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ColoradoGuy
01-24-2010, 12:28 AM
In 2005 Dean Hamer's book (http://books.google.com/books?id=TmR6uAAHEssC&dq=the+god+gene&source=bl&ots=8p3nLxI-8P&sig=wj_tbPubBhMb0XAjeOPh1Q7LQVo&hl=en&ei=P1dbS-WGEovWNez_vfgO&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CDUQ6AEwCQ), The God Gene, sparked quite a bit of ferment. His thesis was that he had data showing a correlation between "spiritual" people and the expression of a cellular membrane protein. This protein, vesicular monoamine transporter 2 (VMAT2), is one of two that move molecules known as monoamines into the brain's cells for storage and later use. Monoamines (e.g., dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, serotonin) are neurotransmitters, meaning they are how brain cells talk to one another. Many psychoactive drugs exert their effects by altering the concentrations of these substances. Cocaine, for example, causes marked reduction in the levels of VMAT2 present on the cell.

There were immediate criticisms. For one thing, the definition of "spiritual" was based upon a survey, after which expression of VMAT2 was determined and compared with the survey. The postulated association was also culled from a study of something else entirely -- smoking addiction. (Always be cautious interpreting results of secondary data analysis.) Finally, the association was a weak one. Carl Zimmer, a prominent critic, wrote that Hamer's book might as well be called, not The God Gene, but rather A Gene That Accounts for Less Than One Percent of the Variance Found in Scores on Psychological Questionnaires Designed to Measure a Factor Called Self-Transcendence, Which Can Signify Everything from Belonging to the Green Party to Believing in ESP, According to One Unpublished, Unreplicated Study.

Still, the basic tenet of Hamer's hypothesis was that spiritual tendencies, religiosity, were heritable traits that evolution could go to work on.

Now there's another book out about religion and evolution, Nicholas Wade's The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and How It Endures. Wade is a science journalist, not a scientist. His thesis also uses the controversial notion that evolution can work on groups, not just individuals. You can read a couple of interesting reviews here (http://scienceblogs.com/gnxp/2009/11/the_faith_instinct_how_religio.php) and here (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/27/books/review/Shulevitz-t.html). One of Wade's connections back to Hamer's thesis is Wade's argument for the importance of music and ecstatic dance in human culture, particularly primitive culture, and thus presumably paleolithic culture.

The issue to me (and many others, too) is if the near universality of some kind of interest in transcendent things is simply what Gould and Lewontin would have called a spandrel, a fascinating side-effect of evolution that, by itself, means nothing. Wade claims religion had powerfully useful attributes for humans emerging from bands of hunters to more organized ways of living. Perhaps an augmented level of VMAT2 promoted that tendency and was therefore an evolutionary advantage.

Here is another problem, in the words of one reviewer:

"The problem, to my mind, is not that Wade has overambitiously linked genetics and religion. It is that he has underambitiously portrayed religion as less encompassing and consequential than it is. Can we really isolate as distinct adaptations the magnificently bizarre and oddly satisfying behaviors and feelings crammed into that drab pigeonhole of a word, “religion”? I would have thought that would amount to explaining what makes us human."

As a Quaker, my own view is that religiosity is not a spandrel. It is bound up with both consciousness of ourselves and awareness of the consciousness of others. I see no reason why those things cannot be linked to evolution, although the teleological implications of that notion will bother evolutionary biologists.

K Ackermann
01-24-2010, 10:47 AM
Religion absolutely hits reward centers, and that's what makes it so easily exploited. The same as with drugs.

Formal religion wraps spiritual beliefs into dogmatic principles and rules for exploitation. All rewards are to be paid out in the afterlife, for payment up front. That's the first clue.

Of course, questions about this are countered with dogma: if you doubt, then you are not worthy. It's a test, and so on.

The whole concept of omnipotence runs into huge self-referencing problems. It's inconsistent within itself. Can God make an even better God? Can he make a stone so big that he cannot lift it.

Even the dogmas that call for strict interpretation run into obvious problems. God made man in His own image. Does that mean God needs toilet paper, and can suffer from cancer?

All of these questions have to be swept aside, because the dogmas pervert the essence of religion for exploitation. Religion transcends dogma.

Being a Quaker doesn't make your belief correct and other's, wrong. It's wrong to think that. We must all rise above.

kuwisdelu
01-24-2010, 11:26 AM
So what he is saying is....is cocaine makes you an atheist. I can buy that.

ColoradoGuy
01-24-2010, 10:02 PM
Being a Quaker doesn't make your belief correct and other's, wrong. It's wrong to think that. We must all rise above.
Of course not. Which is why I didn't say that.

ColoradoGuy
01-24-2010, 10:04 PM
So what he is saying is....is cocaine makes you an atheist. I can buy that.
Or at least chronic cocaine use impedes spirituality. Unlike, perhaps, peyote . . .

Ruv Draba
01-25-2010, 12:44 AM
I need to start slightly off-topic here, for context...

A claim of universal religiosity demands that the non-religious are explained away. Since there is no evidence that the non-religious are substantially different from anyone else other than in the matter of belief, this is normally done with social stigmatisation: the non-religious are called deluded, selfish, hurt, angry, conflicted, or invested in secret guilty pleasures. Then their unbelief doesn't need to be understood as a legitimate human behaviour, but can be dismissed as a by-product of dysfunction. Moreover, such accusations are extremely difficult to refute, since they're based not on objective evidence, but on emotions.

Now back on-topic...

The reverse though -- that objectivists explain away mysticism -- has never been necessary for an objectivist position. An objective world is verifiable objectively -- indeed, that's the only way to verify it. So another person's mystical perception of it requires no explanation at all. So when an objectivist tries explaining mysticism away without sufficient objective data, it's not science but politics. I generally ignore it for the petty squabbling it is, and try and think about more useful things. :)

On the other hand, mysticism is a scientific curio. If religious adherence (http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html) is any indicator, there are far more mystics in the world than non-mystics. Every human mind goes through a period of mystical credence somewhere between early and late childhood (consider beliefs in Santa and the tooth-fairy). Most people give up some of their mystical credence at around that point, though the amount of mysticism remaining after that time varies wildly. Many people use mystical thinking around abstract matters (like thought, emotion, ideas, relationships), but even highly educated people can use mystical thinking around tangibles (like the stock-market and weight-loss). Moreover, the tendency to think mystically appears to be strongly related to Myers-Briggs personality types (http://cactus.eas.asu.edu/partha/Teaching/101.2008/Myers-Briggns_Information_1.pdf), may be linked somehow to gender (anecdotally, more women care about astrology say, than men do), and curiously Myers-Briggs personality distributions seem to occur in similar proportions in different cultures, and in different proportions between sexes.

So is mysticism a function of nature or nurture?

It wouldn't at all surprise me to learn that mystical tendencies are partly predicted by high empathy and deep intuitions (Myers-Briggs already suggests this), and that those aptitudes have genetic foundations (because to me they seem utterly crucial to human evolutionary history). But I'd be very surprised if a handful of genes were sufficient to explain mystic faith. Such an idea doesn't just trivialise the mystic's experience -- it also trivialises the fields of neuroscience, psychology and sociology.

Fashion models, for example, are not known for their high empathy and deep intuitions. They often live fairly hedonistic lives. Yet they'll happily embrace mysticism as part of their lifestyle. Why? A simple answer might be that they find it very comfortable.

For that matter, the whole of humanity delights in fiction, and often gets comfort from it. Indeed, some sociologists and psychologists think that fiction may be critical to the way we form tribe, society and civilisation. And if fiction is essential then mysticism might be too.

My conclusion?

There's a big difference between being an objectivist, and objectonormative.

That the world is objective is a metaphysical position, but that everyone should treat it as objective is a political position. As a secular humanist I'm happy to live in an objective world while recognising that objectivism is not necessarily the most important factor in human development. I believe that humans need to know what's true, but also recognise that we must cooperate, get along, persist, endeavour, strive, inspire one another, remember our terrors but somehow recover from our traumas. If as a fiction-writer, I can see the value of fiction in doing that, then I can surely see the potential benefits of mysticism in such things too -- even if I believe mysticism to be fundamentally untrue.

And in the end, I agree with CG here. Even if mysticism did come down to a handful of genes, it wouldn't stop a single mystic from imbuing that fact with mystical significance. :)

K Ackermann
01-25-2010, 03:00 AM
Of course not. Which is why I didn't say that.

I can't believe I implied that. I am deeply sorry for the implication. I was thinking of the significance of your mentioning that you were a Quaker, and I got ahead of myself. How clumsy of me, and insulting to you.

Please accept my apologies.

WriteKnight
01-25-2010, 03:16 AM
I just watched an episode of - whatever it is that Alan Alda hosts - discovery/science. In it, he was examining the question of why the 'first wave' of humans who left africa - and became the species we call Neanderthal (in Europe) - did not 'evolve' in the same way as the second, later wave of humans who did. The second wave, essentially 'modern' were more 'spiritual' - in as much as they had more artistic expressiveness - and showed a belief in an afterlife. (I am condensing here - but that was the primary thesis of the show.)

No one had an answer as to WHY 'modern' man evolved when Neanderthal did not. Some of the theories involved the fact that Neanderthals were more isolated, less 'social' than the wave of 'modern' humans that followed. That this social grouping helped to develop those more 'spiritual'/artistic traits. An intersting thesis - but again - no one knows at this point, WHY the two species - each decended from the same - developed differently.

ColoradoGuy
01-25-2010, 05:56 AM
I can't believe I implied that. I am deeply sorry for the implication. I was thinking of the significance of your mentioning that you were a Quaker, and I got ahead of myself. How clumsy of me, and insulting to you.

Please accept my apologies.
No problem. Quakerism is, in a way, a form of (semi)organized mysticism, which is a big reason why the subject interests me. Also interesting is the concern among the religious that this line of scientific investigation somehow lessens their beliefs. It does not, in my view.

small axe
01-25-2010, 08:02 AM
the second, later wave of humans who did. The second wave, essentially 'modern' were more 'spiritual' - in as much as they had more artistic expressiveness - and showed a belief in an afterlife. (I am condensing here - but that was the primary thesis of the show.)


Having 'more artistic expressiveness' may not necessarily mean that modern humans are any more 'spiritual' however.

Aesthetics = spirituality may merely be how WE (the modern humans) interpret things.

Another common fallacy modern humans often express, is: Beauty equals Goodness. A moment's contemplation probably shows the emptiness of that assumption.

For instance, what if Neanderthals were VERY 'spiritual' ... so much so that they practiced a cultural taboo against making 'graven images' ???

While 'modern' humans were painting bisons on their cave walls, in pursuit of some silly (and materialist-oriented) "magic of the hunt" ... perhaps Neanderthrals practiced some paradigm where "the spiritual things shouldn't be made mundane by trapped bison spirits in graven images" etc.

I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you; I am pointing out (or suggesting) that perhaps OUR assumptions about how extinct humans thought says more about US than about THEM. :)

I'd disagree that "aesthetics = art = spirituality" simply because it doesn't mean the Neanderthals didn't have equally deep and complex (if less materialist) forms of 'spiritual' expression.

In the debate over a "god gene" (which is an odd, self-contradicting phrase if you think about it) or "nature vs nurture" as the cause of human spirituality ... we can only examine ourselves.

The fact that materialists arrive at materialist explanations for Spiritualism ... seems an obviously circular (and thus suspicion-worthy) form of explanation.

K Ackermann
01-25-2010, 09:14 AM
Also interesting is the concern among the religious that this line of scientific investigation somehow lessens their beliefs. It does not, in my view.

There is plenty enough mystery to go around for everyone.

We don't even have to look very far for the unexplained:

How come my girlfriend can scratch my arm with her fingernails and I'll get goosebumps and shiver? When I try it on myself using the same pressure, movements, etc., nothing.

How come I, at times, know if someone is staring at me from behind?

sunandshadow
01-25-2010, 12:28 PM
Or at least chronic cocaine use impedes spirituality. Unlike, perhaps, peyote . . .
Cocaine use is clearly demonstrated to interfere with sexuality, and there a lot of overlap between religious passion, sexual passion, and also artistic passion.

I read a book called The Midnight Disease, it mentioned that mild epilepsy caused frenzies of religious feeling and frenzies of artistic inspiration in pretty much the same way, the same input could be interpreted by the brain as either religious or artistic.

Mac H.
01-25-2010, 12:33 PM
There is plenty enough mystery to go around for everyone.

We don't even have to look very far for the unexplained:

How come my girlfriend can scratch my arm with her fingernails and I'll get goosebumps and shiver? When I try it on myself using the same pressure, movements, etc., nothing.
I suspect we know the answer to that one. It's probably the same reason most people can't tickle themselves.

To quote:


http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v1/n7/abs/nn1198_635.html

This difference suggests that the cerebellum is involved in predicting the specific sensory consequences of movements, providing the signal that is used to cancel the sensory response to self-generated stimulation.
Image if your leg was to suddenly move (perhaps a ghost pulls it). You would immediately notice it - your brain would alert you of it. But your brain deliberately doesn't alert you to the same movement if you did it deliberately - perhaps during normal walking ... otherwise you would get too distracted by the act of walking to actually walk !

People have also done experiments with robotic hands tickling, with the person being tickled controlling the robotic hand. That doesn't tickle either ... unless the robot has a random delay built in. Then it disconnects the action from the sensation and you can tickle yourself.

Mac
(PS: Some people can tickle themselves. And there is evidence that it might be an indicator of brain injury such as schizophrenia as well)

Mac H.
01-25-2010, 12:48 PM
I'm not sure I see what the original dilemma is.

As humans, we try and create 'models' of our environment. Some might be right. Some might be wrong.

So we talk about how the earth's core is hot - but we haven't actually measured it. We just imagine it is because it makes sense. It fits all the available data. It's a simple model. Why wouldn't we.

And I talk about how another person feels pain when I drop a brick on their foot. Because it makes sense - they are acting in a similar way I would if I felt what I call 'pain' and it is consistent. But, to be honest, I have no way of really verifying if they feel anything like my concept of 'pain'. But I just have a simple model in my head that 'they are similar to me'.

I apply the same rule to kittens - I figure that they appear to show something similar to 'pain' when they get hurt, so it seems like a reasonable model.

And fish show a similar behaviour when they get a hook in their mouths. So I figure that is 'pain' to.

And worms - and bacteria etc. At some point my 'model' of what the other creature is experiencing diverges so far from my experience that it becomes useless. But I don't really know when - I'm just guessing.

And when I look around in nature, I can use a similar internal model to describe other things. The rain 'tries' to wet me, so I use an umbrella. The dangerous hole is 'waiting to trap' people who might fall into it.

Since our brains NEED to model the behaviour of the world in order to survive well, it isn't surprising at all that we model the world around us based on consciousness. And it even works surprisingly well.

Mac

Ruv Draba
01-25-2010, 02:42 PM
Having 'more artistic expressiveness' may not necessarily mean that modern humans are any more 'spiritual' however.There is definitely an aesthetic to mysticism, but I don't know that there's an intrinsic aesthetic to spirituality.

It's not only poets who care about self and other, about relationships and morality and us-ness and whole-ness. Sports jocks can care about such things, accountants care and computer programmers can care too.

What they make of such things may vary. I think it takes strong emotional awareness and deep intuition for mysticism to be immanent rather than a detached abstract or a set of (possibly arbitrary) rules. On the other hand, people and relationships and a sense of good and purpose can have meaning to folk even if mysticism isn't wondrous and compelling to them.


There is plenty enough mystery to go around for everyone.Mysticism is not simply a delight in mystery, because there are far more readers of crime novels than there are true mystics.

There's something about the faith that blind yearning will automatically yield good that is intrinsic to poets, but foreign to sports-jocks, accountants and computer programmers.

Sports jocks attain understanding through goal-setting and repetition; accountants attain it through memorisation of complexity; computer programmers attain it through apprehension of capability and efficiency. But all of those require direct external experience of some kind or another to work with. Mystics are unusual in that they often prize internal, subjective and intimate experience above externality. I think they're a minority as small as rationalists, but they occupy a different quadrant of perception.

So what a mystic makes of religion or life, or spirituality may be very different from what anyone else does. It could be as erroneous to imagine that religion equals mysticism as to imagine that atheism equals objectivism. Rather, I'd say that there are those who invest in mysticism and those who merely adopt it. Similarly, I think there are those who invest in objectivism, and those who simply borrow it.

I'd describe myself as a person who's actively disinvested in mysticism, but only invested in objectivism because of its use. Which I suppose raises the question of what lies between the poles. Whatever it is, I think it's a spectrum and not simply a third undifferentiated class. Somehow, it has to accommodate idealism and pragmatism, leaning on intuition and leaning on examples.

Again, the complexity here does not seem to lend itself well to the explanation of a handful of genes flicking 'on' switches in a human mind.

Ruv Draba
01-25-2010, 10:20 PM
And when I look around in nature, I can use a similar internal model to describe other things. The rain 'tries' to wet me, so I use an umbrella. The dangerous hole is 'waiting to trap' people who might fall into it.

Since our brains NEED to model the behaviour of the world in order to survive well, it isn't surprising at all that we model the world around us based on consciousness. And it even works surprisingly well. It does indeed.

The oldest surviving mystical beliefs in the world may be the animist beliefs of the Australian aborigines and the Papua New Guinean highlanders. For them, the species of the world are not simply animated by spirits; they are people, organised by tribes. But their notion of 'people' is a very different one to the Graeco-Roman sort of picture we've inherited. 'People' are anything with behaviour and feelings -- so a dolphin or a brolga can be a person. Questions of self-awareness that have plagued Western philosophy and obsessed the Hindus and Buddhists simply don't seem to arise in this indigenous mysticism. Perhaps it's because tribal life doesn't much care about individuality in the first place?

But again: anyone can tell a story or repeat a custom. I think that the number of indigenous people who can actually see the Rainbow Serpent is far smaller than the number who talk about it.

Putting faces on species and terrain is a very effective way to remember correct behaviour, because it invests us emotionally. Western parents use this trick too, to teach empathy. Have you ever seen a parent teach a child about 'poor dolly?' Among their many uses, dolls are models for self-image, courtesy and love. So when a kid grabs Barbie by the legs to use her as a hammer it tends to distress parents, and they'll often say 'Poor dolly'.

Dolly (in case there's any doubt) can't feel a damn thing. And Barbie can make a very interesting percussive instrument but that's not the proper learning to come from dolls and so parents -- even atheistic parents -- teach their kids animism instead.

small axe
01-26-2010, 10:43 AM
So when a kid grabs Barbie by the legs to use her as a hammer it tends to distress parents, and they'll often say 'Poor dolly'.

Dolly (in case there's any doubt) can't feel a damn thing. And Barbie can make a very interesting percussive instrument but that's not the proper learning to come from dolls and so parents -- even atheistic parents -- teach their kids animism instead.

And it seems to me that suggests something deeply profound about the human ... well, I don't know whether to call it 'human psyche' or 'human spirit' or 'human thinking machine' :Sun:

I recognize from the outset that children don't possess an adult's ability to use rational thought, so explaining to a child that destroying a beloved object simply because it is an object won't gain their understanding.

Nevermind that the doll is a BELOVED object, an object that has no inherent value EXCEPT that the child beloves it.

But might the reader agree that a confirmed 'atheist' betrays their own rational model of human existence by allowing their child to embrace such "dolly hurts" animism, at whatever stage of mental development the child is at?

The atheist parent's defense might be offered that a child's mind is full of emotionalism and magic, and but is expected to "mature" into proper rationalism and atheism.

But given that human minds must have 'evolved' during the tens of thousands of years during which human life expectancy was only twenty to forty years ... given that 'religion' historically dominated human cultures up until the latest century or two ... such 'rationalism' (in a specifically anti-religion sense) and 'atheism' cannot have played much part in human evolution, can it?

Atheism might rightfully be considered to be a recent development, both in the individual human mind and as a cultural influence.

In an 'evolutionary' sense, might atheism not be a small, recent branch in the greater tree of human thought, just as the physical evolutionary history of Man is a tree of countless minor branches, offshoots that came to an end ... while the major branches continued to thrive?

Mutation throws off a myriad of "experiments" ... most doomed to failure, a few which provide some survival benefit (or do no harm) and so continue on. To understand the human tree, perhaps we should consider it by root and trunk, and less by recent twig.

Something tells me that an atheist parent who must instruct her child not to pound Barbie against the wall because the dolly "hurts" ... is doing far more than merely talking down to the undeveloped child's psyche which will later be "corrected" by a whitewashing of "rationalism" and "atheism" ...

To teach by empathy rather than intellect ... says something fundamental about humans, young AND mature (and this is giving "intellectual" maturity more weight than it deserves, if "emotional" and "spiritual" maturity are more key to being a healthy human being)

There, the parent is communicating to the true humanity within the child, the "spirit" and the "spiritual sense" within the child.

Whether that spiritual capacity is Created in the child's soul, or merely the genetic residue that tends towards Survival ... it may be deeper and truer in the human core than the rationalist whitewashing expected to come. :Sun:

Perhaps a difficult part of teaching an Artificial Intelligence to behave as a human will be to explain "empathy" and "compassion" to it.

I wonder (and perhaps the thought belongs more in the science Fiction forum?) if it will turn out that the Thinking Machines can be mere machines and still be atheists ... but that the feeling and human AI's will find within themselves a need to explore the universe from a spiritual perspective too?

Not that I'm crazy about having to choose sides in the coming Cylon Jihad !!! :)

Ruv Draba
01-26-2010, 01:14 PM
And it seems to me that suggests something deeply profound about the human ... well, I don't know whether to call it 'human psyche' or 'human spirit' or 'human thinking machine' :Sun:I think it does say something important. I'm not sure yet whether it's profound because I've yet to decide how mysterious it is. A mystic might say that it's mysterious until proven otherwise. Being the skeptical soul I am, I'd assume that it's straightforward until proven complex -- I find humiliation to be a far more useful emotion than awe. :)


I recognize from the outset that children don't possess an adult's ability to use rational thought, so explaining to a child that destroying a beloved object simply because it is an object won't gain their understanding.Again, agreed my petite hatchet. But rationality is only as good as your fact-base and investigative tools. As evidence, Aristotle was a very rational man but he believed all kinds of false stuff simply because nobody went and checked.


But might the reader agree that a confirmed 'atheist' betrays their own rational model of human existence by allowing their child to embrace such "dolly hurts" animism, at whatever stage of mental development the child is at?That would depend on why someone is atheist. Some examples for contrast.

I'm an atheist because I think humans playing with metaphysics is a self-deluded nonsense -- humanity's hubris deciding it can make ignorant pronouncements not just on How Things Are but How Things Must Be. If that's so, then to my eyes metaphysical entities such as gods and karma and souls can only be a silly, self-interested fiction. That doesn't preclude me from supporting the use of mystical rituals for material benefit though -- e.g. I don't object in principle to people writing all their anxieties on rice-paper and burning them, or pouring a drink for dead comrades, or even praying to nebulous deities for strength or wisdom. It just means that I see those things in practical, material terms rather than mystical ones.

Even Dawkins, for all his dislike of entraining kids in magical thinking, is happy to tolerate and even enjoy cultural ceremonies like Christmas and Easter, just for their festive community value.

But some atheists -- I think of them as ultrarationalists -- might consider any magical thinking at any age to be anathemical. But I'm not persuaded that they understand that not all minds are well-equipped for rationality in the first place, and that rationality is pretty useless without a very solid education. Lacking a good understanding of physics, I reckon that folklore isn't too bad a substitute.


But given that human minds must have 'evolved' during the tens of thousands of years during which human life expectancy was only twenty to forty years ... given that 'religion' historically dominated human cultures up until the latest century or two ... such 'rationalism' (in a specifically anti-religion sense) and 'atheism' cannot have played much part in human evolution, can it?Another good question. Here's my view: atheism isn't a philosophy or methodology of thought, but a small set of related metaphysical positions.

It dates back to at least Socrates (around 400BCE), but it wouldn't surprise me if similar thoughts had cropped up earlier -- e.g. in the Egyptian priesthood. Get behind the scenes with the Egyptian god-kings and you'd surely have to develop some degree of cynicism about their divinity.

In my opinion, atheism lends nothing to the development of human thought. Rather, it's a by-product of other thought -- e.g. rationalism, materialism, objectivism, nihilism, naturalism, hedonism and some flavours of humanism. A common mistake for the religious to make (but not often made in this forum) is to mistake atheism for a cause rather than what it really is: an effect.

At best one could try and argue that eliminating the clutter of gods and other metaphysical constructs might clear the way for rationality and understanding material things, but I'm not even sure that's true. Newton was a mega-mystic and had no problems at all inventing most of physics.

In an 'evolutionary' sense, might atheism not be a small, recent branch in the greater tree of human thought, just as the physical evolutionary history of Man is a tree of countless minor branches, offshoots that came to an end ... while the major branches continued to thrive?Again, good question and I have no feeling for this. I look at animist beliefs like those of the indigenous Australians and I'm not entirely persuaded that they're religions at all, or that they really have gods. When I try and guess how they might have begun I can as easily conceive them being scared, imaginative atheists as devout theists. :)


Something tells me that an atheist parent who must instruct her child not to pound Barbie against the wall because the dolly "hurts" ... is doing far more than merely talking down to the undeveloped child's psyche which will later be "corrected" by a whitewashing of "rationalism" and "atheism" ...As a sample of one, I wouldn't say 'poor dolly' to a child. It would stick in my craw. But I would show the child other ways to play with the doll,or give the child a cat or dog to play with. :)


Whether that spiritual capacity is Created in the child's soul, or merely the genetic residue that tends towards Survival ... it may be deeper and truer in the human core than the rationalist whitewashing expected to come. :Sun:Nice use of sunshine.. The humanist in me generally outweighs the rationalist. I rate empathy as more important than rationality, so if push came to shove I'd rather a world full of Buddhists and Quakers and Yogis and Celtic Bards and Eastern Orthodox eremites than a world full of cranky atheists cutting each other off in car-parks. :) (But then, if they washed their large-intestines too much and failed to invent sewage systems and vaccinations, I might come back and change my mind -- cos nobody's happy with buboes.)


Perhaps a difficult part of teaching an Artificial Intelligence to behave as a human will be to explain "empathy" and "compassion" to it.Being the irascible reductionist I am, I suspect that empathy is relatively easy, given the right hardware. Compassion I reckon is no harder than empathy with a bit of consequence-modelling. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see, say, sociopathy 'curable' within the next sixty years -- though whether such a cure is ethical I dare not hazard.

small axe
01-27-2010, 02:30 AM
In my opinion, atheism lends nothing to the development of human thought. Rather, it's a by-product of other thought -- e.g. rationalism, materialism, objectivism, nihilism, naturalism, hedonism and some flavours of humanism. A common mistake for the religious to make (but not often made in this forum) is to mistake atheism for a cause rather than what it really is: an effect.


That gave me a very useful alternative perspective on the issue, actually. Thank you very much! I'll think upon that some more.