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 Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?

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nordmann
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PostSubject: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 23 Jun 2014, 14:34



El Salto de Colacho (the Devil's Leap) is a "festival" in which grown men in Castrillo de Murcia in Spain, dressed as devils (naturally), run an obstacle course in which they have to avoid trampling babies, thereby "celebrating" Christ's real presence in the Eucharist. Go figure ...

And we've all seen these guys in the Philippines before ...



These two happen to be Catholic but they are by no means the only religious "festivals" defying Elfen Safety. Snake handling Pentecostal sects regularly risk their lives by irritating venomous viperids to show how much God loves them and looks after them (the evidence for the latter based on this practice is very much inconclusive).




Any other quaint but deadly expressions of committment to deities (any deity will do)? And just how historical are they?

While the Spanish baby-jumping can be traced back to 1620, the Filipino masochism-fest is really a very recent phenomenon having morphed from a rather more benign version to the thorn and nails version some time around the 1970s. Likewise the Pentecostal snake abuse dates back only to 1910. We tend to think of these things as being part of a very long tradition dating back to pre-Christian times even though it may presently be Christians who are partaking. But how safe is this assumption?
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 23 Jun 2014, 15:00

They had the snake lot on in a BBC (?) programme a while ago. Some idiot always gets bitten and has to be taken to hospital for emergency treatment. I think the snake thing all started with a literal reading of Mark 16:18.


King James Bible
They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them...



Most embarrassing were the women - all overweight and dancing dreamily around in what seemed to be an alarmingly phallic-worshipping ritual.

I do hope this dancing-with-snakes nonsense doesn't spread to the Church of England.  pale 

Dead tight on the poor rattlers too. They must get very distressed. They should use rubber snakes.

All these religious nutters. They make me very cross - their lunacies are not what it is all about at all, as hopefully we all realise.

But I shall say no more - well, not today at least.


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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 23 Jun 2014, 16:50

Here's the Italian species of nutcase in a ritual that I first saw in one of the lovely Francesco da Mosto's programmes. I'll bet that stings.http://www.rubensalvadori.com/index.php/earlier-works/vattienti/

Then there's the Pacific Island's spiritual father of the bungee jump of course.

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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 23 Jun 2014, 17:03

To be serious, found this article which I thought was interesting, although the film references are probably not relevant to the thread's OP. The clips include a Pentecostal (?) Jesse James (Brad Pitt) handling snakes.

All these bizarre rituals seem to be more about cultural identity and the need to prove (or, for the older man, to reassert ) one's manhood, rather than being about religion or a spiritual quest. And, as mentioned above, the women's involvement in the serpent rituals - all that weird dancing with the snake-handlers - surely has a fertility element to it: the need to display one's womanhood before the males of the community. Those needs - male and female - are as old as the hills, and not just the Appalachian ones.


http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/2013/06/05/stereotypes-and-dangerous-rituals-a-reflection-on-the-academic-study-of-serpent-handling-by-travis-warren-cooper/
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 23 Jun 2014, 19:20

All a bit weird ...

The Guardian: Snake-handling paster Jamie Coots hailed as a 'martyr' after fatal bite.

..... Coots’s son, Cody, said his family had expected him to survive because he had been bitten eight times before. “Everybody was getting in, shouting, taking up serpents, speaking in tongues, handling fire,” he told Kentucky’s WKYT-TV. “You could just feel the power of God.”

 Rolling Eyes
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 23 Jun 2014, 19:32

A Guardian poster has sent this after reading MM's article:


I just wish more religious lunatics would take up this practice. It would improve the gene pool considerably.


 Very Happy 

EDIT: I'm surprised they don't do scorpion-treading, too - bit like grape-trampling, but with more of a frisson.

Luke 10:19 - Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.

I do wish someone could explain the use of figurative language to these people.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 23 Jun 2014, 20:02

And then there's fire-walking in such places as San Pedro Manrique, Spain, on St John's Eve ..... ouch!

But all these rituals rather seem to be about testing one's faith in that if you sincerely believe in Him, God will see that you pass through the trial unharmed. But I thought the Bible particularly warns against testing God like that ... Luke 4:12, "And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God."


Mind you if I were God I admit I'd be sorely tempted to order the serpent to bite: "Go on, just a nip ... oh please do have a bite. No? OK I command thee bite! There! That'll teach 'em not too take things too literally. Bloody Christians, more trouble than they're worth!".


PS : On fire-walking wiki mentions:

"In 20th and 21st Century, this practice is often used in corporate and team-building seminars and self-help workshops as a confidence-building exercise. Notably in 2002, twenty KFC managers in Australia received treatment for burns caused by firewalking"

.... How apt Kentucky fried managers! I guess they just lost their faith in Colonel Saunders, if not before, then at least after they'd all got their feet burned.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 23 Jun 2014, 22:45

@Temperance wrote:
A Guardian poster has sent this after reading MM's article:

I just wish more religious lunatics would take up this practice. It would improve the gene pool considerably.

Oh course for "improving the gene pool" there are few better religions than the ancient cult of the goddess Cybele. The priests were all eunuchs, and devotees of Cybele were encouraged to castrate themselves and then offer their severed genitals on the alter as burnt offerings to the goddess.

So genetically a one way street into a cul-de-sac.

As a cult it was briefly popular, but I guess almost inevitably it sort of died out, having no younger successors to carry it forward.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 24 Jun 2014, 09:05

Not all the Cybelian priests were eunuchs - the Galli however allegedly were and were regarded as laughable by Romans (it is through scornful reference to them that we know about them). Self castration was outlawed by the authorities in Republican and Imperial Rome so they were not only an extreme minority of Cybelians but also effectively a "fringe group" who were as criminal as they were nutty.

But they are a very apposite group to refer to in the context of my original query. I am basically wondering about the historicity of present self-harming and life-risking activity done in the name of religion and the Cybelians definitely fit the pattern, at least the more nutty ones. But can a line of connection be drawn between - say- the Cybelians and the Pentecostal snake jigglers? I mean not just in terms of mental illness but in a historically traditional sequence of activity? I have to admit I am struggling to see such a line and am beginning to wonder if the actual pattern is one of sporadic eruption of lunacy in societies triggered by a confluence of incidental circumstances. If it is I would dearly like to identify these circumstances.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 24 Jun 2014, 09:28

I suppose the ultimate in self harm is suicide. Such as the type practised by members of the Heaven's Gate cult in 1997;


http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2120869/Heavens-Gate-cult-committed-mass-suicide-15-years-ago.html
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 24 Jun 2014, 09:56

Historically mass suicides seem to have been traditionally associated with concepts of honour and avoidance of capture. Doing it on purely religious grounds without any perception of such a threat to one's sense of integrity would appear to be a modern phenomenon. Does this mean that religious lunacy is actually getting more rather than less virulent as the human species progresses? If this is actually a trend that is detectable anthropologically then what if anything can we deduce regarding where it is heading?
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 24 Jun 2014, 10:34

An indication of how "dumbing down" of the cognitive filtering that religion induces could actually perhaps be exemplified by the above mentioned snake handlers.

Consensus on the religious significance of the below figurines to the Minoans centres on the symbolism of the snake with regard to the concept of rebirth or renewal. The bare breasts and the sacral knot tend to support this theory, the breast representation also opening the possibility that the symbol played an important role in ritual mourning (the figurines have been almost exclusively found in domestic settings which also supports this line of thinking).



All very intellectual and sensible, eminently logical for a bronze age society with a greater appreciation of metaphysical than physical knowledge concerning how the world around them actually worked.

So how on earth can this, 3,500 years later, be seen in any way as progress?


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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 24 Jun 2014, 10:47

I have to admit I am struggling to see such a line and am beginning to wonder if the actual pattern is one of sporadic eruption of lunacy in societies triggered by a confluence of incidental circumstances. If it is I would dearly like to identify these circumstances.

I think that Temp's reference to cultural identity is very significant. The circumstances in which these practices arose may be opaque but their continuation seems to me to mostly occur in minorities who persist with them, despite the disapproval or outright opposition of the majority, as an affirmation of their difference and perceived superiority. As well as the exhibition of masculinity and fertility associations, there's something of the trial by ordeal in these as well.
This has also got me thinking about celibacy in the priesthood and what belief systems practice this. Apart from Vestal Virgins, Roman Catholicism is the only one I can think of - no doubt I'm  missing something.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 24 Jun 2014, 11:05

I'm in a mad rush at the moment so this will be a jumbled post. I really should wait till later and think all this through a bit more.

But I want to suggest that religion - whatever that imprecise word means -  could actually be a bit of a red herring in all this. I'm thinking more now about the apparent lunacy of the powerless, the despised, the marginalized in societies, past and present - and how it so often manifests in what they call "spirituality" or "religion". It's actually nothing of the kind. It's surely all about ego defences - survival of the self - the personality, even if the body is hurt or even killed. That probably sounds quite mad - will try to explain later.

I wish I had not been so sneering yesterday, wittering on about phallic symbols and fertility and rubber snakes. Facile and facetious. This topic goes so much deeper. Being regarded as a bunch of "hillbillies" - a suitable group for superior academics to study, and for most of us to laugh at -  can't be much fun. Attention-seeking, hysterical behaviour has always been  a way of getting some kind of notice from the powerful ones. "Look at me!" these people seem to be saying, "I exist! Yes, I exist, just like you!" I'm thinking here not just about the snake handlers and their women, but also about those crazy medieval female mystics too - the starvers and the self-harmers who ended up - ironically - as Catholic saints. Was their defiance of "normal" behaviour actually a way of sticking two fingers up to their oppressors, not about mystical union with Christ at all? Like the defiant martyrs who went happily and triumphantly to their terrible deaths - usually, as Thomas More noted, as cheerily "as bridegrooms to the marriage." An odd way of living your life, I suppose, but it does make a crazy sort of sense. Does/did the urge to self-destruct - or to risk self-destruction - give a perverse meaning to the meaningless, a kind of power to the powerless? I think it does. But don't let's fool ourselves; this is not the spiritual way, Holy Ghost or no Holy Ghost (such a dangerous idea, this "Holy Ghost" business - covers a multitude of sins - and nonsense. I much prefer the old idea of "the Comforter".)

This review is interesting, especially the woman's comment, "It just makes you feel different. It's just knowing you have power over them snakes."

Power over them snakes. Who or what exactly are the snakes? (Her husband certainly was one.)

https://www.newoxfordreview.org/reviews.jsp?did=1095-hartman


Martyrdom as assisted suicide has always interested me.

This is an awful muddle, but what the heck - will send.

In great haste.


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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 24 Jun 2014, 11:06

Crossed posts, ferval!
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 24 Jun 2014, 15:17

This book sounds interesting:

http://wordsbecamebooks.com/2014/03/28/religious-self-harm/


Proving Woman (2004) is about more than just women doing nasty things to their bodies. Elliott explores the rise and fall of medieval cults of female spirituality. She shows how male writers promoted individual women as examples of piety and used them to promote the proper way to relate to priests, to confess sins, and to carry out penance. “Women,” she argues, “were believed to have a particular propensity to rapture – premised on the fragility, and hence susceptibility, of the female body.” Ecstatic spirituality and any accompanying prophecies were dangerously uncontrollable, but if they could be suitably guided and marketed then they served to prove that miracles still attended God’s church. At a time when the mystical and ascetic feats of the Spiritual Franciscans tempted people to associate with heretics, it was crucial for orthodox lay Christians to exhibit spectacular spiritual gifts, including martyrdom, that could attract widespread devotion to their cults.


"Marketing" was a word which caught my eye.

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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 25 Jun 2014, 08:33

While religion does not by any means have a monopoly on lunacy, religious belief (imprecisely but accurately ascribing responsibility for natural phenomena to supernatural causes) still retains an impressive record in convincing adherents that actions which otherwise would be considered counter-evolutionary in the sense that they are biologically counter-productive, often sinister and criminal by any other standard, very often dangerous to oneself and others, or just plain stupid, somehow are "desirable". So it is by no means a "red herring" really, just the most obvious motivator for people to behave in a way injurious to themselves and others for no logical reward in the evolutionary sense. Sport and professional soldiery are probably equally big or even greater motivations in terms of numbers killed and injured while voluntarily pursuing courses of action guaranteed to deliver both, but each of these can at least be ascribed some evolutionary logic in terms of overall species survival. Religiously motivated murder, suicide and injury to life and limb is rather harder to square however with this natural law.

I agree that many of these instances so far enumerated find expression and outlet in the context of minority group identities in some way asserting their presence. Yet there are countless other ways in which such assertions can be and are in fact made on an ongoing basis. It takes an element of religion being adopted as a definitive part of that identity, it seems, to push this assertion into the realm of apparent stupidity in the context of a species that is driven to survive.

Which is why I asked the original question. Can it be that this behaviour, however illogical it might appear in an evolutionary context, actually fulfil a role in Darwinian logic? The glib "removing themselves from the gene pool" makes a little sense but only in the case of those whose religious adherence leads to their own personal demise. When their adherence to supernatural belief leads however to the mass demise of fellow human beings then the logic - at least to me - becomes complicated to the point of breakdown.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 25 Jun 2014, 09:51

Which is why I asked the original question. Can it be that this behaviour, however illogical it might appear in an evolutionary context, actually fulfil a role in Darwinian logic?

Sorry if this is a bit confused but I have a teensy hangover.....
This behaviour might have an evolutionary aspect if these sects and groups are seen as analogous to kin groups, evolution not giving a toss about the individual, just the herd. If these practices have a social function in increasing cohesion, strengthening interpersonal bonding, resilience to outside influence and penetration by outsiders then they may contribute to the survival of the group. Also, is there some element of sexual selection here too? Are the males who exhibit the more extreme behaviours more reproductively successful? Are these maybe examples of some kind of behavioural epigenetics?
Certainly a belief in an afterlife must afford an extra impetus to performing a possibly fatal ritual but I don't see that as absolutely critical rather a weird kind of altruism and that does have evolutionary benefits.

I need more coffee, archaeologists and free wine are a dangerous combination. Now, there's a thought....
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 25 Jun 2014, 09:52

The Black Death in Europe saw the practice of flagellation reach it's peak;

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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 25 Jun 2014, 10:11

The mass retreat into superstition caused by a threat as real, as deadly and as prevalent as the Black Death is largely understandable in a Darwinian sense too. It may be silly to think that whipping yourself will help but in the absence of any other known course of action then it's reasonable to give it a go. The motive is ultimately self-preservation which is eminently Darwinian.

I like the idea of religious cults being essentially a bonding exercise and enhancing opportunity for reproductive success - both elements have been quite demonstrably present in certain cases. At least it has a Darwinian feel to it. However when the same processes result in incidents like the Heavens Gate or Jonestown massacres in which the offspring created by the sexual intercourse encouraged by these processes are eliminated from the gene pool by the procreators then it all goes very anti-Darwinian again. One is tempted to use the "misfire" analogy as outlined in genetic theory which of course then brings one back to the observation that only religion seems to account for so many such misfires, making one wonder how adherence to religious belief can be Darwinian at all?
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 25 Jun 2014, 10:25

Do other species indulge in crazily dangerous rituals? I seem to remember seeing a film about young male penguins dicing with death by deliberately diving into the sea where a killer whale was circling. A few got eaten, but it didn't deter the others. They were obviously enjoying themselves hugely, even though, in evolutionary terms, it was a pretty dumb thing to do.

Male display? Penguin adrenaline junkies? Don't think it was a penguin religious thing though.

Just seen nordman's post - perhaps religious belief isn't Darwinian. But didn't Darwin himself admit that humans are a bit different from the rest of the animal world? The mysterious spiritual bit in our brains and all? And research into what we don't understand about ourselves didn't come to a full stop with Darwin after all. Who knows what lies ahead - in science, I mean.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 25 Jun 2014, 10:31

That's a variant on the "it just hasn't been explained yet" retort beloved of theologians but which is simply rhetorical tautology.

I'm not sure about the penguins. Learning to compete and survive in a hostile feeding environment, even if the odds are stacked against individual penguins, is still a very logical thing to do with regard to the species' survival in a very Darwinian way.

I'm not sure either whether it's important what Darwin believed about "mystic parts of the brain". In fact in terms of modern evolutionary theory Darwin himself isn't completely Darwinian any longer. The adjective has outstripped its eponymous source when it comes to accurate application.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 25 Jun 2014, 10:44

Aren't the mass suicides just a bit different though? Are there any instances of this where there has not been a charismatic individual driving it and whose psychopathy, narcissism, messiah complex or just sheer bonkersness has prompted the deaths? Is there an aspect of evolutionary theory that explains such nutters or are they just generated by random associations of circumstances?
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 25 Jun 2014, 10:45

@ferval wrote:

Certainly a belief in an afterlife must afford an extra impetus to performing a possibly fatal ritual but I don't see that as absolutely critical rather a weird kind of altruism and that does have evolutionary benefits.

.... and encourage the jihadist suicide-bomber to gladly lay down his life for the "good" of the rest of his tribe.

Creating a clear identity of who is in and who outside the tribe is presumably one of the main reasons for religiously-prescribed practises such as circumcision, ear-cropping, scarification, tattooing, nose-piercing, etc.


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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 25 Jun 2014, 10:51

@nordmann wrote:


That's a variant on the "it just hasn't been explained yet" retort beloved of theologians but which is simply rhetorical tautology.

I don't think it's just the theologians who are saying that, nordmann - the scientists are as well. Iain McGilchrist goes into this. I haven't time to look it up now, but I seem to remember that, although McGilchrist says there is unlikely to be a "God spot" (horrible expression) in the brain, he quotes Professor Michael Trimble's work on this. Will look it up later maybe.

PS Trimble isn't some religious nut and/or psychobabbler:

http://www.michaeltrimble.co.uk/

His current writing and academic interests involve teaching and lecturing on neuroanatomical concepts relevant to understanding behaviour and its variations, in particular with an interest in neuroaesthetics and neurotheology, namely the cerebral basis of artistic and religious experiences. His recent books include The Soul in the Brain: The Cerebral Basis of Language, Art and Belief, Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 2007.

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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 25 Jun 2014, 11:01

MM wrote:
Creating a clear identity of who is in and who outside the tribe is presumably one of the main reasons for religiously-prescribed practises such as circumcision, ear-cropping, scarification, tattooing, nose-piercing, etc.



How different, how very different, from the home life of our own dear Church of England.




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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 25 Jun 2014, 11:09

The difference between a scientist saying it, Temp, and a theologian is that the former applies the concept to scientific knowledge and comprehension based on such knowledge whereas the theologian hijacks this reasonable, justifiable and logical statement to account for the inexplicability of quite non-scientific assertion posing as knowledge. Not the same thing at all - the latter, as I said, is basically rhetorical cheating. The "unknowable" exists in both spheres - the difference is essentially that that which is not known in science has a method whereby it can be predicted with some assurance that it stands a good chance of eventually becoming knowable and thus eventually known. In theology no such comfortable prediction can ever be made, and in fairness to theologians they generally like to keep it that way too.

There is certainly always a charismatic/bonkers/messianic individual in the cases mentioned, ferval, and one who is definitely the catalyst in each case too. However the adherents do not escape completely from responsibility for their contribution to the massacres on those grounds, I think. Anthropologically, sociologically, psychologically and even in terms of evolutionary theory their contributory role to their own and their offsprings' demise deserves examination in its own right.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 25 Jun 2014, 12:02

@ferval wrote:
Aren't the mass suicides just a bit different though? Are there any instances of this where there has not been a charismatic individual driving it and whose psychopathy, narcissism, messiah complex or just sheer bonkersness has prompted the deaths? Is there an aspect of evolutionary theory that explains such nutters or are they just generated by random associations of circumstances?


Or a modern, scientifically advanced and sophisticated nation indulges in  mass psychosis (prompted by just such a charismatic individual, and going by some of the rallies, National Socialism was a form of religion) and exterminates those that it does not consider to be part of the state.

Some of Hitler's decisions, invading the Soviet Union while still at war with Britain, declaring war on the US after Pearl Harbor, have a suicidal feel to them as well.


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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 25 Jun 2014, 12:06

@nordmann wrote:


The difference between a scientist saying it, Temp, and a theologian is that the former applies the concept to scientific knowledge and comprehension based on such knowledge whereas the theologian hijacks this reasonable, justifiable and logical statement to account for the inexplicability of quite non-scientific assertion posing as knowledge. Not the same thing at all - the latter, as I said, is basically rhetorical cheating. The "unknowable" exists in both spheres - the difference is essentially that that which is not known in science has a method whereby it can be predicted with some assurance that it stands a good chance of eventually becoming knowable and thus eventually known. In theology no such comfortable prediction can ever be made, and in fairness to theologians they generally like to keep it that way too.  


That's rather slippery of you, nordmann. I'm sure what you say is correct, and I do take your point, but aren't you actually ignoring what I'm trying to say? I think Trimble's book sounds jolly interesting - "The Soul in the Brain: the Cerebral Basis of Language, Art and Belief " is an intriguing title. I'm curious to know just what is now "known" about all this - where the latest scientific research is taking us.

But I'm going off topic as usual. Must go and water my pots now and make wild and futile efforts to scare the rabbits. Darwin would be proud of them.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 25 Jun 2014, 12:14

If you think I'm "slippery" then you really want to check out the "god-spot" stuff that has made it into print and which rhetorically employs more presumptive interpretation and semantic side-stepping than a Luis Suarez press conference statement.

This link to all our favourite toilet paper has an update on why Missouri University poo-poos the notion. Though next week some other presumptuous rhetorical side-stepper will of course produce "evidence" to the contrary. The problem of course is what on earth "spirituality" is when it's at home. Using scientific method to research collocational variables has them rolling in the aisles in semantics classes (though keeps then strangely riveted in seminary classes).
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 25 Jun 2014, 12:49

Trike wrote:
Or a modern, scientifically advanced and sophisticated nation indulges in mass psychosis (prompted by just such a charismatic individual, and going by some of the rallies, National Socialism was a form of religion) and exterminates those that it does not consider to be part of the state.

The tendency for Nazi ideology to so sweetly interface with religious doctrine, however indiscriminate it was regarding which doctrine at any particular time, is a fascinating aspect to that particular ideology. However it has always struck me that this was a particularly fine example of religion being the last refuge of the scoundrel who has run out of logical justification for his actions, just on a very grand scale.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 25 Jun 2014, 18:06

@nordmann wrote:
If you think I'm "slippery" then you really want to check out the "god-spot" stuff that has made it into print and which rhetorically employs more presumptive interpretation and semantic side-stepping than a Luis Suarez press conference statement.

This link to all our favourite toilet paper has an update on why Missouri University poo-poos the notion. Though next week some other presumptuous rhetorical side-stepper will of course produce "evidence" to the contrary. The problem of course is what on earth "spirituality" is when it's at home. Using scientific method to research collocational variables has them rolling in the aisles in semantics classes (though keeps then strangely riveted in seminary classes).


I am confused.

I don't understand what you mean about using scientific method to research collocational variables making people laugh. That's not what McGilchrist and Trimble are doing. In their research and in their discussion of others' research they are investigating how our brains work.

And, for the record, I did say above that McGilchrist dismisses the idea of one bit of the brain being anything as simple as a "God-spot". Religious experience (his choice of expression rather than the trickier "spirituality") and brain function are rather more complicated than such a term would imply.

I've dug out the bit from the bafflingly scientific Chapter Two ("What do the two hemispheres do?) of his "The Master and his Emissary" (not a God-squaddy book - the "Master" of the title refers not to Christ, but to the brain's right hemisphere) which I mentioned earlier. I wish I hadn't now as I had forgotten how difficult it is and that I did not really understand it when I first read it. I still don't. However, I said I would send it, so here it is:


"The relative detachment from the body displayed by the left hemisphere, and its tendency towards abstraction, normally serve its purposeful striving towards individual gain. The left frontal lobe, however, brings distance, and allows the experience of the peaceful detachment from the material realm and 'emptying out' described by experts in meditation as a mystical experience. Again this is no negation, but an elaboration of what the left hemisphere affords. There is not likely to be 'a God spot' in the brain, and the area is fraught with problems of terminology and methodology (my italics): but there are areas that are often implicated as accompaniments of religious experience. An appropriately cautious and objective review of the literature to date by Michael Trimble concludes that there is a slow accumulation of evidence in favour of religious experience being more closely linked with the  'non-dominant' hemisphere, especially the posterior right hemisphere (temporoparietal region). But, to illustrate my point, the other region that is implicated lies in the left frontal lobe - specifically because of its power to inhibit the posterior left hemisphere (temporoparietal region), the seat of language and of sequential analysis."


How difficult all this is; I wish I understood it better, especially that fascinating final sentence about the inhibition of the posterior left hemisphere, the "seat of language and of sequential analysis."

I don't think this is risible: I do hope not.

Apologies for being off topic - will try to get back to snakes now.

PS Can't resist commenting on one thing from the Daily Loo Roll article: the mention of injury to the right side of the head and "spirituality". I had a very nasty fall at Tutbury Castle when I was little - I jumped awkwardly off a wall. I had an enormous bump on the right side of my head for ages. That could explain a lot.  Suspect
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Fri 27 Jun 2014, 09:47

The collocational variable is "spirituality". Its inclusion in a composite devalues the actual meaning of a term while enhancing its apparent meaning at the same time ("love potion" was the one on which I had to write an entire essay - I still shudder at the memory). We use such degraded composites and terms all the time when we (most often unintentionally) actually wish to avoid ascribing a specific meaning. This might sound evasive but in fact is a crucial role of language as a medium of communication since we often combine words into sentences primarily to deliver a sort of "semantic payload" at the end which could actually be compromised by potentially contradictory but actual meaning applying to the words which precede it - a method of elisional shortcutting without which language actually fails to work. However the upshot of this is that we have ended up with a slew of words that are popular and common purely because they facilitate that elision without ever suffering the indignity of being pinned down as to a definitive meaning. For a "scientist" to then attempt to discover where one of these might reside in the brain is actually very funny indeed. Well, to me at least.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Fri 27 Jun 2014, 14:58

Well, I sort of understood what you meant by a collocational variable, but I thought you meant "God-spot". I pointed out above that McGilchrist uses the expression "religious experience" rather than "the trickier spirituality" (spiritual experience?), but I suppose that's even worse. Communication does indeed break down when you try to baffle with clever-sounding semantics jargon. But what I really didn't understand was what you said about this research into brain function being laughable. I suppose you mean they are trying to investigate a figment of someone's imagination, not anything that could actually exist in reality. But then what is "reality"? And exactly whose brain has the right to dictate to us what is to be considered real and what is not? The theologians have been the dictators for centuries; now it is the atheists who are trying to bully us. We should be past the fixed and entrenched ideas of either camp - such an old-fashioned way of looking at things.

@nordmann wrote:
 For a "scientist" to then attempt to discover where one of these might reside in the brain is actually very funny indeed.


It would be funny if that was what McGilchrist and Trimble were trying to do, but it's not. They are trying to investigate what is going on in the brain when an individual has a religious experience, or is more susceptible to a religious/transcendent - I'm struggling for a word you won't poo-pooh here - view of the world. What is going on in Richard Dawkins' brain that is so very different from the brain of, say, Rowan Williams? Both men are enormously intelligent, articulate, erudite and both are clearly quite sane. As far as I know Williams has never suffered a head trauma, neither has he had a stroke. Yet his view of reality - or how he processes what we like to call reality - is so very different from the Dawkins take on it all. Why should that be?

I don't think scientific research into this problem is silly; I think it's extremely interesting.

PS I must admit, though, that I have sometimes wondered if all those near-death experiences of the sublime we read about are simply the products of a dying human brain, a highly developed brain ironically still struggling desperately to protect the disintegrating ego/personality (probably using all the wrong terminology here). I've also wondered if  St. Paul's blinding light experience on the road to Damascus was actually a transient ischaemic stroke. Odd to think that all Paul's agonisings and searchings may have been caused by damage to his right anterior or posterior whatever or his frontal lobe thingy.

PPS I think Darwin would find it interesting and worthwhile research too, and not at all "funny". T. H. Huxley would probably approve too - wasn't he after all a good agnostic?

Agnosticism is not a creed but a method, the essence of which lies in the vigorous application of a single principle ...Positively the principle may be expressed as in matters of intellect, do not pretend conclusions are certain that are not demonstrated or demonstrable.

Mmm. Worth thinking about, that, even if you are a convinced atheist. I've always said that an agnostic is the only honest thing to be.


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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Fri 27 Jun 2014, 15:43

I've been trying to find out a little (that I can understand) about the methodology of these experiments. As far as I can see, they involve various forms of imaging of brain activity while the subject is having a 'religious experience', self identified and induced by a range of stimuli; chanting, reading, praying etc. This I find difficult to understand in that the variables in what constitutes this experience, what the subject means by that and how it can be verified that what they report they are experiencing is actually what they are experiencing (or think they are) must make it impossible to demonstrate conclusively any link. The brain activity can be objectively verified but the causal 'experience' can't.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Fri 27 Jun 2014, 16:14

I've just ordered Trimble's book.

I've got to admit I'm still fuming about nordmann's use of inverted commas around "scientist", so I'm posting this. I think Trimble is most definitely a "scientist" (see bumph below) and a jolly distinguished one too. He may conclude in his book that religious experience or spirituality or whatever is all a load of crap, experienced only by sick/disturbed/traumatised or otherwise bonkers people, I don't know - but I intend to actually read it to find out. The man's research, however, is clearly not to be dismissed as merely "funny".

The H-word is HUFF, ferval. I'm desperately trying not to have one, but it's sometimes very hard.

The Soul in the Brain


The Cerebral Basis of Language, Art, and Belief



Michael R. Trimble, M.D.



In this provocative study, Michael R. Trimble, M.D., tackles the interrelationship between brain function, language, art—especially music and poetry—and religion. By examining the breakdown of language in several neuropsychiatric disorders, he identifies brain circuits that are involved with metaphor, poetry, music, and religious experiences. Drawing on this body of evidence, Trimble argues that religious experiences and beliefs are explicable biologically and relate to brain function, especially of the nondominant hemisphere.

Inspired by the writings and reflections of his patients—many of whom have epilepsy, psychosis, or affective disorders—Trimble asks how the human species, so enamored of its own logic and critical facilities, has held from the dawn of civilization strong religious beliefs and a reverence for the arts. He explores topics such as the phenomena of hypergraphia and hyper-religiosity, how religious experiences and poetic expression are neurologically linked with our capacity to respond to music, and how neuropsychiatric disorders influence behaviors related to artistic expression and religiosity by disturbing brain function.

With the sensitivity of a dedicated doctor and the curiosity of an accomplished scholar, Trimble offers an insightful analysis of how the study of people with paradigmatical neuropsychiatric conditions can be the cornerstone to unraveling some of the mysteries of the cerebral representations of our highest cultural experiences.



Michael R. Trimble, M.D., is a professor of behavioral neurology at the Institute of Neurology, University of London.




"This book exists... to explain matters of the heart using our knowledge of the mind... A host of professional students, clinicians, educators, and other well-read individuals will find this worthy of a close and careful read."

— Mark H. Fleisher - JAMA



"Perfect for either college-level collections strong in science, health, or social science and for public lending collections alike... An intriguing, lively survey."

— Midwest Book Review



"A highly thought-provoking excursion through neuroscience, philosophy, and culture."

— Scientific American Mind



"This scholarly, yet provocative, book from an insightful, observant neurologist... is rich with thought-provoking ideas."

— Chris McManus - British Journal of Psychiatry



"It is hard to imagine reading this book carefully without being enriched by the experience."

— Bruce L Miller - Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry



"This text considers crucial and significant questions about the relationship between creativity, belief and the brain. One does not need to agree with the arguments and conclusions to find much of value in this book. I suspect that it will receive a warm critical reception within scientific and medical contexts, and I have no doubt that many receptive readers will also be found amongst an informed general audience."

— Jay Johnston - Journal of Religious History



"Trimble’s book has elegantly accomplished its ambitious scope in highlighting the cerebral mechanisms that contribute to the most vital aspects of human experience, thus building solid intellectual bridges between different—and often noncommunicating—research fields."

— Andrea E. Cavanna - Cognitive Neuropsychiatry



"A final chapter integrates the book's core themes, using poetic examples as illustrations—resulting in an evocative meditation on art and biology."

— Choice



"Trimble elegantly and expertly surveys the literature on the neurologic correlates of changes in religious, esthetic, and poetic expression and then synthesizes what he has garnered from his reviews into a balanced and reasonable theoretical framework with which to understand these central facets of the human experience."

— Patrick McNamara, Boston University School of Medicine



"There have been a flurry of books recently on God and the brain, written either from the cold hard world of a neuroscientist or the more abstract but less brain-informed pulpit of a spiritual leader. Trimble tackles this most important topic with his unique knowledge and perspectives gained as a knowing and caring physician, a critical neuroscientist, a gifted historian, and a superb storyteller. He fuses these fields to address the simplest and most important questions: Why do we cry when we listen to music, or pay money to go and weep in the theater? This book is a remarkably new approach to understanding why we behave, think, and feel as we do."

— Mark S. George, Medical University of South Carolina



"To clarify the creative origins of poetry, music, and visual art requires polymathic erudition, and this is just what Michael Trimble is able to supply. The Soul in the Brain broadens the discussion of the evolutionary origins of language and plants it firmly in the brain. It deserves to be widely read."

— Timothy J. Crow, SANE Prince of Wales International Centre, University of Oxford



"In this latest book, Dr. Trimble incorporates his long experience with patients who have brain disorders, his thoughtful approach to neurological diseases, and his philosophical depth to take the reader on an exciting adventure examining the cerebral basis for the cultural beliefs we hold most dear. Those interested in neurology, psychiatry, and the relationship of these disciplines to culture will find this an exciting read and a 'must have' book."

— Jeffrey L. Cummings, University of California, Los Angeles



"Michael Trimble, consultant psychiatrist at the Institute of Neurology in London, is, in my view, today’s outstanding student conceptualizing the relationship of the brain to those matters of human mental life expressed in creativity and life-force. He follows in the wake of previous psychiatrists to the National Hospital such as W.H.R. Rivers and Eliot Slater in bringing broad scholarship and wide-ranging interest to his daily work. Like them, he is a superb writer capable of making the most difficult of subjects clear, and his opinions are likewise coherent and compelling. But Trimble has the great advantage of being expert in contemporary techniques in brain imaging—all brought to the highest level of capacity at the National Hospital—that permit him to draw the fascinating ideas displayed here in this book on the human spirit. Here neuroscience, practical clinical experience, and deep thinking combine in an engrossing fashion. Everyone interested in the human mind—and who is not?—will find riches here for contemplation."

— Paul McHugh, The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sat 28 Jun 2014, 17:38

Getting back to the OP - it might be worth looking at the phenomenon of hyperreligiosity - people doing crazy things in the name of "religion". Epilepsy (often called by the ancients "the Holy Sickness") and bipolar disorder have been implicated, especially the manic phase of the latter condition.

Not sure how Darwin fits in, though.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sat 28 Jun 2014, 21:51

@Temperance wrote:
Getting back to the OP - it might be worth looking at the phenomenon of hyperreligiosity - people doing crazy things in the name of "religion". Epilepsy (often called by the ancients "the Holy Sickness") and bipolar disorder have been implicated, especially the manic phase of the latter condition.

Not sure how Darwin fits in, though.


Temperance,

waiting for  the return of Caro to enter her thread, I wanted to enter this thread...
But with Nordmann in the background and lacking perhaps the basics to intervene in such a highbrown debate between you two...I am nevertheless impressed by your background, your knowledge and especially your "endurance"...

I know when ever engaged in the debate I will need a lot of time and research to back my statements...and for the moment busy on three "fronts" fora...one about the French defeat of 1940, one about the Yugoslavian civil war and one about the "Marseillaise"...you see quite straigth to the earth subjects...

With high esteem for your endurance,

Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 29 Jun 2014, 10:34

Temp wrote:
Getting back to the OP - it might be worth looking at the phenomenon of hyperreligiosity - people doing crazy things in the name of "religion". Epilepsy (often called by the ancients "the Holy Sickness") and bipolar disorder have been implicated, especially the manic phase of the latter condition.

Not sure how Darwin fits in, though.

The correlation between religion and psychiatric disorder is so prevalent historically and still so evident when observing contemporary behaviour that it quite often literally goes without saying. Human behaviour that in any other context would be automatically adjudged symptomatic of mental illness often is held up, with no trace of intended irony, as evidence of a commitment to religious faith transcending the average. However what is rarely examined is the same phenomenon viewed in terms of degree and therefore, if the more extreme examples of such correlation are self-evident, how much can be traced through these levels of degree down towards behaviour of a more "normal" nature? If religious adherence contains as a facet the ability to apparently validate mental processes otherwise deemed aberrant then to what extent is the same facet evident regarding behaviour associated with that which is often regarded as more mainstream or "normal" theological theory and practice?

Trimble's book, which I borrowed and read though not, I admit, with great interest, is on rather more solid ground while discussing language, music and epilepsy than it is when the author attempts to draw conclusions regarding religion's effect on the limbic system. In his foreword he claims the latter will be demonstrated by him but if I remember correctly this claim was not matched by the text, in which the notion of a close connection between epilepsy and what is regarded as extreme religious seizure is well presented but otherwise nothing else can be concluded or drawn. Trimble's problem, the same problem faced by anyone attempting to trace religion to physiological causes, is the nebulous and inefficient use of the terms "religion" and "spirituality" as expressions with concise semantic application. He is on safe ground only when these are claimed to be causative factors in a concrete and measurable physiological effect and epilepsy fits that bill. When the effect however is essentially psychiatric in nature he is out of his depth.

The honest conclusion, in my view, would have been for Trimble to so deduce that the fault lies in the nebulousness of the concept and that examination of cause and effect would better be served scientifically through a psychological rather than neurological analysis. His failure to conclude this raises the inverted commas around his own role as scientist therefore, at least in my opinion and at least in this instance. I do not doubt the commas can be dropped when he sticks to cardiology, neurology and the other scientific disciplines in which he is highly trained.

Regarding how Darwinian theory applies to all this, I am genuinely scratching my head. If religious belief has itself evolved as a means by which the species accommodates mental and behavioural aberration then it is very difficult to see how this fits in with the basic precept of evolution in which something should have a demonstrable usefulness in terms of that species' survival, the alternative being something which steers a species into a biological cul-de-sac in which its ability to mutate and survive diminishes. The conclusion could well be drawn that we as a species are heading into that cul-de-sac based on the apparent continued use of religion to validate otherwise potentially self-destructive behaviour. Alternatively this conclusion could be turned on its head if an advantage for the species can be demonstrated in Darwinian terms for the same phenomenon. However I really don't see one, at least an anyway obvious one.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 29 Jun 2014, 12:52

@nordmann wrote:
Regarding how Darwinian theory applies to all this, I am genuinely scratching my head. If religious belief has itself evolved as a means by which the species accommodates mental and behavioural aberration then it is very difficult to see how this fits in with the basic precept of evolution ....


It may be that religious belief itself didn't evolve directly due to natural selection but that it did so as by-product of psychological mechanisms that evolved for other reasons. Ferval has mentioned the apparent role of religion in identifying and reinforcing the concept of the family/group/tribe. Any lack of group cohesion would generally make individuals more vulnerable to attack from outsiders and being part of a group may also improve the chances of finding food, whether that be in being able to search a wider area or bring down larger prey. Truly social animals besides humans (such as other primates and whales) do seem to have also developed quite sophisticated mental characteristics, which set them apart from simple pack animals, such as demonstrating attachment and bonding, cooperation and mutual aid, sympathy and empathy, direct and indirect reciprocity, altruism and reciprocal altruism, conflict resolution and peacemaking, deception and deception detection, community concern and caring about what others think themselves as individuals, and awareness of and response to the social rules of the group. 

Chimpanzee society in particular is also very hierarchical and each member knows its own place. Social order is maintained by certain rules of expected behavior and dominant group members enforce order through punishment. However there is also generally an established sense of reciprocity and fairness. Chimpanzees remember who did them favors and who did them wrong: they are more likely to share food with individuals who have previously groomed them or shared food. They also remember who did wrong to someone else and so are potentially untrustworthy to themselves, and they also seem to rank that untrustworthiness by kinship: it's more serious if the cheated individual was a close relation - less serious is it was just someone else in the group.

It is perhaps simplistic, but by extension I can envisage a group of early hominids feeling the need to regularly groom their top being/their god - by prayer, ritual, penance, offerings or sacrifice - for him to bestow his blessings on hunting success, harvest, fertility, or success against the neighbouring other tribe. Chimps live in groups of about 50 individuals and early hominids probably lived in similar-sized groups. Paleolithic hunter-gatherers probably lived in groups of up to a few hundred individuals. But as community size increased over the course of human evolution there becomes a greater need to enforce group cohesion. So I can see religion, or perhaps just certain psychological aspects of it, developing as a means of social control, conflict resolution and group solidarity. Human society is more sophisticated than that of other primates: humans enforce their society’s moral codes much more rigorously with rewards, punishments and reputation building, and they also apply a degree of judgment and reason not seen in other animals.

Another view might be that the behaviour of people who participate in a religion makes them feel better (it certainly seems often to make them feel more superior) and this improves their "fitness", so that there is a genetic selection in favor of people who are willing to believe in religion. Specifically, rituals, beliefs, and the social contact typical of religious groups may serve to calm the mind (for example by reducing ambiguity and the uncertainty due to complexity) and allow it to function better when under stress. This would allow religion to be used as a powerful survival mechanism, particularly in facilitating the evolution of hierarchies, which if true, may be why many modern religions tend to promote fertility, kinship and indeed kingship.


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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 29 Jun 2014, 13:18

@Meles meles wrote:
... such as demonstrating attachment and bonding, cooperation and mutual aid, sympathy and empathy, direct and indirect reciprocity, altruism and reciprocal altruism, conflict resolution and peacemaking, deception and deception detection, community concern and caring about what others think themselves as individuals, and awareness of and response to the social rules of the group.

I agree certainly that these characteristics are displayed by both species and for the same obvious evolutionary reasons. However what is not so easily explicable is why in the human species they are so frequently ascribed to servicing metaphysical concepts such as deity, spirituality etc - as opposed to the many instances that also exist wherein they are engendered by and attributed to concepts quite readily comprehensible through an empirically observed and measured physical appreciation of the society that they foster and of the individual's understanding of their place within it based upon just such observation and comprehension.

Mm wrote:
... by extension I can see a group of early hominids feeling the need to regularly groom their top being/their god - by prayer, ritual, penance, offerings or sacrifice - for him to bestow his blessings on hunting success, harvest, fertility, or success against the neighbouring other tribe.


Again I agree, and this is obviously what has happened. But at what point was it deemed necessary in a Darwinian sense to transpose these sentiments from within the physical community (such as for example can be seen in any political system with a rigidly pyramidical structure and an individual or group deemed pre-eminent at its top) and into the belief that this structure extends beyond the physical realm at all? No other social animal appears to require this refinement or subversion of easily explained behaviour. If however it is also part of an evolutionary process then at what point did it develop and, more importantly, why?

Mm wrote:
Another view might be that the behaviour of people who participate in a religion makes them feel better (it certainly seems to make them feel more superior) and this improves their fitness, so that there is a genetic selection in favor of people who are willing to believe in religion.

This would also appear to be very probable indeed. However it then makes the phenomenon of the same tendency leading people to self-destruction or worse, potentially species-ending destruction given the tools presently to hand, all the more difficult to account for. It is the cul-de-sac interpretation of evolution with a vengeance, and with us as a species firmly established already within that dead-end.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 29 Jun 2014, 13:36

@nordmann wrote:

This would also appear to be very probable indeed. However it then makes the phenomenon of the same tendency leading people to self-destruction or worse, potentially species-ending destruction given the tools presently to hand, all the more difficult to account for. It is the cul-de-sac interpretation of evolution with a vengeance, and with us as a species firmly established already within that dead-end.

Ah... but evolution is flexible and bends like a reed in response to the external forces applied ...

A propesity towards religious belief may well be hard-wired into the human psyche, and may under past circumstances have served the species well, but I, and I suspect you yourself too, are evidence that religiousity itself is NOT permanantly hard-wired in, and that in certain individuals - though I'm not sure quite why -  religious belief never manifests itself.

And so far from religious belief being a cul-de-sac for the species .... there might actually be a small alley (called 'Enlightenment Lane' perhaps) leading off to another major thoroughfare, just before the blank brick wall at the end of the dead-end that is Religion Road.


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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 29 Jun 2014, 13:43

Yes, it does appear to be something of a race against time alright.

While I suspect we both agree that our species' survival ultimately rests with a prevalence of rationalism amongst its members I am aware that there is still quite a significant amount of adherence to the belief that it is religion itself which will prove its salvation. Just as with the term religion there are also as many interpretations of what this salvation means (religious belief even accommodating the irrational concept of survival through complete mass extinction). The real question is how critical a mass of such irrational belief has to exist to jeopardise, or even guarantee the demise of, human existence on this planet? The pointers based on observation of the contemporary world - let alone historical precedent - lead to a rather gloomy prognosis. In terms of our technological ability to destroy ourselves the amount of mass deemed critical has surely dropped alarmingly in recent generations.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 29 Jun 2014, 13:54

Indeed. Despite my upbeat comments it is all rather gloomy at the present.

The strain of fundamentalist protestant religious belief that wants to deny all evolution (and all that goes with it including evolved strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria) rather pales before the dark shroud that is currently being drawn over the middle east, which seems to champion ignorance and blind, unquestioning obedience to a fictional being ... how very apt that their flag is black!

I wonder if the ancient Romans felt this way when the barbarians started getting militant and migrating closer... a fear that all their accumulated knowledge, enlightenment, reason, stability, justice .... were at risk of being buried by blind ignorance?


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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 29 Jun 2014, 13:57

This is not properly thought through but that's something I've been thinking about while wandering round Marks - religion as a form of self medication, quite literally the opium of the people.
Given humanity's always been seeking out ways of achieving altered states of consciousness using psychotropic substances of every kind and various forms of repetitive, self hypnotic behaviours, the way that religious practice validates and provides a structure within which these altered states are positively encouraged might just offer one alternative explanation for its popularity.  I haven't worked out yet how this improves reproductive success though unless it's just another aspect of the social status conferred by the spectacle of extreme observance. In general, any elite breeds more effectively than the rest and the survival rate of the offspring (at least as important as how many sprogs they have, an often underplayed aspect) is better.
The problem is isolating the religious motivations of these practices from the social and, arguably, the political.

edit: Ah, there's some more posts which I haven't read so apologies if this is out of sync.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 29 Jun 2014, 14:08

And have you two any idea of how "superior" you are sounding?

I'm very distressed. I've just come back from a church service where, if I am honest, I sat thinking, "What the heck am I doing here?" to  the Res Historica site, where I am also thinking, "What the heck am I doing here?"

Alienation? The Outsider Syndrome? Whatever my problem is, it's not pleasant. I was going to post the first verse (the whole poem does drag on a bit) of Francis Thompson's "The Hound of Heaven", but it's off-topic and he was a total nutter anyway - street vagrant and opium addict.

Gardening or open a bottle of wine? Could do both, I suppose and then go and wreak vengeance on the rabbits. This road to Enlightenment Alley (sounds like a concept album from 1972) is going to be a bumpy one, that's for sure.

PS Paul, thanks for my endurance award. Can't manage a smiley at the moment, but will probably put one later.

EDIT: Just seen later posts
@ferval wrote:
The problem is isolating the religious motivations of these practices from the social and, arguably, the political.

Yes, thank you for that, ferval.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 29 Jun 2014, 14:13

I knew it! After the last time, I said I wouldn't enter into any religion debates.

And I tried so hard to be neutral and not at all superior to other animals especially chimps and dolphins. I tried to word my response to respect every species and every individual of every species. I haven't scoffed and I haven't mocked ... I admit I've used rather tortuous road-based allegories, but Nordy started it! But, however careful I've been, tip-toeing around ethnic and religious sensibilities, I still find I've upset someone.

Humf - I'm off to weed the garden too!

PS : It wasn't me that said:

@Nordmann wrote:
The correlation between religion and psychiatric disorder is so prevalent historically and still so evident when observing contemporary behaviour that it quite often literally goes without saying.

Anyway you youself asked me (on another thread) why I thought certain people are religious and others are not ... And I'm sure you wouldn't be satisfied with the usual religious cop-out answer: "It's that way because God made it that way ... praise be!"

 Rolling Eyes


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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 29 Jun 2014, 14:16

You haven't upset me, MM. I've upset myself.

EDIT: Who you calling a chimpanzee then? Bloody cheek.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 29 Jun 2014, 14:32

Temp, I meant to add a disclaimer that I wasn't suggesting that you, or any other posters here, required religious self-medication to address their problems but, on reflection, perhaps that's also what this board is for. Through our ostensible devotions to the great god history - or nordmann (may be peace be upon him) - we briefly divert ourselves from the soul sapping realities of life, the universe and everything with our ephemeral chatter. And it's good.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 29 Jun 2014, 15:31

I suggested that religious belief might have evolved as a by-product of psychological mechanisms that evolved for other reasons.

OK, here's a thought....

Might not one of these other, and more directly important, evolutionary-wise, other attributes, be tool making. To be specific, might the link between the two: religion and tool-making, be the development of imagination: ie seeing possibilities for something where nothing currently exists.

Stone working - knapping flints - is one of the very first uniquely human abilities. But practically it isn't all that intuitive. To make a stick into a spear one just needs to remove the side twigs and then work the end into a point. That is quite obvious and it's relatively easy to hack away with a stone to get something like the desired pointy-ended result. But a flint blade, however simple and primitive, is completely different. A flint-knapper cannot just chip away at the stone: flint as a material doesn't respond like that (it has a concoidal fracture) and the chips don't come away as you'd expect. One has to mentally envisage the form one wants to create within the raw stone, and then remove successive flakes by carefully placed blows adjacent to where you want the piece to fly off. A good flint-knapper has to be able to "see" the finished artcle within the unworked stone before he starts work.

In short he has to have imagination.

And being able to imagine a future finished implement within a block of unworked stone is not that far removed from being able to imagine spirits within the same rock and who might benevolently show you the way to chip out the hidden article. And from there its not far to imagining hidden, unseen persons in the important things in life, .... or indeed just one all powerful person, who, depending how they are treated, be either cantakerous or benevolent, but able to influence all lesser mankind. A god in other words.
 
Well, it was just a thought.


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