“Just out of curiosity do you believe there is no God?” Lander
That is not a valid question. Unbelief is not a belief. Your statement is a misnomer. The evidence that has been attributed for god have other valid explanations (including forgery) In fact, most of what was once attributed to the gods are now fields of study these days. I’m not so gullible to assume these last few pieces to the puzzle won’t be explained in the near future. I’ll wait so I don’t have to backtrack to keep finding cracks to shoehorn in an underwhelming, divisive belief into pseudo-reality.
Out of curiosity, do you believe there are no other explanations for unreliable human perceptions? There are dozens of one cares to look.
THIS 4 minute bird video will brighten your day!
84 thoughts on “How to know there is no God”
You said, “Unbelief is not a belief.” Thanks for saying it that way. I knew it, but for some reason it gave me a ah-ha moment this morning. I believe you are right. 🙂 Have a good day, Jim (and y’all).
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Agreed. Well said, Jim.
And thanks for the video – wow, aren’t those birds amazing?!! Definitely a day brightener. Thanks for sharing!
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That grand finale is more than unbelievable. How in the heck does he do that?
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I think Kia a while back said “unbelief is a belief like bald is a hair color or abstinence is a sex position”. Lol. True
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Where did he disappear to?
He just does book reviews now and then. I think he burned out. Grabaspine? but he’s mostly inactive. I know he misses the community and has been looking at different options which is a tough situation once you know the game as he does.
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I thought those were similes for atheism is a religion like….
I’m sure I heard that phrase before, but it really resonated with me today.
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Beliefs are basically dispositions to act a certain way when certain circumstances arise. When those circumstances arise you will act one way or another. You will act in a way that shows you believe in God or believe in Morality or you will not. You can’t pause life.
You want to see the nature of non-belief, watch a couple of 5 year olds play together. It doesn’t matter what the race, gender, color, religion or “other” is. Only after belief sets in through indoctrinations that begins the divide. Religious belief being the most cancerous with the least utility. Humanity is cursed with belief at this point—I think we can do better. The utility of belief is to prove a premise, intended useful as a short term hypothesis. How long has religion had to prove its point? Thousands of years of dead and buried taking their pride in divisive belief to their grave while the next generation grabs the ball and fights over his imaginations to our own detriment.
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“Religious belief being the most cancerous with the least utility.”
Not Christianity which says all people are made in the image of God and indeed children of God. Which says the last shall be first and first last. This makes it clear that the old ways of valuing people based often on traits they had no control over (such as intelligence- or disabilities etc) is wrongheaded.
The Greeks believed in gods but religion did not really shape their morality like the Christian God did. I talk about the differences here:
What is the image of god?
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It is what separates all humans from other animals.
Not much. The capacity for wide scale cruelty? What is the image of god? We’ve been told we don’t look like him, not can we comprehend him without blowing our minds and withering into dust. What is in the image of god, because if you can imagine it, you are wrong. It’s much bigger than that! It has to be or your god is relegated to human perception.
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So you don’t see any basis to treat humans differently than animals? If you hit a human while driving will you treat him or her the same way you would treat a deer?
Do you think the holocaust of the Jews is similar to our killing billions of broiler chickens?
If you do not think there is any good reason to distinguish between humans and other animals besides our ability for wide scale cruelty then I do not think I can explain how we are made in the image of God to you. Sorry.
You didn’t answer the question. What is the image of god? The image of god is almost the perfect word. Imagination would be a better fit.
Of course we try to be kind to all creatures and limit suffering. The fallout from automobile travel is a difficult and massive problem we are trying to limit with good solutions to solve the errors we’ve made. Of course we have to eat, but cruel living conditions for any animal is shameful.
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“You didn’t answer the question. What is the image of god? ”
Yes I did. I said it is what seperates us from other animals. You can ignore my answers just like you ignore my questions but that doesn’t mean I didn’t give answers and ask questions.
“The image of god is almost the perfect word. Imagination would be a better fit.”
Thats your own view.
“Of course we try to be kind to all creatures and limit suffering.”
I think you are the one who refuses to open your eyes. We clearly do not treat other animals like we do humans. To even suggest that shows how blinded you are by your own biases.
“The fallout from automobile travel is a difficult and massive problem we are trying to limit with good solutions to solve the errors we’ve made. Of course we have to eat, but cruel living conditions for any animal is shameful.”
We do not need to eat chickens or meat.
So here are my questions again which you did not answer:
“If you hit a human while driving will you treat him or her the same way you would treat a deer?”
“Do you think the holocaust of the Jews is similar to our killing billions of broiler chickens?”
Again you claim religious people refuse to answer questions but this exchange is just proof it is the other way around.
You’ve been down this rabbit trail before. The chicken also prizes his own species and eats the worm without a thought, just as you disregard the other species. I don’t eat meat, so don’t be too holy about your position. The chicken may be a dumb animal to you, but he dies in earnest. Comparing 2 wrong behaviors to justify your position isn’t proving anything but that your attempted distraction solves nothing. Many people would and do care for the deer if they were able and are equally traumatized at the loss of a pet. (Higher than a Christians love?) Many people with a higher moral compass (mans) also try to protect animals from the slaughter.
The baseline of morality is what other men think of you, for man will do in private with his god things he would never do in public. Your morality is just words without substance. And you never answered my question. Do you view porn in private but deny it publicly like MOST christains? This is how we identify the true believers versus the pretenders.
Accepted definition of image is “A visual representation.” Your response it is what separates us from other animals has NOTHING to do with visual representation. Yours is a philosophical statement.
Further, when you quote the bible to say that humans are made in the image of god has two inconsistencies. One, the bible is not a scientific book so to make a statement as yours has no merit. Secondly, you or anyone else has no idea of what “god” (is such an entity exists) looks like (i.e., visual representation) so again, your argument fails.
Trying to compare the actions of humans vs. animals is also exceptionally weak. There are many similarities but they are not one and the same.
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Just like the fundementalists you take our modern understanding of a word we tried to translate from a different time and say well this is what it must mean.
“Ancient Jewish scholars such as Saadia Gaon and Philo argued that being made in the Image of God does not mean that God possesses human-like features, but rather the statement is figurative language for God bestowing special honor unto humankind, which He did not confer unto the rest of Creation. ”
“Further, when you quote the bible to say that humans are made in the image of god has two inconsistencies. One, the bible is not a scientific book so to make a statement as yours has no merit.”
The books that have statements of merit are science books?
“Secondly, you or anyone else has no idea of what “god” (is such an entity exists) looks like (i.e., visual representation) so again, your argument fails.”
The passage is not referring to how God looks. If physical looks and race were so important to Christians don’t you think everyone would have recorded what Jesus looked like.
Honestly you guys are worse than fundementalists.
“Trying to compare the actions of humans vs. animals is also exceptionally weak. There are many similarities but they are not one and the same.”
I did not say we one and the same. I think we are properly understood as being morally more important. Do you?
More morally important to you. The chicken still dies in earnest.
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Many atheists do not believe in morality at all. And for them it is not morally relevant whether we are talking about millions of people or chickens as nothing is morally relevant.
Is there a way you should live your life? If you say no, how sure are you of that?
I guess I live my life the same way you live your life, within the balance of what’s acceptable to other men. We best be careful that we behave so we don’t get locked up or judged. Seems to work pretty good that’s why you won’t answer my other question
And Joe, by the way, I don’t have to believe in morality. It is self evident that morality is shaped by cause-and-effect, culture, consequences, and nothing more. It is even visible throughout the animal kingdom
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— It is your statement that has no merit. Read again what I wrote.
— The passage clearly says “in the image of god.” I already provided the definition for image. Believers are simply trying to avoid answering the obvious question … what does god look like by putting a “spiritual” twist to the question.
— I never compare the morals of animals vs. humans … although in some (many?) cases, I do see far more in some animals that in some humans.
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“I never compare the morals of animals vs. humans … although in some (many?) cases, I do see far more in some animals that in some humans.”
We are not comparing “the morals of animals” with those of humans. The question is whether humans have more moral value. That is should we put more moral value on human life than other animals.
“The passage clearly says “in the image of god.” I already provided the definition for image. Believers are simply trying to avoid answering the obvious question … what does god look like by putting a “spiritual” twist to the question.”
So you ignore the ancient Jews that created the scriptures says it means and instead say it means what you think based on modern understanding. And anyone who says looks at the ancient Jewish sources for what it means is just trying to pervert what was really intended.
This is the epitome of fundamentalist interpretation.
You’re very good at twisting things around to your advantage — which is not unlike most believers.
IN CLOSING … it doesn’t matter what the scriptures say or who created them. The bible is simply a story of peoples who lived many, many, many years ago. To put any more value into it than that is trying to make fiction true.
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Dearest Joe, just because you have separated yourself from other living beings does not mean all humans do thusly. For me, all life is equal, none more important than others, none less important than others. You think you have morals? Your first commandment is Thou shalt not kill! Where does this say you can kill anything but humans? It does not. It only says don’t kill! Yet you kill or cause to be killed billions of boiler chickens a day. And then you follow up by thanking your lord for providing the food you are about to eat. Did your lord kill to let you eat, or did you kill? Obviously you did. And while you are talking about chickens, why aren’t you talking about chicken eggs? You devour them by the hundreds of thousands, then scream if a woman kills even one. What kind of hypocrisy is that? Your arrogance is pitiable. Your privilege is abominable. Your piousness is but ashes in your mouth. I would rather be a slimy slug than a christian, and even saying that is an insult to a slug.
Being a christian is an insult to humanity!
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Do you think all humans should be treated differently than other animals? Or like other animals should people be valued based on their traits?
Animals and people should be valued based on their contributions to the maintenance of our environment. Animals do not destroy the environment, people do! Who is more valuable?
But who has the most effect on a healthy environment? Not people, and not animals. Plants have the healthiest effect on our environment. People put poisons into the air. Who cieans those poisons out? Plants do! So what do humans do to reward those plants? They clear-cut the forests, destroy the jungles, fill the oceans with life-destroying plastics. And you are proud of yourself for destroying the world your god made for you. Blasphemer! You are supposed to watch over your god’s creations, but instead you commit genocides every year.
You make me ashamed to be human!
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As Jim says, you have no idea what the image of God actually is. Those who claim to have seen God, were not surprisingly human and thus it is not also surprising that even if they did truly see God they would have fashioned God after their own reality and given God human form. But the reality is nobody has ever seen God, and thus we honestly don’t know whether we were created in God’s image, if in fact we are divine creations. Nor do we know that we are the pinnacle of creation given the vastness of the universe. Dragonflies have existed for 300 million years, what makes you so sure we are that superior other than throw superficial traits like intelligence? Christianity is not unique either in its “image of God” rhetoric. Hindus also believe the same.
Also given how often we dehumanize other groups we often treat animals better than humans. In fact the first child abuse case in the U.S. was tried under animal protection laws, because child protection laws don’t exist. Humans are most certainly animal. Different animals and natural we developed a morality that suits our survival. So while we may be capable of great kindness, we are also capable of evils no animal would ever conceive. At it may very well be that industrial farming is a great holocaust against chickens and other livestock. Maybe it is the backwards values of ancient religion that have led us to b believe that the Earth was here for our use to do is with what we please. We have destroyed so much and who knows the disastrous consequences of climate change that are to come. Natives and their animal God’s had far more respect for the land, the flora and fauna than we have. The morality we display to each other is at least as important as how we treat the planet that sustains us all.
Also do you have proof that humans only placed value of superficial things before Christianity came along. There were no societies or cultures that values non-superficial characteristics? Christianity was the magic that made the world a better place? There weren’t say, millions of Christians with bibles in one hand, and superficial judgement based on skin color, technological developed, lack of immunity to disease (all things that natives had no control over) who were just happy to subjugate a bunch of humans to slavery, servitude, sickness…plundered their lands and wiped out their civilizations? Wait you’ll say, they weren’t proper Christians! Of course they weren’t…I mean the word of God is so obvious…how could they make that mistake and judge so many people based on superficial traits. It’s science and secularism that brought Christianity out of the dark.
The Greeks believed in gods but religion did not really shape their morality like the Christian God did.
I could not be more thankful that the Greeks tried to work things out through philosophical reasoning and let the Gods be God. If Yahweh is the determining the morality of Christians everywhere, then I think I understand why now and in history Christian morality has had such troubling consequences.
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“As Jim says, you have no idea what the image of God actually is.”
I told him what it is. It is what separates us from other animals. You and Jim can ignore my answers just like he ignores my questions but that does not mean I didn’t answer or ask them.
“Those who claim to have seen God, were not surprisingly human”
“and thus it is not also surprising that even if they did truly see God they would have fashioned God after their own reality and given God human form. But the reality is nobody has ever seen God, and thus we honestly don’t know whether we were created in God’s image, if in fact we are divine creations.”
We learn things from other ways beside seeing. And also like fundamentalists you seem to understand this in a purely simple sense of visible image. Anti-theists and fundementalists tend to see the world in very similar ways.
“Nor do we know that we are the pinnacle of creation given the vastness of the universe. Dragonflies have existed for 300 million years, what makes you so sure we are that superior other than throw superficial traits like intelligence?”
I don’t do that. Christianity does not say our worth is based on traits. That is what many atheists are doing.
“Christianity is not unique either in its “image of God” rhetoric. Hindus also believe the same.”
In order to respond I need to know what you are referring to. Can you give a source?
“Also given how often we dehumanize other groups we often treat animals better than humans. In fact the first child abuse case in the U.S. was tried under animal protection laws, because child protection laws don’t exist. Humans are most certainly animal. Different animals and natural we developed a morality that suits our survival.”
Do you think our morality (that is our moral beliefs) should only suit our survival or should it suit other things as well?
“So while we may be capable of great kindness, we are also capable of evils no animal would ever conceive. At it may very well be that industrial farming is a great holocaust against chickens and other livestock.”
Is that what you believe? “It may very well be” that killing the Jews in the holocaust is equivalent to industrial farming?
“Maybe it is the backwards values of ancient religion that have led us to b believe that the Earth was here for our use to do is with what we please.”
And lead us to believe that killing millions of people is worse than killing billions of broiler chickens.
“We have destroyed so much and who knows the disastrous consequences of climate change that are to come.”
Think of all those chickens!
“Natives and their animal God’s had far more respect for the land, the flora and fauna than we have. The morality we display to each other is at least as important as how we treat the planet that sustains us all.”
Are we equally concerned for plants and other animals than people?
It seems to me our concern for our planet should primarily grow out of concern for people. Secondarily we should recognize it as a good in itself as it was made by God.
“Also do you have proof that humans only placed value of superficial things before Christianity came along. There were no societies or cultures that values non-superficial characteristics? ”
I’m not necessarily saying intelligence is superficial but I am saying it is not in our control. I posted some of the views of Plato and Aristotle. I also see this valuing of people based on traits happening when many atheists try to offer a basis for morality.
“Christianity was the magic that made the world a better place?”
Christianity did indeed make the world better.
“There weren’t say, millions of Christians with bibles in one hand, and superficial judgement based on skin color, technological developed, lack of immunity to disease (all things that natives had no control over) who were just happy to subjugate a bunch of humans to slavery, servitude, sickness…plundered their lands and wiped out their civilizations?”
I gave quotes about how Christianity inherited racism from Greeks and for all I know the Greeks inherited it from others. But racism certainly did not start with Christianity. And it is no surprise that the first person who clearly and unequivocally argued against slavery was a Bishop.
“Wait you’ll say, they weren’t proper Christians! Of course they weren’t…I mean the word of God is so obvious…how could they make that mistake and judge so many people based on superficial traits. It’s science and secularism that brought Christianity out of the dark.”
Science and secularism hasn’t helped or hurt on this issue. It is not a scientific issue. Science is based on the results of empirical findings and so is constantly subject to revision. Do you think we will find a lab result that tells us oh yeah racism is moral?
“The Greeks believed in gods but religion did not really shape their morality like the Christian God did.”
“I could not be more thankful that the Greeks tried to work things out through philosophical reasoning and let the Gods be God.”
They did the same trait reasoning that lead to racism. See my blog here you can read it from Plato and Aristotle.
“If Yahweh is the determining the morality of Christians everywhere, then I think I understand why now and in history Christian morality has had such troubling consequences.”
Compared to what? Compared to Stalinist or maoist beliefs? The reign of terror in France rejected traditional Christian beliefs so did Hitler. The Nazis did indeed push animal rights.
You like all anti-christians want to compare Christianity to your ideal dream world not other real belief systems that have been tried in reality. But in fact Christianity has been pulling western culture to be more humane and better than the culture it started with.
I would also say your thesis in your blog post is flawed. The history of slavery coincides with the invention of agriculture which led to more hierarchical societal structures. Hunter gatherer societies did not practice slavery, and places like China and India did not practice slavery early in their history, and only started the practice much later.
It is also not true that Christians were the first to be against slavery. Ashoka the Great in the Mauryan empire in India banned slavery. Why? It had nothing to do with Judaism or Christianity, but rather Buddhism which was growing just before his rule and he helped establish it as a religion as well as several others under his rule. Under his rule he also encouraged practices to treat animals kindly and to develop medicines…he allowed women to be educated and enter religious institutions. To argue that Christianity has some stranglehold on equality or deeper moral values is simply unfounded. There are numerous other examples of pre-Christian societies trying to abolish laws that allow slavery.
GIven that a great many Christians supported slavery it seems indeed difficult to make the argument that Christianity was some sort of anti-slavery beacon of hope. Even a charitable reading of the Bible seems to advocate for slavery and abolitionism so it’s hard to use any book as a moral guide that advocates for opposing values. Oh and suggesting that we all be slaves to Christ doesn’t make it all better. I mean essentially the Bible is asking all of us to be willing slaves to the writings of a book that nobody can seem to interpret in any consistent way simply makes no sense.
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“I would also say your thesis in your blog post is flawed. The history of slavery coincides with the invention of agriculture which led to more hierarchical societal structures. Hunter gatherer societies did not practice slavery,”
What basis do you have for that?
I don’t think we know very much about how people were treated in hunter gatherer societies.
And whether slavery started with agriculture is irrelevant to anything I say in my blog.
“and places like China and India did not practice slavery early in their history, and only started the practice much later.”
Why do you say things like this? Did you read it on a blog?
“It is also not true that Christians were the first to be against slavery. Ashoka the Great in the Mauryan empire in India banned slavery. ”
I agree there were people who were against slavery before Christ. But forwhatever reason their rational/reasoning does not survive. The first record we have of any argument clearly against slavery is the homily of the Bishop.
And I think you have the history on Ashoka wrong anyway. The source you give does not indicated he banned slavery and other sources tend to suggest he did not.
“GIven that a great many Christians supported slavery it seems indeed difficult to make the argument that Christianity was some sort of anti-slavery beacon of hope.”
Morality doesn’t change overnight. And I give the 4 principles of Christian moral teaching that make slavery impossible to coherently defend in my blog.
“Oh and suggesting that we all be slaves to Christ doesn’t make it all better. I mean essentially the Bible is asking all of us to be willing slaves to the writings of a book that nobody can seem to interpret in any consistent way simply makes no sense.”
Christ isn’t a book.
Christ isn’t a book…this is true…but the book is supposed to represent the word of God…thus it is only through the writings of the book that one can know what God wants and what his rules are, and the story of the son he supposedly sent. Without the bible there is no Christianity and no rules to follow.
There are many references to the more egalitarian ways of hunter-gatherer peoples
There are many more.
ANd when I was talking about ancient India I was talking about early in the civilizations history…. like 500 BC and earlier. Your reference only talks about slavery closer to the common era.
Sorry…I’ve read both your responses and there really is no arguing with someone who believes Christianity is some sort of Godsend. 🙂 You aren’t as familiar with as much history as you should to even make that claim. The fact that you have to ask me for references based on well researched historical facts means you don’t know enough history.
Morality can absolutely be intuited without the divine. The fact that you don’t get it is your own problem. Many of us think everything makes perfect sense without the divine.
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“Christ isn’t a book…this is true…but the book is supposed to represent the word of God…thus it is only through the writings of the book that one can know what God wants and what his rules are,”
That is a non-sequitur. Just because I can tell you about my brothers childhood that does not mean I am the only source of information about my brothers childhood.
“and the story of the son he supposedly sent. Without the bible there is no Christianity and no rules to follow.”
In fact there was Christianity before our bible.
I provided you actual citations that disputed your claims. It doesn’t matter that I am a Christian.
You say hunter gatherers were all peaceful and egalitarian. That is a view some take but I am not sure I agree.
The reasoning that people who look at hunter gatherers of today agree those hunter gatherers have peaceful traits does not mean they had them in the past. Of course only peaceful hunter gatherer civilizations would survive because if they were warlike with larger agrarian societies they would not have survived.
Well said, Jim. Yes, many of the phenomena attributed to the gods are now fully and rationally explained and understood to be part of the natural world. What’s left?
Origins is the only nut left to crack on religion. What then will religions have to hold on to? Understanding this is a natural world, not an artificial creation will prove the final straw (if we make it that long) Maybe another 100 years or two at the rate we are going (providing the next 2 or 3 Einstein’s aren’t born into indoctrinations)
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“Just out of curiosity do you believe there is no God?”
A big problem with this question is that “god” is a mushy word, not well-defined. As soon as you start narrowing down the definition, someone else will protest “Well, that’s not my god!” I’ve heard some people say that to them, the universe is their god. Well, the universe certainly exists.
However, I can consider what I think the probability is of a god existing, as long as we are specific about which god we are talking about. Fundamentalist bible-god? I’d assess the likelihood of that self-contradictory entity existing as being so low that I’d round it off to zero for everyday purposes.
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The questioner has his own version of the Christian god. It’s a diluted deist version that clings to societal presuppositions. Jesus stays in the mix.
What an odd combination. Why would a deist god need any kind of messenger on earth?
He’s intentionally vague which is disingenuous. They all have to wander into other realms to hang on to any of it, splitting what hairs they have to split because faith is actually the natural man. Everyone wants to believe something and this is the best he can do for now. Funny we continue to argue which beliefs are best, but it is belief itself that is the curse in this phase of human stagnation.
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Lander is the type of believer that the terms dishonest and disingenuous were coined for.
And based on the comments, Joe sits up there too.
I noticed he didn’t jump in a say ”Jesus”. But then again, we don’t know what JC looked like either, do we?
If people like this cannot offer an explanation of what is the image of their god then they really don’t believe , merely believe in belief.
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I’ll just answer it for him since he refuses. https://jimoeba.wordpress.com/2019/03/11/made-in-the-image-of-god/
Well, I hope to the other gods I don’t look like him. Ooops … sorry… Him.
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Doesn’t he wear a gold Egyptian headdress?
no sé what the video had to say, but the birds were “spectacular”.
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Loved the way he cleared the dance floor. No distractions allowed! Amazing what we’ll do for love.
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‘the god you don’t believe in, i don’t believe in either’😉
Which one then?
the one that makes those birds act the way they do. how brilliant!
the whole creation is pure knowing-ness.
We certainly are a lot like them birds too. When you say creation, what is it you mean? Created or natural, or what?
everything we see and experience. the universe. it is all intelligence.
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What do you mean by “intelligence”?
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From my perspective as an empiricist, anything that I cannot ascertain objectively and scientifically falls into the “unknown” category. That knowledge void is a breeding ground for subjective beliefs both in the affirmative (positive) sense and in the contradictory (negative) sense. I abhor such beliefs (including my own) and prefer to just admit my ignorance.
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This is more a reply to the comments than the post 🙂
I fail to see how having empathy for fellow humans means blah blah something about gods image?
Yes I would be mortified if I killed a human being with a car, certainly moreso than a deer, or an armadillo (Hell I might back up and hit the armadillo again), but to equate that with some sort of jebusness is just freaking idiotic.
Some people have to believe x multiplied by y, and taken to the third power, then divided by pi = Jeebus every time. No matter the inputs for x and y. Don’t jump into that black hole of insipid foolishness.
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Love the bird video. Very cool.
“Unbelief is not a belief.”
Very true. Unbelief is neutral. It is not being convinced of this or that, but rather remaining unconvinced. Unbelief leaves the door open to new revelations that could lead to belief, but until sufficient evidence is presented, it’s best to not take sides.
With regards to the comments being left about the image of God, how is that remotely possible to even contemplate? First, you would need to show God exists, then determine what his attributes (physical or otherwise) are. Using the Bible won’t cut it unless you can show why it should be trusted without using personal feelings and beliefs. Evidence is necessary, bud sadly doesn’t exist. Anyone saying they know what God looks like, thinks and wants for us is being dishonest.
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Hey Ben, here we are again! “ Unbelief leaves the door open to new revelations that could lead to belief” Sort of, but as you know, belief is unnecessary when you have evidence. Pretending is no longer necessary.
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I was just saying that, at least for me personally, I am always open to being proven wrong. Pretending doesn’t do anyone any good, but I will never claim to be certain of anything I cannot prove. I was once like that (as are many people still) but it’s just foolishness.
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I have looked over the discussion and figured I would add something about “morality” since that comes up a lot between atheists and Christians.
The Bible’s values are often conflated with the modern sense of the term “morality”. This causes a lot of problems in understanding the thing. There are all sorts of moral theories out there, and it is easy to poke holes in all of them when they are held up as all encompassing systems that “solve” the problem of morality. To the ancient West Semitic tribes described in the Old Testament, there weren’t all these complicated moral theories, or for that matter the same notions of good and evil that Christians and atheists have. The main god of a particular people, whether Yahweh, Chemosh, Hadad, or Marduk, did both good things and bad things, so his favor had to be kept and his bad side avoided. What the Christians and Jews call “morals” in the Old Testament laws would be better called “taboos” in the anthropological sense. Many of the injunctions and rules in the Bible did not make sense even to Christians of the past, so they tended to greatly reinterpret them or try to allegorize the rules. They needed to make the taboos conform to a more Hellenistic or even Zoroastrian way of thinking. In the Middle Ages there was a synthesis of that and interpreting some laws close to they were as written.
For example, why do you not cheat the hired field hand out of his wages, according to the Old Testament(Deuteronomy)? Because the cheated man might pray to Yahweh for recompense, and Yahweh might send ills on the employer or others because of this. There is nothing about it being “wrong” to defraud the worker in itself. Nothing about how that worker needs to support his family(an argument stemming from compassion), or that it is wrong to not pay your workers, or that one’s credibility requires that promises be kept(otherwise who would work for you). The concern is that the tribal god might get angry about it.
The notion of “sin” as something connected with morality is also a problem when it comes to understanding. This is not what sin meant in the older context. Sin was anything at all that offended a god or gods, first and foremost. In the Old Testament, a broad range of ritual and purity related issues are all “sin” if one happens to trip over them. Many of these rules are not different than what you find from the Babylonians and Persians. It is even mentioned how one may sacrifice in case of an “unintentional sin”. Christians and atheists alike usually see sin as something “immoral” actively done and with intent, not something that could be accidental. Christian theologians have even said that intention, whether or not a person is rational, and the actor’s moral knowledge factor in to the god’s assessment of an action.
This is not so in the text. People are punished all the time for things they did not do, or for accidental things, or for things done out of ignorance. In 2nd Kings, one prophet tells another prophet to strike him. When the other prophet refuses to strike, the prophet that asked announces that Yahweh has been disobeyed, and therefore the prophet that refused to hit him will die by a lion soon. This later happens, all because the guy refused to do something that sounded a bit odd or even “wrong” without question. Uzziah dies just for steadying the tottering Ark. Aaron’s sons die for some ritual impropriety involving incense or fire. David’s citizens die for a census that David was moved by Yahweh to do in the first place. David gets a choice of punishments, but he piously refuses to choose and falls back on Yahweh’s mercy. Yahweh then kills tens of thousands with a plague. One of the Levitical regulations has priests wear bells so that they don’t get suddenly killed by Yahweh when they enter the tabernacle, presumably Yahweh wants to hear that they are coming before they enter. The idea that the “whole congregation is holy” and that anyone(or any Levite) can be a priest is what Korah and his faction claimed. Yahweh had the earth swallow them and all their families for this presumption. Achan’s family was sacrificed with him because he took objects that were supposed to be offered to Yahweh from Jericho(after the Israelites sacrificed the population and animals to Yahweh). David had Saul’s children and grandchildren killed to end a famine that Yahweh sent, because Yahweh was angry at Saul over the Gibeonites and decided to make an issue of it right then. This is a far cry from the beliefs of most Christians, and from the abstract theological construct Christianity has built up.
Leviticus 14:33-57 is an interesting passage about what to do if Yahweh(and it does specify him) inflicts a type of “leprosy” on a house’s walls. This obviously refers to some kind of mold, to the ancient Hebrews anything that looked similar was termed the same. Imagine telling a modern Christian that their god himself put that mold infestation in their house. Imagine telling them that they must follow the directions in Leviticus 14 to get rid of it, involving rituals, sprinklings, and the blood of sacrificed birds. The Christian would probably think you were crazy, or describing some type of witchcraft. There is no discussion in Leviticus 14 of *why* Yahweh would put mold in a house. It is just assumed that *all* disease comes from the tribal god, as punishments or even for inscrutable reasons, and he has to be propitiated to take them away.
Or the issue of slavery. Hebrews in Leviticus are exempted in most cases from chattel slavery(but not from indentured servitude), while foreigners can be treated as chattel slaves(they may be beaten, are heritable property, freely bought and sold). Is there some “moral” consideration for this in the actual text? To people today, it seems unfair, and slavery in general is seen as bad. The reason given in the text for Hebrews being exempted in most cases from chattel slavery is that they are Yahweh’s property. There is no other consideration, just that Yahweh does not want some slave master claiming people that belong to him. Other tribes don’t belong to Yahweh, so they don’t matter. Considerations about what is “moral” or “humane” here come from outside of the text.
Yahweh is said to make people blind, deaf, and deformed, but he also requires that all such people be kept away from his altars and have no part in sacrifices. They didn’t get to have a place in the “congregation/assembly of Yahweh” and could never be priests. This also included bastards, those of mixed parentage(there are repeated commands to send them away), and eunuchs. And what of all those people with physical ailments that they had from birth, why would it be fair to exclude them for that? This seems arbitrary, especially to Christians who depict their god as seeking out the downtrodden and outcast. To the ancient Semites(including Israel), though, the reason was not that complicated. Fairness would not even be an issue here. Such people were considered inauspicious, literally carrying impurity and sin around with them. Often the sicknesses or deformities were considered to be the result of divine wrath on their family or their person. In the New Testament, someone asks if a blind man sinned or if his parents did, demonstrating this idea. The Old Testament says in several places(including Exodus) that Yahweh punishes the descendants of those that offend him. Impurity and inauspicious things had to be kept away from altars, lest the god be angry, or a ritual go wrong.
In Deuteronomy, Yahweh promises to send all the plagues and ills he threatened the Israelites with, onto their enemies instead, if they obey his taboos and make the sacrifices he commands. Imagine a preacher today promising something like this. Many Psalms are curses spoken in the hope that Yahweh will being them to pass.
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Happy to be living in this century. Thanks K. That is a remarkable comment. I’ve read all those things many times but not in that context. Do you mind sharing a bit of your history? Where did you put all this together?
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I got here from Melas’ blog. I comment there often, I think I was his first commenter when he started. You comment there sometimes. I came here partly to gauge the atheist environment.
17 years of Bible study in English, Greek, Latin, and Hebrew is where I got that from. That was all from memory. I don’t have a degree in that or anything, I taught myself. I have been working on some research lately involving a certain concept in the Bible and Semitic cultures, so I have been immersed in those recently. Previously I was collecting as much as possible on Finno-Ugric traditions, a project that is ongoing.
Other than that, I have studied a lot on different religions, languages, and cultures. A lot on anthropology too. I have collected a lot of literature on those subjects, and have been reading through it for years. It is basically my hobby, or maybe addiction. I have written a lot of notes and even proto-articles on some things. I also have an organized set of links and articles so I can reference things easily. I tend to overdo it when commenting. I wanted to see if I got anything interesting here, some approach I had never though of, or some information I did not have. And I wanted to see if any atheists had viewed the Bible from that perspective. Most atheist criticisms of the Bible from a moral perspective are like the reactions of disappointed Christians after reading the thing. I have seen a Christian become an atheist in real time as they pursued serious reading and study of the Bible, because it did not fit their Christian preconceptions. I see atheists still carrying Christian preconceptions all the time.
A good book to begin with on the subject is “The Doctrine of Sin in the Babylonian Religion” by Julian Morgenstern. You will find from reading it that the Babylonians had a complex idea of evil spirits and also practiced baptisms and exorcisms. The notion of sin to the Babylonians was very much like that of the Old Testament. Christian prejudices cloud real understanding. Where does it say in the Old Testament that sin is “separation” from the god? Where does it say that one cannot overcome sin on their own(it says the opposite several times)? Where does it say that there is “original sin” or that one is “born sinful”? Where is any fiery pit for the damned ever mentioned? Where is a heaven for the righteous mentioned? For that matter, demons, Satan, and the like don’t really feature. None of that is really there in the Old Testament. The most we get is a mention of some future resurrection for some(not all) in Daniel, itself a Hellenistic period work. Trace the concepts, and nearly all of those doctrines come from somewhere else, they are not in evidence in the Primary History(Genesis-2 Kings) of the Old Testament. Other elements of Christian thought might have been suppressed elements of Jewish culture coming back in force.
The notion of sin that Christians have now(they have argued about it a lot) is most similar to the Orphic(think 600-500 BCE) idea of sin as corruption inherent in matter. The idea of some primordial evil infecting all humans is found in the myth of Zagreus, an Orphic myth derived from a mixture of Egyptian, Thracian, and Greek cultures. I have had that debate before with Melas. The concept that the physical body and the world are flawed and impure comes from that, in that corner of the world anyway. Buddhism and Jainism along with some other schools of thought in India started along that track around the same time, so it was not just in the Eastern Mediterranean. I think this rising tendency colliding with West Semitic guilt and purity concepts created the Christian idea of sin as we know it. And then Zoroastrian(Persian state religion, 600 BCE onward) dualism was thrown into the mix, adding the notion of an all-good god vs. an all evil god, a future resurrection for the good, and a fiery punishment for the wicked. Go further back and the core of the idea of a lake of fire can be found in ancient Egypt, as well as a paradise for the righteous and the judgement of the dead.
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Interesting. I have not read the Bible (or really anything the past five years) through the lens of unbelief. I have intentionally steered away from the expert commentary, videos, etc. I really did not want to be an atheist, but as I viewed the outcomes of monotheistic faith, belief became apparent to me it was the current curse of the human condition. Not really what one believes, but “that” we believe. That belief is then defended by tribal pride, hormones, hardwiring, and so on.
Everyone wants a belief and they will sacrifice good sense to get one. They pay dearly for the ability to hope.
I have been wrong on occasional and that’s fine, that why I post my ideas is to hone them, discard them, reason them into an observation with as little outside influence as possible. Your story intrigued me particularly the self taught portion. Had you been to the approved schools, you may have never come up with that gem of a comment.
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Since I am on the subject, the idea that a primordial rebellion of humanity against the creator god changed things from the initial higher state is found in Egyptian mythology. The myth has the creator send Sekhmet to wipe out most of rebellious humanity, and he withdraws his direct presence from among humans after that. The idea of man as the “image” of the creator god is also found in Egyptian religion. Many times people are called “the herd of the god” with regard to the creator. Another thing that might sound familiar is that one Egyptian creation myth has the creator “contemplate things in his heart” before he speaks the true names of those things and calls them into being separate from himself. Sometimes the “word” of the creator god(Thoth) is the agent by which creation is organized(that should be familiar). There is even mention of an end of all things in the Egyptian myths, when the first god will take everything back down into the darkness that it all came from. I suspect that they had a cyclic cosmology, judging by the Egyptian sources and the Greek ones influenced by them that had this idea. The Stoics and Plato both believed in cyclical destructions of the world, and both took much from Egypt.
The Egyptians also had a strong element of dualism, light vs. dark and order vs. chaos. The main difference from Zoroastrianism and Christianity is that the Egyptians paid tribute to ambivalent gods like Set(who could be good or bad), Sekhmet(who was basically divine wrath personified) or the punishers of the underworld.
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I haven’t studied anywhere NEAR what you have, but you do present several points that I have also come across. Enjoy your perspective. It’s unfortunate that believers aren’t open to information like this about their faith. They might be surprised at how many of the “arguments” they present have no validity at all.
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Something else I observed from the Christian posting here. Most Christians today have the same modern preconceptions as atheists, for obvious reasons. We are products of our time. Most Christians don’t know a bit about “traditional” Christianity as it was until the 18th-19th century. Try asking one about the “churching” of women after giving birth. There are numerous examples I can think of. The commenter mentioned the excesses of the French Revolution. Within living memory of that, this had happened:
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Really unbelievable. I was struggling as a believer to find the words to dismiss this stuff with another set of cleverly worded answers, but it never ends.
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Hello K. That was CERTAINLY a long, long personal essay on “morality.” Unfortunately, none of it really invites serious discussion and productive engagement for anyone who isn’t firmly a Christian Faither. Your opening premise, or your HINT to it, is a presupposition that morality began with the Jewish-Israeli God/Yahweh. This is simply unsubstantiated, most likely misleading or false. Case and point, if you’ll please read every single word below as I did yours above… 🙂 perhaps a more productive, open-minded discussion can take place.
CENTURIES of debate on the origin of ethics come down to this: Either ethical principles, such as justice and human rights, are independent of human experience, or they are human inventions. The distinction is more than an exercise for academic philosophers. The choice between these two understandings makes all the difference in the way we view ourselves as a species. It measures the authority of religion, and it determines the conduct of moral reasoning.
The two assumptions in competition are like islands in a sea of chaos, as different as life and death, matter and the void. One cannot learn which is correct by pure logic; the answer will eventually be reached through an accumulation of objective evidence. Moral reasoning, I believe, is at every level intrinsically consilient with — compatible with, intertwined with — the natural sciences. (I use a form of the word “consilience” — literally a “jumping together” of knowledge as a result of the linking of facts and fact-based theory across disciplines to create a common groundwork of explanation — because its rarity has preserved its precision.)
Every thoughtful person has an opinion on which premise is correct. But the split is not, as popularly supposed, between religious believers and secularists. It is between transcendentalists, who think that moral guidelines exist outside the human mind, and empiricists, who think them contrivances of the mind. In simplest terms, the options are as follows: I believe in the independence of moral values, whether from God or not, and I believe that moral values come from human beings alone, whether or not God exists.
Theologians and philosophers have almost always focused on transcendentalism as the means to validate ethics. They seek the grail of natural law, which comprises freestanding principles of moral conduct immune to doubt and compromise. Christian theologians, following Saint Thomas Aquinas’s reasoning in Summa Theologiae, by and large consider natural law to be an expression of God’s will. In this view, human beings have an obligation to discover the law by diligent reasoning and to weave it into the routine of their daily lives. Secular philosophers of a transcendental bent may seem to be radically different from theologians, but they are actually quite similar, at least in moral reasoning. They tend to view natural law as a set of principles so powerful, whatever their origin, as to be self-evident to any rational person. In short, transcendental views are fundamentally the same whether God is invoked or not.
For example, when Thomas Jefferson, following John Locke, derived the doctrine of natural rights from natural law, he was more concerned with the power of transcendental statements than with their origin, divine or secular. In the Declaration of Independence he blended secular and religious presumptions in one transcendentalist sentence, thus deftly covering all bets: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” That assertion became the cardinal premise of America’s civil religion, the righteous sword wielded by Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., and it endures as the central ethic binding together the diverse peoples of the United States.
So compelling are such fruits of natural-law theory, especially when the Deity is also invoked, that they may seem to place the transcendentalist assumption beyond question. But to its noble successes must be added appalling failures. It has been perverted many times in the past — used, for example, to argue passionately for colonial conquest, slavery, and genocide. Nor was any great war ever fought without each side thinking its cause transcendentally sacred in some manner or other.
So perhaps we need to take empiricism more seriously. In the empiricist view, ethics is conduct favored consistently enough throughout a society to be expressed as a code of principles. It reaches its precise form in each culture according to historical circumstance. The codes, whether adjudged good or evil by outsiders, play an important role in determining which cultures flourish and which decline.
The crux of the empiricist view is its emphasis on objective knowledge. Because the success of an ethical code depends on how wisely it interprets moral sentiments, those who frame one should know how the brain works, and how the mind develops. The success of ethics also depends on how accurately a society can predict the consequences of particular actions as opposed to others, especially in cases of moral ambiguity.
The empiricist argument holds that if we explore the biological roots of moral behavior, and explain their material origins and biases, we should be able to fashion a wise and enduring ethical consensus. The current expansion of scientific inquiry into the deeper processes of human thought makes this venture feasible.
The choice between transcendentalism and empiricism will be the coming century’s version of the struggle for men’s souls. Moral reasoning will either remain centered in idioms of theology and philosophy, where it is now, or shift toward science-based material analysis. Where it settles will depend on which world view is proved correct, or at least which is more widely perceived to be correct.
Ethicists, scholars who specialize in moral reasoning, tend not to declare themselves on the foundations of ethics, or to admit fallibility. Rarely do we see an argument that opens with the simple statement This is my starting point, and it could be wrong. Ethicists instead favor a fretful passage from the particular to the ambiguous, or the reverse — vagueness into hard cases. I suspect that almost all are transcendentalists at heart, but they rarely say so in simple declarative sentences. One cannot blame them very much; explaining the ineffable is difficult.
I am an empiricist. On religion I lean toward deism, but consider its proof largely a problem in astrophysics. The existence of a God who created the universe (as envisioned by deism) is possible, and the question may eventually be settled, perhaps by forms of material evidence not yet imagined. Or the matter may be forever beyond human reach. In contrast, and of far greater importance to humanity, the idea of a biological God, one who directs organic evolution and intervenes in human affairs (as envisioned by theism), is increasingly contravened by biology and the brain sciences.
The same evidence, I believe, favors a purely material origin of ethics, and it meets the criterion of consilience: causal explanations of brain activity and evolution, while imperfect, already cover most facts known about behavior we term “moral.” Although this conception is relativistic (in other words, dependent on personal viewpoint), it can, if evolved carefully, lead more directly and safely to stable moral codes than can transcendentalism, which is also, when one thinks about it, ultimately relativistic.
Of course, lest I forget, I may be wrong.
Transcendentalism Versus Empiricism
THE argument of the empiricist has roots that go back to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and, in the beginning of the modern era, to David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-1740). The first clear evolutionary elaboration of it was by Charles Darwin, in The Descent of Man (1871).
Again, religious transcendentalism is bolstered by secular transcendentalism, to which it is fundamentally similar. Immanuel Kant, judged by history the greatest of secular philosophers, addressed moral reasoning very much as a theologian. Human beings, he argued, are independent moral agents with a wholly free will, capable of obeying or breaking moral law: “There is in man a power of self-determination, independent of any coercion through sensuous impulses.” Our minds are subject to a categorical imperative, Kant said, of what our actions ought to be. The imperative is a good in itself alone, apart from all other considerations, and it can be recognized by this rule: “Act only on that maxim you wish will become a universal law.” Most important, and transcendental, ought has no place in nature. Nature, Kant said, is a system of cause and effect, whereas moral choice is a matter of free will, absent cause and effect. In making moral choices, in rising above mere instinct, human beings transcend the realm of nature and enter a realm of freedom that belongs exclusively to them as rational creatures.
Now, this formulation has a comforting feel to it, but it makes no sense at all in terms of either material or imaginable entities, which is why Kant, even apart from his tortured prose, is so hard to understand. Sometimes a concept is baffling not because it is profound but because it is wrong. This idea does not accord, we know now, with the evidence of how the brain works.
In Principia Ethica (1903), G. E. Moore, the founder of modern ethical philosophy, essentially agreed with Kant. In his view, moral reasoning cannot dip into psychology and the social sciences in order to locate ethical principles, because those disciplines yield only a causal picture and fail to illuminate the basis of moral justification. So to reach the normative ought by way of the factual is is to commit a basic error of logic, which Moore called the naturalistic fallacy. John Rawls, in A Theory of Justice (1971), once again traveled the transcendental road. He offered the very plausible suggestion that justice be defined as fairness, which is to be accepted as an intrinsic good. It is the imperative we would follow if we had no starting information about our own future status in life. But in making such a suggestion Rawls ventured no thought on where the human brain comes from or how it works. He offered no evidence that justice-as-fairness is consistent with human nature, hence practicable as a blanket premise. Probably it is, but how can we know except by blind trial and error?
Had Kant, Moore, and Rawls known modern biology and experimental psychology, they might well not have reasoned as they did. Yet as this century closes, transcendentalism remains firm in the hearts not just of religious believers but also of countless scholars in the social sciences and the humanities who, like Moore and Rawls, have chosen to insulate their thinking from the natural sciences.
Many philosophers will respond by saying, Ethicists don’t need that kind of information. You really can’t pass from is to ought. You can’t describe a genetic predisposition and suppose that because it is part of human nature, it is somehow transformed into an ethical precept. We must put moral reasoning in a special category, and use transcendental guidelines as required.
No, we do not have to put moral reasoning in a special category and use transcendental premises, because the posing of the naturalistic fallacy is itself a fallacy. For if ought is not is, what is? To translate is into ought makes sense if we attend to the objective meaning of ethical precepts. They are very unlikely to be ethereal messages awaiting revelation, or independent truths vibrating in a non-material dimension of the mind. They are more likely to be products of the brain and the culture. From the consilient perspective of the natural sciences, they are no more than principles of the social contract hardened into rules and dictates — the behavioral codes that members of a society fervently wish others to follow and are themselves willing to accept for the common good. Precepts are the extreme on a scale of agreements that range from casual assent, to public sentiment, to law, to that part of the canon considered sacred and unalterable. The scale applied to adultery might read as follows:
In transcendental thinking, the chain of causation runs downward from the given ought in religion or natural law through jurisprudence to education and finally to individual choice. The argument from transcendentalism takes the following general form: The order of nature contains supreme principles, either divine or intrinsic, and we will be wise to learn about them and find the means to conform to them. Thus John Rawls opens A Theory of Justice with a proposition he regards as irrevocable: “In a just society the liberties of equal citizenship are taken as settled; the rights secured by justice are not subject to political bargaining or to the calculus of social interests.” As many critiques have made clear, that premise can lead to unhappy consequences when applied to the real world, including a tightening of social control and a decline in personal initiative. A very different premise, therefore, is suggested by Robert Nozick in Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974): “Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights). So strong and far-reaching are these rights that they raise the question of what, if anything, the state and its officials may do.” Rawls would point us toward egalitarianism regulated by the state, Nozick toward libertarianism in a minimalist state.
The empiricist view, in contrast, searching for an origin of ethical reasoning that can be objectively studied, reverses the chain of causation. The individual is seen as predisposed biologically to make certain choices. Through cultural evolution some of the choices are hardened into precepts, then into laws, and, if the predisposition or coercion is strong enough, into a belief in the command of God or the natural order of the universe. The general empiricist principle takes this form: Strong innate feeling and historical experience cause certain actions to be preferred; we have experienced them, and have weighed their consequences, and agree to conform with codes that express them. Let us take an oath upon the codes, invest our personal honor in them, and suffer punishment for their violation. The empiricist view concedes that moral codes are devised to conform to some drives of human nature and to suppress others. Ought is the translation not of human nature but of the public will, which can be made increasingly wise and stable through an understanding of the needs and pitfalls of human nature. The empiricist view recognizes that the strength of commitment can wane as a result of new knowledge and experience, with the result that certain rules may be desacralized, old laws rescinded, and formerly prohibited behavior set free. It also recognizes that for the same reason new moral codes may need to be devised, with the potential of being made sacred in time.
The Origin of Moral Instincts
IF the empiricist world view is correct, ought is just shorthand for one kind of factual statement, a word that denotes what society first chose (or was coerced) to do, and then codified. The naturalistic fallacy is thereby reduced to the naturalistic problem. The solution of the problem is not difficult: ought is the product of a material process. The solution points the way to an objective grasp of the origin of ethics.
A few investigators are now embarked on just such a foundational inquiry. Most agree that ethical codes have arisen by evolution through the interplay of biology and culture. In a sense these investigators are reviving the idea of moral sentiments that was developed in the eighteenth century by the British empiricists Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, and Adam Smith.
What have been thought of as moral sentiments are now taken to mean moral instincts (as defined by the modern behavioral sciences), subject to judgment according to their consequences. Such sentiments are thus derived from epigenetic rules — hereditary biases in mental development, usually conditioned by emotion, that influence concepts and decisions made from them. The primary origin of moral instincts is the dynamic relation between cooperation and defection. The essential ingredient for the molding of the instincts during genetic evolution in any species is intelligence high enough to judge and manipulate the tension generated by the dynamism. That level of intelligence allows the building of complex mental scenarios well into the future. It occurs, so far as is known, only in human beings and perhaps their closest relatives among the higher apes.
A way of envisioning the hypothetical earliest stages of moral evolution is provided by game theory, particularly the solutions to the famous Prisoner’s Dilemma. Consider the following typical scenario of the dilemma. Two gang members have been arrested for murder and are being questioned separately. The evidence against them is strong but not irrefutable. The first gang member believes that if he turns state’s witness, he will be granted immunity and his partner will be sentenced to life in prison. But he is also aware that his partner has the same option, and that if both of them exercise it, neither will be granted immunity. That is the dilemma. Will the two gang members independently defect, so that both take the hard fall? They will not, because they agreed in advance to remain silent if caught. By doing so, both hope to be convicted on a lesser charge or escape punishment altogether. Criminal gangs have turned this principle of calculation into an ethical precept: Never rat on another member; always be a stand-up guy. Honor does exist among thieves. The gang is a society of sorts; its code is the same as that of a captive soldier in wartime, obliged to give only name, rank, and serial number.
In one form or another, comparable dilemmas that are solvable by cooperation occur constantly and everywhere in daily life. The payoff is variously money, status, power, sex, access, comfort, or health. Most of these proximate rewards are converted into the universal bottom line of Darwinian genetic fitness: greater longevity and a secure, growing family.
And so it has most likely always been. Imagine a Paleolithic band of five hunters. One considers breaking away from the others to look for an antelope on his own. If successful, he will gain a large quantity of meat and hide — five times as much as if he stays with the band and they are successful. But he knows from experience that his chances of success are very low, much less than the chances of the band of five working together. In addition, whether successful alone or not, he will suffer animosity from the others for lessening their prospects. By custom the band members remain together and share equitably the animals they kill. So the hunter stays. He also observes good manners in doing so, especially if he is the one who makes the kill. Boastful pride is condemned, because it rips the delicate web of reciprocity.
Now suppose that human propensities to cooperate or defect are heritable: some people are innately more cooperative, others less so. In this respect moral aptitude would simply be like almost all other mental traits studied to date. Among traits with documented heritability, those closest to moral aptitude are empathy with the distress of others and certain processes of attachment between infants and their caregivers. To the heritability of moral aptitude add the abundant evidence of history that cooperative individuals generally survive longer and leave more offspring. Following that reasoning, in the course of evolutionary history genes predisposing people toward cooperative behavior would have come to predominate in the human population as a whole.
Such a process repeated through thousands of generations inevitably gave rise to moral sentiments. With the exception of psychopaths (if any truly exist), every person vividly experiences these instincts variously as conscience, self-respect, remorse, empathy, shame, humility, and moral outrage. They bias cultural evolution toward the conventions that express the universal moral codes of honor, patriotism, altruism, justice, compassion, mercy, and redemption.
The dark side of the inborn propensity to moral behavior is xenophobia. Because personal familiarity and common interest are vital in social transactions, moral sentiments evolved to be selective. People give trust to strangers with effort, and true compassion is a commodity in chronically short supply. Tribes cooperate only through carefully defined treaties and other conventions. They are quick to imagine themselves the victims of conspiracies by competing groups, and they are prone to dehumanize and murder their rivals during periods of severe conflict. They cement their own group loyalties by means of sacred symbols and ceremonies. Their mythologies are filled with epic victories over menacing enemies.
The complementary instincts of morality and tribalism are easily manipulated. Civilization has made them more so. Beginning about 10,000 years ago, a tick in geological time, when the agricultural revolution started in the Middle East, in China, and in MesoAmerica, populations increased tenfold in density over those of hunter-gatherer societies. Families settled on small plots of land, villages proliferated, and labor was finely divided as a growing minority of the populace specialized as craftsmen, traders, and soldiers. The rising agricultural societies became increasingly hierarchical. As chiefdoms and then states thrived on agricultural surpluses, hereditary rulers and priestly castes took power. The old ethical codes were transformed into coercive regulations, always to the advantage of the ruling classes. About this time the idea of law-giving gods originated. Their commands lent the ethical codes overpowering authority — once again, no surprise, in the interests of the rulers.
Because of the technical difficulty of analyzing such phenomena in an objective manner, and because people resist biological explanations of their higher cortical functions in the first place, very little progress has been made in the biological exploration of the moral sentiments. Even so, it is astonishing that the study of ethics has advanced so little since the nineteenth century. The most distinguishing and vital qualities of the human species remain a blank space on the scientific map. I doubt that discussions of ethics should rest upon the freestanding assumptions of contemporary philosophers who have evidently never given thought to the evolutionary origin and material functioning of the human brain. In no other domain of the humanities is a union with the natural sciences more urgently needed.
When the ethical dimension of human nature is at last fully opened to such exploration, the innate epigenetic rules of moral reasoning will probably not prove to be aggregated into simple instincts such as bonding, cooperativeness, and altruism. Instead the rules will most probably turn out to be an ensemble of many algorithms, whose interlocking activities guide the mind across a landscape of nuanced moods and choices.
Such a prestructured mental world may at first seem too complicated to have been created by autonomous genetic evolution alone. But all the evidence of biology suggests that just this process was enough to spawn the millions of species of life surrounding us. Each kind of animal is furthermore guided through its life cycle by unique and often elaborate sets of instinctual algorithms, many of which are beginning to yield to genetic and neurobiological analyses. With all these examples before us, we may reasonably conclude that human behavior originated the same way.
A Scientific Approach to Moral Reasoning
MEANWHILE, the mélanges of moral reasoning employed by modern societies are, to put the matter simply, a mess. They are chimeras, composed of odd parts stuck together. Paleolithic egalitarian and tribalistic instincts are still firmly installed. As part of the genetic foundation of human nature, they cannot be replaced. In some cases, such as quick hostility to strangers and competing groups, they have become generally ill adapted and persistently dangerous. Above the fundamental instincts rise superstructures of arguments and rules that accommodate the novel institutions created by cultural evolution. These accommodations, which reflect the attempt to maintain order and further tribal interests, have been too volatile to track by genetic evolution; they are not yet in the genes.
Little wonder, then, that ethics is the most publicly contested of all philosophical enterprises. Or that political science, which at its foundation is primarily the study of applied ethics, is so frequently problematic. Neither is informed by anything that would be recognizable as authentic theory in the natural sciences. Both ethics and political science lack a foundation of verifiable knowledge of human nature sufficient to produce cause-and-effect predictions and sound judgments based on them. Surely closer attention must be paid to the deep springs of ethical behavior. The greatest void in knowledge for such a venture is the biology of moral sentiments. In time this subject can be understood, I believe, by paying attention to the following topics:
* The definition of moral sentiments, first by precise descriptions from experimental psychology and then by analysis of the underlying neural and endocrine responses.
* The genetics of moral sentiments, most easily approached through measurements of the heritability of the psychological and physiological processes of ethical behavior, and eventually, with difficulty, through identification of the prescribing genes.
* The development of moral sentiments as products of the interactions of genes and the environment. Research is most effective when conducted at two levels: the histories of ethical systems as part of the emergence of different cultures, and the cognitive development of individuals living in a variety of cultures. Such investigations are already well along in anthropology and psychology. In the future they will be augmented by contributions from biology.
* The deep history of moral sentiments — why they exist in the first place. Presumably they contributed to survival and reproductive success during the long periods of prehistoric time in which they genetically evolved.
From a convergence of these several approaches the true origin and meaning of ethical behavior may come into focus. If so, a more certain measure can then be taken of the strength and flexibility of the epigenetic rules composing the various moral sentiments. From that knowledge it should be possible to adapt ancient moral sentiments more wisely to the swiftly changing conditions of modern life into which, willy-nilly and largely in ignorance, we have plunged.
Then new answers might be found to the truly important questions of moral reasoning. How can the moral instincts be ranked? Which are best subdued and to what degree? Which should be validated by law and symbol? How can precepts be left open to appeal under extraordinary circumstances? In the new understanding can be located the most effective means for reaching consensus. No one can guess the exact form that agreements will take from one culture to the next. The process, however, can be predicted with assurance. It will be democratic, weakening the clash of rival religions and ideologies. History is moving decisively in that direction, and people are by nature too bright and too contentious to abide anything else. And the pace can be confidently predicted: change will come slowly, across generations, because old beliefs die hard, even when they are demonstrably false.
The Origins of Religion
THE same reasoning that aligns ethical philosophy with science can also inform the study of religion. Religions are analogous to organisms. They have a life cycle. They are born, they grow, they compete, they reproduce, and, in the fullness of time, most die. In each of these phases religions reflect the human organisms that nourish them. They express a primary rule of human existence: Whatever is necessary to sustain life is also ultimately biological.
Successful religions typically begin as cults, which then increase in power and inclusiveness until they achieve tolerance outside the circle of believers. At the core of each religion is a creation myth, which explains how the world began and how the chosen people — those subscribing to the belief system — arrived at its center. Often a mystery, a set of secret instructions and formulas, is available to members who have worked their way to a higher state of enlightenment. The medieval Jewish cabala, the trigradal system of Freemasonry, and the carvings on Australian aboriginal spirit sticks are examples of such arcana. Power radiates from the center, gathering converts and binding followers to the group. Sacred places are designated, where the gods can be importuned, rites observed, and miracles witnessed.
The devotees of the religion compete as a tribe with those of other religions. They harshly resist the dismissal of their beliefs by rivals. They venerate self-sacrifice in defense of the religion.
The tribalistic roots of religion are similar to those of moral reasoning and may be identical. Religious rites, such as burial ceremonies, are very old. It appears that in the late Paleolithic period in Europe and the Middle East bodies were sometimes placed in shallow graves, accompanied by ocher or blossoms; one can easily imagine such ceremonies performed to invoke spirits and gods. But, as theoretical deduction and the evidence suggest, the primitive elements of moral behavior are far older than Paleolithic ritual. Religion arose on a foundation of ethics, and it has probably always been used in one manner or another to justify moral codes.
The formidable influence of the religious drive is based on far more, however, than just the validation of morals. A great subterranean river of the mind, it gathers strength from a broad spread of tributary emotions. Foremost among them is the survival instinct. “Fear,” as the Roman poet Lucretius said, “was the first thing on earth to make the gods.” Our conscious minds hunger for a permanent existence. If we cannot have everlasting life of the body, then absorption into some immortal whole will serve. Anything will serve, as long as it gives the individual meaning and somehow stretches into eternity that swift passage of the mind and spirit lamented by Saint Augustine as the short day of time.
The understanding and control of life is another source of religious power. Doctrine draws on the same creative springs as science and the arts, its aim being the extraction of order from the mysteries and tumult of the material world. To explain the meaning of life it spins mythic narratives of the tribal history, populating the cosmos with protective spirits and gods. The existence of the supernatural, if accepted, testifies to the existence of that other world so desperately desired.
Religion is also mightily empowered by its principal ally, tribalism. The shamans and priests implore us, in somber cadence, Trust in the sacred rituals, become part of the immortal force, you are one of us. As your life unfolds, each step has mystic significance that we who love you will mark with a solemn rite of passage, the last to be performed when you enter that second world, free of pain and fear.
If the religious mythos did not exist in a culture, it would quickly be invented, and in fact it has been invented everywhere, thousands of times through history. Such inevitability is the mark of instinctual behavior in any species, which is guided toward certain states by emotion-driven rules of mental development. To call religion instinctive is not to suppose that any particular part of its mythos is untrue — only that its sources run deeper than ordinary habit and are in fact hereditary, urged into existence through biases in mental development that are encoded in the genes.
Such biases are a predictable consequence of the brain’s genetic evolution. The logic applies to religious behavior, with the added twist of tribalism. There is a hereditary selective advantage to membership in a powerful group united by devout belief and purpose. Even when individuals subordinate themselves and risk death in a common cause, their genes are more likely to be transmitted to the next generation than are those of competing groups who lack comparable resolve.
The mathematical models of population genetics suggest the following rule in the evolutionary origin of such altruism: If the reduction in survival and reproduction of individuals owing to genes for altruism is more than offset by the increased probability of survival of the group owing to the altruism, then altruism genes will rise in frequency throughout the entire population of competing groups. To put it as concisely as possible: the individual pays, his genes and tribe gain, altruism spreads.
Ethics and Animal Life
LET me now suggest a still deeper significance of the empiricist theory of the origin of ethics and religion. If empiricism were disproved, and transcendentalism compellingly upheld, the discovery would be quite simply the most consequential in human history. That is the burden laid upon biology as it draws close to the humanities.
The matter is still far from resolved. But empiricism, as I have argued, is well supported thus far in the case of ethics. The objective evidence for or against it in religion is weaker, but at least still consistent with biology. For example, the emotions that accompany religious ecstasy clearly have a neurobiological source. At least one form of brain disorder is associated with hyper-religiosity, in which cosmic significance is given to almost everything, including trivial everyday events. One can imagine the biological construction of a mind with religious beliefs, although that alone would not disprove the logic of transcendentalism, or prove the beliefs themselves to be untrue.
Equally important, much if not all religious behavior could have arisen from evolution by natural selection. The theory fits — crudely. The behavior includes at least some aspects of belief in gods. Propitiation and sacrifice, which are near-universals of religious practice, are acts of submission to a dominant being. They reflect one kind of dominance hierarchy, which is a general trait of organized mammalian societies. Like human beings, animals use elaborate signals to advertise and maintain their rank in the hierarchy. The details vary among species but also have consistent similarities across the board, as the following two examples will illustrate.
In packs of wolves the dominant animal walks erect and “proud,” stiff-legged and deliberate, with head, tail, and ears up, and stares freely and casually at others. In the presence of rivals the dominant animal bristles its pelt while curling its lips to show teeth, and it takes first choice in food and space. A subordinate uses opposite signals. It turns away from the dominant individual while lowering its head, ears, and tail, and it keeps its fur sleek and its teeth covered. It grovels and slinks, and yields food and space when challenged.
In a troop of rhesus monkeys the alpha male is remarkably similar in mannerisms to a dominant wolf. He keeps his head and tail up, and walks in a deliberate, “regal” manner while casually staring at others. He climbs objects to maintain height above his rivals. When challenged he stares hard at the opponent with mouth open — signaling aggression, not surprise — and sometimes slaps the ground with open palms to signal his readiness to attack. The male or female subordinate affects a furtive walk, holding its head and tail down, turning away from the alpha and other higher-ranked individuals. It keeps its mouth shut except for a fear grimace, and when challenged makes a cringing retreat. It yields space and food and, in the case of males, estrous females.
My point is this: Behavioral scientists from another planet would notice immediately the parallels between animal dominance behavior on the one hand and human obeisance to religious and civil authority on the other. They would point out that the most elaborate rites of obeisance are directed at the gods, the hyper-dominant if invisible members of the human group. And they would conclude, correctly, that in baseline social behavior, not just in anatomy, Homo sapiens has only recently diverged in evolution from a nonhuman primate stock.
Countless studies of animal species, whose instinctive behavior is unobscured by cultural elaboration, have shown that membership in dominance orders pays off in survival and lifetime reproductive success. That is true not just for the dominant individuals but for the subordinates as well. Membership in either class gives animals better protection against enemies and better access to food, shelter, and mates than does solitary existence. Furthermore, subordination in the group is not necessarily permanent. Dominant individuals weaken and die, and as a result some of the underlings advance in rank and appropriate more resources.
Modern human beings are unlikely to have erased the old mammalian genetic programs and devised other means of distributing power. All the evidence suggests that they have not. True to their primate heritage, people are easily seduced by confident, charismatic leaders, especially males. That predisposition is strong in religious organizations. Cults form around such leaders. Their power grows if they can persuasively claim special access to the supremely dominant, typically male figure of God. As cults evolve into religions, the image of the Supreme Being is reinforced by myth and liturgy. In time the authority of the founders and their successors is graven in sacred texts. Unruly subordinates, known as “blasphemers,” are squashed.
The symbol-forming human mind, however, never remains satisfied with raw, apish feeling in any emotional realm. It strives to build cultures that are maximally rewarding in every dimension. Ritual and prayer permit religious believers to be in direct touch with the Supreme Being; consolation from coreligionists softens otherwise unbearable grief; the unexplainable is explained; and an oceanic sense of communion with the larger whole is made possible.
Communion is the key, and hope rising from it is eternal; out of the dark night of the soul arises the prospect of a spiritual journey to the light. For a special few the journey can be taken in this life. The mind reflects in certain ways in order to reach ever higher levels of enlightenment, until finally, when no further progress is possible, it enters a mystical union with the whole. Within the great religions such enlightenment is expressed by Hindu samadhi, Buddhist Zen satori, Sufi fana, and Pentecostal Christian rebirth. Something like it is also experienced by hallucinating preliterate shamans. What all these celebrants evidently feel (as I felt once, to some degree, as a reborn evangelical) is hard to put in words, but Willa Cather came as close as possible in a single sentence. In My Antonia her fictional narrator says, “That is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great.”
Of course that is happiness — to find the godhead, or to enter the wholeness of nature, or otherwise to grasp and hold on to something ineffable, beautiful, and eternal. Millions seek it. They feel otherwise lost, adrift in a life without ultimate meaning. They enter established religions, succumb to cults, dabble in New Age nostrums. They push The Celestine Prophecy and other junk attempts at enlightenment onto the best-seller lists.
Perhaps, as I believe, these phenomena can all eventually be explained as functions of brain circuitry and deep genetic history. But this is not a subject that even the most hardened empiricist should presume to trivialize. The idea of mystical union is an authentic part of the human spirit. It has occupied humanity for millennia, and it raises questions of utmost seriousness for transcendentalists and scientists alike. What road, we ask, was traveled, what destination reached, by the mystics of history?
Theology Moves Toward Abstraction
FOR many, the urge to believe in transcendental existence and immortality is overpowering. Transcendentalism, especially when reinforced by religious faith, is psychically full and rich; it feels somehow right. By comparison, empiricism seems sterile and inadequate. In the quest for ultimate meaning the transcendentalist route is much easier to follow. That is why, even as empiricism is winning the mind, transcendentalism continues to win the heart. Science has always defeated religious dogma point by point when differences between the two were meticulously assessed. But to no avail. In the United States 16 million people belong to the Southern Baptist denomination, the largest favoring a literal interpretation of the Christian Bible, but the American Humanist Association, the leading organization devoted to secular and deistic humanism, has only 5,000 members.
Still, if history and science have taught us anything, it is that passion and desire are not the same as truth. The human mind evolved to believe in gods. It did not evolve to believe in biology. Acceptance of the supernatural conveyed a great advantage throughout prehistory, when the brain was evolving. Thus it is in sharp contrast to the science of biology, which was developed as a product of the modern age and is not underwritten by genetic algorithms. The uncomfortable truth is that the two beliefs are not factually compatible. As a result, those who hunger for both intellectual and religious truth face disquieting choices.
Meanwhile, theology tries to resolve the dilemma by evolving, science-like, toward abstraction. The gods of our ancestors were divine human beings. The Egyptians represented them as Egyptian (often with body parts of Nilotic animals), and the Greeks represented them as Greek. The great contribution of the Hebrews was to combine the entire pantheon into a single person, Yahweh (a patriarch appropriate to desert tribes), and to intellectualize his existence. No graven images were allowed. In the process, they rendered the divine presence less tangible. And so in biblical accounts it came to pass that no one, not even Moses approaching Yahweh in the burning bush, could look upon his face. In time the Jews were prohibited from even pronouncing his true full name. Nevertheless, the idea of a theistic God, omniscient, omnipotent, and closely involved in human affairs, has persisted to this day as the dominant religious image of Western culture.
During the Enlightenment a growing number of liberal Judeo-Christian theologians, wishing to accommodate theism to a more rationalist view of the material world, moved away from God as a literal person. Baruch Spinoza, the pre-eminent Jewish philosopher of the seventeenth century, visualized the deity as a transcendent substance present everywhere in the universe. Deus sive natura, “God or nature,” he declared, they are interchangeable. For his philosophical pains he was banished from his synagogue under a comprehensive anathema, combining all the curses in the book. The risk of heresy notwithstanding, the depersonalization of God has continued steadily into the modern era. For Paul Tillich, one of the most influential Protestant theologians of the twentieth century, the assertion of the existence of God-as-person is not false; it is just meaningless. Among many of the most liberal contemporary thinkers the denial of a concrete divinity takes the form of “process theology.” Everything in this most extreme of ontologies is part of a seamless and endlessly complex web of unfolding relationships. God is manifest in everything.
Scientists, the roving scouts of the empiricist movement, are not immune to the idea of God. Those who favor it often lean toward some form of process theology. They ask this question: When the real world of space, time, and matter is well enough known, will that knowledge reveal the Creator’s presence? Their hopes are vested in the theoretical physicists who pursue the final theory, the Theory of Everything, T.O.E., a system of interlocking equations that describe all that can be learned of the forces of the physical universe. T.O.E. is a “beautiful” theory, as Steven Weinberg has called it in his important book Dreams of a Final Theory — beautiful because it will be elegant, expressing the possibility of unending complexity with minimal laws; and symmetrical, because it will hold invariant through all space and time; and inevitable, meaning that once it is stated, no part can be changed without invalidating the whole. All surviving sub-theories can be fitted into it permanently, in the manner described by Einstein in his own contribution, the General Theory of Relativity. “The chief attraction of the theory,” Einstein said, “lies in its logical completeness. If a single one of the conclusions drawn from it proves wrong, it must be given up; to modify it without destroying the whole structure seems to be impossible.”
The prospect of a final theory by the most mathematical of scientists might seem to signal the approach of a new religious awakening. Stephen Hawking, yielding to the temptation in A Brief History of Time (1988), declared that this scientific achievement “would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we would know the mind of God.”
A Hunger For Spirituality
THE essence of humanity’s spiritual dilemma is that we evolved genetically to accept one truth and discovered another. Can we find a way to erase the dilemma, to resolve the contradictions between the transcendentalist and empiricist world views?
Unfortunately, in my view, the answer is no. Furthermore, the choice between the two is unlikely to remain arbitrary forever. The assumptions underlying these world views are being tested with increasing severity by cumulative verifiable knowledge about how the universe works, from atom to brain to galaxy. In addition, the harsh lessons of history have taught us that one code of ethics is not always as good — or at least not as durable — as another. The same is true of religions. Some cosmologies are factually less correct than others, and some ethical precepts are less workable.
Human nature is biologically based, and it is relevant to ethics and religion. The evidence shows that because of its influence, people can readily be educated to only a narrow range of ethical precepts. They flourish within certain belief systems and wither in others. We need to know exactly why.
To that end I will be so presumptuous as to suggest how the conflict between the world views will most likely be settled. The idea of a genetic, evolutionary origin of moral and religious beliefs will continue to be tested by biological studies of complex human behavior. To the extent that the sensory and nervous systems appear to have evolved by natural selection, or at least some other purely material process, the empiricist interpretation will be supported. It will be further supported by verification of gene-culture co-evolution, the essential process postulated by scientists to underlie human nature by linking changes in genes to changes in culture.
Now consider the alternative. To the extent that ethical and religious phenomena do NOT appear to have evolved in a manner congenial to biology, and especially to the extent that such complex behavior cannot be linked to physical events in the sensory and nervous systems, the empiricist position will have to be abandoned and a transcendentalist explanation accepted.
For centuries the writ of empiricism has been spreading into the ancient domain of transcendentalist belief, slowly at the start but quickening in the scientific age. The spirits our ancestors knew intimately fled first the rocks and trees and then the distant mountains. Now they are in the stars, where their final extinction is possible. But we cannot live without them. People need a sacred narrative. They must have a sense of larger purpose, in one form or another, however intellectualized. They will refuse to yield to the despair of animal mortality. They will continue to plead, in company with the psalmist, Now Lord, what is my comfort? They will find a way to keep the ancestral spirits alive.
If the sacred narrative cannot be in the form of a religious cosmology, it will be taken from the material history of the universe and the human species. That trend is in no way debasing. The true evolutionary epic, retold as poetry, is as intrinsically ennobling as any religious epic. Material reality discovered by science already possesses more content and grandeur than all religious cosmologies combined. The continuity of the human line has been traced through a period of deep history a thousand times as old as that conceived by the Western religions. Its study has brought new revelations of great moral importance. It has made us realize that Homo sapiens is far more than an assortment of tribes and races. We are a single gene pool from which individuals are drawn in each generation and into which they are dissolved the next generation, forever united as a species by heritage and a common future. Such are the conceptions, based on fact, from which new intimations of immortality can be drawn and a new mythos evolved.
Which world view prevails, religious transcendentalism or scientific empiricism, will make a great difference in the way humanity claims the future. While the matter is under advisement, an accommodation can be reached if the following overriding facts are realized. Ethics and religion are still too complex for present-day science to explain in depth. They are, however, far more a product of autonomous evolution than has hitherto been conceded by most theologians. Science faces in ethics and religion its most interesting and possibly most humbling challenge, while religion must somehow find the way to incorporate the discoveries of science in order to retain credibility. Religion will possess strength to the extent that it codifies and puts into enduring, poetic form the highest values of humanity consistent with empirical knowledge. That is the only way to provide compelling moral leadership. Blind faith, no matter how passionately expressed, will not suffice. Science, for its part, will test relentlessly every assumption about the human condition and in time uncover the bedrock of moral and religious sentiments.
The eventual result of the competition between the two world views, I believe, will be the secularization of the human epic and of ancient, antiquated religion itself. However, the process plays out, it demands open, equitable discussion and unwavering intellectual rigor, not faith or prayer, in an atmosphere of tolerant understanding and mutual respect.
— Dr. E.O. Wilson, Harvard University and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and many, many other global awards.
Hence, as you and anyone else that isn’t “Christian” can surmise that morality most plausibly has its origins WELL BEFORE even the Hebrew Bible was conceived as a thought, much less in a readable form where writing/publishing techniques (papyrus, ink-and-quill, etc.) were invented.
Thanks for reading every single word K. Have a good weekend. 🙂
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There are disagreements and there are lectures. Yours was the latter … and seemed (at least to me) quite unnecessary since “K”, like many others on this and other blogs, was simply offering his thoughts on the subject.
Sorry Professor … but in this case, I think you took your “title” too seriously.
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No, no… no need to apologize Nan. Disagreement and other POV’s are always a benefit to mysteries or contests. I’d much rather have your honest opinions than any soapy approvals. 🙂
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God is everything you see he will love everything he makes
That’s a nice catch phrase, but tell that to the children of The Sudan and Burundi. Love is certainly a prop for the Christian play, but what we see in reality doesn’t reflect it
people have different opinions
God is good all the time all the time God is good
According to him? Who told you he was good?
God is watching over all the children. He has a plan
What plan is that, Islam? Religion is nothing but a barrier to human growth. Groveling up to the alter in hopes you make the cut? How loving…
same with you
i deal with temptation
How tempting could it possibly be knowing god was in the room with you? You lack integrity
No it’s christian
Aah, the religion no one actually believes. If god were real you wouldn’t have to believe it. It would be common knowledge from birth without the indoctrination