Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

An excellent question

January 20, 2015

Why is it not OK to kill people in the name of a religion, but it is OK to kill people in the name of a nation?

via Ian Welsh.

Religion and the burden of proof

January 11, 2015

The late Carl Sagan used to say that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.

What makes something an “extraordinary claim”?  For Sagan, a humanist and freethinker, the reality of the supernatural, of supernatural religion or of anything outside the scientific consensus was an extraordinary claim.

I think this is perfectly reasonable.  I, too, have made up my mind about certain things, and it would take extraordinary evidence to shake my conviction.

But for a great many people, it is atheism that makes the extraordinary claim and must assume the burden of proof.  They include:

  • prayer11People who are committed to certain religious practices and disciplines because they find them a good way to live.
  • People who’ve had transcendent spiritual experiences, and find the religion is a way to make sense of those experiences.
  • People who find that religious practices help them to deal with their troubles.  Members of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs are examples.
  • People who admire someone who is wise and good, and adopt that person’s religious practice to become wiser and better themselves.

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William Sloane Coffin on Socrates’ mistake

December 8, 2013
W.S. Coffin

Rev. William Sloane Coffin

Socrates had it wrong; it is not the unexamined life but finally the uncommitted life that is not worth living.   Descartes too was mistaken, “Cogito ergo sum – I think therefore I am?”  Nonsense,  Amo, ergo sum sum – I love therefore I am.  Or, with the unconscious eloquence St Paul wrote. “Now abide faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”  I believe that.  I believe that it is better not to live than not to love. 

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What do we owe the world?

September 9, 2013

The following passages are from DEBT: the First 5,000 Years by David Graeber.  

We owe our existence above all:

  • To the universe, cosmic forces, as we would put it now, to Nature.  The ground of our existence.  To be repaid through ritual: ritual becoming an act of respect and recognition to all that beside we are small.
  • To those who have created the knowledge and cultural accomplishments that we value most; that give our existence its form, its meaning, but also its shape.  Here we would include not only the philosophers and scientists who created our intellectual tradition but everyone from William Shakespeare to that long-since-forgotten woman, somewhere in the Middle East, who created leavened bread.  We repay them by becoming learned ourselves and contributing to human knowledge and human culture.
  • To our parents, and their parents—our ancestors.  We repay them by becoming ancestors.
  • To humanity as a whole.  We repay them by generosity to strangers, by maintaining that basic communistic ground of sociality that makes human relations, and hence human life, possible.

… … These are nothing like commercial debts.  After all, one might repay one’s parents by having children, but one is not generally thought to have repaid one’s creditors if one lends the cash to someone else.

Myself, I wonder:  Couldn’t that really be the point?  Perhaps what the authors of the Brahamanas were really demonstrating was that, in the final analysis, our relation with the cosmos is ultimately nothing like a commercial transaction, nor could it be.  That is because commercial transactions imply both equality and separation.  These examples are all about overcoming separation: you are free from your debt to your ancestors when you become an ancestor; you are free from your debt to the sages when you become a sage; you are free from your debt to humanity when you act with humanity.

All the more so if one is speaking of the universe.  If you cannot bargain with the gods because the gods already have everything, then you certainly cannot bargain with the universe because the universe already is everything—and that everything necessarily includes yourself. 

One could interpret this list as a subtle way of saying that the only way of “freeing oneself” from the debt was not literally repaying debts, but rather showing that these debts do not exist because one is not in fact separate to begin with, and hence the very notion of canceling the debt, and achieving a separate, autonomous existence, was ridiculous from the start.

§§§

Solitary pleasures will always exist, but for most human beings, the most pleasurable activities always involve sharing something: music, food, liquor, drugs, gossip, drama, beds.  There is a certain communism of the senses at the root of most things we consider fun.

§§§

… the Church had been … uncompromising in its attitude toward usury.  It was not just a philosophical question; it was a matter of moral rivalry.  

Money always has the potential to become a moral imperative unto itself.  Allow it to expand, and it can quickly become a morality so imperative that all others seem frivolous in comparison.  For the debtor, the world is reduced to a collection of potential dangers, potential tools, and potential merchandise.  Even human relations become a matter of cost-benefit calculation.

Exactly so!

Goodness cannot come from fear

August 25, 2013

roused

Hat tip to The Superstitious Naked Ape.

A rationalist martyr in India

August 23, 2013

Reason has its martyrs, just as faith does.

Narendra Dabholkar

Narendra Dabholkar

Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, a brave rationalist who devoted his life to exposing fake faith healers and miracle workers in India, was murdered Tuesday.

His organization, the Maharashtra Blind Faith Eradication Association, offered a prize of 500,000 rupees to any diviner who could prove he or she could summon spirits.

At the time of his death, he was pushing for a law in Maharashtra state outlawing the practice of black magic.  My own belief is that rationalists should restrict themselves to the rational method, and not try to enforce their beliefs through government power.  There is a subtle but important difference between outlawing fraud and outlawing beliefs and practices which can be a mask for fraud.

Dabholkar didn’t see it that way.  He said his proposed law never mentioned God or religion, and did not touch the doctrines of Hinduism or any other religion.  Whatever the merits of that argument, it can be said that he never went outside the law or threatened his opponents with death.

And it also is true that religious believers in India have used the law to suppress rationalist criticism.  Sanal Edamaruku, the president of the Indian Rationalist Association, fled India to escape arrest for blasphemy because he investigated a weeping statue of Jesus in a Catholic church in Mumbai and concluded it was the result of a plumbing problem.

Dabholkar’s proposed anti-magic law, which was opposed by conservative Hindus, was in fact enacted a few days after his death, but needs approval of Parliament before it can become law.

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A hard saying of Jesus

August 18, 2013

love thy neighbor red oak road

Source: Ha! Tea ‘n’ Danger.

Hat tip to red oak road.

Religion and IQ: country comparisons

August 13, 2013
619

Double click to enlarge.

Some psychologists at the University of Rochester did a review of surveys of religion and intelligence, mainly involving North American individuals, and concluded that religious people are less intelligent on average than non-religious people.  As these maps show, there is some evidence that the same variation exists among the world’s nations.

atheism-map

Click to enlarge.

iq-map-of-the-world

Click to enlarge.

BHXCqza

Click to enlarge.

To assess the significance of these maps, you have to have an idea of just what it is that is measured on IQ tests (besides the ability to take IQ tests).

The great sociologist Peter Berger wrote that IQ is a measure of “modern consciousness,” which consists of the intellectual skills needed to function in a modern technological society.   That would explain why immigrants (including Jewish immigrants) to the 19th century United States on average had lower IQs than the natives, but the U.S.-born children of the immigrants were equal to or better than the natives.  It would explain why, during World War Two, Southern rural white men on average did worse on Army intelligence tests than Northern urban black men.  It would explain the Flynn Effect of rising IQ in each generation.

If Berger was right, it is non-modern forms of religion, not religion as such, that are correlated with lower IQ.  If he was right, IQ is not a measure of innate ability, but rather a measure of generational progress toward modernity.

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Are religious people less intelligent than atheists?

August 13, 2013

IQbyreligionA recent study by a team of psychologists at the University of Rochester concludes that atheists are more intelligent than religious people.

This is based on a review of 63 studies conducted between 1928 and 2012.  In 53 of the studies, religious people were found to be less intelligent than atheists and, in 35 of the studies, significantly less intelligent.  In 10 of the studies, religious people were found to be more intelligent, and, in only two, significantly more intelligent.

The three psychologists carrying out the review defined intelligence as the “ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience”.

Religiosity is defined by the psychologists as involvement in some (or all) facets of religion.

According to the review, other factors – such as gender or education – did not make any difference to the correlation between intelligence and religious belief.

The level of belief, or otherwise, did however vary dependent upon age with the correlation found to be weakest among the pre-college population.

The paper concludes that: “Most extant explanations (of a negative relation) share one central theme —the premise that religious beliefs are irrational, not anchored in science, not testable and, therefore, unappealing to intelligent people who ‘know better’.”

via The Independent.

I have the same kinds of misgivings about this kind of study as I do about studies purporting to show IQ differences among whites, blacks and Asians or between rich and poor people.  My first misgiving is the uncertainty about what intelligent tests measure, given that they change across the generations.  My second misgiving is that, whatever they measure, the results are distributed along a Bell curve, with most of the populations overlapping.  You really can’t tell anything for sure about the intelligence of an individual based on race or religion.

The UR study is behind a pay wall, but I did a little Internet research, and the range of differences seems relatively small.  That is what I take away from the results of the study summarized in the chart above.

I have a good friend who is both much more intelligent and much more religious than I am.  She has an understanding of thinkers such as Noam Chomsky, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell, which is far deeper than anything of which I am capable.  At the same time she is a much more spiritual person than I am.  She engages in meditation and other spiritual practices and gets a lot out of it.   I don’t do any of these things on a systematic basis.

I’m not sure which of us the UR researchers would consider the more religious person, because she is not a member of any religious group while I am a faithful attender of First Universalist Church of Rochester.

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An agnostic teaches his daughter about religion

July 28, 2013

John Scalzi is a science fiction writer who has a web log.  Some time back he posted these wise reflections about what he teaches his daughter about religion.

The reason I encourage her to learn about religion, and Christian faiths in particular, is because the large majority of people on this planet follow a religion of some sort, and here in the United States, the large majority of those who are religious are Christians of one sort or another.

I’m an agnostic of the non-wishy-washy sort (i.e., I don’t believe in a god nor believe one is required to explain the universe, but I acknowledge I can’t prove one doesn’t or never did exist) and always have been for as long as I can remember thinking about these things.

John Scalzi

John Scalzi

I don’t see being an agnostic meaning one has to be willfully ignorant about religion, nor do I see my role as an agnostic parent being one where I shield my daughter from the reality that she lives in a religious society.

Where my daughter is on her own journey of discovery regarding faith is not for me to discuss publicly, but I can say that I believe more information is almost always better. 

So when she wants to know about a particular religion or explore some aspect of faith, I encourage her to do so; when she comes to me with questions about religion, I either answer her questions (being that I know a fair amount about most major religions) or help her find answers.

Athena is well aware that I am an agnostic, and what that means, and we’ve explored that aspect of faith (or lack thereof) as well.  I won’t tell you what questions she asks about religion, faith, agnosticism and all of that, but I will tell you that she asks good questions, and for my part I answer them as truthfully and as fairly as I can.

There are a number of people who have come to agnosticism or atheism because of conflicts with or disillusionment about religion, and in particular a religion they were born into and grew up in, and others who are agnostic or atheist who feel that religion and the religious impulse must be challenged wherever they find it.

For these reasons among others I think people assume those people who aren’t religious are naturally antagonistic, to a greater or lesser degree, to those who are.

But speaking personally, I don’t feel that sort of antagonism; I don’t look at those who believe as defective or damaged or somehow lacking. Faith can be a comfort and a place of strength and an impetus for justice in this world, and I’m not sure why in those cases I, as a person without faith, would need to piss all over that.

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