add'l thoughts
Posted: 11 May 2005 09:10 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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If this topic has already been exhausted in previous discussion, forgive the intrusion, but doesn't it seem odd that Harris does not consider the possibility that people will behave badly towards one another whether they are motivated by faith or reason?  And if this is the case, then an attack on faith as the root of man's problems seems oddly misplaced.  In other word, Harris's commitment to reason presumes that logic alone is a strong enough force to keep people from committing atrocious acts.  In fact, nothing in our history suggests that we can stop ourselves from gaining advantage over other peoples or nations - and that we are quite content to use whatever justfications comes ready to end.  That religion has been a convenient tool towards this end is undeniable.  It is far from obvious, however, that we would behave any differently in its absence.

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Posted: 11 May 2005 04:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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I’ve been meaning to start a thread titled something like: A world without religion. Now I don’t need to.

I’ll admit that, if I have a choice, I’ll trust a Christian to repair my car over an atheist—if honesty is what you’re referring to. The problem is that it’s almost impossible to pick out the one who authentically fears being dishonest, as opposed to a less than serious Christian who lies, then lies to himself about his own lies to others. The latter seems to make up the vast majority of “believers,” unfortunately. But to rephrase your question just a bit: How could humanity potentially be harmed if authentically-derived atheism became universal? I would first ask, Is it proper to perpetuate a lie just because it’s part of our history?

It does seem likely that a relatively few people do act more honestly and perhaps with a kinder spirit than they otherwise might without harboring the illusion of an anthropomorphic Deity watching over their every move, eternal scorecard always in hand. So, theoretically at least, it seems possible that some—though very few—people would act like the true jerks they are if their faith somehow got erased. But I’m only conceding one small aspect of religious dogma. If anything positive would end up being forfeited by a world gone apostate, plenty else would be gained. The net result of a worldwide destruction of religious faith (assuming it came about of its own accord), it seems obvious to me, would be positive by far. I would readily concede the point that literalistic religions may (though not necessarily) have boosted humanity a bit thousands of years ago. But they only hold us back today. Many hazards are inherent with incorporating superstitious ways of thinking and acting, such as, on a personal level: faulty decision making. Globally:a tendency toward warfare. Modern secular states tend to avoid war, except when extremists and religionists are put into power.

The New York Times recently profiled (briefly) the work of neuroscientist-bioethicist Michael Gazzaniga (A Career Spent Learning How the Mind Emerges from the Brain—5-10-05). In the quote below, he hints at both cultural and biological forces that work to keep people in line:

Neuroscience’s biggest contribution to ethics, Dr. Gazzaniga predicted, is only just emerging: a biological explanation of morality. “In the next 20 years, we’re probably going to define why our species seems to have a certain sort of moral compass,” he said.

Current research suggests that this moral compass appears to be the product of the human brain’s intricate circuitry for understanding other people’s thoughts and feelings. Just looking at pictures of people stubbing their toes in doors, for example, activates the same regions of the brain that switch on when people stub their own toes. “When I have an empathetic moment, I literally feel your pain,” Dr. Gazzaniga said.

Dr. Gazzaniga argues that when we experience these feelings, the brain’s interpreter produces rational explanations for them. The particular explanation it produces depends on a person’s particular upbringing. “Each culture may build up a theory, and that may be passed down as traditions and religious moral systems.”

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

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Posted: 11 May 2005 05:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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I didn’t read the previous post on this issue but I did find this in the book:

We can not live by reason alone.  This is why no quantity of reaon, applied as antiseptic, can compete with the balm of faith, once the terrors of this world begin to intrude upon our lives.  Your child has died, or your wife has aquired a horrible illness that no doctor can cure….

...It is nowhere written, however, that human beings must be irrational, or live in a perpetual state of siege to enjoy an abiding sense of the sacred.  On the contrary, I hope to show that spirituality can be—indeed, must be—deeply rational, even as it elucidates the limits of reason

....It is time we realized that we need not be unreasonable to suffuse our lives with love, compassion, ectasy, and awe; nor must we renounce all forms of spirituality or mysticism to be on good terms with reason.” 

Sam Harris, The End of Faith (pg 43)

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Posted: 11 May 2005 06:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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First of all I don’t think Sam Harris is recommending atheism to anyone.  His main thesis is that certain books are considered the (perfect) word of god.  It’s this blind belief that is killing the dialog among what would be generally rational human beings.  Still larger than this, he is arguing against dogmas of all kinds.

Competing ideas over what are the words (rules) of god can never be solved with rational discussion.  These are not books that push for tolerance towards other religious beliefs or ideals.  If each sides’ views are conflicting, then violence is quick to follow.

He’s not saying that violence will end but at least dialog (discussion) has a better chance of prevent it.

He is also saying that this is made worst with the passage of time and the increase of technology.  More and more destructive methods are falling into the hands of a large enough group people that believe killing in the name of (or to “protect”) their beliefs is a worthwhile effort and their beliefs justify this behavior.

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Posted: 12 May 2005 12:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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[quote author=“axel23”]If this topic has already been exhausted in previous discussion, forgive the intrusion, but doesn’t it seem odd that Harris does not consider the possibility that people will behave badly towards one another whether they are motivated by faith or reason? And if this is the case, then an attack on faith as the root of man’s problems seems oddly misplaced.  In other word, Harris’s commitment to reason presumes that logic alone is a strong enough force to keep people from committing atrocious acts.


Well . . . no. Sam never suggests reason alone (or faith alone) are the solution or the problem (that’s why he wrote more than 300 words or so essay on the subject). As a social species we have many of the same cooperation mechanisms genetically built in as other social animal species. Sam’s point is that faith creates problems.

I think the underlying problem has more to do with authoritarianism, which is more about fundamentalism (of any stripe) than just faith, but faith is a necessary enabling mechanism in order to give nastiness that aire of legitimacy, so we can be exceptionally cruel to each other.

Byron

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“We say, ‘Love your brother…’ We don’t say it really, but… Well we don’t literally say it. We don’t really, literally mean it. No, we don’t believe it either, but… But that message should be clear.”—David St. Hubbins

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Posted: 12 May 2005 12:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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[quote author=“homunculus”]I’ll admit that, if I have a choice, I’ll trust a Christian to repair my car over an atheist—if honesty is what you’re referring to.


I find it ironic when people make this mistake. Faith is fundamentally dishonest at the deepest level—so much so it requires self betrayal. Borrowing from another post I wrote a little while back . . .

Religious faith is the decision, willingness and ability to subjugate the normal intellectual process of scrutiny (data processing—how we understand the world) in order to acomodate a packaged set of beliefs that almost always bring with them ultimate and eternal consequences. Once you’ve chosen to believe without a viable basis in reason or evidence, you’ve compromised your intellectual integrity, at least in the structural sense, and at least regarding matters of that decision (i.e. matters of faith). The normal mental pathways are re-routed to fit what’s just been dropped into the belief “slot” (rather than, as is normally the case, going through those pathways to see if it should go in the belief slot or not).

You think that’s a sound foundation for honesty? Seems the exact opposite to me, and I think the only reason the vast majority see it differently is the “free pass” Sam talks about—we’ve been socialized (programmed) to automatically, without anything resembling even a moment of genuine consideration, presume religion is noble and virtuous.

Byron

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“We say, ‘Love your brother…’ We don’t say it really, but… Well we don’t literally say it. We don’t really, literally mean it. No, we don’t believe it either, but… But that message should be clear.”—David St. Hubbins

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Posted: 12 May 2005 03:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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SkepticX, don’t forget that we inherit our superstitious tendencies from our ancestors. Ancient people were designed to listen to their elders and follow suit. Guess what? Those ancient genes are now our genes. I know what you’re saying, but unfortunately, our K-12 schools are not up to the task of teaching a scientific approach toward life, and not everyone goes to college. Go into any bookstore in America (outside of Berkeley, CA and Madison, WI) and look over the “religion” section. Good luck finding anything resembling a rational explanation of what took place historically to have resulted in a world that emphasizes deities, spiritualism, angels, ghosts, and how to communicate with your dead grandfather.

Insight about how one can see their place in the world as it actually is doesn’t just come automatically. Humans are not naturally put together that way.

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Philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language; it can in the end only describe it. For it cannot give it any foundations either. It leaves everything as it is.
Ludwig Wittgenstein

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Posted: 12 May 2005 08:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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Other posts do cover a lot of this, so I’ll try to keep it short to avoid too much redundancy.  A lot of posts in the ‘Faith’ section revolve around this subject.
The problems of Faith as a basis for morality, in so much as they aren’t fairly evident form even a cursory knowledge of history and a glance at the newspaper, are covered quite well in TEoF.
So alternatives:  Reason.  Yes, it can be a basis for morality for two ‘reasons’.’  One, it strives towards objectivism—in other words, Reason should be demonstrable, and thus understood in a fairly congruent way between different people.  (If it isn’t, there are either problems of communication, problems of the logic involved, or simply insufficient—read, ‘revisable’ information.
Two, Reason must be reduced to its most basic assumptions, or it is not truly reasonable.  The only real assumption proper reasoning demands is that we each accept our own conscious existence.  From there we extrapolate that we do best when treating others as equally valid to ourselves, and we base our actions accordingly.
There is always room for debate and disagreement, of course, because we are not perfect, objective beings.  But with a basis in compassion and demonstrability, morality is much better founded on Reason than on anything that makes more assumptions or is simply unprovable.
I agree that Sam’s “solutions” are a bit sketchy, as he is mostly concerned with illustrating that out “faith in faith” is poorly grounded and should be subject to greater debate.
And thus, this forum.  For all its faults, a good place to start.

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Posted: 12 May 2005 01:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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Byron said,

Religious faith is the decision, willingness and ability to subjugate the normal intellectual process of scrutiny (data processing—how we understand the world) in order to acomodate a packaged set of beliefs that almost always bring with them ultimate and eternal consequences. Once you’ve chosen to believe without a viable basis in reason or evidence, you’ve compromised your intellectual integrity, at least in the structural sense, and at least regarding matters of that decision (i.e. matters of faith). The normal mental pathways are re-routed to fit what’s just been dropped into the belief “slot” (rather than, as is normally the case, going through those pathways to see if it should go in the belief slot or not).

Of course, this is all based on the assumption that God is not real and He can not be experienced.  If God is real and you can experience him, Byron’s hypothesis is completely wrong.

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Posted: 12 May 2005 03:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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[quote author=“Ordinary”]If God is real and you can experience him, Byron’s hypothesis is completely wrong.

To me, experience correlates to direct observation and solid evidence. I desperately tried to experience your God to no avail for 30 years.

According to the Bible, he certainly provided ample evidence to ancient tribes. Why does your God no longer part the Red Sea? I can assure you that if I saw the parting of the Red Sea, I would believe. Are these OT miracles not to be taken literally?  Is there a scripture that describes why God has gone into hiding?

All I want is proof in the same manner that was requested in 1 Kings 18.

Why has your God ceased to perform miracles on a grand scale if he wants us to experience him? Why has he hidden himself when history is in the best position to prove he exists and he could easily prove Byron wrong?

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Posted: 12 May 2005 04:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Why has your God ceased to perform miracles on a grand scale if he wants us to experience him? Why has he hidden himself when history is in the best position to prove he exists and he could easily prove Byron wrong?

I think that he/she does not because there should have been no need.  There are many places in the gospels, Pauls letters, and other NT writings that clearly state that jesus would return in the lifetimes of those then living.  Either this happened, and no one noticed, or it is a mistake, and the entire book is therefore not true. 

Either way, there will be no more miracles, from this god, anyway.

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Posted: 13 May 2005 12:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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[quote author=“Ordinary”]Of course, this is all based on the assumption that God is not real and He can not be experienced. If God is real and you can experience him, Byron’s hypothesis is completely wrong.


Kind of, but not quite. The actual existence of a god (independently of the human/sentient mind) is only part of the equation.

If you can knowlingly perceive a god, then you’re right. If, on the other hand, your god is defined so as to be beyond any possible human perception (such as the traditional Western monotheistic god—i.e. supernatural/outside of nature, which oddly enough our senses haven’t the capacity to perceive) and if you can’t distinguish your alleged perception of The Being from known (earthly/natural) psychological phenomena, then I’m still right.

But there’s still hope for the aspiring believer—with the mechanism of faith you can convince yourself that maintaining these basic responsible standards of reason and evidence is unnecessary, and that you can have confidence in your own perceptual accuracy far beyond what honesty would allow . . . and you can then support a different sort of belief in the god of your choice. The catch is you’ll have to be careful avoid honest scrutiny, which tends to make you defensive . . . and you’ll often to look rather silly to those who aren’t “in on the game” with you. But that’s not so bad. Your new perceptual platform will be such that you’ll perceive that situation differently as well, so if you can just violate your mind as faith requires once (significantly enough so it sticks), the shift will essentially reset your mind’s operating system and the rest is pretty much automatic (though the new OS can get quite bogged down at times, requiring extensive, CPU demanding operations in order to avoid a crash).

Byron

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Posted: 13 May 2005 03:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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If, on the other hand, your god is defined so as to be beyond any possible human perception (such as the traditional Western monotheistic god—i.e. supernatural/outside of nature, which oddly enough our senses haven’t the capacity to perceive) and if you can’t distinguish your alleged perception of The Being from known (earthly/natural) psychological phenomena, then I’m still right.

  You have alluded to such things before.  This is not the Christian concept of God.  God is not ‘beyond’ or ‘outside’.  The created world is bound up in God, for “in him we live, and move and have our being.”  In God’s infinity I find myself existence.

The crux of this paritcular matter then seems to be if and how we gain ‘knowledge’ of God.  We’ve gone through that before.

But there’s still hope for the aspiring believer—with the mechanism of faith you can convince yourself that maintaining these basic responsible standards of reason and evidence is unnecessary, and that you can have confidence in your own perceptual accuracy far beyond what honesty would allow . . . and you can then support a different sort of belief in the god of your choice. The catch is you’ll have to be careful avoid honest scrutiny, which tends to make you defensive . . . and you’ll often to look rather silly to those who aren’t “in on the game” with you. But that’s not so bad. Your new perceptual platform will be such that you’ll perceive that situation differently as well, so if you can just violate your mind as faith requires once (significantly enough so it sticks), the shift will essentially reset your mind’s operating system and the rest is pretty much automatic (though the new OS can get quite bogged down at times, requiring extensive, CPU demanding operations in order to avoid a crash).

  That’s certainly possible, but it’s not necessary.

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Posted: 13 May 2005 04:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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Salerio,

Many share your frustration.  Since you ask, let me share a biblical response.

I think its important to see that the vast majority (not all, I will admit) of miraculous accounts documented in the scriptures came in response to a person’s faith, not to establish or build it.  I think of Abraham.  God promised Abraham a child and it was over 20 years later that Abraham experienced the miraculous fulfillment of that promise (for he and Sarah were well past the age of child bearing).  Certainly not perfectly—Abraham had his episodes/periods of doubt—but ultimately he received this miraculous promise, not to establish his faith, but in response to it.

Jesus and the scriptures address your very complaint.  Jesus said to the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida, “if the miracles performed in you [by him] were performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented right away, yet you continue to rebel.”  Jesus was lamenting that the eye witnesses of his miracles remained rebellious to him and his love; the miraculous did not produce faith.  Jesus tells a parable in Luke 16 of Lazarus and the rich man.  The story basically goes like this.  A rich man is sent to damnation because of his rebellion while Lazarus experiences eternal bliss with God (figuratively called ‘Abraham’s bosom’).  The rich man basically says, “I have brothers—send Lazarus to them to warn them about this horrific experience so they won’t experience my plight.”  Abraham says (as God’s representative), “They have Moses and the prophet’s writings.  Let them read and believe from them about these things.”  The rich man responds, “No, they won’t believe the writings, but they will believe if you send someone to them from the dead.” Abraham responds to share the overall point of the parable saying, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”  While the miraculous should produce faith, it frequently didn’t and doesn’t.

And it’s my experience working with people in crisis of faith that this is indeed the case.  Because the problem is usually not ‘proof’, the problem is a heart that wants its own way.  My conviction is that it isn’t that God hasn’t shown me enough, its that I’m not willing to give up control of my life.  So the issue isn’t a matter of evidence, it’s a matter of rebellion (I know that’s a strong word) to have it my own way.

God hasn’t gone into hiding.  When you consider the plight of millions of persecuted Christians in places like China and in Middle East countries and see the joy they have in the face of great opposition, I can’t help but say, “something supernatural is going on here”.  The incredible testimonies of supernatural activity in Latin America as the church is increasing exponentially is persuasive.  I know it can be argued and rationalized away like most things in life, but an openness to the possibilities of God’s powerful work might just produce a glimmer of hope for people desperate for God.

What I know of God, he isn’t interested in proving anyone wrong; he’s interested in giving love and freedom and joy.  I know I’ve been wrong about God a lot and instead of smoking me, he graciously corrects me so that I might behold his beauty in a greater degree.  He will show up, but not to prove himself (he has nothing to prove).  He will show up to heal those people who call upon him for it.

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