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Passions in Poetry

Is Religion a Virus of the Mind?

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berengar
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0 posted 02-10-2004 07:58 AM       View Profile for berengar   Email berengar   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for berengar

Forgive my impertinance ... but there's a few interesting comments made by Richard Dawkins (author of 'The Selfish Gene ' etc) on viruses of the mind (just as there can be computer viruses or the biological variety).  As is his wont, he levels his canon squarely at the bastions of religious belief, which he castigates as examples of 'viral infections'.  Now, as a believer myself, I would love to see what responses could be made to his comments, and will cheer from the sidelines, as it were.
All excerpts are taken from 'Viruses of the Mind' in "Dennett and His Critics" (Blackwell, Oxford, 1993).

"It is intriguing to wonder what it might feel like, from the inside, if one's mind were the victim of a "virus"...Progressive evolution of more effective mind-parasites will have two aspects.  New "mutants" that are better at spreading will become more numerous.  And there will be a ganging up of ideas that flourish in one another's presence, ideas that mutually support each other just as genes do...These "gangs" will come to constitute a package, which may be sufficiently stable to deserve a collective name such as Roman Catholicism or Voodoo...our minds are friendly environments to parasitic, self-replicating ideas or information, and...typically massively infected.
Like computer viruses, succesful mind viruses will tend to be hard for their victims to detect.  If you are the victim of one, the chances are you won't know it and may even vigorously deny it.  Accepting that a virus might be difficult to detect in your own mind, what tell-tale signs might you look out for?  I shall answer by imagining how a medical textbook might describe the typical symptoms of a sufferer (arbitarily assumed to be male);

1) The patient typically finds himself impelled by some deep, inner conviction that something is true, or right, or virtuous; a conviction that doesn't seem to owe anything to evidence or reason, but which, nevertheless, he feels as totally compelling or convincing.  We doctors refer to such belief as "faith".

2) Patients typically make a positive virtue of faith's being strong and unshakable, in spite of not being based on evidence.  Indeed, they may feel that the less evidence there is, the more virtuous the belief...

3) A related symptom...is the conviction that "mystery" per-se is a good thing.  It is not a virtue to solve mysteries.  Rather we should enjoy them, even revel in their insolubility...

4) The sufferer may find himself behaving intolerantly towards vectors of rival faiths, in extreme cases even killing them or advocating their deaths.  He may be similarly violent towards apostates or towards heretics.  He may also feel hostile towards other modes of thought that are potentially inimical to his faith, such as the method of scientific reason which may function rather like a piece of anti-viral software...

5) The patient may notice that the particular convictions that he holds, while having nothing to do with evidence, do seem to owe a great deal to epidemiology.  Why, he may wonder, do I hold this set of convictions rather than that set?   Is it because I surveyed all the world's faiths and chose the ones whose claims seemed most convincing?  Almost certainly not.  If you have a faith, it is statistically overwhelmingly likely that it is the same faith your parents and grandparents had...by far the most important variable determining your religion is the accident of birth...

6) If the patient is one of the rare exceptions who follow a different religion from his parents, the explanation may still be epidemiological.  To be sure, it is possible that he dispassionately surveyed the world's faiths and chose the most convincing one.  But it is statistically more probable that he has been exposed to a particularly potent infective agent - a John Wesley, a Jim Jones or a St Paul.  Here we are talking about horizontal transmission, as in measles.  Before, the epidemiology was that of vertical transmission, as in Huntingdon's Chorea...

7) The internal sensations of the patient may be startingly reminiscent of those more ordinarily associated with sexual love.

serenity blaze
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1 posted 02-10-2004 07:15 PM       View Profile for serenity blaze   Email serenity blaze   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for serenity blaze

I'm not ignoring this. I just frankly don't understand it.

If someone could explain this using language more easy to comprehend I would sure appreciate it.

Brad
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2 posted 02-10-2004 08:32 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

The idea is simple. Ideas in general act remarkably like viruses (biological or computer). Religion seems to be a particularly potent one.

Symptoms of an infected patient:

1) I don't think, I know it is true. I don't care what you say, what evidence you can muster, you will not deceive me, for I already know.

2) If God wanted us to know the nature of the universe, He would have already told us.

3) The ability to believe in impossible things regardless. The fear, like discovering how a magic trick works, of no longer feeling wonder.

4) Believe what I do or die.

5) It's good enough for daddy, it's good enough for me.

6) It's not what you know, it's who you talk to.

7) The similarity of revelation emotions to orgasm. See Chaucer's the Nun-priest.

I would add one more: Reproduction

8) I am compelled to convert you.
serenity blaze
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3 posted 02-10-2004 08:57 PM       View Profile for serenity blaze   Email serenity blaze   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for serenity blaze

Hmm. My turn to be startled at this question for reasons of my own.  

But I'm wondering, if this is so, is there a negative consequence of this "infection"? I mean to the individual. (came back to clarify)
berengar
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4 posted 02-10-2004 09:42 PM       View Profile for berengar   Email berengar   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for berengar

Dawkins sure seems to think so; in the form of various behavioural and cognitive 'eccentricities' (the relevent ones being listed).  That being said, a virus of the mind per se is not necessarily negative.  What Dawkins is saying is ideas spread and replicate themselves in much the same way DNA or programmed algorithims do.  Certain oppurtunistic 'memes' (ideas, if you will) are embedded just like viruses and live off the belief structure that the person holds.  It is this 'parasitical' agent which infects people, perspectives etc.
Apologies for the lack of initial clarity.
serenity blaze
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5 posted 02-10-2004 10:01 PM       View Profile for serenity blaze   Email serenity blaze   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for serenity blaze

berengar, no apology necessary.

I'm not exactly up on medicine or computers, but not knowing never stopped me from trying to understand a thing. So if you all can tolerate my ineptitude here, I'll attempt to not be needlessly annoying.  

In the spirit of the analogy though, I was thinking much as a patient would upon being told they were sick.

There are questions here.

Is it fatal? would be the first one for me.

Is it contagious?

Is there a cure?

What would treatment entail?


and, after watching loved ones suffer to unsuccessfully kill disease, there would be the personal decision of whether treatment at all would be worth the trouble. (I've seen cancer patients starve to death.)

I have more trouble with the computer virus analogy.

The first thing I'd want to know is what type of virus I'm hosting.

It doesn't go much further than that, either, because as I said, while I'm not very savvy about any of things, I find the topic interesting. I think I can suspend my belief (or disbelief) long enough to consider the implications.

I'll be reading, but probably blessedly silent.  
Stephanos
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6 posted 02-10-2004 11:43 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

quote:
Like computer viruses, succesful mind viruses will tend to be hard for their victims to detect


I see a significant problem with this idea.  If Dawkins is quick to explain religious thought in terms of purely naturalistic phenomena (ie viruses), then why doesn't the same suspicion apply to his own thoughts?  He averts this question deftly by assuring us that all religious thought is based on non-reason, and that his own thought is based squarely on reason and "evidence".  But that's begging the question.  After all, his own atheistic thoughts have not been shown to be based on reason or any kind of evidence.  But is it valid to use highly speculative conjecture such as this, based neither upon reason nor evidence, to discredit those who disagree?  Personally, I think Dawkins might have a bacterial or fungal infection in the brain, to explain such antics.            


The problem in the above statements has to do with espousing an ideology which insists that everything must be explained in purely naturalistic terms.  If Dawkins slurs religionists as virally infected, how can he thereby discredit them for that?  In terms of Dawkins' strict naturalism, even our rationality is a result of random mutation, and natural selection.  Even what he calls "reason" arose as a rather recent evolutionary characteristic among more developed bipeds, that came from pure biology.   From his view, can there be any guarantee that "reason" is a true reflection of reality, or even a better path?  The very fact that non-reason still exists, shows that it is still a viable option in the evolutionary marketplace.


Let's say for a moment that a religious man is religious because of some virus.  Well animals once became rational because of genetic mutations.  Big difference (facetiously said).  What is the universal standard which arbitrates whether it is better to be "rational" or "religious"? ... Whether to have a viral change, or a genetic mutation?  Survival?  Then the judgement is pending.  We are all still in the time of trial.  My point is, whether by way of virus, or genetic fluke, Dawkins' brainwaves, and the Pope's came about through the same kind of pathway ... a natural one, that has nothing to do with reason.  


Of course unless we accept Dawkins' absolute naturalism, there is nothing that compells us to think that reason doesn't reflect truth about the universe, or that it depends soley on molecular cause and effect.  Reason involves a ground / consequent relation, that pure mechanics cannot explain.


Let's look at Dawkins' viral symptoms, and see how his own worldview might measure up to his diagnostic standard:


1) The patient typically finds himself impelled by some deep, inner conviction that something is true, or right, or virtuous; a conviction that doesn't seem to owe anything to evidence or reason, but which, nevertheless, he feels as totally compelling or convincing.


You mean like the conviction that we should force purely naturalistic causation, like a procrustean bed, to literally everything, even ideas and emotions?  Or that God as an ontologically real person does not and cannot exist?  This is ideology, not based upon reason or evidence.


2) Patients typically make a positive virtue of faith's being strong and unshakable, in spite of not being based on evidence.  Indeed, they may feel that the less evidence there is, the more virtuous the belief...


"Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door."

(Richard Lewontin, Billions and Billions of Demons, New York Review of Books, Jan. 9, 1997)


and ...


"I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and naturally, hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that."

(Thomas Nagel, Professor of Philosophy and Law at NYU)


3) A related symptom...is the conviction that "mystery" per-se is a good thing.  It is not a virtue to solve mysteries.  Rather we should enjoy them, even revel in their insolubility


I actually found the following poem on the Web...
http://members.lycos.co.uk/mentalmatters/writing/We%20wonder.htm

4) The sufferer may find himself behaving intolerantly towards vectors of rival faiths


Though I easily could, I need go no further than Dawkins himself ...


"It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that)"

(Richard Dawkins, 1989, “Book Review”, The New York Times, section 7, April 9.)


then in comment of his own beligerant statement Dawkins wrote the following non-apology:


"I first wrote that in a book review in the New York Times in 1989, and it has been much quoted against me ever since, as evidence of my arrogance and intolerance. Of course it sounds arrogant, but undisguised clarity is easily mistaken for arrogance. Examine the statement carefully and it turns out to be moderate, almost self-evidently true.”


5) The patient may notice that the particular convictions that he holds, while having nothing to do with evidence, do seem to owe a great deal to epidemiology.  Why, he may wonder, do I hold this set of convictions rather than that set?   Is it because I surveyed all the world's faiths and chose the ones whose claims seemed most convincing?  Almost certainly not.  If you have a faith, it is statistically overwhelmingly likely that it is the same faith your parents and grandparents had...by far the most important variable determining your religion is the accident of birth...


What about the exceptions, might they cast doubt upon this assertion?


6) If the patient is one of the rare exceptions who follow a different religion from his parents, the explanation may still be epidemiological.  To be sure, it is possible that he dispassionately surveyed the world's faiths and chose the most convincing one.  But it is statistically more probable that he has been exposed to a particularly potent infective agent - a John Wesley, a Jim Jones or a St Paul.  Here we are talking about horizontal transmission, as in measles.  Before, the epidemiology was that of vertical transmission, as in Huntingdon's Chorea..."


Of course not.  Whatever the evidence is, it will always prove Dawkins' point ... or either that symptoms 1 & 2 apply clinically to Dawkins as well.


7) The internal sensations of the patient may be startingly reminiscent of those more ordinarily associated with sexual love.


There is a lot more to sexual love than an orgasm.  But what was Dawkins' point here, in relation to viruses?  That the "religious" virus is sexually transmitted, or that it produces sexual feelings?  The first idea is reversed and therefore invalid, the second isn't true of any virus I know of.  


Stephen.


[This message has been edited by Stephanos (02-11-2004 12:58 AM).]

Denise
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7 posted 02-10-2004 11:55 PM       View Profile for Denise   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Denise

I think most of humankind is prone to be religious, and not only in the most obvious manifestations of orthodoxy, be it Christianity, Judaism, Islam, et al, but in all other philosophies of man as well, including secular humanism and aetheism. I think everyone has a god of some sort (usually themselves). I believe it is a deficiency in our genes (nature) that allows the virus of religion to grow and take hold so easily. And it's probably the most stubborn bug known to man, partly because people don't see that they have a disease to begin with and partly I think because they rather enjoy it. It makes them feel good about themselves. It can bring a sense of gratification to feel morally or intellectually superior to others through what one believes, disbelieves, does or doesn't do (not that most folks would ever say that out loud or admit that to themselves even!) Yep, we human beings are a sick, helpless bunch indeed! Sounds like we need a Saviour, doesn't it?
serenity blaze
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8 posted 02-11-2004 12:27 AM       View Profile for serenity blaze   Email serenity blaze   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for serenity blaze

Let me see...

If the question is the product of a tainted organism, and we are in fact espousing fact according to our own tainted belief system, then is all of this discussion, in fact, delerium?

Because if it is, I think I would choose to be deleriously happy. Harmless delerium? Don't mind if I do. I've been looking for it all of my life.
berengar
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9 posted 02-11-2004 12:48 AM       View Profile for berengar   Email berengar   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for berengar

Denise

Dawkins would characterise our need for a saviour as symptomatic of a viral infection - what to make of that?

Stephen

A good rebutal, though I can't help but comment on the allusion Dawkins made about those who deny evolution.  At the very least, if you wish to deny evolution (or the importance of natural selection, or whatever) you should have another coherent, scientifically based alternative in mind.  But we've been down this path before, haven't we?

Serenity,

I confess I don't know how far Dawkins wished to pursue the analogy of the infected patient (I prefer the computer virus analogy because one can still function even with 'bugs' in the system).  I suspect Dawkins wanted to make the point that religion is a virus that can be fatal, or potentially so - to reason (as he would understand it).  It can obviously be 'cured', given time and the right 'medicine', in which case the bizarre symptoms would dissappear.  Good questions.
Stephanos
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10 posted 02-11-2004 01:25 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

quote:
A good rebutal, though I can't help but comment on the allusion Dawkins made about those who deny evolution.  At the very least, if you wish to deny evolution (or the importance of natural selection, or whatever) you should have another coherent, scientifically based alternative in mind.  But we've been down this path before, haven't we?


I didn't include that quote to revive the debate on the validity of the theory of Evolution.  I quoted it to show that Dawkins demonstrates the same intolerance which he considers to be a symptom of a dogmatic viral illness.


But as to your statement that in order to have valid doubts about Evolution you must have an intact scientific theory in place, I disagree.  

Consider the following paragraphs by Alvin Plantiga, given when facing the same charge.  


quote:
Hasker first suggests that "Plantinga is gaining an unfair advantage by pointing out the weaknesses of a hypothesis he opposes, while leaving his own view in the dark and thus safe from criticism" (p. 154), and in a footnote he adds that even if I didn't intend to gain an unfair advantage in this way, the fact is I did gain an unfair advantage for my view by not putting it out for criticism. Of course this presupposes that I have a view here. And I do have a view: that the probability of TCA (Theory of Common Ancestry) with respect to Christian theism and the empirical evidence is low, lower than that of its denial. But Hasker apparently believes that if I reject TCA as improbable, then (if I am proceeding properly) I must be prepared to suggest and endorse some other view of the same specificity or same logical strength as TCA. Now at first glance, anyway, that seems wrong. I think Cardinal X will be the next Pope; you think that is unlikely, but don't have a candidate of your own; there is no one such that you think it is more likely than not that he will be the next pope. Is there something wrong with your procedure? I think not.

A fuller example: you are at the race track. There are 8 horses in the first race. These horses are fairly evenly matched, but there is a favorite, Black Beauty, who you think has a 1/3 chance of winning. You leave just before the end of the first race; as you leave you hear a roar go up from the crowd. The most probable explanation, as you see it, is that the crowd is cheering Black Beauty, who has just won the race. Will you believe that explanation? I hope not; although there is a 1/3 chance that Black Beauty is the winner, there is a  2/3 chance that she isn't. Do you instead believe of some other horse that it is the winner? No: each of them, as you see it, has a smaller chance of winning than Black Beauty. Is there anything irrational or methodologically unsound in this structure of belief? Again, I should think not.4

But doesn't the same structure hold for explanations more generally, including scientific explanations? If you think a given explanation or theory T is less likely than its denial, or even if you think it is only somewhat more likely than its denial, you quite properly won't believe it. This is so even if you can't think of another theory or explanation of the phenomena that you believe more probable than not, or even more probable than T. (I take it the denial of a theory isn't automatically another theory.) In the horse race example, I reject (do not believe) the proposition that Black Beauty won (although of course I also reject the belief that she lost); I know of several other theories of the same level of generality as that Black Beauty won: but I don't believe any of them; and, in fact, each of them is less probable, as I see it, than the hypothesis that Black Beauty won. So it is sometimes perfectly sensible to reject the best (or most probable) explanation. This might be when you don't know of any other possible explanations at all; but the same thing is also perfectly rational when you do, if all of them including the one in question are too unlikely.

(Alvin Plantiga,  On Rejecting The Theory of 
Common Ancestry: A Reply to Hasker)

I think there are enough weaknesses in the general theory to warrant a healthy doubt, even if a strictly scientific replacement hasn't yet been provided.  You don't have to own a pair of shoes that fit, in order to know that the ones you're wearing don't.


Anyway ... back to the viral religionists and anti-religionists, shall we?    

Stephen.  
Brad
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11 posted 02-11-2004 08:27 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

quote:
I see a significant problem with this idea.  If Dawkins is quick to explain religious thought in terms of purely naturalistic phenomena (ie viruses), then why doesn't the same suspicion apply to his own thoughts?


Why not? Let's test it and find out.

quote:
He averts this question deftly by assuring us that all religious thought is based on non-reason, and that his own thought is based squarely on reason and "evidence".  But that's begging the question.


But that's what Alvin P. says on his homepage. Christians (and religions in general) aren't or don't have to be based on evidence or reason.

quote:
After all, his own atheistic thoughts have not been shown to be based on reason or any kind of evidence.


The lack of evidence leads to the lack of belief. That's not reasonable?

quote:
But is it valid to use highly speculative conjecture such as this, based neither upon reason nor evidence, to discredit those who disagree?


It's a metaphor. Does it work or doesn't it?

quote:
Personally, I think Dawkins might have a bacterial or fungal infection in the brain, to explain such antics.


Of course, he does. Or perhaps they're in the stomach and intestines.            

quote:
The problem in the above statements has to do with espousing an ideology which insists that everything must be explained in purely naturalistic terms.


But that's not a problem, that's the rule. How can supernaturalism be tested or falsified?

quote:
If Dawkins slurs religionists as virally infected, how can he thereby discredit them for that?


You mean, it's not their fault?

quote:
In terms of Dawkins' strict naturalism, even our rationality is a result of random mutation, and natural selection.  Even what he calls "reason" arose as a rather recent evolutionary characteristic among more developed bipeds, that came from pure biology.   From his view, can there be any guarantee that "reason" is a true reflection of reality, or even a better path?


I think that's exactly what Dawkins is saying. Let's find out.

quote:
The very fact that non-reason still exists, shows that it is still a viable option in the evolutionary marketplace.


Yes, that's right.  

quote:
Let's say for a moment that a religious man is religious because of some virus.  Well animals once became rational because of genetic mutations.  Big difference (facetiously said).  What is the universal standard which arbitrates whether it is better to be "rational" or "religious"? ... Whether to have a viral change, or a genetic mutation?  Survival?  Then the judgement is pending.  We are all still in the time of trial.  My point is, whether by way of virus, or genetic fluke, Dawkins' brainwaves, and the Pope's came about through the same kind of pathway ... a natural one, that has nothing to do with reason.


The judgement is always pending. We are always on trial so to speak.  

quote:
Of course unless we accept Dawkins' absolute naturalism, there is nothing that compells us to think that reason doesn't reflect truth about the universe, or that it depends soley on molecular cause and effect.  Reason involves a ground / consequent relation, that pure mechanics cannot explain.


Reason doesn't explain itself? But you just did (natural selection, evolutionary process etc.). There's a shift here. Reason is not magic, nor should it be considered a new God. They aren't in competition -- at least Alvin P. seems to think so.

quote:
Let's look at Dawkins' viral symptoms, and see how his own worldview might measure up to his diagnostic standard:


1) The patient typically finds himself impelled by some deep, inner conviction that something is true, or right, or virtuous; a conviction that doesn't seem to owe anything to evidence or reason, but which, nevertheless, he feels as totally compelling or convincing.


You mean like the conviction that we should force purely naturalistic causation, like a procrustean bed, to literally everything, even ideas and emotions?  Or that God as an ontologically real person does not and cannot exist?  This is ideology, not based upon reason or evidence.


I'll have to come back to this one, it's too big to handle quickly. But, I have no evidence for a computer behind me right now, is it an ideology or ideological to state that there is no computer behind me right now?

quote:
2) Patients typically make a positive virtue of faith's being strong and unshakable, in spite of not being based on evidence.  Indeed, they may feel that the less evidence there is, the more virtuous the belief...


"Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door."

(Richard Lewontin, Billions and Billions of Demons, New York Review of Books, Jan. 9, 1997)


In other words, science can't say, "Because God made it that way."

Yeah.

quote:
"I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and naturally, hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that."

(Thomas Nagel, Professor of Philosophy and Law at NYU)


Nagel really said that? I've read Nagel and this seems very unNagelian to me. But, at least to some, the point may be true. God, at least on some descriptions, is a sociopath.

Wow, how far can I distance myself from that.

quote:
4) The sufferer may find himself behaving intolerantly towards vectors of rival faiths


Though I easily could, I need go no further than Dawkins himself ...


"It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that)"

(Richard Dawkins, 1989, “Book Review? The New York Times, section 7, April 9.)


and

quote:
then in comment of his own beligerant statement Dawkins wrote the following non-apology:

"I first wrote that in a book review in the New York Times in 1989, and it has been much quoted against me ever since, as evidence of my arrogance and intolerance. Of course it sounds arrogant, but undisguised clarity is easily mistaken for arrogance. Examine the statement carefully and it turns out to be moderate, almost self-evidently true.?/I>


Always willing to go a few rounds on evolution with you, Stephan. But his point is that the sheer amound of work needed to disprove evolution is staggering. Saying, "I don't believe in evolution," is like saying, "I don't believe the earth goes around the sun." You just can't refute it with. "Look, the sun rises and the sun sets, doesn't it?"

quote:
6) If the patient is one of the rare exceptions who follow a different religion from his parents, the explanation may still be epidemiological.  To be sure, it is possible that he dispassionately surveyed the world's faiths and chose the most convincing one.  But it is statistically more probable that he has been exposed to a particularly potent infective agent - a John Wesley, a Jim Jones or a St Paul.  Here we are talking about horizontal transmission, as in measles.  Before, the epidemiology was that of vertical transmission, as in Huntingdon's Chorea..."


Of course not.  Whatever the evidence is, it will always prove Dawkins' point ... or either that symptoms 1 & 2 apply clinically to Dawkins as well.


I think they do. How you get your beliefs, how you are infected, doesn't strike me as all that important. How you interrogate them afterwards, how you test them does.

Essorant
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12 posted 02-11-2004 08:54 PM       View Profile for Essorant   Email Essorant   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Essorant's Home Page   View IP for Essorant

We come to know that mead is a drink, and that mead has honey and is sweet and that it is not available "instant" in nature, and it doesn't make itself.  And for sure if you ask for mead and someone brings you a vat of mud instead, you know the difference.  For mead is not mud, and mud is not mead.  We know what drink is and what dirt is, therefore one is not the other.
So I trust the same way as mead is known from mud because it is not an element on its own and is not dirt,  but is a drink with mixed but certain elements that humans put together to make it what it is , and known from other drinks because it has its own history and tradition and is a nobler choice of drinks, so is religion known from virus.  Mead is not mud; therefore religion is not virus.  


[This message has been edited by Essorant (02-11-2004 09:36 PM).]

Denise
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13 posted 02-11-2004 09:48 PM       View Profile for Denise   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Denise

quote:
Dawkins would characterise our need for a saviour as symptomatic of a viral infection - what to make of that?


That's easy, Berenger. The blind can't see and the deaf can't hear. And those who say they see and hear are the most blind and deaf of all.

And I believe the sick don't get well without healing from the Great Physician. But those who don't believe they are sick don't usually search out a cure.

I haven't read Dawkins so I don't know if he has a 'cure' for the 'viruses' of mankind  or not, or is he just a diagnostician who can offer no hope (that would be a pretty bleak and unprofitable profession, practically speaking, to be engaged in though, wouldn't it?)

And are he and others who think as he does, in his opinion, free of such maladies of mankind, or does he contend we are all, himself included, infected and in need of a cure? The impression I get from the little that I've read of him here, he seems to think he is immune. I could be wrong though, what with this virus and all.
Tim
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14 posted 02-11-2004 10:03 PM       View Profile for Tim   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Tim

There isn't a God, gods, deities, witches, astrology, etc.

Sheesh, how come there are so many people who now and have believed in them?

They're dumb.

Not all people are dumb, some people are smart and believe.

No, if smart people are true to themselves, they don't believe.

Nope, some really smart people believe.

But they are infected.  Evolution provides for survival of the fittest and not survival of the smartest.  Man has evolved not only physically, but with little bugs in their brains to condition them to believe in some higher power.

Huh?

memes you idiot.  Not much you can do about it, you are infected with the virus.  

How do you get rid of it?

Be really, really smart.

Then what do you believe in?

Sheesh, you are dumb, you don't believe in anything if you are really, really smart because you have intellectual enlightenment
and will be near godlike and be nice and benevolent to everyone.

How can you be near godlike if you don't believe in god?

Sheesh, once you are able to step outside of the evolutionary scheme of things, er genes, er memes, you are a god.  If you are really, really smart, you believe in yourself.

Gotcha, you're suffering from a god-complex.


Stephanos
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15 posted 02-12-2004 02:46 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

quote:
But that's what Alvin P. says on his homepage. Christians (and religions in general) aren't or don't have to be based on evidence or reason.



You've taken him out of context.  Usually what Plantiga says is that the Christian may be justified in his belief without empiricism or rationalism ... that's quite different than no reason and no evidence.


quote:
The lack of evidence leads to the lack of belief. That's not reasonable?



It's no more reasonable than saying that "the plethora of evidence leads to belief".

It's always been a presuppositional disagreement Brad ... an interpretation of evidence based upon the rules of one's worldview, and defining what might possibly constitute evidence.  When strict methodological naturalism is used, certain answers are ruled out ahead of time.  That belief itself is in no way evidential, or proven by reason.  It is simply the naturalist's chosen ideology.


quote:
It's a metaphor. Does it work or doesn't it?


It doesn't.



Stephen:
quote:
The problem in the above statements has to do with espousing an ideology which insists that everything must be explained in purely naturalistic terms.

Brad:
quote:
But that's not a problem, that's the rule. How can supernaturalism be tested or falsified?



Sorry, you simply beg the question.  Tell me, how can naturalism be tested or falsified?  I didn't ask how can natural happenings be tested, I said how can naturalism itself be tested?  Let me remind you that miracles, one of the classic proofs of supernaturalism, have always been deftly explained away in terms of purely natural causation, or either faith in future knowledge ... "We can't explain, but some day we will be able too".  With such a methodological naturalism, literally any experience could be explained away.  Brad, you could hear God yourself, and if you chose to retain a dogged naturalism, you would be forced to call it a hallucination.  In fact you would be forced to call any recognition of the supernatural, by any person, in any time period, a hallucination or delusion or the like.  That doesn't sound like science or rationality to me (or to many others).  It sounds like a chosen way of looking at things, a presuppositional framework.


Stephen:
quote:
If Dawkins slurs religionists as virally infected, how can he thereby discredit them for that?

Brad:
quote:
You mean, it's not their fault?



No.  I mean that a Monk's brainwaves and Dawkins' brainwaves (according to his Neo-Darwinian scheme) both came from microscopic anomolies.  How does this help us to make a value judgement between the two?  Is the pot calling the kettle black?


quote:
Reason doesn't explain itself? But you just did (natural selection, evolutionary process etc.). There's a shift here. Reason is not magic, nor should it be considered a new God. They aren't in competition



My question is, if reason came through sheer cause and effect (as materialistic naturalism dictates) ... how did we come to know things through ground and consequent?  How did our thoughts which came about through chemistry, begin to tell us about the nature of reality?  In other words, how did sheer chemistry get so smart about chemistry?  Brad, please don't refuse to see that a materialistic atheistic view involves something very akin to faith and mysticism after all.
  
quote:
I have no evidence for a computer behind me right now, is it an ideology or ideological to state that there is no computer behind me right now?


Is it an ideology to say "I don't exist"?  Many philosophers have come to that conclusion by the sheer lack of incontrovertible proof.  Yet, obviously, the question presupposes the questioner ... just like the creation presupposes the Creator, and design presupposes the Designer.  To compare the question of God with a computer behind your back, that you can check with a glance, is far too simplistic.

quote:
In other words, science can't say, "Because God made it that way.



Yeah, but Lewontin's quote shows that the materialist is forced to "unscientific" inference nevertheless ... "no matter how counterintuitive", is the phrase he used.  I guess if a human were designed to possess no knowledge other than pure "science" ... ie a strict empirical epistemology, then he could never say  "God made it that way".  But since he isn't made that narrow, he is free to make the same kind of inference that the naturalist does when he says "Nature alone did it that way".  


quote:
God, at least on some descriptions, is a sociopath.



Funny ... I've heard naturalists describe nature in the same kind of way.


"Brief and powerless is Man's life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark.  Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way; for Man, condemned today to lose his dearest, tomorrow himself to pass through the gate of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day; disdaining the coward terrors of the slave of Fate, to worship at the shrine that his own hands have built; undismayed by the empire of chance, to preserve a mind free from the wanton tyranny that rules his outward life; proudly defiant of the irresistible forces that tolerate, for a moment, his knowledge and his condemnation, to sustain alone, a weary but unyielding Atlas, the world that his own ideals have fashioned despite the trampling march of unconscious power."

(Bertrand Russell, A Free Man's Worship)


quote:
Saying, "I don't believe in evolution," is like saying, "I don't believe the earth goes around the sun." You just can't refute it with. "Look, the sun rises and the sun sets, doesn't it?"


Depends on what you mean by evolution.  No one denies genetic change happens.  It has not been scientifically proven to explain the diversity we see.  It is a hypothesis that fits well with methodological naturalism.  But there are problems with it, which are not readily admitted.  

My point in quoting Dawkins was to show that he possesses the same irritation and fervor against someone who doesn't happen to hold his particular cosmology or ideology, as the religious types he wants to slur as virally infected.

Dawkins simply flunks his own medical exam.
He must be infected.    

Stephen.
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16 posted 02-12-2004 03:34 AM       View Profile for berengar   Email berengar   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for berengar

Denise

Dakins is bringing attention to the idea that people are 'infected' and they don't know it; I suspect he would concede he's 'infected' in some sense.  He used the example of the Roman Catholic priest who broke the 'shackles' of his belief - and it took him 30 years to do so (so yes, Dawkins asserts, there is hope even for the most theistically orientated - notice the bulge in my cheek).
Brad
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17 posted 02-12-2004 04:44 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Dawkins describes the picture of a television evangelist:

quote:
I have even heard one of them explicitly invoking the principle that I now identify with Zahavi's principle of costly authentication. God really appreciates a donation, he said with passionate sincerity, only when that donation is so large that it hurts.  Elderly paupers were wheeled on to testify how much happier they felt since they had made over their little all to the Reverend whoever it was.


And it works. So why do people buy it?
Brad
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18 posted 02-12-2004 04:56 AM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

Stephan,

Ah, come on. Even you would accept that 99% of all supernatural claims are fraudulent. The question is where and how does this gullibility come into play. I'm not sure Dawkins has got it right here (though I give it more credit than you do), but I do think there's a better explanation than, "Well, people are stupid."

Stephanos
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19 posted 02-12-2004 07:21 AM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

Brad,

I really don't know what percentage is fraudulent, as regarding claims of miracles.  But as fascinating and common as the subject is, you can't debunk the supernaturalist worldview by mentioning such things as fraudulent miracles, and minds who believe them.  You yourself may not try so hard to do so ... Dawkins does.  It would be invalid for me to point out all of the poor "science" in the world today and the irrationality of those who believe it without question, in order to prove that the scientific endeavor itself is pathological.  As there is a division of real science and pseudo-science, there is also a division of real religious claims and false.


The cause is probably more psychological than intellectual.  But it works both ways.


The intuitive knowledge that there is a supernatural element to the world, and the need to experience it, can be wrongly taken to mean "The particular miraculous claim before me is always true".  

Likewise, the intuitive knowledge that our scientific knowledge is valuable, and the need to explain things in such terms, can be wrongly taken to mean, "This is the only valid kind of knowledge that exists"


Stephen.    
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20 posted 02-12-2004 12:40 PM       View Profile for jbouder   Email jbouder   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for jbouder

quote:
1) The patient typically finds himself impelled by some deep, inner conviction that something is true, or right, or virtuous; a conviction that doesn't seem to owe anything to evidence or reason, but which, nevertheless, he feels as totally compelling or convincing.  We doctors refer to such belief as "faith."


As Brad pointed out in another thread, words are defined by their use.  Since Kierkegaard, faith and reason have become increasingly contradictory.  In large part, I agree with Dawkin’s first statement, insomuch as it applies to religious practices that discourage a rational evaluation of beliefs.  “If two people are thinking the same thing at the same time, than only one person is thinking …” or something to that that effect.  Many Christian sects are doing the same thing right now, but I’d argue that such a practice by a Christian is singularly unnecessary.  Eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection have recorded what Jesus had said such events mean to mankind.  Jesus’ resurrection gives us, in my opinion, the “evidence and reason” necessary to believe His claims – namely, that his death on the Cross is a sufficient propitiation of our moral imperfection and that His resurrection secures our forensic justification with God.  So while it may be correct that some religions would define (or at least paraphrase in a way that sounds better) "faith" as Dawkins has, I do not belief that definition of faith is consistent with the orthodox Christian use of the word.

Regarding the resurrection, I think you can claim three things and maintain your intellectual integrity (at least to some degree):

1. There is evidence that Jesus rose from the dead but I don’t believe it

2. There is evidence that Jesus rose from the dead and one could reasonably conclude that it did, indeed, happen, but I’ve decided not to act on the evidence

3. There is evidence Jesus rose from the dead, and I am convinced of it and will act accordingly

But one does not correctly understand the definition of evidence if one says there is no evidence that the resurrection occurred.  Therefore, if the object of a religious practitioner’s faith is the crucified, died, buried, and risen Jesus Christ, then it is entirely incorrect to say that such a believer’s faith is of the sort that “doesn't seem to owe anything to evidence or reason, but which, nevertheless, he feels as totally compelling or convincing.”

quote:
2) Patients typically make a positive virtue of faith's being strong and unshakable, in spite of not being based on evidence.  Indeed, they may feel that the less evidence there is, the more virtuous the belief...

3) A related symptom...is the conviction that "mystery" per-se is a good thing.  It is not a virtue to solve mysteries.  Rather we should enjoy them, even revel in their insolubility...


Much of this, I believe is a result of the importation of (1) humanism and (2) Eastern philosophy into western religious practice.  To the extent that Dawkin’s statement applies to such faith’s/philosophies, I could not agree more.  But if Dawkins is intending his "cannon" to hit orthodox Christianity, then I think all he is going to hit his own straw-men.  Wouldn't that be intellectual "friendly fire?"

quote:
4) The sufferer may find himself behaving intolerantly towards vectors of rival faiths, in extreme cases even killing them or advocating their deaths.  He may be similarly violent towards apostates or towards heretics.  He may also feel hostile towards other modes of thought that are potentially inimical to his faith, such as the method of scientific reason which may function rather like a piece of anti-viral software...


This is certainly true of many sects, particularly those extremist organizations that, while at the same time discouraging a rational evaluation of one’s faith, assert that their respective organization’s claims are founded on alleged “supernatural” revelations of the religious founder(s) and/or leader(s).  Again, I think many Christians do this also, but, again, I believe they do so unnecessarily.  Christianity does rely on supernatural revelations of God, but the cardinal beliefs of the Christian faith are firmly founded on evidence that supports their veracity.

The exacting of violence on “heretics” by Christians is an unfortunate misunderstanding of the polemic nature of the New Testament books and letters.  It is both the responsibility of the Christian church to do whatever is within its jurisdiction to discipline those who espouse such misguided beliefs and to governments to punish those who act in ways that harm others (beyond harming the egos of others, that is   )

Tolerance is also a much-loaded word these days.  I can be intolerant of an argument or position if the argument or position cannot be sustained by the evidence.  Except when it comes to religion, I suppose.  But that assumes all religious faiths are on equal footing when it comes to the availability of evidence making the claims of one religion more compelling than another.  THAT is an assumption that surely isn't borne by the evidence.

quote:
5) The patient may notice that the particular convictions that he holds, while having nothing to do with evidence, do seem to owe a great deal to epidemiology.  Why, he may wonder, do I hold this set of convictions rather than that set?   Is it because I surveyed all the world's faiths and chose the ones whose claims seemed most convincing?  Almost certainly not.  If you have a faith, it is statistically overwhelmingly likely that it is the same faith your parents and grandparents had...by far the most important variable determining your religion is the accident of birth...


This begs the question that there is no verifiable evidence for the truth of any one faith over another.  I would argue, however, that there are many tough-minded Christians out there who would recant their faith if the evidence proved insufficient to support continued belief and practice.  And for those who persist in believing anything without subjecting their system of beliefs to a rational examination, caveat emptor.

quote:
6) If the patient is one of the rare exceptions who follow a different religion from his parents, the explanation may still be epidemiological.  To be sure, it is possible that he dispassionately surveyed the world's faiths and chose the most convincing one.  But it is statistically more probable that he has been exposed to a particularly potent infective agent - a John Wesley, a Jim Jones or a St Paul.  Here we are talking about horizontal transmission, as in measles.  Before, the epidemiology was that of vertical transmission, as in Huntingdon's Chorea...


John Wesley … ~shiver~ … now THERE is a particularly virulent strain of semi-Pelagianism.  Shame on John … acting as though there wasn’t a theological reason for the Protestant Reformation.  

Seriously, it is unfair to compare Wesleyan-Arminianism to the cult practices of the likes of Jim Jones.  I am not aware of any Wesleyan Methodists or Nazarenes who present with the same characteristics of closed-mindedness, institutional dogmatism, and isolationism as of cults like Jones’.  As far as St. Paul is concerned, while he was not an eyewitness, at least not in the same sense as the other Apostles, there is evidence that Paul’s teachings were accepted by at least some of the Apostles who were.  And while some of the other Apostles outlived Paul (i.e., they had an opportunity to distance themselves from Paul's teachings), they did not - even John, who by all accounts outlived Paul by as many as 20-30 years.

quote:
7) The internal sensations of the patient may be startlingly reminiscent of those more ordinarily associated with sexual love.


Startling, but often true.  “Don’t confuse me with the facts, I’ve already made up my mind.”  If your “spiritual” experiences contradict documented facts, then it is certainly not advisable to toss the facts out the window.  On a similar vein, I’d be willing to suggest to Dawkins that he not disregard the facts that support the Christian faith just so his opinions can sound more universally applicable than they really are.  Skepticism taken too far is certainly as virulent as any experience-/feelings-based faith. Seems like that would require blind faith in one's own skepticism?  

Jim
berengar
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21 posted 02-12-2004 08:38 PM       View Profile for berengar   Email berengar   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for berengar

Brad

If 99% of all miraculous claims are fraudulent, doesn't it imply the remaining 1% is genuine, and therfore testimony to the reality of the supernatural?
Denise
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22 posted 02-12-2004 09:39 PM       View Profile for Denise   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Denise

quote:
the Roman Catholic priest who broke the 'shackles' of his belief - and it took him 30 years to do so


LOL It doesn't surprise me that Dawkins credits the priest with the breaking of the shackles that had him bound. That's quite in line with the thinking of folks who deny any higher authority than man himself. Who else would they credit, after all?

Man can certainly try to break the shackles of religion, and may even think he has succeeded in large measure, but I think something else has to fill the vacuum that is left, and if it's just another religious system then there will be more shackles to contend with.

I think it's important to define terms. Religion and faith are not synonyms, although they are frequently used that way. According to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary the word religion is traced back to the Latin word religio meaning “to tie, to bind, to restrain.” The word is a combination of two words, re and ligare. The prefix re means “to return,” and ligare, from which we get the word ligature, means “to bind.” All religious systems, at least the ones that acknowledge a supreme being, can be defined as man's attempt to earn something from God through man's own efforts. I think bondage is a good synonym for religion, no matter the label slapped on it.

Biblical faith, on the other hand, is a trusting in the work of another, which brings peace and rest, freeing us from the shackles of endless religious 'doing'.

Religion is of man and about man. And I believe that human beings are naturally religious and nothing done in the name of religion surprises me. Faith, as I see it, is of God and about God and a supernatural work of God that breaks the shackles.

Brad
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23 posted 02-12-2004 10:31 PM       View Profile for Brad   Email Brad   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Brad

berengar,

No, of course not. I simply meant that Stephen would agree with me that the Greek Gods do not live on Mt. Olympus and never did, that Izanami and Izanagi did not create the Japanese islands in a ritual 'dance' (complete with dripping spear), and that the Heaven's Gate people are not living it up on some 'higher plane' thanks to aliens.

Stephan's abstract naturalism v. supernaturalism is too general to do his own beliefs any good. I concede the logical possibility of supernaturalism (as long as it's defined in such a way as to avoid contradiction) and nothing more.

This is similar, perhaps, to what Jim means by "all religions are not created equal".

As long as we stay with that general dichotomy, you play right into Dawkins' hands.
Tim
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24 posted 02-12-2004 11:03 PM       View Profile for Tim   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for Tim

Dawkins-  My serenity comes from the satisfaction of seeing a really, really neat, elegant explanation that can explain so much...
Religion, it's like an AIDS virus, like a rabies virus. I think it's a very good analogy.

In essence, Dawkins says all religions exist on blind faith, reject science and appeal to the mentally challenged. Apparently all religions are lumped together along with rabies and aids which are lesser evils.

He seems to say pretty much all the evils of the world are caused by religion.  Pretty much explains Stalin, Hitler and the idea that maybe economic and social factors play a role in failings of mankind in done in the name of religion.

If religion is a virus, why are not ideas also viruses?  Guess you get to pick the memes you like and the ones you want to trash.

Dostoyevsky -  If God is dead, everything is permissible.

But at least we will all be serene.
 
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