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Ch. 2 - The Nature of Belief 
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Post Ch. 2 - The Nature of Belief
Ch. 2 - The Nature of Belief


Please use this thread to discuss Chapter 2 - The Nature of Belief. Or you are free to create and use your own threads. ::80




Wed Mar 29, 2006 12:56 am
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - The Nature of Belief
Time for some criticism, aside from the fact that I thought a brief definition would have sufficed instead of pages of primer. Harris tends to stick with the bible and koran for his usage of examples despite having studied a various amount of Eastern and Western religious traditions. Also, most of his examples in Chapter 2 tend to draw exclusively from the Christian tradition. Not that I don't fully agree with much of what Harris writes, but I would appreciate a more multicultural approach. Is this just a Western and Middle East problem? How about faiths in Japan? Just a thought.

Also, Harris is continually hammering away at "faith" but all is examples are from highly structured organized religions. Are we really talking about "faith" or are we talking about organized religion with wacked out scripture? Often times, I propose that Harris is indeed using examples of organized religion but generalizing to all "faith." There is a realm of belief and faith in a higher power or deity that can strictly confirm to reason and rationality. It is a very narrow realm that can co-exist completely with science, but I do belief it is a legitiment belief since science has no pre-big-bang answers yet. There is much science has left unanswered and I belief faith that leaves open possibilities where science has no answers is legitiment belief in the sense that Harris suggests is rational even though I remain an athiest.

The problems that result from the examples of belief that Harris uses almost all appear within the Christian and Islamic traditions. Yes, death and destruction often are delivered to people in the name of belief in faith, but that logically does not conclude that all faith is bad just because the belief is not have evidence. Faith can exist, and does exist, without reliance on ancient scripture advancing acts of hate and aggression. Faith can exist without organized religion and leaders of said organized religion proposing official church doctorine in the name of an improvable deithy that consistantly changes its mind according to history's redicitions of the infalable popes, for example. Faith outside of organized religion isn't even paid lip service by Harris, it is out right ignored, which I contend is a major weakness in the book and I would love to see addressed.

EDIT: Ha!! Just re-read my post and realized I my criticism unintentionally comes off as a defense of faith without organized religion! Interesting arguement coming from an athiest I guess.

Edited by: riverc0il at: 3/31/06 7:35 pm



Fri Mar 31, 2006 7:31 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - The Nature of Belief
Harris provides a brief primer on the neuro-psychological basis of belief. An entire book could be written on this subject and I think it is beyond the scope of this book. Harris should have just stuck with a description and left out the background which rather bored me (despite my psychological background). Not surprisingly, if you read the back cover, Harris' brief bio details his current doctoral work in the neural basis of belief.

Once the ground work has been laid out, Harris separates out legitimate belief which has reasoning, rational aspects, and a basis in reality with irrational belief, which Harris lays out several faith based examples. Harris seems to enjoy using parallel examples and showing how similar beliefs taken out of the context of faith and religion and put into everyday relationships makes the belief look asinine but people accept those parallel beliefs in a faith based concept. The central point of the chapter seems to be that belief without evidence is ludicrous and Harris states that the belief system of faith itself is essentially insane using a parallel with people who would believe so strongly about anything else in this world without belief. Faith is an exception when it comes to a person being asked to elaborate their proof, reasons, and evidence for their belief. Religion seems to be the only belief in this world tolerated without evidence in an otherwise reasoning world. As Harris puts it (p72): "This leaves billions of us believing what no sane person could believe on his own." An insane belief structure is reinforced because it is so pervasive in society, a logical fallacy that something must be true because everyone else believes it to be.

Here are two of my favorite passages from Chapter Two which struck a chord.

p65
"However far you feel you have fled the parish (even in you are just now adjusting the mirror on the Hubble Space Telescope), you are likely to be the product of a culture that has elevated belief, in the absence of evidence, to the highest place in the hierarchy of human virtues. Ignorance is the true coinage of this realm



Fri Mar 31, 2006 8:17 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - The Nature of Belief
DH, you raise a really good point, thank you for bringing that point to the discussion. I think you may misinterpert Harris, or at least are putting forth an opinion on Harris's perspective that lacks evidence within the book. Harris certainly does present a twist of the faith angle to the exclusion of all others to support his thesis. But I do not see anything in Chapter One or Chapter Two that suggests Harris is tied to National Exceptionalism and Moral Superiority. The Geopolitical points you raise are excellent, many Middle Easterners do feel threatened by encroaching Americanism and the encroaching influence of American Styled Capitolism. They should be wary!! Indeed, Americanizing other countries has essentially been our country's strategy for eliminating hostilities and forming partnerships. Tie nations together economically via multi-national corporations which ensures cooperation at the risk of destroying local culture in favor of Americanizing the other country.

I am not sure if you have begun reading yet, but Harris ties this into the text I believe. For example, much of the Islamic Culture that Middle-Easterners feel is threatened revolves around their religion. Lack of women's rights, male domination, govenrments founded on Islam instead of secular ideals, etc. So I think Harris is taking the arguement that those Geopolitical issues are inherent in the faith of the terrorists, because the Geopolitical issues are the result of the religion.

But whether this arguement holds water or not (I suspect both Chomsky and Harris are both right), I do not see an attack on Chomsky idealogically. Is there some back history on Sam Harris we should be aware of? Could you expand on your reasons why you believe Harris is in direct conflict with Chomsky? To be honest, I have read some Chomsky but have not read up on his thoughts on Terrorism and 9/11.

Edited by: riverc0il at: 3/31/06 9:47 pm



Fri Mar 31, 2006 9:45 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - The Nature of Belief
"The men who committed the atrocities of September 11 were certainly not "cowards," as they were repeatedly described in the Western media, nor were they lunatics in any ordinary sense. They were men of faith



Fri Mar 31, 2006 10:18 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - The Nature of Belief
Imgaine (god forbid!) that you are a Catholic. If Canada gave money & arms to Mexico and Mexico invaded and took over your city, killed your wife & familiy, and forced you to live in a shack on the beach would you join the resistance against the Mexican invaders? If suicide bombing looked like having by far the greatest impact on Mexico/Canada, might you even consider that? Would being a Catholic be at all important in your considerations? Surely the fact of the Mexican invasion, with Canadian support, would be the overwhelming factor! That is, geopolitics would far outweigh any religious considerations.




Wed Apr 05, 2006 1:49 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - The Nature of Belief
Yes. In your set up scenario...it is as you say.

I was a Catholic...but then I grew up.

Mr. P.

The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.

Once you perceive the irrevocable truth, you can no longer justify the irrational denial. - Mr. P.

The pain in hell has two sides. The kind you can touch with your hand; the kind you can feel in your heart...Scorsese's &quot;Mean Streets&quot;

I came to kick ass and chew Bubble Gum...and I am all out of Bubble Gum - They Live, Roddy Piper




Wed Apr 05, 2006 2:06 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - The Nature of Belief
mal4mac, good point. i still think geopolitics is a definite influence on a decision to be hostile and violent. however, i think geopolitics is not sufficient along to generate suicide bombings in most cultures. religion being a part of culture, i think religion has an influence on people's decision regarding how they carry out their geopolitically influenced violence.




Wed Apr 05, 2006 5:22 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - The Nature of Belief
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riverc0il said: Faith outside of organized religion isn't even paid lip service by Harris, it is out right ignored, which I contend is a major weakness in the book and I would love to see addressed.

Religion is a path to power. Faith without organized religion has no influence. :242




Fri Apr 07, 2006 8:05 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - The Nature of Belief
True enough LanDroid, though it is still a glarring omission in a book suggesting an "End of Faith."




Fri Apr 07, 2006 10:42 pm
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Post Irrationality
This chapter's discussion of belief was reasonable, though I've seen it before in the various books I've read about psychology, philosophy, cognitive science, and other areas. Besides, it was overkill since Harris's religious arguments rely on one core idea: beliefs without evidence are illegitimate.

Also, Harris overstates the extent to which anyone, even atheists, possesses a rational and fact-based belief system. While experiences and contemplation shape people's beliefs, you shouldn't discount the importance of visceral emotional reactions.




Sat Apr 08, 2006 2:47 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - The Nature of Belief - Pascal's wager
Quote:
Why the particular method of strapping a bomb to one's self and detonating it in a public place? Wouldn't a jihadist be more valuable if they could continue to fight? If they could kill just as many infidels with a machinegun, wouldn't that be the better method?

Maybe it's the unique situation that reflects the method. The Egyptian tourist-killing jihadists used machine guns a few years back. In Israel, I would think, every Arab is looked at with suspician. As soon as there was even a hint he was carrying a gun, an armed response would be there very quickly. Where would he hide the machine gun? In a violin case? I would think any violin case would be subject to random searches very quickly. Why not plant a bomb? Rucksacks would also be searched, as would any bag. It's difficult to think of a more effective method for delivering a bomb without being noticed than suicide bombing. Why didn't the IRA use suicide bombs? (i) UK is a freer society, planting a bomb is relatively straightforward (I'm guessing Mr MI5 man!:) ) (ii) Irish catholics look just like the English in physical features & dress, and speak the same language, and can easily immitate English accents.

So why did the London Islamic bombers use suicide bombs? So many questions. Enough. I'm off to watch my recording of the latest episode of 24. Send for Jack Bauer, that's the answer.




Mon Apr 17, 2006 5:32 am
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - The Nature of Belief - Pascal's wager
riverc0il: Unless I misunderstand things, is not Martyrdom is considered a great thing in Islam.

It is, but until recently it's always been associated with being killed by an enemy while in battle, or with dying as the result of religious persecution. Its association with suicide is, as far as I can tell, a recent accretion. Five years from now, it might be argued with equal force that suicide is not a form of martyrdom. What has made it so in our contemporary situation is a particular reinterpretation of Islam in accordance with the technology and social circumstances that make such bombings practical.

These guys are not lining up for psychological evaluation before straping a bomb to their chests, so we will never know the exact mental processes happening prior to their decision.

There are probably ways of evaluating the validity of my argument. Three specific ways occur to me. The first is psychological evaluation of suicide bombers who fail -- that is, either those that back down, those who are apprehended before detonating their bombs, or those who fail through mechanical malfunction. The second is that some suicide bombers actually may have submitted to psychological evaluation at some point in the past, before they joined a jihadist movement, for instance. The third is a comparative method -- even when direct interview is impossible, many of these people leave enough biographical information that it may be fruitful to compare their lives to already well-established psychological profiles.

To my knowledge, no one has attempted anything of this sort, but then, my knowledge is limited, as this is a subject I'm just starting to explore. But even short of having this sort of evaluation, I don't see why we should assume that religious doctrine holds absolute sway over their behavior given a) that studies of our own and other cultures indicate that the situation is rarely so simple, and b) that there's a simple and perfectly reasonable psychological explanation available.

We might also argue their psychology was corrupted by leaders of the movement. When an authority figure tells you to kill yourself, it has been done in cults (Hail Bop).

The cult angle doesn't especially help your case, given that most cult members have a rap sheet of prior psychological problems. Even ignoring that factor, there's major difference between incidents like Jonestown or the Heaven's Gate cult and the sort of prolonged infiltration that took place in preparation for the WTC/Pentagon attacks: namely time apart from the leaders of the movement. Study into Communist thought reform has revealed that "brainwashing" suffers in effectiveness whenever the subject is removed from the social context which supports the reform. If it were the case that the hijackers were merely "corrupted" by the al Queda leaders, you'd expect them to go through a certain level of withdrawal during their immersion in American culture. That they did not suggests that their alienation from Western culture and their determination were aspects of their own personalities, and not elements introduced through fairly recent indoctrination.

All of this is, as I see it, beside the point in terms of whether or not those individuals were suicidal before being called upon to orchestrate their own martyrdom. That there were more capable than most, I'll concede, but it still seems to me that their method was determined in large part by an eagerness to die, one that is more explicable in terms of their disatisfaction with their own lives than in terms of the promises of martyrdom.

Your point only suggests that Bin Laden is smart and the men he is commanding to kill themselves are pretty dumb.

I think that may be a valid inference, although I wouldn't couch it in those terms.

Though I would be frankly amazed that cult groups like Heavan's Gate would all lie down on a bed and drink poison and not be extatic that their leader's prophecy was about to come true.

I'd be amazed to learn, were it possible to answer such a question, that those same people wouldn't have done exactly the same thing in the name of another cause. I can't see them as people with stable personalities who had the misfortune of getting roped into an irresistably attractive prophecy. To me, their actions make the most sense when you view them as people who were deeply disatisfied with their circumstances, and who hoped to alleviate that disatisfaction by rendering their life entirely to a cause.

To commit suicide, you absolutely MUST desire to die, that is an absolute requirement for committing suicide.

Not true. I've dealt with suicides, both on a personal and academic level. People who commit suicide are often motivated less by their perceptions of death than they are by their certainty about the undesireability of life.

But the reasons why that desire to die exist is what we are debating.

Taking that as a platform into a related subject, I would say that the mode of jihadist suicide bombing is in large degree a reaction to the perception that many in the Middle East seem to have about their place in the world. Social condition, prolonged political crisis, the condescension of Western globalism -- these are likely all precipitate factors in creating the sort of malaise that makes it possible to utilize suicide as a weapon.

We just disagree on whether someone could commit suicide thinking they are contributing to an important goal and be happy doing so.

Not really. I suspect that those who actually go through with suicide bombings probably do feel some measure of happiness in doing so. What I'm arguing is that their decision to die in that manner is the result of a deep, disturbing unhappiness that seems to have permeated their lives up until that moment. Offer them a better way of alleviating that unhappiness, and I suspect that fewer people would volunteer for suicide bombing duty.




Mon Apr 17, 2006 5:04 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2 - The Nature of Belief - Pascal's wager
Quote:
Not true. I've dealt with suicides, both on a personal and academic level. People who commit suicide are often motivated less by their perceptions of death than they are by their certainty about the undesireability of life.

But if life is undesirable, that would seem to indicate a desire to end life?

You have really good points. A predisposition towards general unhappiness or lack of satisfaction with life would seem to be a factor in suicide attackers. Such as that they might see their death being more important than their life. So I conceed that a predisposition towards unhappiness or lack of satisfaction would be an important factor. Socio/Political/Economical also seem to have an impact. Though I still do not think we could rule out the influence of leaders, especially religious leaders using Jihad and Martyrdom as a motivator. The recent change from Martyrdom being the result of being killed as a defender to being killed as an attacker is an interesting re-interpretation of scripture, one that Harris does seem to point towards as a problem of religion (in general, I do not think he singaled out Islam in this regard... he may have but I forget at this point).

You raise an interesting point that a study and research regarding the psychological disposition of Islam Suicide attackers does not seem to be readily available (or if it is, it certainly is not known and/or had much scrutiney from the scientific community yet). I would be interested in learning more if such reserach surfaces.




Mon Apr 17, 2006 7:58 pm
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Post Suicide bombers
As an aside, you can compare the three kinds of deaths someone may choose to support a cause:

1) Killing others
2) Suicides (such as Vietnamese burning themselves in protest).
3) Suicide bombers

You can subdivide 1 and 3, depending on whether the victims are military, civilian, or a combination.

While I don't have any profound insight, my visceral reaction is quite different when I consider those different cases. In particular, 1+2 does not equal 3.




Mon Apr 17, 2006 11:28 pm
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