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Born atheist? 
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Post Re: Born atheist?
Harry Marks wrote:
BWM wrote:
It's easy to point and laugh at religion, and say; ''you actually believe in all that crap?'' I don't believe in it either,

I think most people operate without a carefully considered set of intellectual structures such as one would be taught in college.
Popular traditional belief evolves according to whatever produces emotional comfort and has a set and accepted mythological structure. The separation of intellectual elites from popular society creates a social divide, seen most vividly in the creationist debate. Creationism establishes a morality of order and control with a simple story of salvation based on Jesus repairing Adam’s sin, together with an exclusionary device in the idea that anything that contradicts their views comes from Satan and can be rejected and ignored. The myth serves to inoculate against reason. Equally, intellectually based structures also have their own mythologies, and more seriously, an inability to respect the emotional support provided by traditional myths.
Harry Marks wrote:
As a result, when they do sometimes think about big questions, like "Does the universe operate with a plan or goal?" or "Am I facing this tribulation because of something I did?" they are likely to arrive at conclusions that fit their personality using narratives that are part of their culture. And when narratives have evolved to shape practice in specific ways (no sex before marriage, couples remain faithful for the sake of the kids, or whatever) then people are likely to respond to those narratives in terms of their sense of function.
These are good examples where religion teaches to put the community before the individual, whereas ‘reason’ encourages people to put their individual happiness before the overall good of community or family. People who have been taught to function as autonomous individuals feel an emotional repugnance toward such sacrificial tribal attitudes (known as heteronomy) and are quick to condemn the irrational beliefs that tend to be used to encourage a sense of duty. I suspect this is even an unconscious factor in the evolutionary biology debate between Dawkins and Wilson about group selection versus gene selection.
Harry Marks wrote:
It's a relatively new phenomenon to judge the meta-narratives based on evidence.
This point reminds me of the current Booktalk non-fiction selection, The Human Cosmos by Jo Marchant. Religious meta-narratives, the ultimate story of meaning and purpose that unifies the myths, evolved memetically in social contexts where observation of the stability and order of the heavens provided a template for moral values on earth. My view, which I hope aligns with Jo Marchant’s, is that religious meta-narratives have mutated under selective pressure from politics, leading to knowledge of some of the original causative cosmic context to be lost.
Harry Marks wrote:
Of course such things went on with Socrates and Abelard and Confucius, but now we have large bodies of evidence that impact what narratives can be considered credible. It is difficult to get underneath the evidence and believability questions to deeper questions of how the narratives fit with personality types and what the narratives lead to as practices.
Belief in miracle is an example of a narrative that leads to a set of practices both good and bad. I was listening yesterday to a podcast by an ex-Christian who was talking about how Amish teach their children to love each other. That is an example of where a rigidly ordered lifestyle built around a supernatural mythology creates space for things of value which can be lost when there is more individual freedom and encouragement of questioning.


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Post Re: Born atheist?
Robert Tulip wrote:
Popular traditional belief evolves according to whatever produces emotional comfort and has a set and accepted mythological structure. The separation of intellectual elites from popular society creates a social divide, seen most vividly in the creationist debate.
As a general summary of the "popular" vs. "educated" split, this a big improvement on my statement that people are mostly without philosophy. But I want to query the notion of belief as a source of emotional comfort. I think it is much more complicated than that, and that beliefs in general function as a way to move general society over an "energy barrier" created by evolved emotions in a natural, uncomplicated setting. All of the Abrahamic religions, for example, urge an "unnatural" degree of self-control in response to anger, and a degree of focus on sexual discipline for the sake of family structure. (They are hardly alone in that, of course.) My point is simply that beliefs give us a reason to endure discomfort for the sake of some sense of purpose and "goodness".

Robert Tulip wrote:
Creationism establishes a morality of order and control with a simple story of salvation based on Jesus repairing Adam’s sin, together with an exclusionary device in the idea that anything that contradicts their views comes from Satan and can be rejected and ignored. The myth serves to inoculate against reason. Equally, intellectually based structures also have their own mythologies, and more seriously, an inability to respect the emotional support provided by traditional myths.
Well, if one cannot believe, then it is difficult to respect the emotional support provided by belief. The belief takes on the aspect of self-delusion. The advantage of recognizing the mythological dimension is that one then has a fighting chance of creating a new mythological structure with narratives that can be grafted onto the old and meet the challenges of the new. Gary Wills has pointed out Abraham Lincoln's transcendent ability to work with symbolisms ("a new birth of freedom", "whether any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure upon the earth," "the judgments of the Almighty are altogether just.")

Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
And when narratives have evolved to shape practice in specific ways (no sex before marriage, couples remain faithful for the sake of the kids, or whatever) then people are likely to respond to those narratives in terms of their sense of function.
These are good examples where religion teaches to put the community before the individual, whereas ‘reason’ encourages people to put their individual happiness before the overall good of community or family. People who have been taught to function as autonomous individuals feel an emotional repugnance toward such sacrificial tribal attitudes (known as heteronomy) and are quick to condemn the irrational beliefs that tend to be used to encourage a sense of duty. I suspect this is even an unconscious factor in the evolutionary biology debate between Dawkins and Wilson about group selection versus gene selection.
In my discipline of economics, the libertarian point of view has been vastly overrepresented. It seems that the atomistic, mechanical view of economic forces, and the account of individual preferences free to have their effects through markets, exerts a powerful pull into the field. I do think the role of reason in perceiving higher structures of social value has been underplayed. We leave it to the sociologists. Reason is quite capable of perceiving and explicating aspects of the community good which are not well served by individualistic mythology. But for this to actually move people, to make it part of their sense that the world "ought to be" a certain way that they see around them, requires getting over an energy barrier.

We may be making such a transition with electric cars. But the practical issues (see "cruising range") are too complex for a mythological narrative to move people. Especially in a country that cannot even bring itself to reach 70 percent vaccination rate against covid. Interestingly, 30 years ago a strong consensus emerged among economists that carbon pricing is efficient and important. And an unholy alliance between concentrated wealth and populist media did an end run around the "experts." I think a narrative that says reason is anti-society and (perhaps) only ignorance supports social needs is not up to the complexities we actually face.

Robert Tulip wrote:
This point reminds me of the current Booktalk non-fiction selection, The Human Cosmos by Jo Marchant. Religious meta-narratives, the ultimate story of meaning and purpose that unifies the myths, evolved memetically in social contexts where observation of the stability and order of the heavens provided a template for moral values on earth. My view, which I hope aligns with Jo Marchant’s, is that religious meta-narratives have mutated under selective pressure from politics, leading to knowledge of some of the original causative cosmic context to be lost.
I kind of lost the thread that led to this choice but I am inclined to try to squeeze it into my schedule, which is quite stressed with learning to be a math teacher. I am intrigued by the connections to your ideas presented here in the past, and it sounds like a fun book on its own merits.
Robert Tulip wrote:
Belief in miracle is an example of a narrative that leads to a set of practices both good and bad. I was listening yesterday to a podcast by an ex-Christian who was talking about how Amish teach their children to love each other. That is an example of where a rigidly ordered lifestyle built around a supernatural mythology creates space for things of value which can be lost when there is more individual freedom and encouragement of questioning.
It's an interesting example. An anthropologist would insist that the practices are what create a system capable of persisting (the Shakers neglected one important matter on that criterion, for example) and the "superstructure" of belief only matters a little. The heart of Amish ideology is "plainness" which is all about non-violence. If you don't compete for status, then you don't get into wars. But of course plainness, and loving your age-mates, are strongly pro-social and likely to foster stability and even prosperity. With such powerful "rigidity" in operation, I would guess that miracle-talk is limited to giving a luster of significance to "overcoming the energy barrier" necessary to set aside one's fascination with, e.g. status competition.



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Robert Tulip
Thu Oct 07, 2021 10:18 pm
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