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Ch. 2: Who was the first person? 
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 Ch. 2: Who was the first person?
Ch. 2: Who was the first person?

Please use this thread to discuss the above chapter.



Wed Apr 10, 2013 4:00 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2: Who was the first person?
We discussed Dawkins' thought experiment on evolution here:
richard-dawkins-explains-why-there-was-never-a-first-human-being-t14319.html?hilit=dawkins%20thought%20experiment

To repeat my earlier question slightly differently, how is it that theists try to reconcile evolution with their beliefs of some kind of unique human soul, a special role for humans, some kind of afterlife, etc.?

Once it became impossible to continue denying evolution for many (but not all) theists, the common answer seems to be that God set evolution into motion. But even if we accept this "answer," where does the "soul" come in? As Dawkins points out, evolution shows how every generation is the same species as their parents, but if you go back about 185 million generations, you've got a fish. (Whether it is exactly 185 million and looks as pictured is clearly besides the point if you accept evolution, despite the hurling of insults and accusations in the above thread.)

So either God picked an arbitrary point in which humans became unique and where religion applies to them, or every organism along the line has a soul just as humans do. Is there any consensus among theists? Which is it? Has this ever been discussed?



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Post Re: Ch. 2: Who was the first person?
Quote:
First!


This brave Adonis was the first.

http://www.funnyordie.com/videos/1b65bd ... ton-oswalt


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Have you tried that? Looking for answers?
Or have you been content to be terrified of a thing you know nothing about?

Are you pushing your own short comings on us and safely hating them from a distance?

Is this the virtue of faith? To never change your mind: especially when you should?

Young Earth Creationists take offense at the idea that we have a common heritage with other animals. Why is being the descendant of a mud golem any better?

Confidence being an expectation built on past experience, evidence and extrapolation to the future. Faith being an expectation held in defiance of past experience and evidence.


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Post Re: Ch. 2: Who was the first person?
Dexter wrote:
So either God picked an arbitrary point in which humans became unique and where religion applies to them, or every organism along the line has a soul just as humans do. Is there any consensus among theists? Which is it? Has this ever been discussed?


Good luck with that! I wonder, too, if there has been a theological attempt to consolidate belief in a soul with respect to our knowledge of evolutionary theory. As you suggest, just when God endowed us with a soul does present a very thorny problem, especially when you consider this angle suggested by Dawkins that there was no first human. But there are already many problems that plague biblical-based beliefs, but not a lot of motivation to try to explain these contradictions when they do come up.

Belief in a soul actually well predates Christianity. So what Christians believe today was a syncretism of those earlier beliefs.


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Post Re: Ch. 2: Who was the first person?
The question for Ch. 2 is: Who Was The First Person?

Dawkins begins this discussion with a couple of creation myths, including the Old Testament version with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. The whole idea of original sin is tied with the idea that Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Dawkins points out that some people believe in the concept of original sin even if they don't believe that Adam really existed.

After summarizing the Norse creation myth featuring Odin, Dawkins wonders how myths get passed down from generation to generation. Presumably, Dawkins says, the original inventors of these myths knew they were fiction. So how is it that some people still believe in the old myths as literal truth? (He doesn't phrase it quite like this). He suggests that over time people embellish stories that have been passed down without realizing that various bits were originally made up.

"Stories are fun, and we all love repeating them. But when we hear a colorful story, whether it is an ancient myth or a modern 'urban legend' whizzing around the internet, it is also worth stopping to ask whether it—or any of it—is true."

We discussed Dawkins' mind experiment on another thread, but I have to say again, what a stunning way of looking at evolution and the diversity of life forms. That there was no actual first person really underscores the rather stark disconnect between reality and much of our biblical heritage. As Dexter pointed out, the concept of a soul is somewhat difficult to imagine without the idea that a first man and woman were created at some point. Or at least it's difficult to pretend that humans are special in the cosmos as the pinnacle of God's creation. We are special, of course, but so are all life forms on earth. We are all intimately connected. We are close cousins to sea urchins and bats and kangaroos. "All are our cousins. Every last one of them. Isn't that a far more wonderful thought than any myth?"

Using the question—who was the first person?—Dawkins leads us through a mind experiment in which we pretend to travel back in time and pick up one of our ancestors about every 10,000 years. After a while we come to an ancestor who can no longer breed with one of the original passengers on the time machine, even though they may still look very much alike. But the further back in time we go, the more different our ancestors begin to look. Even so, there never was a time when a parent gave birth to something that was a different species. It happens too gradually.

This is quite a an excellent book. I wish I had it when I was younger. I do especially appreciate the explanations for the different kinds of fossils and different dating methods. I thought the first chapter was an excellent philosophical primer into the theory of knowledge. This chapter is a stunning primer into understanding the basic idea of gradual change, which helps us to envision how evolution actually works.


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Post Re: Ch. 2: Who was the first person?
Dexter wrote:
We discussed Dawkins' thought experiment on evolution here:
richard-dawkins-explains-why-there-was-never-a-first-human-being-t14319.html?hilit=dawkins%20thought%20experiment

To repeat my earlier question slightly differently, how is it that theists try to reconcile evolution with their beliefs of some kind of unique human soul, a special role for humans, some kind of afterlife, etc.?

Once it became impossible to continue denying evolution for many (but not all) theists, the common answer seems to be that God set evolution into motion. But even if we accept this "answer," where does the "soul" come in? As Dawkins points out, evolution shows how every generation is the same species as their parents, but if you go back about 185 million generations, you've got a fish. (Whether it is exactly 185 million and looks as pictured is clearly besides the point if you accept evolution, despite the hurling of insults and accusations in the above thread.)

So either God picked an arbitrary point in which humans became unique and where religion applies to them, or every organism along the line has a soul just as humans do. Is there any consensus among theists? Which is it? Has this ever been discussed?

It might not be too big a stretch to say that animals and even things had "souls" in the religion that was probably earliest in our history: the animistic beliefs of small groups of hunter-gatherers. The characteristic might be closer to "spirit" than "soul," but it can be hard to make strict distinctions between these. Perhaps what has happened in the development of religion is that this non-corporeal substance that is spirit or soul becomes more restricted as time goes on, until now it is only the property of humans in most major religions. Because all this belief started when our science was completely unknown, it's no surprise that there's no place for it in scientific view of the world. Modern people know that science has come to dominate human societies, and what I think might have happened is that many of them have pushed back against it because they need humans to be unique in kind compared to the rest of living things.



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Post Re: Ch. 2: Who was the first person?
DWill wrote:
Modern people know that science has come to dominate human societies, and what I think might have happened is that many of them have pushed back against it because they need humans to be unique in kind compared to the rest of living things.


I agree.

You sometimes hear theists, particularly Christians (now including the official position of the Catholic Church isn't it?), say that you can believe in evolution without contradiction, but I don't think they realize the problems with that view if you want to maintain any actual religious content.



Sat May 11, 2013 11:10 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 2: Who was the first person?
Dexter wrote:
DWill wrote:
Modern people know that science has come to dominate human societies, and what I think might have happened is that many of them have pushed back against it because they need humans to be unique in kind compared to the rest of living things.


I agree.

You sometimes hear theists, particularly Christians (now including the official position of the Catholic Church isn't it?), say that you can believe in evolution without contradiction, but I don't think they realize the problems with that view if you want to maintain any actual religious content.

We have to be satisfied with an inconsistent view from those religionists, because at least it means that the Church and the moderate Protestants won't be fighting to have ID taught in schools. For consistency, look to the fundamentalists, who do understand that you really can't have it both ways. Implicit in evolution is a fact disturbing to all theistic religions, that we didn't have to be here, and that we are here according to no plan, but as a result of how the dice came up. What the problem is with accepting that I don't grasp. If I win a huge lottery prize at a billion to one odds, I'm gonna be very, very amazed and happy at my luck.



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Post Re: Ch. 2: Who was the first person?
DWill wrote:
We have to be satisfied with an inconsistent view from those religionists, because at least it means that the Church and the moderate Protestants won't be fighting to have ID taught in schools. For consistency, look to the fundamentalists, who do understand that you really can't have it both ways.


True, it is better than the alternative for the moderates. There is still a disturbingly large percentage especially in the U.S. that continues to deny evolution.



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Post Re: Ch. 2: Who was the first person?
Dexter wrote:
DWill wrote:
We have to be satisfied with an inconsistent view from those religionists, because at least it means that the Church and the moderate Protestants won't be fighting to have ID taught in schools. For consistency, look to the fundamentalists, who do understand that you really can't have it both ways.


True, it is better than the alternative for the moderates. There is still a disturbingly large percentage especially in the U.S. that continues to deny evolution.


This sounds right. Ideas of spirit or soul, terms that were originally probably used metaphorically, were then later sanctioned as literal concepts and used for religious dogma. We who are materialists kind of look with fascination to those who still believe in original sin or a literal soul. Science didn't replace religion, but split society into a major schism between sacred truth and reason. There's no real debate between the two sides as we have seen on these forums. That's why there's no logical response to when did God put a soul into humans when, in fact, there was no first human.


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Post Re: Ch. 2: Who was the first person?
Dexter wrote:
DWill wrote:
We have to be satisfied with an inconsistent view from those religionists, because at least it means that the Church and the moderate Protestants won't be fighting to have ID taught in schools. For consistency, look to the fundamentalists, who do understand that you really can't have it both ways.


True, it is better than the alternative for the moderates. There is still a disturbingly large percentage especially in the U.S. that continues to deny evolution.


I think it's not very common for evolution to be taught in school's still, for I grew up knowing nothing about evolution and it certainly was never introduced to me through the school system. Actually, I didn't really know what evolution was until after I read this chapter.

As an example...I attended a private bible study class a few years ago and, on the first day, the teacher of the class attempted to derisively put down the idea of evolution by saying, "Well, we know that evolution didn't happen because if it did, then we'd all be monkey's right now!" or something to that affect. :shock: :? Despite my lack of education on the topic, I knew that that was NOT the idea behind evolution. However, everyone else in the room agreed and laughed along with it out of ignorance. Needless to say...I immediately realized how silly it was that I was in that bible study class!

A lot of people who grow up in theistic based families are encouraged not to learn about evolution or any type of science or philosophy that could be used to argue against the bible with. I grew up in a theistic type of environment and brought a Jean-Paul Sartre book with me to church (a different church than the one in the previous example) at the time (I was maybe 14 or 15) and had at least three leaders of the church come up and discuss their "concern" with me reading a book on existentialism or any kind of philosophy that would "lead me away from God". Speaking only from personal experience, perhaps so many people in the U.S. continue to deny evolution because they're greatly discouraged by their religious organizations to explore such topics and because the school systems are afraid to appear "atheistic" if they teach it to their students. After all, this country is steeped in Christian influences. We print "In God we trust" on our cash, after all, and it becomes a major media story if anyone dares to change these religious traditions.

I wonder at what point in evolution religious beliefs were created in an attempt to explain our own existence.



Last edited by LokiMon on Wed May 15, 2013 5:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Ch. 2: Who was the first person?
I suppose it is, after all, an assumption of mine that evolution is taught in most schools today. I'm too damn old to recall whatever it was I was taught back in grade 10, but it was in Connecticut, so I'd be amazed if evolution wasn't in the curriculum. Anyone know for certain about the current situation? I'd have to revise my thinking if it turned out that the topic is avoided. But again, I can't imagine how biology could be taught with integrity with Darwin left out.



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Post Re: Ch. 2: Who was the first person?
LokiMon wrote:
. . . I wonder at what point in evolution religious beliefs were created in an attempt to explain our own existence.


Thanks for your comments. People have always told stories to explain the world. Only with the advent of science in the last few hundred years have we come to know and understand our physical universe to a much greater degree. Perhaps this has diminished our reliance on myth and stories.

Meanwhile, I would guess as we evolved from the hunter-gatherer stage of our existence, we came to rely on an increasingly complex social environments where religion played a stronger political role. As such our religious beliefs were formalized and institutionalized by the Church.


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Post Re: Ch. 2: Who was the first person?
DWill wrote:
I suppose it is, after all, an assumption of mine that evolution is taught in most schools today. I'm too damn old to recall whatever it was I was taught back in grade 10, but it was in Connecticut, so I'd be amazed if evolution wasn't in the curriculum. Anyone know for certain about the current situation? I'd have to revise my thinking if it turned out that the topic is avoided. But again, I can't imagine how biology could be taught with integrity with Darwin left out.


My son took the sciences in high school just a couple of years ago. Of course, I made a point of checking out his biology textbook. I'm pleased to say the textbook did a an exemplary job discussing evolution by natural selection. I'm not sure exactly how much was covered in the classroom. Certainly Asheville is liberal by North Carolina standards, but this remains a very religious area. Even so, I never got the feeling that evolution was being suppressed. I'm sure it does happen, but not in this particular school.


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Post Re: Ch. 2: Who was the first person?
Dawkins is illustrating that the concept of a first person is incoherent. It is interesting to set this against the creationist views, in which the first man, Adam, is set against the 'new Adam' Jesus Christ, with the salvation brought by Christ understood as repairing the damage caused by Adam and Eve.

How does creationism persist? Some scientists and atheists have a rather superficial psychological appreciation of why this would be. The problem is, to paraphrase Jesus at Matthew 4:4, that man does not live by facts alone, but by every value that proceeds from cultural identity. Creationism provides a comforting sense of identity, with the story of Adam standing at the foundation of a whole moral system.

We have to understand creationism against the psychological and emotional needs that it serves. There is little point debating about facts when their beliefs are embedded in deeply attractive moral teachings and unconscious psychological frameworks.

Belonging to a community is essential to human identity. The modern urban lifestyle of rational individualism is foreign to how humans have lived for 99% of our genetic evolution. In a clan or tribe, people learn to accept authority as the basis of personal security, and consider loyalty and faith to be central virtues. Loneliness and isolation cause depression and anxiety. Belonging provides a sense of meaning and purpose. Churchgoers find that worship and praise generate positive feeling, and these feelings are grounded in an imagined personal relationship with Jesus.

If you think belonging is important, then anything that questions your sense of belonging is very low on your radar screen, and is readily ignored. From the perspective of faith, atheism appears cynical and destructive. But even in secular life, belonging remains important, and we see proxy for tribal belonging in the emotional commitment people make to communal activities such as sport.

If you think that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Saviour, meaning that “God so loved the world blerg blerg… whosoever believeth in Him shall have eternal life”, young earth creationism flows almost as a necessary consequence. This is an important point. Belief in heaven is just as absurd as opposition to evolution, and flows equally from the false belief in the first man. But far more people believe in afterlife than actively reject science. The creationists are simply drawing the logical inference from the absurd premise of the existence of heaven.

The reason for this connection between theories of creation and salvation turns on how Jesus Saves, and this turns on the creationist theory of the First Man. Saint Paul explains in Romans 5 http://niv.scripturetext.com/romans/5.htm that we shall be saved from God’s wrath through Christ. Paul explains that sin entered the world through Adam, the first man, and death reigned from the time of Adam. Consequently, if you can follow the logic, just as one sin resulted in condemnation for all, so also one righteous act (the death of Christ) resulted in justification and life for all people.

This stuff continues elsewhere in Paul, especially http://bible.cc/1_corinthians/15.htm with the lines “since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

What does all this mean? Basically, believing in Jesus sends you to heaven because Jesus cancelled Adam’s error. And logically, (by witch duck standards), Jesus cannot save unless Adam and Eve brought the fall from grace as described in Genesis.

Here we find the citadel of faith, grounded in a fantasy of the First Man. If you believe in Jesus (and in Adam), you are going to heaven. Debate with evolutionists occurs only on the outer ramparts of the castle of faith, barely seen from the high tower where questions of evidence and reason are simply and sublimely ignored.

The reason this rubbish persists is that it is ethically effective at the tribal level. Within a church/sect, fervent belief in Jesus produces mutual care. Such brotherly love is impervious to reason.

And creationism cannot be dismissed as the belief of isolated loonies. As Mao Tse Tung said, the fish swims in the sea. Gallup Polls consistently show that over 40% of Americans believe the world was made by God within the last ten thousand years.

Creationism is a far more serious evil than just the whackadoodle cultists who try to claim it is consistent. There is a pervasive cultural ignorance which validates human alienation from nature. And it is getting worse: Gallup polling shows that YECism has become 15% more popular since 2011, up from 40% to 46% of Americans.

Why worry about climate, population, extinction, reality, poverty, war, economics, evidence, reason or ethics if God created humans ten thousand years ago and science is just entirely wrong?

The false belief in Jesus of Nazareth is an extension of creationism. Believing untrue things is evil.

We speak of natural evils, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, extending the concept of evil beyond malevolent intent. In this way, ignorance and lack of education are social evils. Low literacy rates are an evil, although not one that the illiterate can generally be blamed for. Ignorance can be compared to the concept of a sin of omission.

Willful evasion of facts is much worse, a sin of commission. If you have access to information and you ignore, deny or suppress it without good reason, you are committing an evil sin. For creationists to campaign against scientific truth is monstrous, like witch burning.

I do not agree with the public/private distinction with its 'out of sight out of mind' implication. What a church group do in secret does have a ripple effect through the community they live in, often spreading a subtle aura of irrational stupidity and hostility. A creationist can be a nice person, but for many people who know them, just the knowledge that this person believes such farcical idiocy promotes an acceptance of crippling stupidity, an evil influence.

Private false belief can legitimise error, especially when it is aggressive. Society has a moral responsibility to teach people the truth.

Even this discussion forum is like a private group, even though it occurs in public, since the discussions here affect how people think and have broader influence than is immediately seen.

I personally believe that it is valuable for people who are committed to rational philosophy to reclaim moral concepts, such as sin and evil, which have been appropriated by mad creationists and emptied of real meaning. There are many theological concepts which could produce a powerful scientific morality if they were not corrupted by long false usage within the creationist paradigm of supernatural belief. For example, salvation, atonement, hypostasis, heaven, apocalypse, love and grace can be repurposed to fit within the scientific paradigm of natural reason.

But the debate is far from simple. True scientific knowledge about evolution easily elides into the false scientific belief that religion as such is bad and stupid. Humans are genetically hard-wired to be religious, so scientists should get used to it and work out a scientific religion. The point is that religion has to evolve and adapt, grounding itself in knowledge rather than belief. Much existing belief can be retained as allegory, as we really cannot tell from a superficial understanding whether it is junk or coding within our social DNA.

We routinely go against our hardwiring. Modern society presents an environment so different from where we evolved that our natural incentives are screwed up. For example we ruin our physical health by eating too much fat and sugar and not getting enough exercise. It seems equally plausible that we ruin our mental health by suppressing natural religious instincts, partly because those instincts are routinely embedded in a cultural idea set that is pre-scientific and which seems obsolete.

Writers such as Robert Wright and Jared Diamond have done interesting research on the evolution of religion which arguably suggests a natural religious impulse in human neural genetics.

It is superficial to assume that atheism and religion are incompatible. Pure Buddhism is atheist. You can have a sense of the numinous and ineffable and even the value of ritual, symbol and worship without leaping to the conclusion that religion postulates the existence of supernatural entities. Even Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity is not necessarily anti-religious in his observation that God is a projection of human imagination. It is more about rebasing religion on science than abolishing religion.

Locke’s tabula rasa (blank slate) ignores the whole problem of instinctive reaction, which is where an innate religious impulse seems to exist. Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality includes a discussion of reverence in a way that appears to accept a natural religious sentiment, while of course observing that this sentiment has been generally misunderstood as referencing a supernatural entity.

Most people think that religion is a positive ethical force. Are they completely wrong? Just because much religion is malignant does not mean we can jump to the conclusion that faith is a vice.

Dawkins argues that faith is intrinsically blind. I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow, and that is neither blind nor arbitrary. Dawkins makes valid criticisms of the pervasive practice of religion, but not of its intrinsic nature. In fact, the Gospels provide extensive critique of this sort of blind faith, for example Mark 8. Perhaps religion itself contains self-corrective measures to limit such tendencies? We should watch out for straw man arguments in this context, assuming the worst is typical.

The parable of the wheat and the tares presents the idea that good and bad grow together but can ultimately be separated. Abrahamic faith references the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but it is far from simple to assert that the absurdity of this myth means that faith is inevitably in conflict with knowledge. Again, this is complex material, and crude stereotypes inevitably distort. I prefer to argue that faith has a true core that is encrusted by error.

Natural evil - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_evil - encompasses part of the evil of false belief. Atheists generally think that the concept of sin is strictly meaningless, since God does not exist. I prefer to argue that we can sin against nature. And this in fact is what the Bible argues at Revelation 11:18 where it says the wrath of God is against those who destroy the earth.

The point of this 'first man' idea in Christianity is that it is the foundation of a whole ethical system, and that is why creationism is so resistant to science. The ethical ideas within creationism are often socially important and useful, but without the magical idea that Christ repaired Adam's sin, conventional faith loses its coherence and meaning.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Thu May 16, 2013 3:01 pm, edited 2 times in total.



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