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Ch. 3: The Infected Mind (A Devil's Chaplain) 
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 Ch. 3: The Infected Mind (A Devil's Chaplain)
Please talk about Ch. 3: The Infected Mind (A Devil's Chaplain) in this thread.



Tue Apr 12, 2011 12:20 am
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Post Re: Ch. 3: The Infected Mind (A Devil's Chaplain)
In "Viruses of the Mind," Dawkins asks the question

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Is it possible that some religious doctrines are favoured not in spite of being ridiculous but precisely because they are ridiculous? Any wimp in religion could believe that bread symbolically represents the body of Christ, but it takes a real, red-blooded Catholic to believe something as daft as the transubstantiation.


He gives the example of a rabbi who was trying to trace the origins of ingredients around the world to see if they're kosher.

Quote:
When the interviewer asks him why he bothers with this obviously pointless exercise, he makes it very clear that the point is precisely that there is no point:

Quote:
That most of the Kashrut laws are divine ordinances without reason given is 100 per cent the point. It is very easy not to murder people. Very easy. It is a little bit harder not to steal because one is tempted occasionally. So that is no great proof that I believe in God or am fulfilling His will. But, if He tells me not to have a cup of coffee with milk in it with my mincemeat and peas at lunchtime, that is a test. The only reason I am doing that is because I have been told to so do. It is doing something difficult.


Yet another example of why reasoning with true believers is usually a waste of time.



Sat Jun 04, 2011 9:41 am
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Post Re: Ch. 3: The Infected Mind (A Devil's Chaplain)
I'm late in this discussion, but "Time to Stand Up" reminds me of an article I read regarding the Arkansas Coalition of Reason.

In "Time to Stand Up" Richard Dawkins references a speech by Douglas Adams. It is essentially about the (nasty) opinion of some that we shouldn't attack people's belief systems, we ought to respect them. I had read an article about an ad company being sued by the Arkansas Coalition of Reason. The CoR wanted to place an ad on buses that said, "Are you good without God? Millions are." The ad company wouldn't do it because it may move Christians or those "strong" of faith to commit acts of vandalism. If I feel moved to commit mass murder because you don't believe in God, does that make you responsible for my actions? I understand that it could be a liability for the ad company and so on and so forth, but it seems a shame that this problem even comes up. That a group of people can't place a harmless ad, while in the same area I see those stupid letters from God billboards and no one questions the right for those to be posted.

I'd say it is most definitely time to stand up.

Sorry if this veered too far from the actual essay. I did however find this essay particularly moving.



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Sat Jun 25, 2011 6:52 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 3: The Infected Mind (A Devil's Chaplain)
This discussion, and the thread on delusion, open the question of why the debate between atheists and theists is so difficult, with people often talking at cross-purposes, and why emotional attitudes, such as the refusal to allow atheist advertising, have such a strong grip.

How I see it is that religion is essential to human psychology, as a way to explain the meaning of life. The key is themes such as redemption and salvation, which the religious regard as central but scientists see as meaningless. What these psychological themes give people is a sense that human life is linked in to the cosmos, that there is a unified meaning which gives our lives a sense of purpose.

Atheist science argues that all such efforts to find meaning and purpose in objective reality are delusional, that in fact the universe is purely physical, and any meaning that we claim to find in nature is what we have put there. So phrases like 'Jesus Saves' are based purely on fantasy, without objective reference.

I find myself between these camps, convinced with science that nature is the sole reality, but sympathetic to the religious quest for meaning. My view is that religion is actually based originally in natural perception, but this perception has been intensified over the centuries by claims that people understand things that are actually not understood. So, the literal historical stories of the Bible were written in order to provide a popularly acceptable explanation of the meaning of life, and to legitimize the goals of religious parties to gain political power. These literal stories have, in Dawkins' term, 'infected' the minds of their adherents. They cannot see that the stories have a deeper allegorical intent, pointing towards an actual reconciliation between humanity and nature.

Dawkins is quite willing to accept that scientific discussion of the divinity of the universe has some meaning, in the terms used by scientists such as Einstein and Hawking, and to a lesser extent Paul Davies in his books such as The Mind of God. It is purely semantic if people wish to say that nature is God, as long as they do not extend the analogy to say that God is a supernatural entity.

However, the viral idea of God as supernatural entity has a very deep hold in the Abrahamic traditions. People who live within these traditions tend to see other religions, including the more naturalistic attitudes found in Asia, through this monotheist prism. The process of disinfecting the minds of people who hold to the delusionary literal claims in the Bible has to start from a respect for the psychological function of belief, and for its evolutionary role in supporting social cohesion. In order to maintain the cohesion that is provided by faith, the atheist critique should respect that the stories of faith are not just rubbish, but that they have symbolic content that can be salvaged as part of a rational worldview.

Spirituality, understood as an intuition of how identity relates to reality, has a perfectly legitimate scientific place. Spirituality suffers from the problem that metaphysical arguments are often wrong, but it is still possible to start from an atheist naturalistic framework and analyse the meaning and purpose of spirituality in a sympathetic way. This has been done a lot in philosophy and psychoanalysis, but the current scientific mood tends to be more hostile towards such study. In philosophy, this angle of research was addressed in phenomenology, the study of things as they appear. A systematic logical categorization of phenomena has to include study of people's attitudes. It is not just enough to use zoology as a template for philosophy, as Dawkins does, because that misses essential features of human psychology.



Sat Jun 25, 2011 8:27 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 3: The Infected Mind (A Devil's Chaplain)
Thinking further about this issue of religion as a virus, a metaphysical concept that I think is harder to reject is providence. Providence is the idea that God/nature provides abundantly for humanity. It is at the foundation of religious concepts of grace, blessing and salvation. Now, I agree with Dawkins that religious traditions have twisted providence into a myth, much as they have twisted salvation.

However, if we want to understand how humans relate to the cosmos, the concept of providence remains fairly central even from an atheist outlook. Our planet is still the only one we know that has life, and it seems the confluence of circumstances that allowed the evolution of intelligent life is likely to be very rare in the universe. How terrestrial systems provide for our modern complex ecosystem is a phenomenon that can be classed as providential, even if we reject the religious baggage of this term.

Keeping good with providence is central to religion. However, as Dawkins argues, the real 'provider' of our modern situation is the history of evolution of life on earth. So evolution has its own theory of providence, even if it avoids that terminology. It shows an example of how religion and science are at bottom talking about the same thing. So in evolutionary terms, a stable ecosystem is in a 'state of grace' while an unstable ecosystem is in something like a 'state of corruption'.



Sun Jun 26, 2011 9:25 am
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Post Re: Ch. 3: The Infected Mind (A Devil's Chaplain)
Some of the first post I'd agree with; the second seems to me just a way of preserving the religious terminology for no valuable purpose, that I can see.

Science isn't atheistic. It necessarily investigates material causes. To imply that it has an atheist agenda would mean that it excludes matters that it could, using its methods, investigate if it did not have an aversion to doing so. I don't see proof that scientists are refusing to delve into metaphysics for any reason other than the correct perception that in that area, falsifiable propositions are hard to come by.

Don't confuse what Richard Dawkins, or any scientist speaking outside his field, says about religion/spirituality as the "view" of science. Science finds what if finds, and then the chips fall as they may regarding how individuals fit them into their belief systems. A few scientists step out of their specialties to speak as lay commentators on belief/religion, but they gain no authority by virtue of their scientific expertise alone, and they don't speak for science.

The idea that supernatural concepts of God are 'viral,' whereas other so-called spiritual ideas are not, doesn't seem to fit in with the most parsimonious explanation for how we come to believe things. Whatever characteristics our beliefs have, it's likely that we have them because of the horizontal and longitudinal mechanisms that Dawkins identifies as the transmitters of viruses. If I am born into a secular-humanist tradition, which is now possible, and I absorb as I grow up beliefs/ideas that are in concert with this tradition, I am not undergoing anything different from what the person born into and learning from a God-based tradition is going through.

The problem with the virus/infection language is that it tries for scientific objectivity, but it is inherently prejudicial, a language of moral condemnation from the start. We have feelings and attitudes about viruses and infections that preclude objectivity in applying them to any non-organic area.


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No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence--that which makes its truth, its meaning--its subtle penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live as we dream--alone.

Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness


Sun Jun 26, 2011 10:23 am
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Post Re: Ch. 3: The Infected Mind (A Devil's Chaplain)
Well of course the language about infection is condemnatory, because Dawkins is condemning belief in the supernatural as a disease.

There are true memes and false memes. Science is a true meme and supernaturalism is a false meme. That does not make all religion false, but it has a lot of weeds mixed among the wheat.

I think the idea of providence is a valuable one. True memes, those compatible with evidence, help us to understand what the universe has provided. False memes delude us into accepting fantasy, including theories of providence that are not true, such as the imaginary ideas of heaven and hell as places.



Sun Jun 26, 2011 5:03 pm
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