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Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18 
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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
Harry Marks wrote:
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.


We had a good discussion a while back on the function of myth, and I tried to draw a distinction between metaphoric truth and literal truth. Science, for the most part, gives us literal truth—say, how far the moon is from earth, the albedo of a star, etc.—based on measurements and observations. . . . Language is imprecise and cannot always be relied on to communicate nuances of thought and feeling, thus we use stories, allegories, and metaphors to clarify and illustrate such complexities that sometimes are difficult to explain in concrete terms. We even use metaphors to illustrate complex scientific ideas.

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Humans experience the world with emotions and we don’t always know why something feels good. I agree that religious belief does resonate with many people and helps them achieve that emotional confirmation you mention and helps them to frame their existence in a kind of higher purpose. I think this is what William James talks about in his “Will To Believe” lectures.

If you see the story of Noah's ark as a fable or allegory, showing how man's hubris can lead to his own downfall, it serves as metaphoric truth. Indeed, it's a very relevant story in that sense. Such myths and stories are great glimpses into the past, depicting man's relationship with his gods and all the pathos and drama of human existence.

But as LanDroid said, unfortunately, quite a lot of people believe that the Bible is the "inerrant" word of God. They have turned what could be metaphoric truth into dogma. They believe that the Great Flood really happened and that God was willing to wipe out every living form of life on earth and that Noah kept two of every kind of animal on board, etc. They try to justify, for example, why God asked Abraham to kill his son, as if it really happened.

LanDroid wrote:
. . . 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.

And because the word “Christian” encompasses everything from the New Age spirituality to Pat Robertson type dogma, the word doesn't mean anything. On the Pat Robertson side, religion is authoritarian and right-wing political. I recall Stahrwe once making the argument that Catholicism isn't really Christian. And there we have it.


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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
Just looking at this discussion again. We moved houses, and I didn't have internet for a week or so, which was fine, but I have to say it's pretty great to be able to communicate in-depth with very thoughtful people--although I'll never meet any of you (in the old sense).

The debate was not well-conceived. I could sense that even the participants seemed antsy and had trouble focusing their thoughts on the topic. Harry again hits it on the head when he says that by defining God as external consciousness, the against side created a "so what?" that killed them right there. And he's right that "need" was never defined. The for side's position that we can get along without God wasn't probed by the opponents. Might we be missing something essential if our answer is to kick spirituality out of the picture? That was an opportunity lost.

I'm even a little cranky about the assumption of our moral evolution. I wouldn't have minded a good conservative take on how far we've come as a species. Who is meant by this morally advanced "we?" Are we so sure that we might not have become less advanced on some dimension? What time sample are we using to prove that we've permanently evolved, 100 years? 200? In the scope of history, that's not so long and there have been plenty of reversals in civilizations who thought they had become too good to fail.
Harry Marks wrote:
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.

Yes, we do need an enforcer. Since the time of Hammurabi, the law has slowly taken the place of the enforcer god, at least temporally. I think it's the idea of the enforcer God that is particularly dissonant for today's secularists and the liberal religious wing. It's why Pat Robertson sounds so incredibly out of it when he says God made the ground quake in a state with liberal abortion laws.
Harry Marks wrote:
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?

The skeptical community doesn't seem to employ a language with which to talk about the non-quantifiables you list. My feeling is that we skeptics often assume that not much needs to be said about love, forgiveness, reconciliation, perhaps because if religion would just get out of the way, our moral auto-pilot would take us where we need to get to. Your perspective on the subject would have come in handy in the debate.
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. 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.

That's an interesting alliance between fundamentalists and anti-theists. I was saying that, just for clarity of purpose, the "God" in the proposition should have been a director God, since this is how God is still generally understood. But certainly you're correct that many of us, being somewhat put off by the Bible, have a superficial knowledge and appreciation of it. We used to have a young-earth guy posting here who tried to get us to join him in a complete reading of the Bible. He had no takers, because it would have been just too contentious. Your approach to the book looks more promising.
Robert Tulip wrote:
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.

I like that. Harry has said, though, that the OT isn't quite so concentrated on revenge, though the vengefulness of God gets the most play with readers unsympathetic to the Bible. If you add the focus on justice that is probably given more attention in the OT than the NT, the OT doesn't look so much like an atavistic relic needing to be superceded. Certainly the Jews would agree.
Harry Marks wrote:
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?

I've noticed a couple of times skeptics telling Christians that they're obligated to endorse everything in the Bible, because it is, after all, their own book. They're insisting the Christians be fundamentalist, although of course they don't like fundamentalists. I've always liked Robert Wrights's dictum that religions aren't what their leaders or scriptures say they are. We have to look "on the ground" to see the ways the religion is being lived, which from a point of view of strictness would often be judged inconsistent with what's on paper.
Harry Marks wrote:
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.

The transcendent or absolute could be part of the language needed to employ the skills. I'm not sure about this, but if I try to call to mind more technical terms used in sociology, psychology, and counseling, I get more of an impression of jargon and faddish usages. Of course, there is Christian counseling, which I know nothing about. One image people have of it is that the counselor would remind the counselee of what God has made clear. But I suspect there is more to it than that, and it could be that faith-type language and shared assumptions make the work more effective.
Harry Marks wrote:
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.

Interesting...I at first was surprised at the statement, given that in the U.S. slavery was going strong long past the time of its abolition in Europe, some of whose countries were democracies, but not all. If not for one man very determined to preserve the union, slavery might have existed in the South in 1900 (and long beyond?) Looking at the modern persistence of slavery in China and India (a democracy but caste-bound), your theory may have merit.
Robert Tulip wrote:
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.

That proposal does seem to be suitable for religious belief, since although it violates no scientific facts, it cannot be proven but must be maintained by faith. Your idea might be the best litmus test for pure atheism. A committed atheist would, I think, be at least agnostic about the universe having any a priori meaning.
Robert Tulip wrote:
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.

Yet wouldn't you have to agree that morality is independent of God? I don't think it works in this instance to say that God is not God but is rather an insight, so morality is dependent on this insight we have renamed God.
Robert Tulip wrote:
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.

I share your skepticism that getting religion out of the way will make everything all better by itself. The other part on the need for religion to be rational we've discussed before and had differing views. Maybe the problem is: what does rational mean? The word confers approval, so it's subject to value judgment. To make the word more neutral I'd define it as truth based on the evidence of our senses, including all the ways we have of extending the reach of our senses. Using that yardstick, a life that continues after our bodies die and an anthropic order of the cosmos aren't rational, but neither should we call them irrational. I'd go so far as to say a belief is not in the category of the rational at all; it always involves something that we may feel we know but cannot prove, such as that democracy is the best government to live under. There is also a large element of aspiration and inspiration here that is an essential part of religion. Without that element, conferred in large part by the very unrationality of key statements, religion doesn't exist.
geo wrote:
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.

Accepting pluralism of skin tones and culture is one thing. Accepting pluralism of metaphysics is another, more challenging one. If particular notions of God or what God does are allowed to be called subjective, then the fierce tribal pride of possessing the true knowledge is threatened. I think the direction that Harry, and I think Robert, indicate--that systems not be based in subjective, unprovable metaphysics, but in emotional and psychic needs that are truly universal--is the better way to go whether or not it actually holds up as religion.
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.

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.

That seems to me a more useful standard than using a notion of rationality, rationality tending to be itself a subjective notion!
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. 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 guess the comfort side is important; however, if we analogize literature with religion we won't emphasize comfort very much, but rather something different--maybe inspiration, maybe insight through empathy, but maybe even discomfort and unsettling of certain complacencies. With religion, too, the challenges and difficulties can be emphasized, and perhaps they even should be in order to avoid the harmful certitudes we often mention.



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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
DWill wrote:
by defining God as external consciousness, the against side created a "so what?" that killed them right there.
To no good purpose, either. Their only mode of confronting the proposition seemed to be to claim that consciousness is required for thinking, learning, etc. None of which strikes the average Westerner as being at all relevant to a discussion of God.

I have never read any of Chopra's stuff, but to me his pronouncements seem to suffer more from translation difficulties (he seems never to have gone to the trouble to understand how Western, objectivity-based discussion works, I suspect because his clientele want the feeling of escaping from it) than from vacuous "deepities".

DWill wrote:
The for side's position that we can get along without God wasn't probed by the opponents. Might we be missing something essential if our answer is to kick spirituality out of the picture? That was an opportunity lost.
And how. Much of American discussion of workplace styles, child-rearing, etc. revolves around a supposed dichotomy between emotion and reason, and seems completely uninformed about the spiritual, which is the meeting ground and marriage of the two.

DWill wrote:
I'm even a little cranky about the assumption of our moral evolution. I wouldn't have minded a good conservative take on how far we've come as a species. Who is meant by this morally advanced "we?" Are we so sure that we might not have become less advanced on some dimension?
Interesting. I come down on the side of moral evolution, but you are right to question that. We have gained in our ability to view things dispassionately, and certainly have improved technically. I don't just mean the technical side of material life, though that does matter. We now routinely raise children without corporal punishment, for example.

But the kinds of problems Robert points out also matter. Our lives are more disconnected and anonymous. Family life centers around options and activities, but builds in less time for intergenerational nurturance (though possibly more time per child, which matters). We have rising rates of anxiety disorders and other mental illness among college students, as the pace of economic competition has increased the stress of trying to achieve. The "thick" interactions that David Brooks lamented may be declining.

DWill wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
If the community agrees that such people "deserve punishment" (like Harvey Weinstein being shunned) whether in the afterlife or not, then such a God (enforcer) is being embodied. And is that something we need? You tell me.

Yes, we do need an enforcer. Since the time of Hammurabi, the law has slowly taken the place of the enforcer god, at least temporally.
I tend to agree that some enforcement of the rules is important - by secular authorities. I don't just think the enforcer God is bad theology, I think enforcement as Ultimate Concern is socially corrosive. (Our Ultimate Concern, which organizes our other values, is our god.) Rather, punishment needs to be within a context of relationship and caring, even for the evildoer. The mass incarceration crisis of the 80s and 90s demonstrates the problem with "law enforcement" in an impersonal and even hostile framework.

DWill wrote:
I think it's the idea of the enforcer God that is particularly dissonant for today's secularists and the liberal religious wing. It's why Pat Robertson sounds so incredibly out of it when he says God made the ground quake in a state with liberal abortion laws.
Yes, the God of the Gaps makes a terribly arbitrary and unreliable enforcer.

DWill wrote:
My feeling is that we skeptics often assume that not much needs to be said about love, forgiveness, reconciliation, perhaps because if religion would just get out of the way, our moral auto-pilot would take us where we need to get to.
Ta-Nehisi Coates was a good antidote to such blithe optimism. A small gang decided, for reasons we are not told, to knock him down and stomp on his head. His father said, regarding a bully, "You fight him or you fight me." A considerable portion of society has been denied the social peace which allows "auto-pilot" to do a reasonably good job. And perhaps because we see it as someone else's problem, a considerable portion of society blames the victims and refuses to see the injustice creating such a divide. So I would question whether our moral auto-pilot is actually doing such a great job.
DWill 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 was saying that, just for clarity of purpose, the "God" in the proposition should have been a director God, since this is how God is still generally understood. But certainly you're correct that many of us, being somewhat put off by the Bible, have a superficial knowledge and appreciation of it.
I was once enamored of a girl raised as an atheist Jew. I was astonished how much she, though highly intelligent and precocious, was ignorant of religion. Of course I am the opposite extreme, having been saturated in religious talk from a young age and devoted considerable time in my adult years to furthering my acquaintance.

I would even go so far as to question whether "director God" is still how God is generally understood by the religious. Certainly there is a lot of traditional Biblical exegesis that fits in that category, yet the categories used by Oprah's panelists are much closer to what is understood by the clergy and preached from the pulpit, in a wide swath of Christianity and Judaism. The "Jesus as friend" theology is coming to dominate the "Jesus as good luck charm" theology among evangelicals. And people in the pews really do try to create an account of things in their head, even if most don't have the confidence to explain it to others. So they are hearing Jesus as friend and it resonates.
DWill wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
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.
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.

I like that. Harry has said, though, that the OT isn't quite so concentrated on revenge, though the vengefulness of God gets the most play with readers unsympathetic to the Bible. If you add the focus on justice that is probably given more attention in the OT than the NT, the OT doesn't look so much like an atavistic relic needing to be superceded. Certainly the Jews would agree.
Absolutely. By the time of Jesus, notions such as stoning adulterers, much less violators of the Sabbath or stiff-necked sons, were pretty much set aside in Jewish culture. I'm not too acquainted with the specifics, but I understand that Philo of Alexandria and Rabbi Gamaliel, to take a couple of prominent examples, taught a very enlightened version of Torah.

If there was much vengefulness left in rhetoric about God I would guess it concentrated on enemies such as the Romans or Antiochan Hellenes. John the Baptist, for example, who seems not to have been one to pull punches, seems to have talked about the problem people being "burned up like chaff" (or similar sentiments) rather than about vengeance.

DWill wrote:
I've always liked Robert Wrights's dictum that religions aren't what their leaders or scriptures say they are. We have to look "on the ground" to see the ways the religion is being lived, which from a point of view of strictness would often be judged inconsistent with what's on paper.

Good observations, although the relationship between practice and the "official doctrine" is an endlessly fascinating subject for me. The recent revelations about predatory priests really seem to have changed views about the whole question of the church's authority, with a consequent shift in how seriously to take "strictness." Many catholics seem to have been hanging on almost entirely for the sense of structure and clear boundaries, so it makes me wonder what is left for them.

DWill wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
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.

The transcendent or absolute could be part of the language needed to employ the skills. I'm not sure about this, but if I try to call to mind more technical terms used in sociology, psychology, and counseling, I get more of an impression of jargon and faddish usages. Of course, there is Christian counseling, which I know nothing about. One image people have of it is that the counselor would remind the counselee of what God has made clear. But I suspect there is more to it than that, and it could be that faith-type language and shared assumptions make the work more effective.
Well, I do have the impression that faith language plays a role. I know a few Christian counselors, though none who define their practice that way. They still seem to work mainly with conceptual structures from psychology, but the orientation would be different in treating judgments about extramarital affairs, for example, as a given - something to ask forgiveness for, not just to be managed in a "well-adjusted" way. Not sure, really. Now I am curious to ask them about what difference it makes.
DWill wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
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,

Interesting...I at first was surprised at the statement, given that in the U.S. slavery was going strong long past the time of its abolition in Europe, some of whose countries were democracies, but not all. If not for one man very determined to preserve the union, slavery might have existed in the South in 1900 (and long beyond?) Looking at the modern persistence of slavery in China and India (a democracy but caste-bound), your theory may have merit.
You raise a good question, since the South managed to preserve a system of racial oppression right through to the 60s despite democratic language and governmental structures. I take that as a measure of how powerful tribalism is, and how ingrained was the conceptual apparatus to maintain the privilege of the rich despite democracy within the white communities. But I may simply be overestimating the power of cognitive dissonance to goad people into holding each other accountable.

DWill wrote:
Yet wouldn't you have to agree that morality is independent of God? I don't think it works in this instance to say that God is not God but is rather an insight, so morality is dependent on this insight we have renamed God.
I don't have any trouble saying that morality embodies the spirit that is God. But that has worked in times and places with little reference to a deity, e.g. China for millennia, and so I am doing more to explain to myself what is valuable in the tradition than to express a need for explicit acknowledgement of God.
Robert Tulip wrote:
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.
Ritual and ceremony are ways of representing to ourselves the solemnity of, e.g. marriage. There was a time it would have been natural to invoke hidden supernatural powers to be part of the representation (the spirits of ancestors, in the case of the Chinese) but there is nothing about the supernatural which is required for this to be effective and embody the sacred.

Lincoln claimed that the sacrifice of the soldiers at Gettysburg had "hallowed" the ground, and so it did. Note that he invokes transcendence (some values matter more than any amount of other, lesser values) and the absolute (if you are willing to risk your life for something, you are clearly not dabbling in it or trying it out to see if you like it.) Scientists can believe in such things, but not as a matter of scientifically confirmed fact.

DWill wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
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.

I share your skepticism that getting religion out of the way will make everything all better by itself. The other part on the need for religion to be rational we've discussed before and had differing views. Maybe the problem is: what does rational mean?

The effort to make our religious conceptualizations more coherent internally, and more consistent with what reason tells us, has been going on for a long time. India and Israel certainly dove deeply into that, and to some extent the Greeks and Chinese (though their philosophers moved away from the supernatural almost from the beginning). The thing to remember is that rationality is a means, not an end.

DWill wrote:
I'd go so far as to say a belief is not in the category of the rational at all; it always involves something that we may feel we know but cannot prove, such as that democracy is the best government to live under. There is also a large element of aspiration and inspiration here that is an essential part of religion. Without that element, conferred in large part by the very unrationality of key statements, religion doesn't exist.
I guess I see this. I am not entirely comfortable with "feel we know but cannot prove" as a criterion, but I certainly agree that is involved. For me it is fundamental to acknowledge that we are processing questions of value, as captured by "aspiration and inspiration," in your statements.

DWill wrote:
Accepting pluralism of metaphysics is another, more challenging one.
Yes and no. Our society allows people to live side by side with some believing in reincarnation, some in praying five times a day toward Mecca, and some believing both of those will go to Hell after they die. I suppose that is challenging, but we have more or less gotten the hang of it.

I think even most fundamentalists are aware at some level that their metaphysics is a way of communicating the solemnity of their values. When I was given reasons for disputing other faiths, growing up, it was not on the basis of revelation but of practice: Hindus use reincarnation to justify caste oppression, Muslims (and Mormons!) allow polygamy, etc. But also, Catholics worship statues (i.e. idols), and believe you can just do the sin knowing you can confess it and have it absolved. The metaphysics do enter into the arguments.

DWill wrote:
If particular notions of God or what God does are allowed to be called subjective, then the fierce tribal pride of possessing the true knowledge is threatened. I think the direction that Harry, and I think Robert, indicate--that systems not be based in subjective, unprovable metaphysics, but in emotional and psychic needs that are truly universal--is the better way to go whether or not it actually holds up as religion.
In that way, the larger cultural dialogue which is concerned with the same values questions can be engaged and brought into the discussion. The thing to do with those who don't accept the subjectivity of their metaphysics is to approach the question only indirectly, to the extent possible. There are cross-currents within a faith just as there are within a single individual's values, and one can generally appeal to the parts which already acknowledge common values. Most fundamentalists can manage a certain acceptance of subjectivity in their hermeneutic for interpreting scripture, for example, so they can be talked down from the kind of absolutism which is ready to kill you for their faith.

DWill wrote:
geo wrote:
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.

I guess the comfort side is important; however, if we analogize literature with religion we won't emphasize comfort very much, but rather something different--maybe inspiration, maybe insight through empathy, but maybe even discomfort and unsettling of certain complacencies. With religion, too, the challenges and difficulties can be emphasized, and perhaps they even should be in order to avoid the harmful certitudes we often mention.
This strikes me as a well-formulated response. From early times literature has sought comfort more through catharsis than through building solidarity, but it does tend to build the solidarity of shared values by invoking them and illustrating them. Nihilistic or completely incoherent worldviews don't tend to make for very interesting stories, although we have some modern examples such as "Game of Thrones" who probe our values from a very cynical perspective on the use of power.

Music has more of comfort in it, including the comfort of commonality. Art moves between the two poles: representation for purposes of examination; but also engagement of human commonality by evoking the wonder of life.



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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
Harry Marks wrote:
. . . From early times literature has sought comfort more through catharsis than through building solidarity, but it does tend to build the solidarity of shared values by invoking them and illustrating them. Nihilistic or completely incoherent worldviews don't tend to make for very interesting stories, although we have some modern examples such as "Game of Thrones" who probe our values from a very cynical perspective on the use of power.

Music has more of comfort in it, including the comfort of commonality. Art moves between the two poles: representation for purposes of examination; but also engagement of human commonality by evoking the wonder of life.

Literature, to me, is comforting in the sense that it is universal. It moves us and reflects our commonalities, shows that we all share the same fears and desires, no matter what skin color or nationality or sex or time period we are born in. So we laugh out loud when we read Don Quixote, perhaps the oldest novel in Western literature. And we have a sense of awe and wonder at the Iliad, written about 8th century BC. I can relate to John Keats' On Chapman's Homer, a poem about experiencing a new translation of Homer. It is spiritually comforting to be connected to people who lived and died so long ago.

Learning about evolution brings out many of the same feelings for me. Knowing that all life forms evolved from a common ancestor. We are all connected, as hackneyed as that might sound.

DWill wrote:
. . . I'm even a little cranky about the assumption of our moral evolution. I wouldn't have minded a good conservative take on how far we've come as a species. Who is meant by this morally advanced "we?" Are we so sure that we might not have become less advanced on some dimension?

I had this thought as well. But I also assumed that the "evolved" here means cultural. If Stephen Pinker is right, we may be more inclined to try to work out less violent solutions to our problems, but how much of this is simply due to conditions on the ground? Better economic opportunities, availability of food, access to health care, etc. Maybe we are better, but only because we can be.


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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
geo wrote:
Literature, to me, is comforting in the sense that it is universal. It moves us and reflects our commonalities, shows that we all share the same fears and desires, no matter what skin color or nationality or sex or time period we are born in. So we laugh out loud when we read Don Quixote, perhaps the oldest novel in Western literature. And we have a sense of awe and wonder at the Iliad, written about 8th century BC.

I think you have put your finger on a vital part of the universality. It isn't the same thing as solidarity, but it is certainly an excellent start on it. Something to do with us being fundamentally built the same, deep down.
geo wrote:
It is spiritually comforting to be connected to people who lived and died so long ago.
Or to people in vastly different cultures and circumstances. There is a limit to how much "Things Fall Apart" can help us identify with Africa when the colonialists came, but it certainly bridges a huge gap.

I guess I am left wondering how much spiritual comfort that connection really provides, though. Some, I think, but not nearly as much as the experience of seeing results from empathy.

geo wrote:
Learning about evolution brings out many of the same feelings for me. Knowing that all life forms evolved from a common ancestor. We are all connected, as hackneyed as that might sound.
Well, science in general, and the sense of awe we feel before it, is a powerful spiritual force. Just finished "All the Light We Cannot See," which is almost directly about that. We connect to people when we feel ourselves to be standing before the same awesome thing.

I think feeling connected through ancestry is vital as well. When people refused to believe they were "descended from apes" they were asserting something about themselves that is supposed to be comforting, (God created us to be special) but misses the dramatic common nature. Now that we may all go extinct together, the vulnerability we share with animals is beginning to matter a lot more.

geo wrote:
I had this thought as well. But I also assumed that the "evolved" here means cultural. If Stephen Pinker is right, we may be more inclined to try to work out less violent solutions to our problems, but how much of this is simply due to conditions on the ground? Better economic opportunities, availability of food, access to health care, etc. Maybe we are better, but only because we can be.
Well, yes, that is definitely true. And if we are worse (stay tuned for possible devastation in Korea or Iran) it is also because now we can be. I tend to think that when the mass of people has the freedom to concern themselves with the question of what makes life worth living, then they set about trying to solve the hidden horrors that lurk in the shadows of our struggle.



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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
Harry Marks wrote:
Much of American discussion of workplace styles, child-rearing, etc. revolves around a supposed dichotomy between emotion and reason, and seems completely uninformed about the spiritual, which is the meeting ground and marriage of the two.

I'm for an inclusive definition of "spiritual," too, and not to save appearances. I think of my late father, who was a church dropout and wouldn't have been much interested in talking as we have been. He was honest, had integrity and compassion, and outgrew whatever prejudices were embedded in Yankee culture. I think those are spiritual qualities, though they don't run the gamut.
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Interesting. I come down on the side of moral evolution, but you are right to question that. We have gained in our ability to view things dispassionately, and certainly have improved technically. I don't just mean the technical side of material life, though that does matter. We now routinely raise children without corporal punishment, for example.

I never would have thought about methods of parent discipline, but yes, that's significant. I don't recall if Pinker cites lessening of corporal punishment as evidence of our moral progress in Our Better Angels, but such a criterion is one that individuals can more readily relate to than the general incidence of violence, for example. To be clear, I do tend to believe that humanity is improving morally. I think that a little anxiety about our progress isn't a bad thing, though. The conservative would probably say that we need something by way of institutions or we are lost. If we lose God-based religion, don't we need a civic religion in its stead? How healthy is our civic religion now? Realizing that institutions often need reform and occasionally even abolition, I still believe there needs to be conscious maintenance of them for moral reasons. I would have liked to see the against side in the debate push opponents more on this.

The MeToo movement that has developed over the past year is a remarkable sign of moral progress, potentially affecting half the world's people. It's unmistakably progress because equality for women probably has never existed in any society.
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But the kinds of problems Robert points out also matter. Our lives are more disconnected and anonymous. Family life centers around options and activities, but builds in less time for intergenerational nurturance (though possibly more time per child, which matters). We have rising rates of anxiety disorders and other mental illness among college students, as the pace of economic competition has increased the stress of trying to achieve. The "thick" interactions that David Brooks lamented may be declining.

Our cultures have been into trade-offs since the earliest days when we threw down the spear and took up the plow, haven't they. This trend will continue, but if we're more aware of what is being threatened as we become more affluent and individualistic, we might be able to preserve some of Brooks' thickness.
Harry Marks wrote:

(Our Ultimate Concern, which organizes our other values, is our god.)

Memorable.
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Rather, punishment needs to be within a context of relationship and caring, even for the evildoer. The mass incarceration crisis of the 80s and 90s demonstrates the problem with "law enforcement" in an impersonal and even hostile framework.

I was thinking of what Coates called "the carceral state" when I hedged on moral progress. What if there exists, in the name of some utilitarian calculus, a harsh and unjust system out of sight of most of us that was set up supposedly to protect the majority? Moral evolution will be judged as much by what we allow to exist as by our private attitudes and individual behaviors. This is also what you say very well regarding the example from Coates.

I suppose this whole notion of a moral nation started with the Hebrews, another legacy of the Old Testament. I take issue with the idea of American exceptionalism, but I don't want to see the whole ideal of a moral nation go out the window, either, as may be the desire of Donald trump.
Harry Marks wrote:
I was once enamored of a girl raised as an atheist Jew. I was astonished how much she, though highly intelligent and precocious, was ignorant of religion. Of course I am the opposite extreme, having been saturated in religious talk from a young age and devoted considerable time in my adult years to furthering my acquaintance.

Wow, I can't remember anything being said about about religion in my home, aside from my mother once or twice describing how she thought of God. We belonged to a Congregational church and attended sporadically. I was in a confirmation class in 8th grade and then was inducted into the church. We moved that year, and church involvement ended. I'm not sure what accounts for my having some interest in religion now.



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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
DWill wrote:
I'm for an inclusive definition of "spiritual," too, and not to save appearances. I think of my late father, who was a church dropout and wouldn't have been much interested in talking as we have been. He was honest, had integrity and compassion, and outgrew whatever prejudices were embedded in Yankee culture. I think those are spiritual qualities, though they don't run the gamut.
Courage, integrity, compassion. We always feel elevated to know people with those. But I feel restless to find skills for cultivating these things. It's one thing to recognize that some people have them. It's another to resign ourselves to others not having them.

Philosopher Charles Taylor has observed that the best intrinsic motivation comes from the challenge of working things out for ourselves. Complex environments with interesting problems to be solved seem (along with companionship on that way) to be what makes life "feel" meaningful.

One of the biggest problems with authoritarian religion is that it has separated people from the problem-solving process of finding ways to enrich our lives with compassion. Needless to say markets don't do that very well either, although at least people are motivated to think about what others want in a product or service.
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I don't recall if Pinker cites lessening of corporal punishment as evidence of our moral progress in Our Better Angels, but such a criterion is one that individuals can more readily relate to than the general incidence of violence, for example. To be clear, I do tend to believe that humanity is improving morally. I think that a little anxiety about our progress isn't a bad thing, though. The conservative would probably say that we need something by way of institutions or we are lost. If we lose God-based religion, don't we need a civic religion in its stead?
Church and synagogue are rich in links between personal behavior and societal well-being. Religion, when it is firing on all cylinders, encourages people to do the right thing for its own sake, but to see larger social meaning in the process. I know that "Habits of the Heart" expressed belief in civic religion, with public occasions fostering a sense of community and common purpose, but for me it isn't even close to the process you get with a good church.

A wealth of songs. Specific issues to contemplate and work over. Messages linking to current issues. A long, self-consciously ancient tradition that implicitly says, with raised eyebrow, "Oh? You are going to reinvent all of society? Let me know how it goes." A particular group of people whose names and stories you know, and who know your name and story. What in civic religion holds a candle (so to speak) to that?

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How healthy is our civic religion now? Realizing that institutions often need reform and occasionally even abolition, I still believe there needs to be conscious maintenance of them for moral reasons. I would have liked to see the against side in the debate push opponents more on this.
Yes, that is more or less what I meant when I said they could have chosen people who could explain what is at stake.

Quote:
The MeToo movement that has developed over the past year is a remarkable sign of moral progress, potentially affecting half the world's people. It's unmistakably progress because equality for women probably has never existed in any society.
Yes, liberation is the kind of social change that can be conducted in the newspaper, or on social media. And it matters very much. But I wouldn't want that to be our only way of engaging with issues of right and wrong.
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if we're more aware of what is being threatened as we become more affluent and individualistic, we might be able to preserve some of Brooks' thickness.
From your lips to God's ears (and I mean that in the most serious possible way.)
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What if there exists, in the name of some utilitarian calculus, a harsh and unjust system out of sight of most of us that was set up supposedly to protect the majority? Moral evolution will be judged as much by what we allow to exist as by our private attitudes and individual behaviors.
A market system, as Adam Smith noted, works by self-interest. As such the market values a person according to what the person can provide of value. Those of little value receive little. While such a system turns out to have incredible virtue, we all have to resist buying into such judgments. And the possibility exists that market systems will organize the kind of invisible, unjust systems you worry about. After all, it has been done in the past.

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I suppose this whole notion of a moral nation started with the Hebrews, another legacy of the Old Testament. I take issue with the idea of American exceptionalism, but I don't want to see the whole ideal of a moral nation go out the window, either, as may be the desire of Donald trump.

I don't see America as especially moral, but to the extent that reduced economic pressure leads to less violence and conflict, the New World has had a unique opportunity to explore possibilities for human flourishing. We can aspire to be good, with more hope and confidence than much of the Old World.

I tend to like Mendenhall's take on the Hebrews, that they were a melting pot featuring heavy doses of "outlaws" - people who had fled the nascent empires of the Fertile Crescent and Nile Valley - and that the law allowed such an anti-tribe to become a people. The language of being a moral people was a covenant founded by Yahweh, but the reality of being a moral people was an aspirational process created by their circumstances. As a general rule, an aspirational process will take a religious form.



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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
DWill wrote:
Just looking at this discussion again. We moved houses, and I didn't have internet for a week or so, which was fine, but I have to say it's pretty great to be able to communicate in-depth with very thoughtful people--although I'll never meet any of you (in the old sense).
I dread moving house. Last time I did it was a few months before 9/11, since I so vividly recall hearing the news the next morning, since it happened just before midnight in my part of the world. I have also been out of action as far as Booktalk is concerned, writing the paper that I recently linked in my post in the astronomy thread. post165425.html#p165425 and again visiting Central Australia. As usual the discussion here is more thoughtful than the big public debate we are discussing, perhaps since we have the freedom to look at religious discussion with purely philosophical angles.
DWill wrote:
defining God as external consciousness, the against side created a "so what?"
Canberra Jung Society asked me to give a talk in July on Carl Jung’s book Answer to Job, which explores this very question. I will start a thread on it here. Jung has an amazing take on this point about the consciousness of God, arguing that God only became conscious through man, and that before the rise of human thought there was no meaning to the idea of a conscious God.
DWill wrote:
The for side's position that we can get along without God wasn't probed by the opponents. Might we be missing something essential if our answer is to kick spirituality out of the picture? That was an opportunity lost.
This is a really central problem for atheism. It is fine for individuals to hold the logical argument that the universe consists of matter in motion, but that entirely misses the point of the social function of religion, how the concept of God serves an essential purpose of recognising that reality is mysterious, and yet we can talk about the mystery anyway.
DWill wrote:
I'm even a little cranky about the assumption of our moral evolution. I wouldn't have minded a good conservative take on how far we've come as a species. Who is meant by this morally advanced "we?" Are we so sure that we might not have become less advanced on some dimension? What time sample are we using to prove that we've permanently evolved, 100 years? 200? In the scope of history, that's not so long and there have been plenty of reversals in civilizations who thought they had become too good to fail.
I see this point about cultural moral evolution is a common theme in the non-fiction books that Chris has proposed Booktalk should discuss. topic29045.html I read the intros to all those four books at Amazon, and found myself disturbed by the impression of a shared excessive level of optimism about moral evolution. We certainly have become less advanced on the criterion of biodiversity, with the great genetic inheritance of our planet under sustained concerted assault by our species. I see this as crucial, since if we can’t protect our nest our children have little prospect. So I like the old myth of the fall from grace into corruption, and the related problem of redemption, as I discuss in some detail in the paper I mentioned above. Unfortunately it seems that many philosophers view such language with disdain and condescension, which illustrates the syndrome of people talking past each other.
DWill wrote:
skeptics often assume that not much needs to be said about love, forgiveness, reconciliation, perhaps because if religion would just get out of the way, our moral auto-pilot would take us where we need to get to.
That sceptical attitude is among the most ridiculous, disorienting and dangerous assumptions I could imagine, a pure recipe for moral hooliganism. These moral qualities require constant reinforcement and discussion to get people to understand them and take them seriously. Here is a novel idea. Perhaps people could meet regularly in their local community, maybe every Sunday morning, and listen to stories about love, forgiveness and reconciliation. They could openly express ideas about these topics, and even sing songs together about them. Has anyone ever tried that?
DWill wrote:
That's an interesting alliance between fundamentalists and anti-theists.
Yes. Richard Dawkins argues in The God Delusion that there is no point atheists engaging with enlightened religious thinkers since the essential moral crusade is to expunge falsity from the world. So we get this sterile debate about whether a non-existent entity exists, completely avoiding the question whether the main original intent of ideas about God was symbolic metaphor.
DWill wrote:
many of us, being somewhat put off by the Bible, have a superficial knowledge and appreciation of it.
Yes, it is too easy to put our own prejudices and assumptions in the way of engagement with the Bible.
DWill wrote:

vengefulness of God gets the most play with readers unsympathetic to the Bible. If you add the focus on justice that is probably given more attention in the OT than the NT, the OT doesn't look so much like an atavistic relic needing to be superseded.
Saul’s mistake, which lost him the mandate of heaven according to the prophet Samuel, was that he was not sufficiently genocidal. Some of these Old Testament stories are morally repugnant.
DWill wrote:
I've noticed a couple of times skeptics telling Christians that they're obligated to endorse everything in the Bible
That is just a cheap polemical debating ploy. The Bible itself sees faith as evolving to meet new circumstances, with the new covenant of Jesus Christ updating the old covenants that God had struck with Noah and Moses.
DWill wrote:
The transcendent or absolute could be part of the language needed
Transcendent really just means beyond, and can simply refer to how the rest of the universe has an orderly stability that is not shared by the mundane chaos of life on earth. Transcendent does not need to mean supernatural. Absolute means definitely real. We can know the natural universe is definitely real, in the sense that the earth orbits the sun etc, but that does not have to imply we know everything about the sun, since we don’t. We do know some absolute facts about the sun, such as that it is about 500 times bigger than all the planets put together. That is absolutely true, even if the exact ratio might not be known precisely.
DWill wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
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.

That proposal does seem to be suitable for religious belief, since although it violates no scientific facts, it cannot be proven but must be maintained by faith.
My statement “Defining God in ways such as the real hidden anthropic order of the cosmos, and the set of enabling conditions for human flourishing” is what philosophers call an analytic statement. It is a matter of faith in the same sense that “the world exists” is a matter of faith.
DWill wrote:
Your idea might be the best litmus test for pure atheism.
Analytically, there can be no question that there is a real hidden anthropic order of the cosmos, since otherwise humans would not exist. That is called the weak anthropic principle, as distinguished from the strong anthropic principle, which holds that emergence of intelligence is necessary. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropic_principle
DWill wrote:
A committed atheist would, I think, be at least agnostic about the universe having any a priori meaning.
I am struggling with that statement. Atheists tend to reject the strong anthropic principle due to its faith-based use as proof of a God separate from matter. They tend also to see the universe as intrinsically meaningless.
DWill wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
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.

Yet wouldn't you have to agree that morality is independent of God?
That depends on whether we consider God as independent of human thought. If, as Jung argues, God only becomes conscious through human brains, then there is no sense of an intentional God separate from morality, and we can view God as a human construction. Using the definition of God as ‘the conditions for human flourishing’, it follows that only a morality that does not enable human flourishing is independent of God. Such a morality is immoral if we define human flourishing as good.
DWill wrote:
I don't think it works in this instance to say that God is not God but is rather an insight, so morality is dependent on this insight we have renamed God.
This seems to reflect an assumption that unless God exists as an intentional entity there can be no meaningful use of the concept of God. I reject that assumption. We cannot fully know the conditions for human flourishing, which would confine the absolute to our concepts about it, but need to respect the mystery of the unknown.
DWill wrote:
I share your skepticism that getting religion out of the way will make everything all better by itself.
The moral question here is whether religion should be reformed or abolished. Atheists tend to advocate abolition of religion, usually but not always within the framework of respect for human rights. I just think the rich beauty of metaphorical language in religion is a priceless part of human cultural heritage, with benefits that are not always apparent at first glance. So it is perfectly fine for people to engage in religious fantasy that objective people can see is grounded in emotional comfort rather than accurate observation. Often this emotional comfort, through prayer and worship and care, has benefits that simply would not occur if its adherents agreed to “get religion out of the way”. At the same time, it would be good if there were a sophisticated respectful dialogue between atheists and theists, but I see little evidence of that occurring.
DWill wrote:
The other part on the need for religion to be rational we've discussed before and had differing views. Maybe the problem is: what does rational mean? The word confers approval, so it's subject to value judgment. To make the word more neutral I'd define it as truth based on the evidence of our senses, including all the ways we have of extending the reach of our senses. Using that yardstick, a life that continues after our bodies die and an anthropic order of the cosmos aren't rational, but neither should we call them irrational.
That all makes sense, assuming you are talking about the strong anthropic principle rather than the weak anthropic principle. I regard logical principles such as coherence, order and causality as having a divine rational quality, an ability to describe necessary conditions of reality.
DWill wrote:
I'd go so far as to say a belief is not in the category of the rational at all; it always involves something that we may feel we know but cannot prove, such as that democracy is the best government to live under.
To some extent Plato beat you to it with that insight about belief (pistis), which he defined in The Republic as a form of cognition that is intrinsically inferior to knowledge (noesis). Mr Google has kindly referred me to this page for an interpretation of Plato’s Divided Line http://www.informationphilosopher.com/k ... _line.html
DWill wrote:
There is also a large element of aspiration and inspiration here that is an essential part of religion. Without that element, conferred in large part by the very unrationality of key statements, religion doesn't exist.
Part of the challenge of philosophy is precisely this problem of seeing ideas that appear unrational, and discerning a hidden rationality within them.


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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
Robert Tulip wrote:
]I dread moving house. Last time I did it was a few months before 9/11, since I so vividly recall hearing the news the next morning, since it happened just before midnight in my part of the world. I have also been out of action as far as Booktalk is concerned, writing the paper that I recently linked in my post in the astronomy thread.

Moving was a reminder to me of how much stuff we all have. Even though I like to think I'm less consumed with consuming than may be the norm, by god there's lots to move. I remember our first couple of moves, when a pickup truck sufficed. Trips to the landfill were needed before the saved things were moved. Is it sustainable? I wonder; I guess I doubt.
Quote:
I see this point about cultural moral evolution is a common theme in the non-fiction books that Chris has proposed Booktalk should discuss. topic29045.html I read the intros to all those four books at Amazon, and found myself disturbed by the impression of a shared excessive level of optimism about moral evolution. We certainly have become less advanced on the criterion of biodiversity, with the great genetic inheritance of our planet under sustained concerted assault by our species. I see this as crucial, since if we can’t protect our nest our children have little prospect. So I like the old myth of the fall from grace into corruption, and the related problem of redemption, as I discuss in some detail in the paper I mentioned above. Unfortunately it seems that many philosophers view such language with disdain and condescension, which illustrates the syndrome of people talking past each other.

It seems disloyal to point to our own species as a great problem for the world, but how can it be avoided? Every species is self-serving, but we have the tools to be the direct cause of thousands of extinctions. It's nature at work. Two particularly depressing studies are discussed in these Wash. Post articles.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/ani ... 05fd3f9062
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/spe ... 5a205af4e4
Quote:
That sceptical attitude is among the most ridiculous, disorienting and dangerous assumptions I could imagine, a pure recipe for moral hooliganism. These moral qualities require constant reinforcement and discussion to get people to understand them and take them seriously. Here is a novel idea. Perhaps people could meet regularly in their local community, maybe every Sunday morning, and listen to stories about love, forgiveness and reconciliation. They could openly express ideas about these topics, and even sing songs together about them. Has anyone ever tried that?

I don't church, but agree there is something important going on there.
Quote:
Yes. Richard Dawkins argues in The God Delusion that there is no point atheists engaging with enlightened religious thinkers since the essential moral crusade is to expunge falsity from the world. So we get this sterile debate about whether a non-existent entity exists, completely avoiding the question whether the main original intent of ideas about God was symbolic metaphor.

What I've seen him express frustration about is this loosey-goosey definition of God that the enlightened thinkers espouse. They could just come out and say they're atheists regarding the Bible's God, just as they are regarding the Iliad's gods, but they choose to maintain appearances due to the stigma of atheism.
Quote:
Saul’s mistake, which lost him the mandate of heaven according to the prophet Samuel, was that he was not sufficiently genocidal. Some of these Old Testament stories are morally repugnant.

I'd have to read the whole corpus to estimate the proportion of violence-inciting stories to non-offensive ones. To some extent, it helps me to know that Yahweh's orders to wipe out the Canaanites were never implemented. Exodus isn't reliable history.
Quote:
Transcendent does not need to mean supernatural.

That's helpful. I'd still say it's best for science to keep away from the term, not that it's an imminent danger.
Quote:
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.

Those folk traditions, if they might be vehicles for transcendence, would seem to have a valid purpose. I don't agree that supernatural needs to be so strongly ostracized.
Also I distrust the yardstick of human flourishing since, if we talk about extinctions, our flourishing been thus far responsible for many of them. If it might be held that humans cannot really flourish in selfish isolation, most of the world would ignore that and give it a try.
Quote:
Analytically, there can be no question that there is a real hidden anthropic order of the cosmos, since otherwise humans would not exist. That is called the weak anthropic principle, as distinguished from the strong anthropic principle, which holds that emergence of intelligence is necessary.

So there would be an Ursine or Lupine order to the universe as well, since otherwise bears and wolves would not exist. That makes the analytic truth of the anthropic order not so significant.



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Tue Apr 24, 2018 3:10 pm
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Post Re: Debate: The More We Evolve, The Less We Need God 3/27/18
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
defining God as external consciousness, the against side created a "so what?"
Canberra Jung Society asked me to give a talk in July on Carl Jung’s book Answer to Job, which explores this very question. I will start a thread on it here. Jung has an amazing take on this point about the consciousness of God, arguing that God only became conscious through man, and that before the rise of human thought there was no meaning to the idea of a conscious God.
This strikes me as just as amazing as when I first read your post. Not because it is somehow mind-bending to think of God as not-conscious before humans: as you may recall I have been conceptualizing God as a spirit between us all for quite a while now. Rather because Jung is "taking the direct route" and explaining spiritual truths in mythical language, without packing and unpacking all the correspondences a person could use to check on them.

I rather suspect the prophets were skilled in this practice. By learning to study on what God wanted, rather than what they wanted, (thereby gaining a certain distance from the reflection), they gained access to the complex but systematic process of understanding mythical forces directly. I don't know if Jung did that or just hid the packing and unpacking.

Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
Might we be missing something essential if our answer is to kick spirituality out of the picture?
This is a really central problem for atheism. It is fine for individuals to hold the logical argument that the universe consists of matter in motion, but that entirely misses the point of the social function of religion, how the concept of God serves an essential purpose of recognising that reality is mysterious, and yet we can talk about the mystery anyway.
Yet talking "about" the mystery is never the same social and psychological process as talking "to" the mystery. I am beginning to suspect that talking about God, and about the social function of religion, is more likely to be an escape from engagement with the mystery of life than a guide into it.

Robert Tulip wrote:
I ... found myself disturbed by the impression of a shared excessive level of optimism about moral evolution. We certainly have become less advanced on the criterion of biodiversity, with the great genetic inheritance of our planet under sustained concerted assault by our species. I see this as crucial, since if we can’t protect our nest our children have little prospect.
In sheer biological terms, the disruption caused by humanity is as worrying as the Club of Rome scenario of Malthusian overreach. Clearly there are aspects of our relationship to the world that no individual can see themselves as responsible for, and as a result humankind as a whole has avoided. The invisible hand, laissez-faire theory of policy has many appeals, not least of which is that it tells us we don't have to worry about things. But we do.

It's worth noting that the Invisible Hand is one of the earliest examples of theory overturning mindless practice. (Jesus "You have heard it said" Christ might be considered an earlier one, and Hosea "I desire mercy not sacrifice" a still earlier one). Before Adam Smith noted that "division of labor is limited by the extent of the market" the accepted wisdom was the superiority of the French approach of mercantilism, bringing all economic activity into the government's management to maximize revenue just as they had brought the provinces into the French state.

45 is trying to reinstate mercantilism because it is how the average person still thinks: selling to others is like tricking them into giving you money, while buying from them is succumbing to temptation. After all, you don't build up your bank account by spending, but by earning. And which is easier, spending or earning? You prove your worth by earning, right? So the point of trade is to sell as much as possible and buy as little as possible, obviously.
Robert Tulip wrote:
So I like the old myth of the fall from grace into corruption, and the related problem of redemption, as I discuss in some detail in the paper I mentioned above. Unfortunately it seems that many philosophers view such language with disdain and condescension, which illustrates the syndrome of people talking past each other.

There's a nice piece in today's New York Times about what happens to #MeToo targets after their perfidy is revealed.
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/27/opin ... -rose.html
The author suggests that we think more in terms of restorative justice, or Truth and Reconciliation in the South African terminology, rather than just hoping the offenders will slink away and hide themselves.

Christians believe (and I can hardly believe I still dare to start a sentence with those two words) that everyone needs redemption. I am a man of unclean hands in an unclean world. What healing touch might conceivably bring all these corruptible humans into the sort of alignment that would allow their humble and lovable sides to emerge, rather than bringing out their Jordan Peterson scramble for distinction and status? One of the mysteries is the difference between a trusting approach, that the Spirit can do more than my attempts to manage things can, and a blithe, denialist "What, Me Worry?" approach. A worthy subject for reflection.
Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
skeptics often assume that not much needs to be said about love, forgiveness, reconciliation, perhaps because if religion would just get out of the way, our moral auto-pilot would take us where we need to get to.
These moral qualities require constant reinforcement and discussion to get people to understand them and take them seriously. Here is a novel idea. Perhaps people could meet regularly in their local community, maybe every Sunday morning, and listen to stories about love, forgiveness and reconciliation. They could openly express ideas about these topics, and even sing songs together about them. Has anyone ever tried that?
Obviously you and I see these similarly. Yet I hasten to add that "the noise of our solemn assemblies" is but empty clamor if we do not face our own inner fragmentation and spend time dwelling with the pain.
Robert Tulip wrote:
So we get this sterile debate about whether a non-existent entity exists, completely avoiding the question whether the main original intent of ideas about God was symbolic metaphor.
I would re-phrase that slightly to say the question being avoided is for which things the ideas about God were metaphor. There is a deep kinship between keeping one's commitment to show up when the tribe needs to do battle, in the OT version, and raising our kids with love rather than dominance, in the modern version. Both take courage and vision and fortitude. Both demand a certain kind of relationship to life, the universe and everything, which I would characterize as integrity.

Robert Tulip wrote:
DWill wrote:
The transcendent or absolute could be part of the language needed
Transcendent really just means beyond, and can simply refer to how the rest of the universe has an orderly stability that is not shared by the mundane chaos of life on earth. Transcendent does not need to mean supernatural. Absolute means definitely real.
Hmm. I had to spend some time with this. Transcendent does mean beyond, but we use it to mean qualitatively beyond, rather than quantitatively. Saturn's distance from the Sun doesn't "transcend" Jupiter's, but perhaps the distance to Proxima Centauri does, in the sense that it cannot be traversed in one lifetime. The music of Bach or Charlie Parker is said to transcend the limits of their genres, in that they sometimes turn the merely technical accomplishments of the field into symbols of the human condition. Much of transcendence occurs in the symbolic dimension, which creates what Douglas Hofstadter ("Godel, Escher, Bach") called "tangled hierarchies."

Kierkegaard detailed the most fundamental transcendences:
1) ethical obligations transcend aesthetic preferences; and
2) faith [I would say trusting relationship] transcends the requirements of ethics, as exemplified by forgiveness.
In both cases the meaning is that the quantitative extent of importance on the "lower" level can never add up to outweighing the considerations at the higher level. Just as there is no payment which would make it worthwhile to kill someone, so there is no obligation so vital that it sets aside the spiritual matters of treating others as ends in themselves, to be related to openly and without the need for deception or other means of control. These are the landmarks in the map of meaning - lose track of them and you get lost. Maybe that's why they came to consciousness in discussions of the supernatural.

I have a little trouble with your definition of the Absolute. Usually we mean "than which one can not go further." Like absolute zero in temperature, or the speed of light. An Absolute obligation is one which is "definitely real" as you put it, but I think that is secondary to it being inescapable, and not to be traded off against. In that sense reality is always absolute (except in quantum mechanics) but people tend not to have the same sense of the absoluteness of moral obligation. Less absolute obligations exist, like being punctual to a meeting: we may acknowledge its importance but accept that other things may take priority. Even finishing a job one knew about for weeks can be an acceptable excuse for lateness, since the calculation of the time required can be error-prone. But in some other obligations, e.g. taking care of one's children, the obligation is absolute.

Addressing DWill's point, the Jesuitical approach of some modern psychology may ask a person to set aside quaint notions of commitments being absolute or integrity really mattering. I have no problem with the idea that sometimes a person must give way and give up on absolute obligations, with life providing a sort of force majeure. That's part of the second transcendence (and there's a crack in everything - that's how the light gets in). But simply claiming (instead) that the issue doesn't really matter is a species of denial. It is a turn to a weaselly life in which promises are mere negotiating positions and your own life is meaningless precisely because you have represented other people's lives to be meaningless.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
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.

DWill wrote:
That proposal does seem to be suitable for religious belief, since although it violates no scientific facts, it cannot be proven but must be maintained by faith.
My statement “Defining God in ways such as the real hidden anthropic order of the cosmos, and the set of enabling conditions for human flourishing” is what philosophers call an analytic statement. It is a matter of faith in the same sense that “the world exists” is a matter of faith.
Okay, here things get really messy.

First, let me say I am coming around to seeing the gestalt with "God" as the "enabling conditions for human flourishing". At first it just seemed off the wall to me, but I am beginning to get the hang of its inner coherence. Shermer, in the debate, would say that the payoff structure of the game we play in life, an essentially cooperative game, is what gets us to cooperation. As such, you would see "God" in that structure, I suspect.

Second, I am very uncomfortable with DWill's view that a proposition is "suitable" for religious belief if it must be maintained by faith because it is not scientifically provable. In a way this is no different from NOMA, the non-overlapping magisteria approach, in that values are treated as matters of faith because they cannot be proven by scientific evidence.

Yet I still want the values content to be the essential quality that makes a proposition suitable for religion, rather than the epistemology that one brings to the issue. A simple example is that "I alone matter, and others matter only to the extent that they make me happy" is also unprovable, in exactly the same sense. From religion's own, internal criteria, making "the conditions that enable human flourishing" into a conceptualization of God is legitimately religious, in that it participates in the essentially hopeful and beneficial aspirations of religion, while "I alone matter," flies in the face of them.

There is something deep lurking in the shadows of this business, and I am having trouble putting my finger on it. If you recall the discussion of the tree blossoming as a prayer, it represents to us the feeling that the tree is doing what crowns its life with glory. For humans, trusting life and engaging its challenges courageously is likewise "what we are here for." We feel made for it. It reminds me of the uptight missionary runner in "Chariots of Fire": "I feel His pleasure when I run." The Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath. When we practice the ways of living soundly, there is a sense of wholeness in it. It is what we are made for.

So to me, to take our understanding of God and godliness and make "analytic statements" of it somehow cheapens the living of it. Instead of doing what is right and feeling whole because of it, I am analyzing and following the directions in my navigational text.
DWill wrote:
A committed atheist would, I think, be at least agnostic about the universe having any a priori meaning.
Aye, laddie, but do you feel the meaning? Is it right down there below any levels of understanding and organizing and getting somewhere and accomplishing? Is it as reassuring as being held by your parents was, when you were three years old? What difference does a priori make, when we are talking about what keeps you in relationship with life?
Robert Tulip wrote:
I just think the rich beauty of metaphorical language in religion is a priceless part of human cultural heritage, with benefits that are not always apparent at first glance. So it is perfectly fine for people to engage in religious fantasy that objective people can see is grounded in emotional comfort rather than accurate observation. Often this emotional comfort, through prayer and worship and care, has benefits that simply would not occur if its adherents agreed to “get religion out of the way”.
Yet, I think the recognition of possible loss of benefits is merely a clue, a thread to take us through the labyrinth of the world's complexity, and not a method for arriving at spiritual truth. People who dismiss "emotional comfort" are crazy. As if walking on hot coals is what we are meant to do with our lives.

People who engage in religion, with or without fantasies, are aspiring to wholeness. In the community, the world, and the inner life. The only real questions about it, the only ones that really matter, are what are the best ways for our religious practice to bring that wholeness. I am asserting, essentially, that the inner criteria of recognizing that sense of whole-making are more meaningful than the external perspectives provided by science, in determining what way stations will best guide us in our search for wholeness.

I think the fundamentalist rejection of science is also crazy. But its intellectual laziness, its embrace of ignorance as a barrier against the chaos of emotions, is not much worse than the laziness of those who think they are looking down condescendingly on the search for "emotional comfort" as though they themselves are much too rigorous and realistic for that.

Robert Tulip wrote:
At the same time, it would be good if there were a sophisticated respectful dialogue between atheists and theists, but I see little evidence of that occurring.
Maybe just give it time? It doesn't necessarily march at the speed of needing academic publications.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Part of the challenge of philosophy is precisely this problem of seeing ideas that appear unrational, and discerning a hidden rationality within them.
Right, but to insightfully recognize that hidden rationality we should also be distinguishing between "rationality" that has pieces falling into place based on the contest for status versus "rationality" that allows each person to feel at home in their world because they are able to set the contest for status aside. System rationality can be opposed to spiritual rationality, or it can be in harmony with it.



The following user would like to thank Harry Marks for this post:
geo, Robert Tulip
Sat Apr 28, 2018 6:12 am
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