rational rejection of supernatural mythologies

Voting on the Word of God

“already known that the history of religious beliefs indicates”

“There are a lot of theories on religious development – this is hardly the accepted standard formulation amongst academics.”

You probably are not interested in educating me on the standard academic formulation, but a synopsis or URL would be welcome. How does the standard formulation differ from what I said?

I have read a text written by a religious historian that does say that religious beliefs progress from animism through personification (polytheism) to monotheism, through to highly intellectualized theology. Only one report, admittedly.

Pharaoh Akhenaten attempted to convert Egypt to monotheistic worship of Aten

“Surely you know that Akhenaten scholarship is all over the place. I checked the Wikipedia link to see if it said otherwise, but the article appears to demonstrate that this is the case.”  

Which is the case? An abundance of Akhenaten scholarship? Are you saying that Akhenaten did not promote monotheistic worship of Aten? Is Wikipedia wrong? It sometimes is.

“Have you been reading too much Freud?”

As I said here. I don’t actually think all that much of Freud. Did Freud have theories about Akhenaten.

about 500 BCE: attributed to someone with the mouthful title of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite

“This was the shocker for me. For a minute I thought there were two Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagites,”

Good grief, I sincerely hope not! I wonder how his contemporaties addressed him.

“since the one I know of (and the one you refer to) lived and wrote in the late 5th and early 6th century AD. Fortunately your Wikipedia link refers to the same Christian writer.”

 I misread Wikipedia. I had read somewhere that some Greek school of philosophy included the notion of a single deity. I assumed that this was the same fellow and did not read further. I had encountered mention of him in connection with John the Scot. Is the “Dionysius the Aeropagite” mentioned in Acts xvii. 34 a different fellow and hence the “pseudo”? 

I did a little research. The Greeks did have philosophers who proposed varieties of monotheism: the earliest was Thales around 586 BCE. Others were Xenophanes around 530 BCE, Anaxagoras around 460 BCE, Antisthenes around 406 BCE, and, more famously, Plato (~387) and Aristotle (~344). I have never been particularly interested in Greek philosophy.

“The only “mono” “ism” he is concerned with the monophysitism, the belief that Christ only has one nature, the heresy that has separated the Orthodox Church (and Western churches for that matter) from the Oriental Orthodox Churches (i.e., the Copts, Syriacs, Ethiopians, Armenians, and Indians) which dates back to the Council of Chalcedon in 451.”

Interesting. I obviously skimmed the article far too quickly. I found monophysitism referred to as the Eutychian heresy. The system of councils appears not to have been particularly democratic. I read that some bishops were denied a vote at the Council of Ephesus, which preceded Chalcedon. Orthodoxy being that belief system voted in at a Council and heresy that belief system voted out. So much for “revealed religion”, it transpires that the Word of God was determined by a vote.

“I’ve taught about psychological responses to religion at A Level (covering Feuerbach, Marx, Freud, Jung, etc.) and the information you are using is really rather dated, based on bad anthropology and hardly credible.”

Feuerbach, Marx, Freud, Jung, etc” – I sincerely hope that you included some recent, reputable psychologists and anthropologists who actually conducted empirical research in the “etc” group. I saved the links but have not read the articles yet.

Overall, there has not been a great deal of research on the psychology underlying religious belief. However you talk of teaching about psychological responses to religion, and that is a rather different kettle of fish because it appears more individual and less comprehensive than a research study would be.

 In response to My God is bigger than your god and Comments.


September 3, 2007 Posted by | philosophy, psychology, religion, religious history | Leave a comment

Absolutist Fears to Emotion

Because the WordPress system does not allow for modification of posting time, the following lengthy sequence is posted out of order:

Full sequence: Absolutist FearsComments Bouncing back to Dave , Comment; No Things in Moderation; Creation MythsComments; Conversions, Comments; My God is bigger than your god, Comments; Of must and men, Comments; Transcendant rhetorical devices, Comments; The so-called creation versus evolution debate, Comments; Apologetic creations, Comments; From the Cradle, Comments; West of Eden, Comments; The Clash of Titans, Comments; The place of Emotion, Comments .

September 2, 2007 Posted by | abiogenesis, atheism, creationism, critical thinking, education, evolution, Jerry Falwell, logic, morality, Pascal's Wager, philosophy, psychology, religion, science | Leave a comment

The place of Emotion

<i>determination of veridicality is not really a popularity contest</i>

“You have dismissed McGrath unread with a non sequitur.”

Forgive me, Dave, I did indeed dismiss McGrath because not only did I not have time to acquire and read McGrath before responding and I responded on the basis of an assumption about your intended point.This is the general problem with quoting from books that both participants have not read. The great advantage of the Internet is that we can link back to particular articles that are usually short enough for both to read. That allows a common ground for understanding that would be lost by either one of us referring back to an entire book.

<i>You probably mean that as an insult, but I shall take it as a compliment.</i>

“Not as an insult. Merely that you appear to think emotion is superfluous, if not something that mitigates against the validity of an argument.”

When did I ever say that emotion is superfluous? In life, emotion is of paramount importance. This is the implication behind my saying that religion persists because of its emotional appeal. I meant that emotionality has no place in assessment of rational (cognitive) positions. If the argument concerns emotion in relation to any topic that is necessarily value-laden (“what is beauty?”, for example), then emotional response is germane to the issue.

My original post did point out that the persistence of religious belief (in view of better scientific explanations for phenomena) does reflect the emotional value of religious beliefs to believers. I think that the emotionality of many reactions of theists toward science and the atheistic position reflects the fact of this emotional investment in religious belief.

<i>Speaking of the psychology of religion, though, I think that the emotional appeal of religious belief is the chief reason for entertaining such belief even though this does not constitute any kind of verification.</i>

“I realise that yours is a common belief about the psychology of religion. But as you would say, the determination of veridicality is not really a popularity contest.”

I was making a statement about human psychology and sociology. I did not make a fallacious argumentum ad numeram about how many people would agree with my idea (the poplularity contest). When it comes to psychology and sociology, numbers of people exhibiting a trait would be relevant. I did not even refer to those numbers.The sentence was not particularly well expressed. I’ll rephrase it: “I think that the emotional appeal of religious belief is the chief reason for entertaining religious belief. The fact that religion has emotional appeal, and that individuals entertain belief, does not constitute any kind of verification of the content of belief.”

<i>However, if you look around Internet sites, it becomes fairly clear which group has the greater proportion of articulate and unemotional debaters.</i>

“I’m guessing we have had quite different experiences while looking around the Internet.”

I think it would be extraordinarily unlikely that we had read exactly the same posts and articles. However, you are probably aware that a large, random sample from the entire population should display similar features to another large, random sample of the entire population, and these should in turn reflect the population. 

It could also be that our impressions of the proportions of articulate and unemotional debaters would be swayed by our diametrically opposed positions concerning which side of the debate is correct. We have probably not selected our populations randomly since you are more likely that I to have chosen believers over nonbelievers, and I have chosen science and antiscience.

<i>I’m not giving Freud a vote of confidence, merely using the symbol.</i>

“I feel better about you already.”

Poor old Freud, he got it right, he retracted under peer pressure, and he invented discredited mumbo-jumbo to replace his early, accurate insights. (Observations, really) His description of defense mechanisms remain valid and useful. I think that his ideas about psychoanalytic technique are outmoded as a therapeutic approach, though elements of his technique are usefully applied in an eclectic approach. Research consistently indicates that a combination of medication and talk-therapy yields superior outcome over either modality alone. Barbarous techniques like electroshock and prefrontal lobotomy provide only symptom control and have, thankfully, been mostly abandoned.  

<i>However, if I were to suddenly start believing, I would adopt Christianity simply because I am most identified with the Christian culture.</i>

“If your underlying theory is correct. I would think that if you were to start believing, you would adopt Christianity simply because you believe it.”

You seem to have misunderstood what I was saying, which was that we are more likely to adopt the beliefs with which we are most familiar. I quite liked the compassionate moral stories that they taught us about Jesus’ teachings when I was a kid.  However, I also liked the more compassionate morals that I encountered in movies and books. To my thinking, this attitude is simply a manifestation of my humanist moral philosophy. 

I am most familiar with Christianity because I grew up in a Christian nation. I do not believe the myths of Virgin Birth, Resurrection, and Holy Trinities, etc. I’m sure that you are also aware by this stage of our conversation that I do not accept Christian apologetic arguments either.

<i>I am sufficiently acquainted with psychology, both theory and practice, to be confident about the mechanisms I described. You don’t like my conclusions and you do like the idea of God.</i>

“The psychology to which you adhere must also have a philosophical basis. It is not that I don’t like your conclusions; it is merely that I think they are flawed.  I do like the idea of God because “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6)”

No, the psychology that I understand has predominantly a practical, experiential foundation (academic psychology is necessarily somewhat limited in its explanatory powers). I think that you use the term “philosophy” to dismiss empirical-base observations whose import you dislike.

“He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Is not the expectation of reward ultimately the manifestation of an emotional desire?  Even those masochistic individuals who seek pain, and those traumatized individuals who self-harm, ultimately derive pleasure or relief from tension through “punishment”.  It is basic animal nature to seek reward and to avoid actual pain.  We do not do this because we have made a cognitive decision that reward is logically superior to punishment. Dogs and cats and infants already exhibit behavioral indications of the emotional/survival basis for this.You are talking of cognitively sophisticated reward seeking behavior. I did say that I think that this is a valid motivation for faith.

<i>It was an experiment, not a game plan for spamming.</i>

“As long as your conclusion is that the experiment was flawed, this is a sufficient explanation and my ire is thus placated.”

Phew, I can’t tell you what a relief that is!  

Actually, since you don’t know the full nature of the experiment, you could not really know whether or not it was flawed.  You disapproved of the experiment based on your interpretation of my purpose. Your interpretation necessarily involved some projection. I was checking out how the system works and doing a little cage rattling in hope of conversation. In both those senses, my experiment worked.  I had not anticipated quite so much typing, though! 

The other conclusion that I have drawn from the experience is that I don’t particularly like the glitches in the WordPress editor – WYS is not WYG. I do like the “surfer” feature.

Part  of response to No Things in Moderation.

Full sequence: Absolutist Fears4 CommentsResponse to Dave, No Things in Moderation, Creation Myths,  5 Comments, Conversions, No Comments, My God is bigger than your god, No Comments, Of must and men, No Comments, Transcendant rhetorical devices, No Comments, The so-called creation versus evolution debate, No Comments, Apologetic creations, No Comments, From the Cradle, No Comments, West of Eden, No Comments, The Clash of Titans, No Comments .

September 2, 2007 Posted by | atheism, logic, philosophy, psychology, religion | 2 Comments