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

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Meles meles
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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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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 29 Jun 2014, 15:41

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

Superior to what or whom? To me the application of Darwinian evolutionary theory to the question of religion's role simply throws up even more unanswerable questions (at least to me) and I have said as much now several times.

You seem to think I somehow discount religion or place a low value on it. The truth, as is evident from the fact that I started this thread, is that I am struggling to pinpoint its actual role in everything, and this I would suggest is indicative of me placing an implicit value on it. It is undeniably a huge factor in social evolution - history reiterates this at every turn. It is its actual role in the biological evolution of our species that intrigues me. Not an obvious role at all, and one which upon examination is as likely to indicate gloom rather than reason for optimism in the context of our species' survival.

How asking these questions means adopting airs of superiority defeats me. If simply by asking then one is assuming a superior stance then I can possibly understand a little as it means at the very least an intellect attempting to function, but this is true only if the logical extension of this reasoning means that those who never ask are ipso facto inferior in failing to apply their intellect to the same questions. That is also depressing in the imposed confines of its reasoning. Anyway, for me it is the answers to these questions, and the effort in finding them, that matters. Whether it infers airs of superiority or inferiority - or whatever - is completely irrelevant. Sorry I pissed you off.

Meles meles - the development of the ability to imagine is intriguing as an aspect to all this. For me I would associate this development more with the requirement to predict events rather than with manual manipulation of the environment such as tool making exemplifies. Perhaps both played a role. But I'm still missing the causality in the leap from imagining to metaphysical constructs involving not only absolute creation theory but also an implicit relationship between us and the creators which is so thoroughly constructed as to lend itself to codification and complete insertion into systems of social organisation and control. At some point this all seemed to suddenly seem a good idea to do and to a whopping majority of the species' members. That's the bit that I'm trying to figure out. When and why?
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 29 Jun 2014, 16:43

A carefully worded post, as always, nordmann; you get the tone just right. And neither you nor MM  "pissed me off". I was entirely responsible for my feelings of anger/distress/inferiority earlier. I should not have aired them here.  

I still think we need to differentiate between religiosity and hyperreligiosity. It is surely the latter that has led, and is still leading, to destructive and/or self-destructive behaviour. Also, ferval's point about religion's traditional, unhappy entanglement with politics, economics, territory disputes etc. etc. is worth looking at more closely.

MM's comments about spirits trapped in stones reminds me of Michelangelo's famous comment about freeing the angel in the marble. I think it was made in a letter to Benedetto Varchi. It is nice to imagine some prehistoric carver would have understood perfectly.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 29 Jun 2014, 16:58

Temp wrote:
I still think we need to differentiate between religiosity and hyperreligiosity. It is surely the latter that has led, and is still leading, to destructive and/or self-destructive behaviour.

I know what you mean but I am afraid this is a distinction that blurs considerably in the broader view. For example, an apparently benign and innocent entreaty such as that imparted in the Sermon on the Mount "Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof", if interpreted to mean that humans should not plan ahead, would be catastrophic advice to a species interested in its survival and is therefore a direct challenge to Darwinian principles of animal behaviour in which the reward for behaving a particular way, particularly in predictive planning, is evident and demonstrable without having to wander into metaphysical justification. Luckily there is not much evidence from observing actual human behaviour to suggest that this advice has ever been taken to heart, at least by the aforementioned critical mass.

But you see what I'm getting at? Even such an esoteric snippet of theological assertion contains at least the potential to negatively impact on human survival in an evolutionary sense (and must surely have led to at least some individuals' own physical destruction over time if they subscribed to it with diligence in the implied belief that the reward metaphysically promised outweighed that of physical survival evident from observation in ignoring such advice). How and when did it become acceptable to adopt such concepts as "normal", and most importantly why?
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 29 Jun 2014, 17:08

At some point this all seemed to suddenly seem a good idea to do and to a whopping majority of the species' members. That's the bit that I'm trying to figure out. When and why?

Suddenly? Surely religious concepts, and the nature of the deities, must have developed in concert with social organisation starting at least from the Mesolithic onwards, almost certainly earlier but that's conjectural. At first there's the family and kin group and the strong identification with the natural world. From the Neolithic there is evidence of developing hierarchies and the human mind, in its constant search for explication and narrative, would impose a similar order in its interpretation of the world that it experienced - something no doubt encouraged by those heading up those hierarchies. As societies and social relationships became more complex, demanding the codification of rules of engagement, so too would the organisation of religious practice in a nice feedback loop with social solidarity, acceptance, prestige and resilience being enhanced by adherence to common beliefs. You're much more likely to survive and prosper if you belong. If you can have a bit of a dopamine producing buzz as well, so much the better.
Anyway, doesn't religious organisation really reflect societal organisation rather than establish it?

Darn, the conversation has moved on again while I was painting the gate. Never mind, here's my latest ramblings.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 29 Jun 2014, 17:23

Well, "suddenly" in terms of social development over the last quarter million years, yes. And I accept that humans developed quite early on a blind spot with regard to distinguishing between the physical and the metaphysical (terms for the latter are really recent developments themselves since they were unnecessary when that ignorance prevailed). But now the distinction is accepted by all intelligent people - in fact it is now generally a criterion for defining intelligence. So is this discussion really something that boils down to numbers and the critical mass of people I wondered about. And is the crucial critical mass one to do with ignorance more than anything else?
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 29 Jun 2014, 17:45

In many cases, yes, it is ignorance, but certainly not in all. I'd suggest that in the case of those who, despite the evidence, or more accurately the lack thereof', still profess belief it is an unwillingness to comfort the possibility of being in error, or fear of the consequence.
I'm prompted to think of what Dawkins said about people growing out of belief in Santa Claus but not in God. There is a difference: without believing in Santa, you still have mum and dad and still get presents whereas, without believing in God, you face the reality of your death, your children and grandchildrens' death, that of all whom you love and even the eventual death of the universe. It's dark, cold and lonely, I can't blame those who shudder and keep ahold of nurse.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 29 Jun 2014, 18:05

Is this an innate tendency or an engendered one, the need to hold on to nurse? I for example don't feel dark and cold and lonely when I contemplate a reality which includes no metaphysically expressed creator and no extension to the experience of life beyond the life of the organism doing the experiencing. I am quite happy to leave the entire creation question open until such time as it can be answered through rational means (a means now outstripping theology on several fronts in my view). Suspending that for reasons of comfort just doesn't make sense to me as whether one believes in such a comforting irrationality or not you, your children and your grandchildren will surely die. Where is the terror in that, except on a purely subjective and self-centred basis?

But I digress. Really I should be asking how a false sense of comfort conforms to Darwinian theory, but that I fear is all too simplistic a question.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 29 Jun 2014, 18:27

Where is the terror in that, except on a purely subjective and self-centred basis?

I think it could be argued that the ability to be subjective and self-centred is definitive of being human since it is a consequence of consciousness. As an aside, (sorry!), I was taken by Rowan Williams's comment in his book review elsewhere along the lines of 'Matter is a construct of consciousness'.

I don't think this existential fear is gendered, rather a innate expression of the (vain) hope of meeting again and derives from the imagination. Again, a very human response arising from, rather than despite, an acknowledgement of the reality of death. I have no belief in any aspect of the supernatural, god or the afterlife: that doesn't mean I have to be cheery about it.

I don't consider your final question to be simplistic at all, why do you fear it is?
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 29 Jun 2014, 22:18

nordmann wrote:
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.


Nordmann,

I think I understand all what you said. But it is not easy to follow it all in all its details. I had always to read the "lol beeble" messages on the ex-BBC three times, the same way...but I agree it is not easy to explain such difficult material in one sentence...

"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."

As many times on this forum I follow more or less what Meles Meles tries (I think!) to explain...

If you are a prehistoric human...a lot of the outside world is incomprehensible for you...as a social creature living in a group you communicate with each other and try to coin the unknow phenomena...and it is perhaps obvious that they coin it as a kind of surnatural "thing"...and from that as every human they try to bend the fate in their adventage...by worshipping (honest I first wrote whoreshipping...after all those years my English is still...Lucky that I had a look in the dictionary) and trying to deal with the surnatural phenomena by gifts and all that...

I find that Meles Meles has a point, if I understand him well...by the tempering and the canalizing of the fears of the unknow it can perhaps be that that has a healthy mental effect on the group and by such adding to the survival of that group in a Darwinian perspective...?

One in our 21st century is only starting in the studies what the "mind" can do with the physical person. The so-called "psychosomatic"? illnesses...I was last year with my wife on the "saying" from one of her acquaintances to a doctors practice as it happened at the end to be two female "nature" method and homeopaty doctors...all was in green...at the entrance was a green school board where one could write his spontaneous upcoming utterings...in the waiting room sat a couple of "adepts"...the woman clearly the leader of the couple told me while waiting that they already visited the practice for years...and that their mental health was improved over the years...I gradualy got so furious that one of the female doctors came outside her cabinet to ask what happened...I was so lucky that I could persuade my wife that one time was enough for her psychosomatic illnesses....
This year we go to Lourdes (too long to explain to the Anglo-Saxons the complex history. Perhaps Meles Meles with his Roman-Catholic connections can explain it better)...all that to say that "psychosomatics" can be healed also by "prayers"...I read that even "placebos" could heal certain "illnesses"

All that to say how important "belief" can be in the process of healing a bad feeling...and even understanding myself the nowadays world by the scientific revolution, I have still many times to correct myself by "reasoning" from irrational behaviour...

And as the "mind" has such an influence on the physical behaviour I can quite understand (perhaps by my Roman-Catholic upbringing Wink ) that one can have with exalted ones some excesses...as one had excesses by massa psychosis as for instance Nazism...I think the Darwinian evolution statistically has incorporated by trial and error also these "negative" aspects of human behaviour...? and even not sure about it...can't it be that even these aberrations have a "sanitizing" effect on the human evolution...? I only ask...

That's my first hesitating take on the subject of this "complex" thread...

Kind regards and with esteem to all the contributors of this thread, especially to Temperance for her endurance to try to have a grip on the question...

Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 29 Jun 2014, 22:26

ferval wrote:
At some point this all seemed to suddenly seem a good idea to do and to a whopping majority of the species' members. That's the bit that I'm trying to figure out. When and why?

Suddenly? Surely religious concepts, and the nature of the deities, must have developed in concert with social organisation starting at least from the Mesolithic onwards, almost certainly earlier but that's conjectural. At first there's the family and kin group and the strong identification with the natural world. From the Neolithic there is evidence of developing hierarchies and the human mind, in its constant search for explication and narrative, would impose a similar order in its interpretation of the world that it experienced - something no doubt encouraged by those heading up those hierarchies. As societies and social relationships became more complex, demanding the codification of rules of engagement, so too would the organisation of religious practice in a nice feedback loop with social solidarity, acceptance, prestige and resilience being enhanced by adherence to common beliefs. You're much more likely to survive and prosper if you belong. If you can have a bit of a dopamine producing buzz as well, so much the better.
Anyway, doesn't religious organisation really reflect societal organisation rather than establish it?

Darn, the conversation has moved on again while I was painting the gate. Never mind, here's my latest ramblings.


Ferval,

I hadn't read your message before sending mine...I really envy your excellent wording...even in Dutch mine would be a miserble duplicate of yours...

Yes, I completely follow what you mean...

Kind regards and with esteem, Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Sun 29 Jun 2014, 22:44

ferval wrote:
In many cases, yes, it is ignorance, but certainly not in all. I'd suggest that in the case of those who, despite the evidence, or more accurately the lack thereof', still profess belief it is an unwillingness to comfort the possibility of being in error, or fear of the consequence.
I'm prompted to think of what Dawkins said about people growing out of belief in Santa Claus but not in God. There is a difference: without believing in Santa, you still have mum and dad and still get presents whereas, without believing in God, you face the reality of your death, your children and grandchildrens' death, that of all whom you love and even the eventual death of the universe. It's dark, cold and lonely, I can't blame those who shudder and keep ahold of nurse.


Ferval,

thank you again for this message. In one of our metaphysical discussions on the ex-BBC messageboard...with Nordmann? about consciousness? I ended also with the sentence that to stay alone without belief in this material world one had to be a strong character or something in that sense...

Nordmann, can say what he want, but I suppose! most of us, perhaps from upbringing on are still afraid to stay "alone" in this world...and I added as the only compensation the "name" in your short life that you have made among those billions of people of this earth in that universe of billions of earths....

Kind regards and with great esteem,

Paul.

PS: Ferval I hope that you still read sometimes the Historum...yes I know it is quite another world... Wink
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 30 Jun 2014, 07:33

nordmann wrote:


Luckily there is not much evidence from observing actual human behaviour to suggest that this advice has ever been taken to heart, at least by the aforementioned critical mass.


That is true: indeed there is not much evidence over the past two thousand years that anyone has ever really taken the advice of the Gospels too seriously. The Princes of the Church certainly haven't. The minority who have tried to take it to heart have usually come croppers of one sort or another. Perhaps if everyone took it to heart the human species would actually flourish rather than be destroyed?

A line from Shakespeare has been going round and round in my head since yesterday - probably of no relevance here, but will mention it: it is from King Lear. Lear asks in Act 3: "Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts?"

The play is full of animal imagery; humans are constantly compared to the most ferocious of predators and the good all end up broken or destroyed. Of course the irony is that the bad do too. The only survivor is, irony of ironies, the weakest of all the characters, Edgar, who in the end finds strength from somewhere and learns to fight. He has little joy in it though. Lear's universe is the bleakest of Darwinian worlds.

In fact, all sorts of things are going round in my head at the moment: Darwin, Machiavelli, St. John. Not sure who's winning.

Shakespeare's Lear by the way also examines madness, and continually questions the notions of wisdom and foolishness. Our Willie - wisely - leaves the questions wide open - the ending of the play can be read as profoundly Christian or profoundly nihilistic (Darwin before Darwin?): you pays your money and takes your choice.

The following may be of interest, but then again is not really addressing the topic.


http://www.academia.edu/2702641/An_Evolutionary_Approach_to_Shakespeares_King_Lear#

PS You lot have no idea how much I envy you your certainty about all this stuff. You are all so confident, so sure of your ground. I am forever questioning and analysing and doubting. Me superior? Don't make me laugh.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 30 Jun 2014, 08:22

I'm not sure why you think we are certain, confident and sure of our ground, when we are clearly just bouncing ideas around and have singularly failed to definitively answer the fundamental questions.

I'm trying to locate a book ... Steven Pinker's 'Evolution of the Mind, (at least I think it's called that) which I read several years ago and I think had some chapters relevant to all this. My copy is in the attic somewhere ... but can I find it?! Mad

EDIT : Found it! But actually the book I was thinking of is 'The Prehistory of the Mind - A search for the origins of art, religion and science'' (1996) by Steven Mithen. I also found a copy of 'Evolution in Mind', (1997) by Henry Plotkin, which I never recall having read. So there's some light (ha!) reading matter for this evening. At least Mithen's book has got some nice diagrams and illustrations.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 30 Jun 2014, 09:36

Temp wrote:
Perhaps if everyone took it to heart the human species would actually flourish rather than be destroyed?

Eh, I don't think so - at least not if what they take to heart includes the instruction to forget about thinking ahead.

ferv wrote:
I think it could be argued that the ability to be subjective and self-centred is definitive of being human since it is a consequence of consciousness. As an aside, (sorry!), I was taken by Rowan Williams's comment in his book review elsewhere along the lines of 'Matter is a construct of consciousness'.

It could of course also be argued that the ability to be objective and altruistic is also definitive of being human as it too is a consequence of consciousness. Williams's assertion that matter only exists through cognitive experience is a load of twaddle in my book. We can cognitively experience much that is actually within our imaginations rather than real. However reality still has a habit of biting you in the bum in a way that imagination can't.

ferv wrote:
I don't consider your final question to be simplistic at all, why do you fear it is?

The problem I have with the question (that I posed myself, I admit) is that I can see how false comfort - the tendency to feel oneself safe when actually in peril - can be both an advantage and a drawback in an evolutionary sense, leading me to suspect that it is phrased therefore too simplistically.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 30 Jun 2014, 10:03

nordmann wrote:
Temp wrote:
Perhaps if everyone took it to heart the human species would actually flourish rather than be destroyed?


Eh, I don't think so - at least not if what they take to heart is the instruction to forget about thinking ahead.


It depends on what you mean by "thinking ahead". I don't think Christ was advising us not to bother with our Home Emergencies Extension cover.  Perhaps what he meant was that all our fretting and planning and scheming can turn out to be a pretty futile exercise in the end - whether one is a man or a mouse.

Reality does indeed have a habit of biting our bottoms very hard indeed; but imagination can also deliver some nasty nips. Well, in my experience it can. Imagination is sometimes worse than reality. I've always said that doom isn't nearly so bad as impending doom.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 30 Jun 2014, 10:18

Imagination can feel worse than reality, of course. However an imagined car hitting you at 60mph tends not to do as much damage as an actual one.

I am no theologian - as certain parties have delighted in reminding me in the past - but isn't the instruction not to worry about tomorrow grounded in a (false as it turned out) conviction on the part of the instructor that everything was just about to go belly up anyway? In any case, the fact that your rejoinder contains a "perhaps what he meant" is informative in its own way.

But we're straying from evolution, I think, in these remarks anyway. The real question is not whether  the theological instruction is right or wrong, intelligent or inane, but in how and why we have been programmed through evolution to afford such stuff an importance, even when it strays into the downright wacky, sadistic, masochistic or obviously untrue - none of which we would tolerate as valid, useful or even intelligible instruction if it didn't have the mantle of religion pre-applied first.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 30 Jun 2014, 10:27

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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 30 Jun 2014, 11:13

To return to the o.p., I'm increasingly drawn to the sexual selection aspect. The active participants seem to be exclusively male and there's an element of display and competitive self harming going on. The analogies that spring to mind are the love struck adolescent 'proving' his adoration by doing something dangerous and just daft to win/win back/attract the attention of the beloved and also the jostling for status within the males of the group/tribe/pride.

Going back to the group identity and cohesion bit, have these hyper-religious rituals developed during periods of particular external pressure on the participating minorities? The Philippines example for instance - does that have any correlation to increasing stress on that Christian community from Muslim ascendancy?
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 30 Jun 2014, 12:06

ferval wrote:
To return to the o.p., I'm increasingly drawn to the sexual selection aspect. The active participants seem to be exclusively male and there's an element of display and competitive self harming going on.

Like the peacock's tail or the massive antlers on Irish elk, showy but useless and indeed more of a hinderance than a help for normal survival. But the trait continues to be passed on and indeed evolves to get even more extreme, just cos it drives the girls wild! (or strictly just because the girls are programmed by their genes to be attracted to the useless but showy and potentially dangerous trait).

So in humans it's become a ritualised display, formailsed within a key social convention of the group (religion), which shows one is fit to breed because one can demonstrably withstand the pain and loss of blood etc. Like you I immediately related that to a masculine display, but it might almost make more sense if applied to women, demonstrating their abilities to withstand the pain and rigours of childbirth.

EDIT : Actually of course in humans, as in most other mammals, it is the female of the species that makes the higher investment in the offspring. This makes the females the limiting resource and usually results in the males competing and displaying for attention and favours from females, whilst the females choose between males. Hence of course it is nearly always the males that develop the extravagant tails (peacocks), huge antlers (deer), or competete with other males in dangerous games (humans).

Sexual selection for outlandish religious rituals .... It's an interesting idea and makes a lot of sense.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 30 Jun 2014, 17:20

This is an interesting article from the New York Times magazine. I hope it is (slightly) more relevant to the topic than my previous literary and pseudo-theological ramblings.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/04/magazine/04evolution.t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&sq=darwin&st=cses god&scp=1




Lost in the hullabaloo over the neo-atheists is a quieter and potentially more illuminating debate. It is taking place not between science and religion but within science itself, specifically among the scientists studying the evolution of religion. These scholars tend to agree on one point: that religious belief is an outgrowth of brain architecture that evolved during early human history. What they disagree about is why a tendency to believe evolved, whether it was because belief itself was adaptive or because it was just an evolutionary byproduct, a mere consequence of some other adaptation in the evolution of the human brain.


Re ferval's and MM's posts above - not sure how cutting your bits off would impress the girls though; some of the more bizarre female saints might have been won over by such a display, I suppose. Otherwise it seems to have been a really futile exercise. Snakes I can understand sort of, but castration no.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 30 Jun 2014, 18:10

Quote :
whether it was because belief itself was adaptive or because it was just an evolutionary byproduct, a mere consequence of some other adaptation in the evolution of the human brain

I don't see these as two distinct alternatives. Belief (and I know the writer means religious belief) is obviously adaptive - there are enough variations abroad to see that. However that does not preclude the possibility that it is itself also a consequence of another adaptation in the brain's evolution. In fact I would nearly suggest that this must also obviously be true, if only because the biological benefit is so difficult to clearly identify.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 30 Jun 2014, 19:23

However that does not preclude the possibility that it is itself also a consequence of another adaptation in the brain's evolution

I would venture to suggest that that other, pre-existing, adaptation is the understanding of cause and effect, something that must have had hugely beneficial evolutionary advantage. Once a hominim has adopted this, he/she must surely look for a causal agent to explain the inexplicable in their world. We cannot accept that something 'just happens', we want to know why.
The other adaptation that could also come into play is another evolutionary plus, the human compulsion to create order from chaotic phenomena, to fill in gaps in information and understanding with imaginative prediction based on previous experience, so in that search for a causal agent, wouldn't some external, non-human powerful forces fit the bill? In dementia patients I have seen this compulsion to make sense of confused and incomplete sensory input organised by reference to past events to create a narrative that is clearly mistaken to the viewer but has total internal logic to the sufferer.
From the family to the nation state, humans exist within hierarchies and it's not surprising that from the earliest onwards they would expect a similar hierarchy in their world and so attribute that which they observe but cannot explain to be as a result of an action on the part of these forces.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Mon 30 Jun 2014, 20:53

Temperance wrote:
This is an interesting article from the New York Times magazine. I hope it is (slightly) more relevant to the topic than my previous literary and pseudo-theological ramblings.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/04/magazine/04evolution.t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&sq=darwin&st=cses god&scp=1




Lost in the hullabaloo over the neo-atheists is a quieter and potentially more illuminating debate. It is taking place not between science and religion but within science itself, specifically among the scientists studying the evolution of religion. These scholars tend to agree on one point: that religious belief is an outgrowth of brain architecture that evolved during early human history. What they disagree about is why a tendency to believe evolved, whether it was because belief itself was adaptive or because it was just an evolutionary byproduct, a mere consequence of some other adaptation in the evolution of the human brain.


Re ferval's and MM's posts above - not sure how cutting your bits off would impress the girls though; some of the more bizarre female saints might have been won over by such a display, I suppose. Otherwise it seems to have been a really futile exercise. Snakes I can understand sort of, but castration no.


Temperance,

just read the eleven pages of your New York times link. Splendid. That's indeed what we need in the debate...

Starting to read the first pages...had to undergo depressingly the theories of the "spandrelists" but on page seven endly some light in the tunnel...the adaptationists versus the spandrelists...

from page 7:
"Fear of death is an undercurrent of belief. The spirits of dead ancestors, ghosts, immortal deities, heaven and hell, the everlasting soul: the notion of spiritual existence after death is at the heart of almost every religion. According to some adaptationists, this is part of religion’s role, to help humans deal with the grim certainty of death. Believing in God and the afterlife, they say, is how we make sense of the brevity of our time on earth, how we give meaning to this brutish and short existence. Religion can offer solace to the bereaved and comfort to the frightened.
But the spandrelists counter that saying these beliefs are consolation does not mean they offered an adaptive advantage to our ancestors. “The human mind does not produce adequate comforting delusions against all situations of stress or fear,” wrote Pascal Boyer, a leading byproduct theorist, in “Religion Explained,” which came out a year before Atran’s book. “Indeed, any organism that was prone to such delusions would not survive long.”

My adaptationist comment on this paragraph: the worth for living...if there is an afterlife in which one believes it has perhaps a better incentive to work for than a mere present life and one has to work for  the name celebrity in later generations...?


And then on page 8...trumpets!!! clarions!!!
What I tried to explain in a personal perhaps inadequate manner in my previous message.... Wink

"Intriguing as the spandrel logic might be, there is another way to think about the evolution of religion: that religion evolved because it offered survival advantages to our distant ancestors. This is where the action is in the science of God debate, with a coterie of adaptationists arguing on behalf of the primary benefits, in terms of survival advantages, of religious belief.
The trick in thinking about adaptation is that even if a trait offers no survival advantage today, it might have had one long ago. This is how Darwinians explain how certain physical characteristics persist even if they do not currently seem adaptive — by asking whether they might have helped our distant ancestors form social groups, feed themselves, find suitable mates or keep from getting killed. A facility for storing calories as fat, for instance, which is a detriment in today’s food-rich society, probably helped our ancestors survive cyclical famines.
So trying to explain the adaptiveness of religion means looking for how it might have helped early humans survive and reproduce. As some adaptationists see it, this could have worked on two levels, individual and group. Religion made people feel better, less tormented by thoughts about death, more focused on the future, more willing to take care of themselves. As William James put it, religion filled people with “a new zest which adds itself like a gift to life . . . an assurance of safety and a temper of peace and, in relation to others, a preponderance of loving affections.”
Such sentiments, some adaptationists say, made the faithful better at finding and storing food, for instance, and helped them attract better mates because of their reputations for morality, obedience and sober living. The advantage might have worked at the group level too, with religious groups outlasting others because they were more cohesive, more likely to contain individuals willing to make sacrifices for the group and more adept at sharing resources and preparing for warfare.
One of the most vocal adaptationists is David Sloan Wilson, an occasional thorn in the side of both Scott Atran and Richard Dawkins. Wilson, an evolutionary biologist at the State University of New York at Binghamton, focuses much of his argument at the group level. “Organisms are a product of natural selection,” he wrote in “Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society,” which came out in 2002, the same year as Atran’s book, and staked out the adaptationist view. “Through countless generations of variation and selection, [organisms] acquire properties that enable them to survive and reproduce in their environments. My purpose is to see if human groups in general, and religious groups in particular, qualify as organismic in this sense.”


Sweet sister temperance you are my consolation and my support (in Dutch: mijn troost en toeverlaat)...

Kind regards and with esteem, Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 01 Jul 2014, 08:56

Paul wrote:

Sweet sister temperance you are my consolation and my support (in Dutch: mijn troost en toeverlaat)...


Well, I'm very pleased to know I'm somebody's "consolation and support", Paul!

Paul wrote:
trumpets!!! clarions!!!


 Smile  I know what you mean. Struggling through all the scientific stuff (I don't think I've got a functioning left hemisphere at all) I often despair. But with that New York Times article I too was overcome with joy: I think I actually understand this, I found myself thinking...

I like your cause and effect theory, ferval; also what you say about hierarchies.

I'm going to have a little ramble now - hope nordmann won't be too irritated. I was thinking earlier this morning - around dawn actually - of how impossible it is for us to experience things the way early man did. Revelation must have come easier when the world was empty, the stars properly bright, and nature - an eclipse or an electric storm for example -  still a mystifying, magnificent and terrifying force. I wonder when did "revelation" cease? When did the universe become - for most - no longer benevolent or malevolent, but simply indifferent?

I must have a primitive mind - I was always very taken with the idea of the Great Hierarchy - the Great Chain of Being. I first learnt about it years ago when I read Tillyard's "The Elizabethan World Picture", but I believe the ideas go back to the great Greek thinkers. I found the whole thing very satisfying - all those ranks of angels, the renegade angels, the various degrees of men, animals, plants: even the very stones had their allotted place. A lot of problems with that, of course (especially where we women fit in), but I did like the order of it all. I loved the idea of the music of the spheres too. I'm a hopeless case, I'm afraid: I hate the idea of "chaos is come again". But I'm probably just a coward.



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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 01 Jul 2014, 09:04

Just read it too - good article.

It seems we can add "belief" to the list of semantically obscure terms which will be guaranteed to defeat attempts at scientific analysis. In its basic sense (accepting something as fact or truth) it is of course eminently possible to trace its benefit in an evolutionary sense through demonstrable advantages accrued from its presence at almost all stages of human development. In its religious sense, where it engenders the imaginative construction of parallel universes and realities with high detail and with an elevation to the highest echelons of the presumed hierarchical structure of the universe of which we are a part, then it becomes something harder to pin down either in terms of a definitive meaning or in terms of cause and effect. I think ferval's suggestion of its role as a reflection of human society and its values at any particular time is probably the most helpful input to sorting it all out as an evolutionary process. There are still however quite a few loose ends - especially the frequent transposition from fanciful explanation for the unknowable at any given time to the imposition of quite severe and universally applied social strictures which in their exercise often flatly contradict that which logic, social convention and intelligence has already established as a better way. The dual morality this engenders (it is not ok to stick a knife into someone for no medical reason but it is quite ok to mutilate a young girl's genitals, for example) and the frequency with which it does this must also mean that this duality too has an evolutionary explanation.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 01 Jul 2014, 09:41

I really should take time to develop my thoughts before I rush to post but, here's the latest mullings.

The dual morality this engenders (it is not ok to stick a knife into someone for no medical reason but it is quite ok to mutilate a young girl's genitals, for example) and the frequency with which it does this must also mean that this behaviour too has an evolutionary explanation.

But does it? If selective evolution began to become less of an overweening factor as man began to control his  environment, as developments in society began to change those characteristics which defined the 'fittest' (in the proper sense), perhaps the other influences we have discussed - group cohesion, social approval, status and especially sexual selection etc - became at least as important to reproductive success as 'classic' Darwinian pressures and so the girl subjected to FGM was a more fitting marriage prospect despite the physical hazards of the procedure and thus would pass on her genes and her beliefs.
As far as humanity is concerned, it might be argued that, in the developed world at least, Darwin is dead.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 01 Jul 2014, 10:19

I agree - but it is the mental and moral duality involved in condoning the act rather than the act itself that interests me with regard to evolution. This ability, which religious belief certainly facilitates, to happily accommodate quite conflicting standpoints on what constitutes acceptable or desirable behaviour has surely not arrived in the human psyche all of a sudden. Mutilation is an extreme and graphic example. However in less dramatic ways - such as the retention of a belief in a deity while pursuing scientific research that undermines many assumptions historically contingent on such faith - religiously enforced or encouraged duality seems something which we have been programmed quite thoroughly to take on board.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 01 Jul 2014, 10:57

Climbing further out on to a limb, could this not be an extreme example of contextually appropriate behaviour? Even today, those who do not exhibit this can be designated as having a syndrome - Asperger's, Tourettes - or being mentally ill.
War is, I suppose, the most extreme instance and that need not be religiously sanctioned (though it usually is) but it is societally sanctioned and so pressure to conform can overcome moral objections.

Must run, will return.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 01 Jul 2014, 12:22

War crossed my mind too - except in the aspect that killing or injuring one's enemies in war can be rationalised to the extent that it is a regrettable but necessary (and crucially temporary) departure from normal moral practice. It might often be hypocritical in its application but at least an acknowledgement of the aberration is included normally in the deal. On the other hand mutilating your daughter or baby son's genitals can, thanks to religion, be proclaimed as a joyful and satisfying affirmation of love (though maybe not on the child's part at the time) which in no way should be interpreted by the practitioners as a departure from standard morality, even one they otherwise profess, in the slightest. In terms of the extent of the duality and divergence from standard morality they lose parity from the off.


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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 01 Jul 2014, 12:28

OK, I'm back with more musings for the shooting down thereof.

I've started thinking about 'honour' killings - surely one of the most anti-Darwinian practices. There can be no element of protecting the parents' genetic heritage there when it is the daughter, as opposed to the daughter in law, that has transgressed the accepted norms; rather extreme patriarchy and a very strong component of 'What would the neighbours say?' since familial rejection by the wider community is often proffered as an explanation. On the other hand, perhaps the perceived offence by the woman is seen as threatening the prospects of any other offspring so there might be a sense in which it is beneficial to the continuation of that genetic line.



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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 01 Jul 2014, 12:32

I had to edit my previous.

But the honour killing case is surely within the category you stated earlier - something that in itself cannot be adequately explained through normal evolutionary theory. However again I would have to say the moral duality involved could well be thus explicable. It is not in the act but in the brain processes involved that the hand of evolution can be detected.

Not shooting down your musings - actually enjoying them immensely as thought food.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 01 Jul 2014, 13:38

War, and even personal sacrafice in war, makes perfect Darwinian sense when viewed as an extension of defence of the family group and thus defence of one's genes (which are also carried by other family members) . TH White's King Arthur despairs of mankind as he believes man is the only animal to go to war against others of his own species, (and so he dubs mankind Homo ferox), yet that isn't strictly true: bonobos will attack other family groups, with which they almost certainly have some, though not close, genetic relationships, and plenty of other social animals will fight in defence of their pack's territory or resources.

I feel that war only starts to lose its genetic Darwinian raison d'être when the group size becomes inflated beyond the family group level, thus warfare between groups larger than about 50 individuals is probably no longer effective in preserving one's own genes.

PS : I've just struggled through a stack of books and articles ... only to read that New York Times article posted by Temp which succinctly summarises all those reams I've just ploughed through. Typical!

PPS : Forgot to add that Lewis Wolpert, not mentioned in that NYT article, agrees with Ferval ... in that it is the development of an understanding of cause-and-effect that is the key.


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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 01 Jul 2014, 16:11

Sorry, MM.

PS I like homo ferox - what a brilliant expression - never heard that before.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 01 Jul 2014, 17:52

ferval wrote:
rather extreme patriarchy





No that is a complete misunderstanding of 'honor' killings. It has absolutely nothing to do with patriarchy as quite often it is the women of a family who are the driving force behind the practice. While it is the men who may do the actual killing, do not for a minute think that the women are not equally involved, or (in some cases) are the instigators.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 01 Jul 2014, 18:39

You're right ID, it has often been the mother who has been the prime mover in these events and so I should have said something like 'in an extremely patriarchal society where the behaviour of women is strictly controlled'. Of course men are also victims of honour killings, usually by the family of a woman whom they are seen to have had an unacceptable relationship, which maybe less of a challenge to Darwinian ideas.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 01 Jul 2014, 19:03

Deleted.


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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Tue 01 Jul 2014, 22:10

nordmann wrote:
Just read it too - good article.

It seems we can add "belief" to the list of semantically obscure terms which will be guaranteed to defeat attempts at scientific analysis. In its basic sense (accepting something as fact or truth) it is of course eminently possible to trace its benefit in an evolutionary sense through demonstrable advantages accrued from its presence at almost all stages of human development. In its religious sense, where it engenders the imaginative construction of parallel universes and realities with high detail and with an elevation to the highest echelons of the presumed hierarchical structure of the universe of which we are a part, then it becomes something harder to pin down either in terms of a definitive meaning or in terms of cause and effect. I think ferval's suggestion of its role as a reflection of human society and its values at any particular time is probably the most helpful input to sorting it all out as an evolutionary process. There are still however quite a few loose ends - especially the frequent transposition from fanciful explanation for the unknowable at any given time to the imposition of quite severe and universally applied social strictures which in their exercise often flatly contradict that which logic, social convention and intelligence has already established as a better way. The dual morality this engenders (it is not ok to stick a knife into someone for no medical reason but it is quite ok to mutilate a young girl's genitals, for example) and the frequency with which it does this must also mean that this duality too has an evolutionary explanation.

Nordmann,

"It seems we can add "belief" to the list of semantically obscure terms which will be guaranteed to defeat attempts at scientific analysis. In its basic sense (accepting something as fact or truth) it is of course eminently possible to trace its benefit in an evolutionary sense through demonstrable advantages accrued from its presence at almost all stages of human development. In its religious sense, where it engenders the imaginative construction of parallel universes and realities with high detail and with an elevation to the highest echelons of the presumed hierarchical structure of the universe of which we are a part, then it becomes something harder to pin down either in terms of a definitive meaning or in terms of cause and effect."

If I understand you well and I see it in the reasening of your further messages you seem to see a duality, while I see it all derived from the same phenomena. Perhaps, don't ask me for prove, all these aberrations had in primitive times a function and are by ritualisation now culture bound?

Or are you saying about this duality the same as I? With:
"There are still however quite a few loose ends - especially the frequent transposition from fanciful explanation for the unknowable at any given time to the imposition of quite severe and universally applied social strictures which in their exercise often flatly contradict that which logic, social convention and intelligence has already established as a better way. The dual morality this engenders (it is not ok to stick a knife into someone for no medical reason but it is quite ok to mutilate a young girl's genitals, for example) and the frequency with which it does this must also mean that this duality too has an evolutionary explanation."

I agree in our nowadays society, all these aberrations as sexual mutilation, honour killing and all that are remnants from a primitive
society...saw from the Congolese Television (ex-Belgian Congo) some documentaries about society as devil exorcism on the street...in the 21th century...but you have to agree that all these remnants are hard to die out...I read today in the paper that some religious societies want to expand even to Europe...have we to fear for these aberrants again...

Kind regards and with esteem,

Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 02 Jul 2014, 09:23

Paul, the duality in morality and behaviour related to actions like mutilation of children and "honour" murder is of course inherited like you say, as the evidence for this from the recorded cultural data throughout history to which we have access readily confirms. Anyone, for example, who reckons female genital mutilation is a "good thing" has derived and learnt this attitude from someone before them. It is not the kind of thing that would readily spring to a normal person's mind out of the blue or occur to someone to regard as a practice worth engaging in if a precedent did not exist.

However from the evolutionary argument standpoint this ability on the part of the individual to regard such an assault on innocent people for religious reasons as "good" while simultaneously acknowledging in every other instance that the same assault would be "evil" raises a question; not of how such a barbaric practice evolved, nor even how its justification through religion evolved, but in how this capacity to "think with two brains" evolved in a single-brained creature.

If, for the sake of argument, you regard this behaviour (the thinking, not the slicing) as schizophrenic (literally: skhizein ‘to split’ + phrēn ‘mind’), at least to a degree, then are there other instances in the animal kingdom which advertise this split-minded tendency in what is considered non-aberrant behaviour? If so, then what evolutionary advantages do the species involved share?

And if not, then has this tendency evolved within our own species alone as part of what we otherwise call our "superior intellect", something that is inextricably symbiant with our consciousness? If so, what conceivable facet of intelligence is it that can be so subverted even by our own generally accepted (and evolved) moral standards, and how could this subversion ever have been useful in the past? It baffles me to see how it can be deemed useful in the present.


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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 02 Jul 2014, 13:05

Mulling over my own questions and thinking aloud, I'm now not so sure that what we call "religion" and what we call "duplicitousness" are not entirely unrelated in concept. The ability to lie to oneself (ie. convince oneself of the truth of something for which absolutely no evidence exists in the hope of a perceived reward) seems to figure largely in both. When that lie is not originated by the individual but received by them from an external source, and therefore gains credence through popularity when received by enough within the group, is it something that we just can't afford not to take on board? Does our dependency on the group extend to the requirement that we conform to erroneous but popular belief, even if it contradicts not only our own innate intelligence and moral instincts but even the morality promulgated within the same group in other contexts?

In other words the seemingly arbitrary making of exceptions for certain acts and thoughts from the normal standards of intelligence and morality that prevail. Not only that but the compunction to so do, and then one's value to the group being determined not by what one thinks or feels but in how successfully one obeys such a compunction. This package then being tagged "religion"?

This would lead to us not only developing the ability to maintain double standards in almost all aspects of our conscious behaviour but also to it becoming an integral part of our unconscious make-up too, an unavoidable consequence of being a human interdependent animal.

I can see why this too would have implications within the survival dynamic, and it certainly explains the divergency among faiths based on geographical distribution and location.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 02 Jul 2014, 14:08

Now that's what I was trying to articulate when I blethered about contextually appropriate behaviours; actions that have different motivation and significance when performed in different situations and where different frames of reference apply. Was it Scott Fitzgerald who said something about the ability to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time as being a hallmark of intelligence?  It certainly might be contended that it is an indicator of sophisticated thought to be able to do this. Dogs can learn where it's acceptable to pee and where not, we can learn that it's fine to strip off in the bathroom but not in the cinema (but not eat and text unfortunately). The vast majority of what we see as appropriate behaviour is culturally driven and rarely entirely rational, often based, as you said, by the voice of authority and the norms accepted by our particular social group.

Could the carrying out of actions, such as FGM, that are so diametrically opposed to the normal, innate response - to protect one's child or to safeguard one's own safety, as with the snakes - intensify the need for self-deception since rationally appreciating the reality of the practice would be deeply psychologically damaging? If so, wouldn't this make the participant cling even more tightly to the precept that demanded this action and so promote the continuation of the belief system?
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 02 Jul 2014, 14:20

An intrinsic part of the deception would have to be the group-affirmed assurety that the deviation from the intelligent or moral norm does indeed bring a reward, one of self-awarded satisfaction or even "righteousness" normally associated with more altruistic, group-benefit behaviour but now assigned to deviant behaviour to which the compunction applies. Once the individual can manufacture that feeling with any level of consistency and credibility then the effect of the deception becomes almost indistinguishable from the effect felt through complying with other standard intelligence, morality and behaviour that has developed through eons of interfacing with more real or at least more readily comprehensible aspects to life. It is the consistency and credibility and the ability to sustain both that evolution has apparently hard-wired into our cognitive processes.

I am actually sorry I introduced such extreme examples as mutilation or "honour" killing as in their magnitude they take the spotlight away from what must be the many thousand other, lesser, more day-to-day examples of such self-deception in action and which represent this tendency therefore much better than instances confined to a (thankfully) easily demonstrated minority. And religion of course is not responsible for all of the methods through which this tendency to self-deception is encouraged or expressed, though I would tend to the view that religion does little else.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Wed 02 Jul 2014, 22:04

nordmann wrote:
Paul, the duality in morality and behaviour related to actions like mutilation of children and "honour" murder is of course inherited like you say, as the evidence for this from the recorded cultural data throughout history to which we have access readily confirms. Anyone, for example, who reckons female genital mutilation is a "good thing" has derived and learnt this attitude from someone before them. It is not the kind of thing that would readily spring to a normal person's mind out of the blue or occur to someone to regard as a practice worth engaging in if a precedent did not exist.

However from the evolutionary argument standpoint this ability on the part of the individual to regard such an assault on innocent people for religious reasons as "good" while simultaneously acknowledging in every other instance that the same assault would be "evil" raises a question; not of how such a barbaric practice evolved, nor even how its justification through religion evolved, but in how this capacity to "think with two brains" evolved in a single-brained creature.

If, for the sake of argument, you regard this behaviour (the thinking, not the slicing) as schizophrenic (literally: skhizein ‘to split’ + phrēn ‘mind’), at least to a degree, then are there other instances in the animal kingdom which advertise this split-minded tendency in what is considered non-aberrant behaviour? If so, then what evolutionary advantages do the species involved share?

And if not, then has this tendency evolved within our own species alone as part of what we otherwise call our "superior intellect", something that is inextricably symbiant with our consciousness? If so, what conceivable facet of intelligence is it that can be so subverted even by our own generally accepted (and evolved) moral standards, and how could this subversion ever have been useful in the past? It baffles me to see how it can be deemed useful in the present.



Nordmann,

now I better understand what you mean with your duality...and yes some aberrations which had perhaps in the primitive society some reason and which over time are entered in the cultural baggage of the evoluated population are at the end only a ritual from past times...but that society, although from comparison with other societies, which have already reached an higher level of logic knowledge, learned that this practices are primitive, are going further with these practices, many times as an affirmation of the own cultural singularity. And I agree to go against the group's attitudes needs a strong individual will and a tendency to combat with the customs of society. But a lot , I suppose!, are not prepared to go against the group and create a duality in their mind, some inner hidden standard and some official outer convenient group's standard...and yes there you have the duality...of course there are also some without brains, who slavishly follow the group's tendecy without questions...no duality overthere Wink ...

When I was in the army (conscript) and later in factory life I tried to analyse myself...saw me as the "lonely cowboy" always ready to spout my opinions many times contrary to some existing thoughts...and many times for the sake of being contrary Embarassed ...but never accepting that a given data was the right one...and being thrilled as I could prove by my investigation that the general accepted thought was wrong...working in a group I had to learn that I wasn't always right and that other "thinking" people could also be right...at the end it came to some equlibrium in my personality...at least I hope so Wink ...

Thus if it all would be people as me...no duality...but I admit as I as a neutral citizen in the middle of Syria would be asked about my opinions I would rather agree to whatever one wants...perhaps is that also the cultural inheritance of generations living in the lowlands near the North Sea where at every generation there were one or two times some conquerors to who the locals had to suit to...and yes it is still so easy and confortant to flow with the group's general opinions...even if it causes some duality in the brain...

I will check the next messages that I already have read to see if I haven't already answered to your next ones and those of Ferval...

Kind regards and with esteem,

Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Thu 03 Jul 2014, 09:37

Like Tim, I ought to give up and walk away, but then I'm not Tim.

I don't of myself know what to say or how to counter all this. The arguments on this thread are so lucid, so convincing and so eloquently expressed in such concise and beautifully crafted English. I feel like a bewildered child climbing into the ring to face a savage and determined Tyson.

You see, I find the reasoning, for all its lucidity, conviction and eloquence to be so dreadfully chilling - so hurtful, so negative. Not one kind or gentle word here for all the millions and millions of ordinary, decent people of faith, past and present, Christian, Jewish, Muslim or whatever, who abhor all the deceit, the violence, the  "weirdness", people who have "evolved" trying to make a different kind of sense of what appears to be a senseless and heart-breaking universe. I mean the intelligent and sincere people who are quite aware that in our own times, just as through the ages, it is love of power and control that drives evil men, men who are undoubtedly liars and deceivers - of themselves and others - the men who confuse, deliberately or otherwise, their own will for "the will of God". "That's scripture, boy!" the slave owner or the camp commandant declares, brandishing his Bible or other religious text - "Trust in the Lord, but your ass belongs to me!" (That last is from "The Shawshank Redemption", words to the new arrivals at the prison spoken by that monstrous "believer", the product of the Bible Belt, Governor Samuel Norton.)

How evolution has allowed these vile, destructive creatures to survive and flourish and multiply I do not know, but it seems to me (in my simplicity) that evolution has also allowed others to survive, to keep going, to resist the efforts of the strong to wipe them out. Believers - in face of all the "evidence" - who  keep believing in a power greater than themselves and the evolved human intellect. What is this power that we, with our puny attempts to express it, sometimes refer to as "God"? Perhaps though, it is just something within us, as Christ told us; perhaps, as Golding's character, the martyr figure, Simon, tried to explain of the other force: "What I mean is, maybe it is just us." I trust I make myself obscure.

I can only repeat here something I got from the Rev. Harry Williams, sometime Dean of Trinity College, Cambridge, who was widely regarded as a maverick and something of a crackpot (see Telegraph article below - MM especially please read it). Williams draws attention to the two kinds of truth which face us as human beings. One is what he calls the "outside" sort, which means knowledge of ascertained facts in whatever department of human activity we are involved but which is outside our own personalities. The other kind of truth to which Williams draws (or drew; he's dead now) our attention is the "inside" truth. This is the truth we know inside ourselves, in part intuitively (a dirty word, I know) and in part as a result of experience. Yes, it grows out of fear, disappointment, doubt and pain, as well as out of conviction and a confident intellect. Williams calls this a "theology of the inner self".

What does he mean? What is it in the spirit - the mind - of man which enables him to keep believing, even though it may prove painful and destructive (I'm not talking now about silly snakes and the attempts of ignorant, vicious, fearful men to control their women by violence of one sort or another)? What is the force that drives people to stand up to the powerful bullies and say, "My ass don't belong to you, mister - I'll die first"? That's courage - the light in the darkness and the darkness, time and time again, has been proved to be quite powerless against it. It works. It helps people survive in the face of the most terrible oppression and misery. So what on earth is the problem?

This is usually the point where I apologise for being off-topic, rambling, stupid or whatever, and then come back and delete myself, but Minette tells me such weakness in me grieves her. She's right; I mustn't wobble and delete today, even if I may later edit muddled expression.

I haven't your Tyson intellect, strength or punching power in debate, nordmann; but could I ask, with all respect - and yes, I do mean that -  has it ever, ever crossed your mind that you could be wrong - or not so much wrong, because much of what you say is undoubtedly true - but just too inflexible and rigid in your views? What are you so afraid of? Could it be that there other ways of being, of seeing, of interpreting the world and trying to cope? Because, if we are honest, that is what we are all doing - trying to cope.

Here's something about dear old crazy Williams:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1509496/Father-Harry-Williams.html

His views often caused controversy. "Religious establishments invariably give me the creeps," he once confided to his readers, before informing them that: "Religion is to a large extent what people do with their lunacy, their phobias, their will to power and their sexual frustrations."

Of course he was all for spirituality - our favourite meaningless word - not religion. Me too.  Smile


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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Thu 03 Jul 2014, 10:09

Temp wrote:
has it ever, ever crossed your mind that you could be wrong - or not so much wrong, because much of what you say is undoubtedly true - but just too inflexible and rigid in your views?

Of course it has and does. That is why I have asked so many questions, even in this thread.

I really can't see what you find "chilling" though. I could counter with the notion that the obfuscation intrinsic to religiously motivated argument is even more chilling, given where it has led humanity in the past. But that would be irrelevant to the discussion. The obvious comfort you derive from whatever you interpret as your own religious faith is however quite relevant here as this is indeed what I was referring to when I posited that the reward, in an evolutionary sense, for adhering to non-evidential belief has to be self-awarded, but is no less real for that. Group membership in itself is not a reward and the material benefits derived from this membership are rarely perceived as such when expressed religiously. The religious mind seeks and identifies its feeling of reward in places far removed from where the body incorporating that mind actually derives its material benefit. This is actually part of the whole self-deception involved.

I am now wondering how many other species exhibit this capacity and how it manifests itself on a per species basis. Dogs spring to mind, especially when they transpose their pack instincts to their membership in relationships with humans. The reward mechanism translates intact but how these rewards are awarded, received and their appreciation expressed become altered to suit the artifice of the inter-species relationship. This could also be classified as a sort of canine self-deception but involving expression, emotion and appreciation for basic survival that are apparently none the less real and genuine for all that. And of course it keeps the species going.

Very different from cats, who within a very similar artifice retain intact not only their original reward mechanism but also almost everything that activates it as well as the animal's expression of appreciation for both. Much closer to Pollonius's excellent prescription for retaining integrity (à la Willie) which of course if it ever should be adopted by a completely honest human being would more or less negate the requirement to be religious at all.


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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Thu 03 Jul 2014, 10:25

Temp, I must agree that some atheists, one of whom I class myself, can be guilty of the most terrible arrogance and lack of empathy. In an earlier post I talked of the emotional consequences of abandoning any faith in God or an afterlife as being dark, cold and lonely; nordmann's response was, "Where is the terror in that, except on a purely subjective and self-centred basis?", which I find, if not arrogant then baffling. To be fair, he seems equally baffled by my comments. Also, there's a tendency to lump all believers together and not recognise that all adherents do so in their own way, from the thoughtful and intelligent searchers like yourself , through those who do so out of habit, intellectual laziness or social/political advantage to the utter nutters. In the end, it's how you live out your beliefs that matters rather than than whether you're basing your actions on Christ or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Equally, those who profess a faith can be as sweeping in their judgement of unbelievers and dismissive of the struggle to renounce a set of beliefs inculcated since childhood and in which so much of our memories are embedded. There's courage in that as well.

You close with a remark about meaningless words, or at least words that we employ to mean what we want them to mean to bolster an arguement. Almost every term we've employed in this discussion is like that.

edit: I've just read nordmann's latest post!
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Thu 03 Jul 2014, 11:02

Hi ferval,

You are very fair, even though you are a godless heathen.

He's brought cats into it now. I'm just about to re-read Emily Bronte's essay on cats. She was a Darwinian (Darwin before Darwin) mystic, if that is not too much of an oxymoron. I shall look for a suitable cat quote from her.

Then again I might just go and sit in the summerhouse and read. I'm ploughing through everything Jean Rhys wrote at the moment and depressing myself unutterably. She was very funny at times though - devastatingly perceptive.

It's not so much that words are meaningless; it's the meaning we attach to the little blighters, which may be quite different from the meaning somebody else, even the OED, gives them. I usually quote Humpty-Dumpty here (I once told nordmann he was like Humpty-Dumpty and I don't think he's ever forgiven me), but I won't quote the great Humpty today.

I have enjoyed reading this thread, using the word enjoyed loosely, even though I got in a bit of a state about it all the other night. "12 Years a Slave", several glasses of wine and struggling with the dreadful truth of evolutionary theory, really really got to me. But I bounce back, like you do.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Thu 03 Jul 2014, 11:05

It's very provoking to be called an egg!

(even if some eggs are pretty, Alice)
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Thu 03 Jul 2014, 11:08

I've had one of those mornings when philosophy, religion and other mind games fade into irrelevance: there's nothing like two plumbers sucking their teeth over a blocked sink and muttering about taking up the kitchen floor to put things in perspective. In the end they got it cleared and, whether it was God or evolution that gave them the skills, I'm deeply grateful!

edit: Don't forget, nordmann, you are only an egg's way of producing another egg.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Thu 03 Jul 2014, 21:29

ferval wrote:
Equally, those who profess a faith can be as sweeping in their judgement of unbelievers and dismissive of the struggle to renounce a set of beliefs inculcated since childhood and in which so much of our memories are embedded. There's courage in that as well.


Ferval, I should have said this morning that I agree with that. It must be an agonising thing to do.

ferval wrote:
Don't forget, nordmann, you are only an egg's way of producing another egg.


He's probably quite a good egg when all's said and done, and not nearly so hard-boiled as he would have us believe.
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PostSubject: Re: Risking your life (and others') for faith - Darwinian theory in practice?   Thu 03 Jul 2014, 23:05

Temperance wrote:
Like Tim, I ought to give up and walk away, but then I'm not Tim.

I don't of myself know what to say or how to counter all this. The arguments on this thread are so lucid, so convincing and so eloquently expressed in such concise and beautifully crafted English. I feel like a bewildered child climbing into the ring to face a savage and determined Tyson.

You see, I find the reasoning, for all its lucidity, conviction and eloquence to be so dreadfully chilling - so hurtful, so negative. Not one kind or gentle word here for all the millions and millions of ordinary, decent people of faith, past and present, Christian, Jewish, Muslim or whatever, who abhor all the deceit, the violence, the  "weirdness", people who have "evolved" trying to make a different kind of sense of what appears to be a senseless and heart-breaking universe. I mean the intelligent and sincere people who are quite aware that in our own times, just as through the ages, it is love of power and control that drives evil men, men who are undoubtedly liars and deceivers - of themselves and others - the men who confuse, deliberately or otherwise, their own will for "the will of God". "That's scripture, boy!" the slave owner or the camp commandant declares, brandishing his Bible or other religious text - "Trust in the Lord, but your ass belongs to me!" (That last is from "The Shawshank Redemption", words to the new arrivals at the prison spoken by that monstrous "believer", the product of the Bible Belt, Governor Samuel Norton.)

How evolution has allowed these vile, destructive creatures to survive and flourish and multiply I do not know, but it seems to me (in my simplicity) that evolution has also allowed others to survive, to keep going, to resist the efforts of the strong to wipe them out. Believers - in face of all the "evidence" - who  keep believing in a power greater than themselves and the evolved human intellect. What is this power that we, with our puny attempts to express it, sometimes refer to as "God"? Perhaps though, it is just something within us, as Christ told us; perhaps, as Golding's character, the martyr figure, Simon, tried to explain of the other force: "What I mean is, maybe it is just us." I trust I make myself obscure.

I can only repeat here something I got from the Rev. Harry Williams, sometime Dean of Trinity College, Cambridge, who was widely regarded as a maverick and something of a crackpot (see Telegraph article below - MM especially please read it). Williams draws attention to the two kinds of truth which face us as human beings. One is what he calls the "outside" sort, which means knowledge of ascertained facts in whatever department of human activity we are involved but which is outside our own personalities. The other kind of truth to which Williams draws (or drew; he's dead now) our attention is the "inside" truth. This is the truth we know inside ourselves, in part intuitively (a dirty word, I know) and in part as a result of experience. Yes, it grows out of fear, disappointment, doubt and pain, as well as out of conviction and a confident intellect. Williams calls this a "theology of the inner self".

What does he mean? What is it in the spirit - the mind - of man which enables him to keep believing, even though it may prove painful and destructive (I'm not talking now about silly snakes and the attempts of ignorant, vicious, fearful men to control their women by violence of one sort or another)? What is the force that drives people to stand up to the powerful bullies and say, "My ass don't belong to you, mister - I'll die first"? That's courage - the light in the darkness and the darkness, time and time again, has been proved to be quite powerless against it. It works. It helps people survive in the face of the most terrible oppression and misery. So what on earth is the problem?

This is usually the point where I apologise for being off-topic, rambling, stupid or whatever, and then come back and delete myself, but Minette tells me such weakness in me grieves her. She's right; I mustn't wobble and delete today, even if I may later edit muddled expression.

I haven't your Tyson intellect, strength or punching power in debate, nordmann; but could I ask, with all respect - and yes, I do mean that -  has it ever, ever crossed your mind that you could be wrong - or not so much wrong, because much of what you say is undoubtedly true - but just too inflexible and rigid in your views? What are you so afraid of? Could it be that there other ways of being, of seeing, of interpreting the world and trying to cope? Because, if we are honest, that is what we are all doing - trying to cope.

Here's something about dear old crazy Williams:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1509496/Father-Harry-Williams.html

His views often caused controversy. "Religious establishments invariably give me the creeps," he once confided to his readers, before informing them that: "Religion is to a large extent what people do with their lunacy, their phobias, their will to power and their sexual frustrations."

Of course he was all for spirituality - our favourite meaningless word - not religion. Me too.  Smile

Temperance,

"You see, I find the reasoning, for all its lucidity, conviction and eloquence to be so dreadfully chilling - so hurtful, so negative. Not one kind or gentle word here for all the millions and millions of ordinary, decent people of faith, past and present, Christian, Jewish, Muslim or whatever, who abhor all the deceit, the violence, the  "weirdness", people who have "evolved" trying to make a different kind of sense of what appears to be a senseless and heart-breaking universe. I mean the intelligent and sincere people who are quite aware that in our own times, just as through the ages, it is love of power and control that drives evil men, men who are undoubtedly liars and deceivers - of themselves and others - the men who confuse, deliberately or otherwise, their own will for "the will of God". "That's scripture, boy!" the slave owner or the camp commandant declares, brandishing his Bible or other religious text - "Trust in the Lord, but your ass belongs to me!" (That last is from "The Shawshank Redemption", words to the new arrivals at the prison spoken by that monstrous "believer", the product of the Bible Belt, Governor Samuel Norton.)"

I think we are discussing here several subjects at once.
First the Darwinian advantage of "religion" and related items. In that I had some as I see now "adaptationist" ideas and thanks to your NY Times article it was confirmed that at least there existed such piste of thought.
Then the abberations due to the and I emphasize "cultural" inheritance of previous times...still seen as right by a nowadays community...
Till now, I agree we have only spoken about the negatives of religious communities...and I admit as you said, if I understand it well, there will always an hiearchy in any organization...so the "churches" don't escape this rule...and that some people in this hiearchy can do evil things as other people use that hiearchy to legitimize their evil acts. BTW: Looking around me to for instance "het humanistisch verbond" (the humanist league?) that league of atheist humanists...they organize exactly as the "churches" even equating the Christian feasts as in the time the Christians borrowed from the heathen feasts...and I guess some in the hiearchy are prone to do the same evil deeds as in the other hiearchies.

But seemingly we have inherited from our anchestors also the positive elements of religion as mentioned and suggested in the adaptative context of your NY Times article and in my humble opinion can that still be positive in our present society...as I understand it from my acquaintances of the "Humanitisch Verbond" they "do" nearly exactly the same as the "churches", all for the good of the community...the only difference they don't believe in a God...they don't believe in revelations...but is that so important? If there is in the universe a "leading principle" or not...and I still find as I mentioned on the ex-BBC, and I see that Ferval says nearly the same, without a comforting God, most humans with no perspective but their own short life see the world cold and bleak...many times leading to hedonist individual asocial pointed pleasure...after all it is finished after this short life...

And I mentioned it already here in one of my messages...is there such a difference in healing people's mind by "religious practices" or by some unproven (only for believers) "homeopathic drugs" or even by placebos? Those "green" doctors not that better than the "wonder doctors" (medecine men?) from inner Africa?

That is my first thinking after reading your message.

With high esteem for all the prose that I read till now from you on this messageboard,

Paul.

PS. Having had a "shunt" preparing for kidney dialysis in the future...three times a week some 4 hours...polycystic kidneys...since birth, as my sister...inherited from our mother...on the list for a donor kidney... otherwise kidney dialysis three times a week till my 100 anniversary...
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