause individual organisms and social insect colonies to function as adaptive units also cause religious groups to function as adaptive units. Religious believers frequently compare their communities to a single body or a beehive. This is not just a poetic metaphor but turns out to be correct from an evolutionary perspective.

As we speak, we are establishing our first consulting relationship with a religious congregation in Binghamton to explore their religion and spirituality and to help them be more effective as an organization [by using evolutionary tools]. I think the benefits we provide will be so great that we will be sought after by other congregations.

Does your approach annoy atheists?

I piss off atheists more than any other category, and I am an atheist. One of the things that infuriates me about the newest crop of angry atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, is their denial of the beneficial aspects of religion. Their beef is not just that there is no evidence for God. They also insist that religion “poisons everything”, as Christopher Hitchens subtitled his book. They are ignoring the scientific theory and evidence for the “secular utility” of religion, as Émile Durkheim put it, even though they wrap themselves in the mantle of science and rationality. Someone needs to call them out on that, and that person is me.

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Posted: 26 May 2010 04:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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the community aspect of religion, as well as some of the “tricks” that occur within religious communities and contexts, are not harmful in themselves.  this is true.  human beings are both communal animals and “back door learners”, meaning that sometimes we have to gain knowledge via abstract concepts which might not be related to that which we are hoping to learn about; life, morality, and so on.  however, the superstitious nature of religion is plainly a poison.  humanity’s hope rests with higher thought, and superstition which comes with religious teachings is such a severe detriment to coherent thought that giving it a seat at our collective table is akin to offering that seat to a sociopath.

for a long time i have advocated taking what is good in religion and incorporating it into secular life.  however, the only beneficial practices which i’ve found in religion are silent meditation and community, and in rare cases the kinds of “back door lessons” which might prove beneficial here and there.  there are many groups known as “intentional communities” which are popping up all over the states and elsewhere these days.  they often focus on mindful living, and the community aspect is a given.  i fail to see how a religious community could trump an intentional community where these evolutionary benefits are concerned.

there are numerous ways outside of focusing on religion to reap benefits from a community.  take book groups and intellectual groups who gather to discuss any kind of media.  the people in these groups stand to gain a great deal from discussion in these groups.  if focusing on morality is a concern, there are philosophy clubs out there who take that kind of discussion seriously.

there are other kinds of circles for people dealing with specific problems, like addiction for instance.  there are “confrontation circles” for people trying to figure out this or that in life, where people confront one another with questions to test how deeply they’ve been considering what they are trying to figure out.

if what happens on the internet is any sign of what is to come, the future is in communities.  whoever can harness the power of the community for good stands to benefit all of humanity greatly.

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Posted: 26 May 2010 04:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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The atheist angle was only a minor part of the interview…

But it seems to get the most notice…
http://scienceblogs.com/neuronculture/2010/05/david_sloan_wilson_pis sing_off.php {had to break the link apart to pass the censor}

I think there are different varieties of “new atheists”, some of whom just want to focus on religions not being true,
and others who find them problematical.

Jerry Coyne is quoting Anthony Grayling on a NYT opinion piece by Dalai Lama today:
http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2010/05/26/grayling-on-the-dalai-lama/

Grayling notes that D.L. is claiming that all religions hold a common ‘truth’, while his point has long been that what
they have in common is ignorance and they contradict one another.

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Posted: 26 May 2010 04:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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in religions there are common themes, but indeed that is far from all religions sharing a common truth.

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Posted: 26 May 2010 04:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Bernie_Dehler - 26 May 2010 02:43 PM

Excerpt:
Does your approach annoy atheists?

I piss off atheists more than any other category, and I am an atheist. One of the things that infuriates me about the newest crop of angry atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, is their denial of the beneficial aspects of religion. Their beef is not just that there is no evidence for God. They also insist that religion “poisons everything”, as Christopher Hitchens subtitled his book. They are ignoring the scientific theory and evidence for the “secular utility” of religion, as Émile Durkheim put it, even though they wrap themselves in the mantle of science and rationality. Someone needs to call them out on that, and that person is me.

I don’t think that the two people that this writer references here, Dawkins and Hitchens, would say that they deny the beneficial aspects of religion.  I think that they would say that they have a better system, that the group delineations and cohesions produced by differing religions used to be extremely useful to societies but now are becoming obsolete with the severely destructive capabilities of modern warfare.

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Posted: 26 May 2010 10:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Can we perhaps talk about adaptive and maladaptive strategies?

For most of human existence food scarcity was an issue, therefore we developed a preference for fatty/sugary foods because their where incredible reservoirs of energy. However, during times of post-scarcity such a preference is a major issue. The % of the population that is obese in many developed nations is significant and growing.

Could we not say the same of religion. In times when are societies where smaller, and it was hard to establish determine trust - or you needed to establish group solidarity outside extended kinship networks - religion may have been useful. But on a planet with >6 billion people armed with nuclear weapons, these kind of tribalism can be harmful.

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Posted: 26 May 2010 10:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I’d also note that DLS and E.O. Wilson have been pushing the “group selection” model for some time. It is still controversial and subject to a great deal of debate.

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

Group selection was used as a popular explanation for adaptations, especially by V. C. Wynne-Edwards.[1][2] For several decades, however, critiques, particularly by George C. Williams,[3][4] John Maynard Smith[5] and C.M. Perrins (1964), cast serious doubt on group selection as a major mechanism of evolution, and though some scientists have pursued the idea over the last few decades, only recently have group selection models seen a minor resurgence[6][7] (albeit not as a fundamental mechanism but as a phenomenon emergent from standard selection [7]).

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Posted: 27 May 2010 12:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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`
The Friendly Atheist had a post about this today…....and it’s sparked quite a lively debate/discussion (about 60 posts).  Check it out here:

Evolution Author Goes After Angry Atheists


For anyone who has never checked out The Friendly Atheist blog…......you really should.  You’ll find some of the most interesting, respectful and enlightening discussion-spaces anywhere on the web.


`

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Posted: 27 May 2010 06:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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David Sloan Wilson:

Benefits include defining the group, coordinating action to achieve shared goals and developing elaborate mechanisms to prevent cheating. The same evolutionary processes that cause individual organisms and social insect colonies to function as adaptive units also cause religious groups to function as adaptive units. Religious believers frequently compare their communities to a single body or a beehive. This is not just a poetic metaphor but turns out to be correct from an evolutionary perspective.

As we speak, we are establishing our first consulting relationship with a religious congregation in Binghamton to explore their religion and spirituality and to help them be more effective as an organization [by using evolutionary tools]. I think the benefits we provide will be so great that we will be sought after by other congregations.

Religious believers may compare themselves to bees but they are, obviously, not bees. It really gets my goat when people make these comparisons. This whole thing is exactly what Wilson says it is not: a poetic metaphor. A beehive is one family, where a church is not. Whatever reasons people have to behave altruistically within a church cannot be for the same reason why the bees do it. I can’t believe an evolutionary biologist would say such a thing.

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Posted: 27 May 2010 07:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Also, before somebody mentions that humans may (or rather used to) behave altruistically in order to favor reproductive success of their relatives when they lived in small tribes surrounded by their family, I still don’t see why religious believers, compared to everybody else, should have a greater interest to practice this form of “pseudo kin selection.”

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Posted: 27 May 2010 08:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Mike from Oz - 26 May 2010 10:52 PM

Can we perhaps talk about adaptive and maladaptive strategies?

For most of human existence food scarcity was an issue, therefore we developed a preference for fatty/sugary foods because their where incredible reservoirs of energy. However, during times of post-scarcity such a preference is a major issue. The % of the population that is obese in many developed nations is significant and growing.

Could we not say the same of religion. In times when are societies where smaller, and it was hard to establish determine trust - or you needed to establish group solidarity outside extended kinship networks - religion may have been useful. But on a planet with >6 billion people armed with nuclear weapons, these kind of tribalism can be harmful.

this is a very good point.  adaptation is one of the benefits of the process of evolution, is it not?  as a very adaptable species we need to look to new methods of making our world the best that it can be, and not be tempted to get hung up on the old ones.  religion seems to be one of our hangups that has a ridiculously hard time dying.  as a person who has been very tempted to justify various religious practices, even i have to wonder why that is the case.  i think part of it has to do with the fact that we’re living in a time when religion still has an enormous stronghold in our cultural awareness.  our neighbors are religious, and our family members are most likely religious as well.  religious figures are still venerated the world over with lavish ceremonies, and are also political centerpieces in many countries.  we still see religion as a very powerful force, and perhaps because of this we are tempted to say that it can be turned around and used for good, no matter how many times we are proven wrong.

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Posted: 28 May 2010 06:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Just a small note here: to say that the behaviour or the religious is adaptive means that it enhances an individual’s fitness (number of offspring). That is all. This has nothing to do with “making our world the best it can be” or anything of that sort.

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Posted: 28 May 2010 10:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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About believers and the body, like bee’s:

1 Cor. 12:

12The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

14Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues[d]? Do all interpret? 31But eagerly desire[e] the greater gifts.

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Posted: 28 May 2010 10:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Benefits include defining the group, coordinating action to achieve shared goals…

it was implied that the benefits of religion extent beyond number of offspring, both from that excerpt and from the title of the thread.

you’d be surprised at how many people seek out to understand and/or improve on the “old ways” in order to make the world the best that it can be, only to reap disaster in the results in some form or another.  i do think that there are grounds for a cautionary word along those lines here.

edit:  oops!  this was in reply to george.

edit #2:

28And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues[d]? Do all interpret? 31But eagerly desire[e] the greater gifts.

desiring the “greater gifts” is where people have the most potential to become deleteriously or even dangerously mixed up.  we have such powerful minds which, given proper direction, can sort out the true greater gifts in life without resorting to the old standbys of prophecy, miracles, interpretation of ancient scripture, and so on.  considering our amazing potential to envision our futures—individual and collective—the fact that so many still look back to these old concepts with such veneration is very unfortunate.  there is so much space for knowledge and fulfillment in a world which is far more concrete and tangible.  this, more than anything, is what i feel the secular movement must do all in its power to communicate in order to make the world a better place.

we can debate back and forth about the benefits of religious groups vs. secular groups all day, but in the end this really is about our future.  we can become vectors into the convoluted or we can open our eyes to the grandest possibility ahead; to a world where we solve the greatest problems facing humanity and lift people up in sane and sound ways.

[ Edited: 28 May 2010 10:24 AM by midnight.train ]
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Posted: 28 May 2010 11:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Midnight.train said:
“...desiring the “greater gifts” is where people have the most potential to become deleteriously or even dangerously mixed up. “

It’s not a problem if people read it in context, which talks about ‘the way of love’ being the greatest, I think.  I didn’t include the context for that because I didn’t think it was important.  Since it was raised, here’s the context, which I would think shows there’s not a problem of abuse in it.  This is a good passage which atheists could learn from; namely, appreciating the different roles that people have in life and learning to love and appreciate each other.  It is a good humanitarian thought, even though people wrongly think it is inspired by God.

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1 Corinthians+13&version=NIV

1 Corinthians 12:31

31But eagerly desire[a] the greater gifts.
    And now I will show you the most excellent way.

1 Corinthians 13
Love
1If I speak in the tongues[a] of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,but have not love, I gain nothing.

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 14
Gifts of Prophecy and Tongues

1Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. 2For anyone who speaks in a tongue[a] does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.  3But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. 4He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. 5I would like every one of you to speak in tongues,[c] but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues,[d] unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.

6Now, brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction? 7Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the flute or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes? 8Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle? 9So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air. 10Undoubtedly there are all sorts of languages in the world, yet none of them is without meaning. 11If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me. 12So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.

13For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says. 14For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. 15So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind. 16If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand[e] say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying? 17You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified.

18I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.

20Brothers, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults. 21In the Law it is written:
  “Through men of strange tongues
    and through the lips of foreigners
  I will speak to this people,
    but even then they will not listen to me,”[f] says the Lord.

22Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers. 23So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand[g] or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand[h]comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, 25and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”
Orderly Worship
26What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. 27If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. 28If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.

29Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.
    As in all the congregations of the saints, 34women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

36Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? 37If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. 38If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored.

39Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 40But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.

[ Edited: 28 May 2010 11:17 AM by Bernie_Dehler ]
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Posted: 28 May 2010 11:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Bernie_Dehler - 28 May 2010 10:02 AM

About believers and the body, like bee’s:

1 Cor. 12:

12The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

14Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues[d]? Do all interpret? 31But eagerly desire[e] the greater gifts.

Still not sure what any of this babel has to do with the bees.

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