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Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18 
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 Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
Proposition: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God

Debaters for the proposition:
Heather Berlin, Cognitive Neuroscientist
Michael Shermer, Founder, The Skeptics Society & Best-Selling Author

Debaters against the proposition:
Dr. Deepak Chopra, Integrative Medicine Advocate & Best Selling Author
Dr. Anoop Kumar, Emergency Physician & Author, “Michelangelo’s Medicine”

Tuesday 3/27/18 from 7 - 8:45 pm EST US

https://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/d ... e-need-god

=> I believe it's possible to live stream this debate while chatting about it live here on BookTalk, but I've lost track of those details. We've done this before, perhaps Chris can help out...



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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
Quote:
Proposition: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God

I can't help but think they first need to debate what does "God" actually mean. Because God means something different to everyone. Deepak for example probably thinks God is an universal "consciousness" while fundamentalists think he's a jealous, vindictive deity, so very much like humans.

Anyway, thanks for posting, Landroid. I'll try to drop in.


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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
geo wrote:
Quote:
Proposition: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God

I can't help but think they first need to debate what does "God" actually mean. Because God means something different to everyone. Deepak for example probably thinks God is an universal "consciousness" while fundamentalists think he's a jealous, vindictive deity, so very much like humans.

Anyway, thanks for posting, Landroid. I'll try to drop in.

That's the way I see it too, geo. Long ago I watched a debate with a similar proposition on William F. Buckley's show. It was a bit of a fizzle because the science guy said he, too, considers himself a Christian, yet he believes strongly in the theory of evolution. Buckley, for once, was flummoxed. Right off the bat, the proposition would need to specify that God is something like the Abrahamic God. Then you'd have a satisfying challenge set out for the debaters.

If somebody says to me that God is universal consciousness, I say ok, sure, I guess that makes sense. There is nothing I can see to argue about or make a fuss over.



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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
Don't know if you watched, geo, but you called that one. Consciousness was king for the side opposing the proposition. That side right off dropped all pretense of defending God as that entity has been understood over the centuries. I thought the two guys were saying that consciousness, constituting this force larger than ourselves, is what we need to comprehend as God. But exactly for what purpose or what necessity, they were at a loss to explain. The for side made the stronger case that humanity has the tools to improve the world, tools that derived essentially from the Enlightenment. God, whether understood in the traditional sense or the newer and more vague one, isn't required. Individuals may still feel some personal need for God-concepts, and the for side had no problem with that. They denied that we, the collective, need God to advance the humanistic goals that religion itself has, however partially and inconsistently, always promoted.



Last edited by DWill on Wed Mar 28, 2018 6:13 am, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
DWill wrote:
Don't know if you watched, geo, but you called that one. Consciousness was king for the side opposing the proposition. That side right off dropped all pretense of defending God as that entity has been understood over the centuries. I thought the two guys were saying that consciousness, constituting this force larger than ourselves, is what we need to comprehend as God. But exactly for what purpose or what necessity, they were at a loss to explain. The for side made the stronger case that humanity has the tools to improve the world, tools that derived essentially from the Enlightenment. God, whether understood in the traditional sense or the newer and more vague one, isn't required. Individuals may still feel some personal need for God-concepts, and the for side had no problem with that. They denied that we, the collective, need God to advance the humanistic goals that religion itself has, however partially and inconsistently, always promoted.


Thanks, DWill. I didn't get to watch it. It seems these debates are not really intended to resolve our differences or come to an understanding. It's all entertainment.

Belief in "God" used to help us socially bond, but now I would say the concept only serves as a personal inspiration/identity for some people, and in vastly different ways. A universal consciousness has no meaning at all to Christian fundamentalists, but these kinds of debates at least give them a side to root for. Deepak Chopra is very good at sounding science-ish while speaking utter gibberish. Without actually defining "God" we all sort of just stab at the shadows, and maybe that's entertaining.


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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
geo wrote:
Quote:
Proposition: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God

I can't help but think they first need to debate what does "God" actually mean. Because God means something different to everyone.
Better still, it might be good to clarify what we mean by "need God." My position is that the more we "evolve" (culturally) the more we embody God.

There is a basis for arguing that traditionally humans needed an enforcer God, who cared more about following Law than even about the success or failure of "His" chosen people. But within traditional Jewish religion there is already a claim that as people improve (and repent) they will have God's law "written on their hearts." And that is older in Judaism than the notion of punishment and reward in an afterlife, basically a Persian introduction.

Why would we need an enforcer God? Because powerful people do stuff to others (like threaten them if they talk about an affair to the press) because they can. Because impunity. If the community agrees that such people "deserve punishment" (like Harvey Weinstein being shunned) whether in the afterlife or not, then such a God is being embodied. And is that something we need? You tell me.

More interesting to me is the question why we need a forgiving, loving God. It gets a lot of attention among Progressive Christians (and Jews), but I don't sense much awareness among the skeptical community. Maybe they have another word to suggest for what is being embodied if the community agrees that forgiveness, love and reconciliation are more effective than punishment and shunning?

DWill wrote:
Right off the bat, the proposition would need to specify that God is something like the Abrahamic God. Then you'd have a satisfying challenge set out for the debaters.

If somebody says to me that God is universal consciousness, I say ok, sure, I guess that makes sense. There is nothing I can see to argue about or make a fuss over.

But fundamentalists and anti-theists have succeeded in defining an Abrahamic God as primarily jealous and punitive, with little understanding of the full range of relationship expressed even in the OT writings. I wonder how many who are fond of quoting the talking points against the Abrahamic God have any concept of the love and mercy expressed there. Check out the book of Jonah, sometime, or the book of Ruth. Check out the story of Joseph, who forgave the brothers who had sold him into slavery (as a "humane" alternative to killing him) and earned the title "tzaddik" (just or righteous one) in the Talmudic commentaries.

Do they understand that the same God who, it's claimed, brings punishing destruction on Israel and on the other kingdoms of the area, is also claimed by the same prophets to have in mind a new covenant, in which the law will be written on their hearts? To have in mind the dry bones of the decimated people being brought back to life by the spirit of God? To call for justice and mercy in a land where the poor can be bought and sold for a pair of shoes? (Much like the world of today.)

Universal consciousness is all very well. The Oversoul is better, because it has more content. But it is a real disappointment that the best IntelligenceSquared could come up with is New Age vapor. There are people out there, like Walter Brueggeman and Rob Bell, who could help people understand how much is at stake and get past all the clichés. This was not an example of Intelligence, much less Squared.



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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
Harry Marks wrote:
the more we "evolve" (culturally) the more we embody God.
Yes, another way to express this is that God is the order of the cosmos that becomes conscious in the human brain.
Harry Marks wrote:
why we need a forgiving, loving God… gets a lot of attention among Progressive Christians (and Jews), but I don't sense much awareness among the skeptical community. Maybe they have another word to suggest for what is being embodied if the community agrees that forgiveness, love and reconciliation are more effective than punishment and shunning?
This is the key evolutionary adaptation of the Sermon on the Mount, that divinity operates on the morality of forgiveness not revenge. The evolutionary point is that humans come to embody God as we live by mind rather than instinct. And yet in this fallen world instinct remains an immensely powerful driver of popular myth. The story of Jesus Christ is about overcoming the intuitive instincts in the Mosaic Law that equate justice with revenge, aiming instead for a consequentialist ethic where the results of our action are the key criterion of moral validity. Instead of the feeling of satisfaction and recompense from the ethic of ‘eye for an eye’, the focus of the Gospel ethic of forgiveness for repentance is what sort of shared world we are creating as the result of our responses.
Harry Marks wrote:
Universal consciousness is all very well. The Oversoul is better, because it has more content. But it is a real disappointment that the best IntelligenceSquared could come up with is New Age vapor. There are people out there, like Walter Brueggeman and Rob Bell, who could help people understand how much is at stake and get past all the clichés. This was not an example of Intelligence, much less Squared.
Yes, it is worth a look at the Wikipedia pages for Brueggemann https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Brueggemann and Bell https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rob_Bell to find a more engaged perspective than some of the new age writers display.


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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
Robert and Harry, can you outline where you would have taken the question had you been on the panel? I'm thinking you'd be a bit more clear on the God part than was the against side. How might you have weakened or qualified the argument of the for side?



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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
I am going to try to answer, for my part, in two parts. Rather than be clear on what "God" means, I will try to account for the disconnect between the conviction of Chopra and Kumar and their difficulties being persuasive. In a separate post, I will try to make some suggestions for how Shermer and Berlin might have been more faithful to the real issues at stake.

First, Chopra and his buddy are working with a kind of disadvantage, but they are not doing as well as they could to overcome that disadvantage. The disadvantage is that "the ground of Being" or "Being itself" both has some influence as a "phenomenon" and is quite literally undefinable. Looking at the same idea from another perspective, the practice which they represent is definitely better for both personal and moral existence, but no representation of it in concepts will, by itself, achieve those improvements. As a result it is easy to end up with what the other side called "a circular argument".

The disconnect comes because the practice, which is to distance oneself from "attachment" or emotional reaction to events and experiences, normally makes use of a particular conceptualization of what is going on. This may not be the only conceptualization that can work, but it is the one that has been established in practice. The conceptualization is that we "watch" our "thoughts". The practice then asks us to release itself from the "grip" of these thoughts, by observing it including the observation of it. In the traditional conceptualization, there is some more fundamental consciousness doing the observing. The process of thoughts running through our awareness is not the lowest stratum of consciousness. We literally cannot observe the lowest stratum because the process being observed requires some more fundamental process to be doing the observation.

Now, that all sounds pretty imaginary, pretty "constructed" out of interpretations, but it turns out it is an account that arose out of direct practice. As the yogis learned to calm the mind simply by observing thought, they experienced "unattributable" experience, including the oneness of everything. As far as I know that is not universal to everyone who sets out on the path, nor is it confined to India's cultures. But the unattributability is a kind of directly observable aspect of the experience: no external process gives rise to this (fairly replicable) experience. So interpretations of what is going on with it tend to take on the status of "truth" - that is, of replicable, observable aspects of reality. Our neuroscientific panelist notes that we can duplicate the experience (or at least some of the most salient signs of it) by stimulating particular parts of the brain. As a result, interpretations arguing that consciousness is "prior to" the brain and exists outside the brain tend to be discounted by secularists. Chopra and his colleague are still invested in the "external consciousness" interpretation, but I would argue they are so invested because of experience including benefits, not because of the sorts of arguments that scientific interpretations depend on.

It may be that we will construct a better account of this "unattributable" experience and why it arises from the extended experience of observing one's own thought process. If so, it will still involve some account of the lowest stratum of consciousness, the process of Being which is not subject to any objective characterization, and why making a practice of experiencing this tends to give rise to certain kinds of unattributable experiences.

But in the meantime, it is difficult to get around the fact that one of the experiences it gives rise to is moral transcendence. Not only do people "perceive" that there are fundamental unities which assert themselves despite the useful distinctions we have spent so much time mastering, but the result is a greater ability to empathize with others and respond to their needs. A kind of sorting of priorities takes place at the level of perceptions, without ever having engaged with the reasons for priorities or the perceptions.

Western interpretations tend to see this as a result of us seeing that no one "deserves" the marvel that is life in consciousness, that when we have finished prying loose all of those attachments we thought defined the purpose of life, the result is a stratum of joy so profound that we no longer see any need to be better, to live longer, to attract more mating opportunities, to be affirmed by more other people, to have more toys or more orgasms or more interesting foods. Those things are all fine, but we can get as much added pleasure by seeing someone else move from frustration to achievement as we can by our selves doing it. To experience that directly is to experience the universality of consciousness.

In many ways this is becoming the goal of literature, to the extent that it perceives itself as a single social process with goals and means. To access this transcendent joy, and demonstrate that empathetic experience opens the access to it, is something that music, art and literature have special abilities for. If we think about it, we can see this as their meaning even way back in their prehistoric origins - to deliver transcendence to particular aspects of life, so that we begin to feel the preciousness of life itself, and the meaning of that value in comparison to the shallow and transient goals that motivate us in more partial social processes of competing for status.

The Consciousness side of the debate failed by being caught up in the metaphysics of their understanding. They are not able, of course, to take people through a two or three year course of meditation to actually experience the transcendence that they are familiar with (and which does, sometimes, heal people). They should have argued that "we need the experience of empathy, and the communal process of cultivating it, even more than we did before science, and transcendent awareness is the way to reach that." Instead they ended up in pointless assertions about the primacy of consciousness itself, with no sense of how to link that to other people's ways of thinking about life. It doesn't really matter to them. The sociology of the New Age movement has always been a matter of recruiting those who are seeking, rather than offering everyone an account of life that will motivate them to take up the practice. I suspect that is because only upper castes could afford the leisure when the basics of this social process were being put together in India, but that's another story. My point is that their goals as well as their argumentation were at complete cross purposes to the debate structure and the other side's conceptualization of what was at issue.



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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
DWill wrote:
How might you have weakened or qualified the argument of the for side?

Of course my ideal would be that they would sort their arguments according to which conception of God they were refuting the need for. Instead they treat all conceptions of God as the same, which makes as much sense as treating all of Islam as a single social movement, with the same motivations and the same understandings all the way through.

But that is not to be. Those on the outside of religion usually have in mind a version they are rejecting, and any other version, I can tell you from long experience, is treated as not legitimate, as some kind of one-off invention for debating purposes. So fine. They would not go about it the way I consider ideal. What else might they do?

The initial argument actually started with a very useful distinction, between God-as-explanation, which she called the God of the Gaps (for good reason, if you ask me) and the God in religious practice, which brings morality, comfort, a sense of belonging, and meaning. Her basic argument was that we can do without that second God, which means we don't "need" God by the typical definition of need. An honest approach. But it is not the same as whether God-in-practice makes things better than doing without. (A need case is stronger than a comparative advantage case, in debate terminology, but the second is usually easier to defend).

So a second good sorting would be between positive aspects of God-in-practice that are linked to the negative aspects, like tribalist rivalries, and other positive aspects that are "clean". Some would argue that to have a sense of community you have to build on tribalism, and that it is difficult in that context to avoid conflict, scapegoating and other negative social processes. But I would argue that as humanity "evolves" socially, we get better at having community without rivalry. And thus God-in-practice gets more helpful.

Another nasty side effect of religion, of all meaning structures, actually, is that they indicate those whom we should condemn and thus create candidates for scapegoats for the tensions and frustrations of the tribe. Do we get better at having meaning structures which function without "enemies"? I think so. Shermer tried to formulate that sort of thing, with some rather flabby talk about incentives for cooperation (he does not apparently believe that cooperation is meaningful in itself as a value).

In progressive religion this meaning-without-enemies goes by the name of "reconciliation" (and is functionally equivalent to atonement). Our skills for it are getting much better, over the decades, to the point where it has become a practical process for dealing with family violence and for reforming youthful offenders. The essential process of reconciliation is to bring an "offender" to the point of repentance by compelling them to engage with the victim, or the victims family if they have killed someone. This, I would argue, is a process of engaging with God. Without the God who is in our ability to meet each other as fully equal rather than as a thing to be used for our (other) purposes, reconciliation does not happen. So once again when there is a link between good-God and bad-God effects, our cultural evolution has led us to get better at the good-God processes and to be better at separating them from the bad-God processes.

A similar sort of thing happens with "clean" positive aspects, such as meaning and comfort, or meaning and morality. We get better at conceptualizing these processes and so we learn to be comforted without denial of reality, and to be moral without claiming it is due to force majeure.

It may be true that we build up skills that can be used without reference to the transcendent or the absolute, but Christian philosophers believe that the transcendent and the absolute are incorporated directly into the structure of these advanced skills.

To give a simple example, it was inevitable that countries with democracy as a core value, such as England and the U.S., would reject slavery. Why? Because the basis for choosing democracy is justice, and thus the system incorporates a rejection of injustice into all of the rationales for how it chooses to do things. It creates the equivalent of "cognitive dissonance" within an individual, when the system tries to behave according to principles of justice while at the same time building a rational infrastructure for dealing with slavery.

In a similar way, the God-who-persuades (as opposed to the God-who-compels) becomes a part of the very advancements that the No Need team cited. Thus they do not make us less needful of the God-who-persuades, but they do make us better incarnation of the God-who-persuades.



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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
To comment on this debate, I will respond to the summaries posted at https://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/d ... e-need-god
For The Motion wrote:

Humans no longer need God to explain the unknown.
This statement already defines the terms of engagement in a way that ignores the actual function of God in the world, engaging only with an obsolete fundamentalist magical unscientific theory which is obviously false.

If we want to engage with a truly meaningful concept of God, it is essential that we engage with a rational critique of supernatural folk traditions that have been superseded by scientific knowledge. That means defining God in ways such as the real hidden anthropic order of the cosmos, and the set of enabling conditions for human flourishing. These definitions do not seek to explain the unknown in the manner of traditional religion, but rather look at how culture connects to nature.
For The Motion wrote:

Rather than turning to faith or religious tradition, modern society should rely on scientific and reasoned inquiry to address today’s challenges and questions.
Science and religion answer different questions. Religion addresses the ethical and cultural values for living, while science finds facts about reality. The secular idea that we can just jettison the great heritage of religious thought is dangerously hooligan.
For The Motion wrote:
Morality is independent of God. From the oppression of women and LGBT people to the institution of slavery and genocide, religious groups have used faith to justify society’s worst practices.
The morality presented by Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount was well ahead of his time, hence the crucifixion story. The fact that his followers have not caught up with the ethics of JC only illustrates Gandhi’s wry comment that Western Civilization would be a very good idea. “The meek shall inherit the earth” is the opening gambit from Jesus in Matthew’s account of his views, and is not exactly genocidal in intent.
For The Motion wrote:
Belief in God stifles modernization: Studies show that intensely religious countries are less innovative and produce less patents than those that aren’t. It is science, rather, that has been at the heart of innovation and discovery.
Yes, that is a good criticism of supernatural faith. But the implicit idea that somehow innovative science can produce workable community ritual and local identity is ridiculous. Religion is good at ritual and ceremony, as Confucius noted.

Imagining that science produces a sufficient moral framework is a recipe for serious psychological problems. Even science has its myths, such as the one displayed here that somehow religion will become obsolete. Religion needs to be reformed to make it rational, not abandoned.
Against The Motion wrote:

Against The Motion
According to NASA, only 4 percent of the universe is known matter; the rest remains largely a mystery. Science alone cannot illuminate or explain this large gap.
Now this is just more dumb Deepakism. We are not going to miraculously find God in dark matter or black holes, but here on earth.
Against The Motion wrote:
Scientific progress requires God. The creators of today’s most powerful innovations – from nuclear arms to gene editing technologies – require an awareness of consciousness, and must be guided by a belief in a common good to ensure these technologies don’t destroy society as a whole.
Now they are getting somewhere, with this important concept of “belief in a common good.” This concept opens up metaphysical ideas like truth, love, grace and forgiveness which require a dialogue between science and religion to explain.

The inherent conservatism of religion is a useful restraint on rapid social change, requiring that scientists are accountable to the society.
Against The Motion wrote:
The secularization thesis is a myth: A new study by Pew Research Center shows that the world’s Christian and Muslim populations are continuing to grow – even if younger generations don’t attend church.
I think that critique of secularisation is true. The problem here is that secularisation brings with it a series of myths, making flexible individualist urban life normative in ways that are rejected by traditional communities.

People need a sense of the transcendent, of connection to an ultimate truth, which rational science for all its merits cannot provide. Rejecting the transcendent leads to what the Bible quite usefully criticises as idolatry, an implicit worship of material possessions, that is utterly destructive of relational identity.


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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
Quote:
Proposition: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God

The question seems to be searching for a one-size-fits-all solution, which is impossible since belief (or lack of belief) is a worldview. Those who feel the presence of “God” in their lives are feeling an emotion that is itself very real, but they confuse such subjective emotions with objective reality. Belief itself is always subjective and we get in trouble when one group wants to impose their subjective beliefs on others. This is all true regardless of whether God is real or imaginary, a question that cannot be answered.

I can’t help but think a debate like this would have been a good opportunity to talk about the nature of belief or perhaps the usefulness of belief, as William James said. He said that beliefs are true that “prove useful” to the believer, though this obviously only goes so far. According to James' "pragmatic" philosophy, truth is verifiable to the extent that thoughts and statements correspond with actual things, as well as the extent to which they "hang together," or cohere, as pieces of a puzzle might fit together; these are in turn verified by the observed results of the application of an idea to actual practice.

In years past, when we had more uniformity of belief as Christians, belief was more true in terms of James' pragmatism. Belief in God was justifiable even if that God couldn't be supported by facts and evidence.

Doing α helps to bring about β, and
It is morally desirable that β. So,
It is prima facie morally desirable to do α.

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/prag ... elief-god/

But in the post-Christian world, and since "God" is a constantly moving target, you're going to have problems trying to achieve that coherence that worked in the past. Here's a brief exchange from the Oprah Winfrey show, in which a few panelists try to define "God".

Quote:
Oprah: What is your definition of God?

Wayne Dyer: God is the highest place within each and every one of us. It’s our divine self.

Michael Singer: The source of you.

Debbie Ford: I define God as an energy. A spiritual energy. It has no denomination, it has no judgment, it has an energy that when we’re connected to it we know why we’re here and what we’re here to do.

DeVon Franklin: My definition of God: God is not only the alpha, the omega, he is friend, he’s a confidant, he is a buddy. He is a lover of my soul. That’s my definition of God.

Marianne Williamson: An all-encompassing love that is the source of all, the reality of all, and the being through which I am.

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/ ... 25423.html

Harry brought up the idea that the more we evolve the more we embody God, but he’s speaking from a progressive Christian’s standpoint. A conservative Christian would say the world is moving away from Christianity, which is why so many of them voted for Trump, hoping he would bring back the good ol’ days.

When you get through sorting out all the differences between the two, a conservative Christian is simply a conservative and a progressive Christian is a progressive. In this context, the word “Christian” is almost as useless as the word “God” in terms of its vagueness and what it actually means.

Belief in “God” and/or participation in religion can help us think about morality as a higher purpose and also to be able communicate basic tenets, such as Thou Shalt Not Kill, to each other and we can have a sense of communion through our shared beliefs. It is obvious that many people do think about God in this way.

In that respect religion is probably not very different from literature and drama, which let’s us see different perspectives and dramatize morally ambiguous situations to help us think about our moral bearing as human beings. But in the modern world, facts and evidence play a much larger role in our lives, and subjective belief has necessarily become a mode of personal inspiration only. In a modern diverse state, the old God is an anachronism. With so many different conceptions of “God” there can be no one-size-fits-all solution. One person may derive great spiritual comfort and inspiration from his/her “God” and another may find equal comfort from the arts or from nature or from being with loved ones. And still another will use his/her “God” to rationalize hatred towards gays or Jews or atheists.

I have no doubt that belief in a god or gods served a useful purpose for much of human history, especially in terms of social cohesion, but which of these gods lives today in the modern political state? Far from being something that holds us together, religion has become something that pulls us apart. If there is a one-size-fits-all solution it would have to encompass, besides “do unto others” an attitude of "live and let live" and “to each his own.”


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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
geo wrote:
Those who feel the presence of “God” in their lives are feeling an emotion that is itself very real, but they confuse such subjective emotions with objective reality.
Well, the two are intermingled. One process is a sort of oversimplified "theory": there's an earthquake, so the underground god must be angry. Or, I feel inner peace, so some supernatural source must have sent it because I prayed. The other is an actual interaction of emotions with accurate perceptions: I care about following a consistent, harmonious set of principles, I follow practices which represent and cultivate that, so I feel good about it. The interpretation I put on it may be oversimplified, but the emotional confirmation is not specious correlation, or not mainly specious correlation.

geo wrote:
Belief itself is always subjective and we get in trouble when one group wants to impose their subjective beliefs on others.
While I thoroughly agree with this, I also consider it an oversimplification. Educated elites tend not to see their judgment and social sanctions as "imposition" (and certainly it is far less problematic than burning at the stake) that doesn't mean the believer fails to notice it.

It also doesn't remove the difficulties of drawing the lines on what is imposition of a belief. Ross Douthat has a nice commentary on "extremists" about abortion.
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/07/opin ... mists.html
He cites a woman aborting a second-trimester fetus because, as a Down Syndrome child, "it wasn't the child I wanted." If that isn't enough to register, consider the millions of fetuses who have been aborted because they weren't male, or for that matter the millions of daughters already born who were "rolled over on" by parents because they weren't male. Calling the wrongness of those actions a "belief" doesn't excuse us from making the call.

geo wrote:
This is all true regardless of whether God is real or imaginary, a question that cannot be answered.
By which you mean cannot be answered objectively.

geo wrote:
I can’t help but think a debate like this would have been a good opportunity to talk about the nature of belief or perhaps the usefulness of belief, as William James said. He said that beliefs are true that “prove useful” to the believer, though this obviously only goes so far. According to James' "pragmatic" philosophy, truth is verifiable to the extent that thoughts and statements correspond with actual things, as well as the extent to which they "hang together," or cohere, as pieces of a puzzle might fit together; these are in turn verified by the observed results of the application of an idea to actual practice.
I think that is a good formulation of the matter, but as you said it only goes so far. Belief that bullets will not strike soldiers who have rubbed a magical potion on themselves is "useful" to someone, and might even win the war, but it is a confusion of language to say the belief is "true."

One problem with evangelical faith these days is the failure of coherence involved. The emphasis on the supernatural in narrating meaning leads churches to encourage the sort of messages that amount to "I prayed for a parking spot and it opened." As people get more and more invested in the confirmation bias, they leave themselves more and more open to being blind-sided by real tragedies, most of which will not go away with prayer. And as the ones remaining behind are selected for not having had tragedies befall them, the sociology of "I must be living right" becomes seriously problematic.

It is the job of leaders to steer away from the shoals of such incoherence. But 1500 years of accommodating the powerful has removed much of Christianity's ability to do that.

geo wrote:
But in the post-Christian world, and since "God" is a constantly moving target, you're going to have problems trying to achieve that coherence that worked in the past.
The coherence that has been achieved by modern theology comes at the expense of simplicity. And so the groups who required a simple story (even though it is far from simple or standardized to implement) resisted that coherence. Unfortunately the decision as to whether to go along with modernism was also mixed up with some poisonous political structures such as racism and misogyny.

Quote:
Oprah: What is your definition of God?
At the risk of being tedious, there is no conflict between the various definitions given by Oprah's panelists. The various different emphases are not so different from the differences found between the versions promoted by visionaries dealing with supernatural conceptions, such as between Calvinism's stern and judgmental God and St. Francis's humble and caring God.

geo wrote:
When you get through sorting out all the differences between the two, a conservative Christian is simply a conservative and a progressive Christian is a progressive. In this context, the word “Christian” is almost as useless as the word “God” in terms of its vagueness and what it actually means.
Wait a minute. Is "progressive" free from this vagueness of which you speak? Is "conservative"? (Tell me, do conservatives believe in free trade? How about fiscal responsibility?) This uselessness is an artifact: the term remains useful to those more interested in what it does convey than in its convenience for being sharply defined.

geo wrote:
Belief in “God” and/or participation in religion can help us think about morality as a higher purpose and also to be able communicate basic tenets, such as Thou Shalt Not Kill, to each other and we can have a sense of communion through our shared beliefs. It is obvious that many people do think about God in this way.
Okay, now substitute "Trust in 'God'" for "Belief in 'God'" (first line) and "our shared values" for "our shared beliefs" (next to last line) and you have a working understanding of religion.

geo wrote:
In that respect religion is probably not very different from literature and drama, which let’s us see different perspectives and dramatize morally ambiguous situations to help us think about our moral bearing as human beings.
The overlap is striking to many of us. Once you get that mythology is essentially defined by the fact that it makes no difference whether it is fictional (it's representation of meaning is all that really matters - the Prodigal Son or the Unforgiving Servant convey truth about values every bit as well as a factual, newspaper account), then literature and drama become part of humanity's spiritual quest. It may be distressing to think of "Ghoulies" as a part of society's spiritual quest, but then, it is distressing to think of snake handlers and Westboro Baptist as part of Christianity, for us Christians.

geo wrote:
But in the modern world, facts and evidence play a much larger role in our lives, and subjective belief has necessarily become a mode of personal inspiration only. In a modern diverse state, the old God is an anachronism.

Evidently to some the anachronistic nature is part of the appeal. To lots of others, it is irrelevant. My urging would be to be patient with these, point out problems if you like but avoid the arrogance of mocking and treating as inferior. We all have our stuff, and there is strong evidence that the urge to mock and feel superior has much more to do with inner problems than with the rightness or wrongness of our judgment.

geo wrote:
And still another will use his/her “God” to rationalize hatred towards gays or Jews or atheists.
And if we want to convince those who ostensibly believe in love and mercy and forgiveness to give up their hatreds, it would probably be a good idea not to start by making them some kind of scapegoat.

geo wrote:
Far from being something that holds us together, religion has become something that pulls us apart.
Unlike, say, the sixteenth century in Europe, or the Muslim conquest of Spain, or the Hindu/Buddhist tensions in Sri Lanka. As humanity advances (evolves?) it becomes easier to set aside the divisive aspects and focus on the common values promoted. Though I would argue that some basic economic fundamentals make a huge difference in how much people chose to be divisive about religion, politics or anything else.

geo wrote:
If there is a one-size-fits-all solution it would have to encompass, besides “do unto others” an attitude of "live and let live" and “to each his own.”
For me, "live and let live" is part of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." I realize there are people out there who believe it is more important to impose some sort of soul-saving ideology, but if we truly believe in persuasion, not imposition, then we should be willing to engage in dialogue with those people.



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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
geo wrote:
I can't help but think they first need to debate what does "God" actually mean. Because God means something different to everyone. Deepak for example probably thinks God is an universal "consciousness" while fundamentalists think he's a jealous, vindictive deity, so very much like humans.

Yes, I saw about the last half of the debate and think it would have been more instructive if Deepak had been paired with a prominent conservative Christian - perhaps Franklin Graham or Pat Robertson – who denounced Deepak’s beliefs from the podium as Satanic. That would have exposed deep fault lines on that side of the aisle.
Harry Marks wrote:
But fundamentalists and anti-theists have succeeded in defining an Abrahamic God as primarily jealous and punitive, with little understanding of the full range of relationship expressed even in the OT writings. I wonder how many who are fond of quoting the talking points against the Abrahamic God have any concept of the love and mercy expressed there.

I see statements like that from several posters on BookTalk, but I don’t think they’re valid. Sorry if I’m a broken record, but when considering the near extinction event known as Noah’s Ark plus future genocides promised in the book of Revelations and elsewhere, I cannot fathom how one calls this Triune Deity (Yahweh / Jesus / Holy Ghost) loving or merciful.
Quote:
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
Matthew 25: 40 – 43


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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
LanDroid wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
But fundamentalists and anti-theists have succeeded in defining an Abrahamic God as primarily jealous and punitive, with little understanding of the full range of relationship expressed even in the OT writings. I wonder how many who are fond of quoting the talking points against the Abrahamic God have any concept of the love and mercy expressed there.

I see statements like that from several posters on BookTalk, but I don’t think they’re valid. Sorry if I’m a broken record, but when considering the near extinction event known as Noah’s Ark plus future genocides promised in the book of Revelations and elsewhere, I cannot fathom how one calls this Triune Deity (Yahweh / Jesus / Holy Ghost) loving or merciful.

Well, that's because you buy into an interpretation that says all the Biblical representations must be considered literally true. The authoritarian version of Christianity (which was most of official Christianity before around 1800) promoted an approach to the religion which downplayed the metaphorical and poetical approach to much of what is said about God, even though it is unmissably obvious once you see it.

To the ancients, it was incontrovertible that terrible things happen: floods, droughts, volcanic eruptions, and common to attribute them to angry supernatural beings. So the message we should be attending to is what those beings got angry about. Yahweh notably gets angry about human violence and injustice. I can't think of a single story in Greek and Roman mythology, or Norse mythology, in which injustice features as something for the gods to care about.

Sure, taken at face value the story of Noah's ark is a story about punishing violence. But the editors were careful to make it punishment for violent wickedness. The Jews were cultivating a new thing on earth: a society in which the voice representing the powerless, the marginalized, and the decent was a voice expressing the priorities of the ultimate power. Normally we honor that kind of innovation.

Recent scholarship has observed that the devastation promised in Revelation echoes almost exactly some of the prophecies in the Old Testament, calling for horrible decimation of the enemies of Israel. People knew, at the time they were written down, that they were vastly exaggerated expressions of anger and vengefulness, so it is reasonable to suppose that the audience for Revelation knew the same thing. I'm not saying genocide is all in good fun, but I am saying that in an era when the Romans crucified people by the tens of thousands, that kind of trash talk was pretty much normal.

Now, if you think every word ever put into the literary mouth of a character (let's say Queen Elizabeth I of England, or Mark Antony of Rome) defines that person's actual character, then sure - Yahweh is a bully and a thug. That's the implication of the fundamentalist line. But if you compare the words and behavior of Yahweh in the OT to the words and behavior of other similar characters (i.e. deities) at the time, he comes off pretty well. Not only caring about the poor and the powerless, but expressing himself with tenderhearted sentiments you would never hear from All-Wise Odin or Apollo the just.

And when you get to the New Testament? No, sorry, no indictment holds up. The God of the New Testament is all about caring and persuasion.

Quote:
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
Matthew 25: 40 – 43

But note that, unlike the Medieval church, the Jews of the time did not believe in eternal torment. Being burned up in the fire that torments demons was a simple end to things. There is a story about the rich man and Lazarus which portrays continuing torment, but that appears to be a device so he can plea for a warning to his brothers about the consequences of heartlessness.

What believers of the time would have heard from both those stories (depart from me, and the rich man and Lazarus) is who was being punished: the uncaring, the callous, the heartless, the powerful. Now, that may be reason enough for people with academic tenure to be upset with Yahweh, but to argue that punishing heartlessness is heartless is a bit of a stretch.



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