Reptilian Brains and Magical Thinking

We humans have all inherited remnants of the "reptilian brain", by which I indicate the autonomic/emotional core that is found throughout the animal kingdom.

The apes that ultimately evolved into humans enjoyed survival advantages over those of their cousins who had not inherited genes for the Great NeoCortical Leap Forward. That is, in hominid evolution, those apes with the greatest cognitive advantage were able to survive, proliferate, and outnumber their rivals.

The persistence of religion, despite the far greater explanatory power of scientific knowledge, relies upon this emotional side of human nature. However, those who wish to impose their religious views on society are also well aware that the Idea of God must be instilled into children while they are still stuck in the magical-thinking stage. Let any child, even a child of average intelligence, grow to adulthood before attempting to convince them that some old book holds more "Truth" than empirical facts, and that mind will most likely have escaped religion's clutches. Only early indoctrination can keep the synagogues, mosques, and churches filled with individuals willing to put an inculcated obsession ahead of humanity.

Catch 'em young and many of them will never outgrow magical thinking because some are not genetically endowed with the cognitive powers to overcome illogic. Religionists seem unwilling to grasp the fact that atheists have escaped religious indoctrination through the operation of critical thinking rather than that atheists are victims of scientific cultism, naturally immoral, or incapable of emotional response.

Religionists, however, are scared of scientific knowledge because at some deep level that they are too scared to admit science refutes the creation mythology in Genesis. Religionists are so scared of knowledge that many, such as the creationist family in "God's Christian Warriors", are homeschooling their children to ensure that they cannot bite the forbidden fruit of secular knowledge. If the facts supported religionist beliefs, then creationists would not need to attack or defend against knowledge.

Comment on post and response to comment: Emotional Response to Cage Rattling .

Sites Elsewhere : Poll: For Christians' identity, it's faith first, U.S. second, reposted from CNN :

PBS Evolution: Episode 6: The Mind's Big Bang






Not aphorism . . .

The pagan Norse god, Thor.Not aphorism, athorism.

This is lack of belief in Thor, the pagan 'thunder' god, son of the chief 'fury' god, Odin and of the Earth goddess, Jörð.

Handy guy to have on your side if you happen to be warlike, which explains how such gods came to be invented. Thousands of deities have been invented, and believed in, over human prehistory – many of their names were simply lost to time.

Many Scandinavians believed in Thor, and Odin, and Loki, for that matter, but did Thor ever actually exist?

Of course, it can't be proved that Thor never existed – outside the myth.

Do we no longer believe in Thor because there is no evidence for Thor's existence – beyond all the images and folklore, that is?

No, belief in Thor was demonized by early Christian missionaries in Scandinavia. 'Heaven' forbid, literally, that Christians permit a rival god.

So, despite the fact that Thor's nonexistence cannot be proven, do we merely no longer believe that Thor existed or do we believe that Thor never existed outside the mythologies?

It's a safe bet that you are quite sure that Thor never existed outside mythology. (If you do believe in Thor, post your address and someone will arrange for a visit from men in white coats.)

This is all pretty obvious, so why this post?

Under the title, There is no God, KC on Bligbi asked, concerning theists, "Why is this such a bad thing to say?"

I agree, there is no God. Can't prove it, of course, because it is logically impossible to disprove a nonexistence. I don't think that it's a bad thing to say that there is no God. Obviously, far too many theists assume that saying such a thing indicates that the speaker has horns. I also agree with frustrated atheists from KC to Dawkins, that it is long past the time when we should be politely mollycoddling delusional irrationality.

What stuns me, though, are not the numbers of passionately-deluded theists who react negatively to no-God statements, but the number of atheists who cannot bring themselves to firmly state that they do not believe in God because there is no God.

...section index...

atheism, Christianity, mythology, paganism, religion, Thor

The Moral Instinct

In case you are interested in the hot topic of the biology of morality, Today's NYT is running an interesting article by Steven Pinker: The Moral Instinct.

Of Vice and Men


“The infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists — that is why they invented hell.” ~ Bertrand Russell

What do the New Atheism, science, religion, and morality have in common according to Krauss and Pinker? . . . more

Dwat those Pesky Fistians


What to call 'em?


Call whom?


The hatefilled sheep who congregate against rationality, that's whom. . . more.

Not Naming any Names


Not naming any names, I was recently amused to find a blogger complaining of accusations of equivocation by another blogger whom I have observed to rely on equivocation. This is the old Pot-Kettle-Black theme. . . more.

Religionist Enemy Number One

The Wizard of Oz maintaining Dorothy's delusional world from behind a curtain.Technically, religionists seem to fear lots of mysterically-inflated enemies (real and imagined).

It strikes me that most American fundamentalists have nothing to fear but truth itself.

Because American fundamentalists, Fistians, don't have so many real enemies as Jews and Middle Easterners have historically suffered under, fundies must invent and exaggerate threats.

One threat comes from the direction of scientific understanding, so Fistians try to chop down, or at least uproot, the Tree of Knowledge.

From BGH at Information Paradox:

“NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Taylor County School Board of Taylor County, Perry, Florida, that the Board urges the State Board of Education to
direct the Florida Department of Education to revise the new Sunshine State Standards for Science such that evolution is not presented as fact, but as one of several theories.”
Well, scientists don’t actually claim that Darwin’s theory of evolution is a fact, or even that Darwinism is the best current theory. Scientists merely state that natural selection operates as a mechanism of biological evolution and that the ‘modern synthesis’ represents the best current explanation for the demonstrable fact of biological evolution.

Why do I not believe that this is what the Taylor County School Board intends? Presumably theirs is the latest bid to foist creationist stupidity onto minds too uneducated to know the difference between scientific fact and religious fiction. (It gets worse!)

Why would a school board seek to undermine the teaching of science? For any who are visiting from another planet and have not yet heard of this outrage, I can explain in two words: religious delusionism.

Which probably also explains why people persist in voting the terminally ignorant onto school boards.

Vjack reports on a survey that "found a relationship between one's understanding of science and one's support for teaching evolution, indicating that those who know more about science are more likely to support evolution as a part of science education."

No surprises there. Those who understand the findings of science are much more likely to want accurate science taught in classrooms. The tragedy is that some of those who are vigorously promoting intelligent design creationism actually do know some science. Those proponents of IDiocy are merely being dishonest as well as deluded.

Of, FASEB Joins Coalition of Scientific Societies in Urging Scientists to Promote Evolution Education, vjack concludes:

“Specifically, the coalition is concerned that creationism and its pseudo-scientific cousin, intelligent design, are undermining science education.”

What is so dangerous about science education that necessitates its undermining? Sacred slut sums it up:

"But given what we know about the universe today in the 21st century, would anyone come up with "god" as an answer to how the universe came into being?

I say no."

That's it in a nutshell – no science-educated person would invent supernaturalist delusions, outside science fiction novels, to replace much better, more wondrous explanations.

Religious delusion is fatally circular in so many aspects, not least in paranoid arguments. This involves the deluded fear that some kind of catastrophe could result from discovering the Wizard behind the Curtain. They believe their own propaganda about the inevitable moral mayhem that could result from pulling the wool from their own eyes.

However, if they truly believed in the Rapture, they should welcome moral mayhem as a precipitating condition for the apocalyptic end-times that promise their eternal reward for blind faith. Perhaps they have heard of the many "End is Nigh" predictions that have come to naught.

After all, here we still are.

Religionists are scared of scientific knowledge because, at some deep level that they are too scared to admit, science refutes the creation mythology in Genesis.

Religionists are so scared of knowledge that many, such as the creationist family in "God's Christian Warriors", are homeschooling their children to ensure that they cannot bite the forbidden fruit of secular knowledge. If the evidence supported religionist beliefs, then creationists would not need to attack science or set up defenses against the intrusion of knowledge.

Those who wish to impose their religious views on society are well aware that the Idea of God must be instilled into children while they are still stuck in the magical-thinking stage. As sacred slut suggests, let any child, even a child of average intelligence, grow to adulthood before attempting to convince them that some old book holds more "Truth" than empirical facts, and that mind will most likely have escaped religion's clutches. Only early indoctrination can keep the synagogues, mosques, and churches filled with individuals willing to put an inculcated obsession ahead of humanity.

Catch 'em young and many of them will never outgrow magical thinking because some are not genetically endowed with the cognitive powers to overcome illogic. Religionists seem unwilling to grasp the fact that atheists have escaped religious indoctrination through the operation of critical thinking rather than that atheists are victims of scientific cultism, naturally immoral, or incapable of emotional response.

atheism, biological evolution, creationism, education, fundamentalism, intelligent design, religion, science, supernatural,

No Illusion Necessary

You can easily hold your breath for 10 seconds, but how about 10 minutes? Can you impact the behavior of your pituitary gland by concentrating on your secretion of hormone stimulating factors?

Do you prefer chocolate or vanilla ice-cream, coffee or tea? Can you will yourself to feel differently about your gustatory preferences?

Your answer probably is that you cannot easily modify any of your basic functions or preferences. Your preferences could be impacted if a highly negative event were closely associated with your eating or drinking a current favorite, but the negative effect would almost certainly gradually wear off with time, restoring your preferences.

For the most part, it is highly convenient not to need to think about controlling respiration, heart rate, intestinal peristalsis, or hormone secretion. You can concentrate on other things and let your brain control those functions. Since you like what you like and are likely to find toxic substances disgusting, you are probably content with your preferences and dislikes.

For the sake of illustration, I have deliberately chosen rather primitive, hard-wired brain activities that are centered in evolutionarily older brain structures – approximately the blue areas in the image. We do not even have the illusion of having free will regarding these brain activities, so deterministic input-effect-effect-effect-output neural sequences are adequate to explain the functions. We don't control them, they control themselves.

Does this mean that we really don't have the free will that theists claim God gave us?

Well, there are no gods to give us free will, so does this mean that we could not have free will at all?

I'll leave you to ponder this question while I take my tired neurons off to sleep, perchance to dream.

Suffering the Slingerland Arrows

Bust of François-Marie Arouet (1694-1778), a French philosophe better known by the nom de plume Voltaire. I have just listened to Edward Slingerland's talk at Beyond Belief: Enlightenment 2.0. Although the talk was interesting, I think that several of Slingerland's arrows missed the target.

I think that it is practically useless but also politically inept to refer to the Enlightenment, or its continuation, as being "religions".

Calling any pro-science, pro-rationalist, often implicitly anti-supernaturalist belief system a "religion" broadens the definition of religion so much as to render it meaningless. As historian Margaret Jacobs points out in the ensuing discussion, the Enlightenment was totally without ritual and calling it a religion "does not help very much".

Second, I continue to be astonished at the political naϊveté of some of the speakers at both Beyond Belief conferences. (Of course, my saying this reflects the fact that I consider theistic distortions to be the enemy of enlightenment rationality.) Dubbing the Enlightenment a religion will not make its message any more palatable to religious dogmatists, but could provide more ammunition for their fallacious arguments that dismiss all opposing viewpoints as "merely another religion."

Although it is quite clear that Roger Bingham sought to promote discussion by inviting speakers from different, sometimes wildly different, viewpoints, it strikes me as nonconstructive to risk handing weapons to the forces of irrationality that are arraigned against science and reason. Scientists have too long ignored the pseudoscientific and anti-science polemics of creationists, or have remained polite about religion in general. The reality is that many theists view science with disdain while they simultaneously attempt to subvert science to their own purposes. Pandering to religionist sensibilities by inviting speakers who dub the Enlightenment a religion hardly seems productive.

Slingerland tossed out a statement to the effect that it has been established – as though this question is settled for once and for all – that free will is purely an illusion. I have given this matter some thought, and I have decided, for once and for all, that the accusation fits some primitive aspects of brain function, but that it does not describe higher brain function. This means that I am both a determinist and a compatibilist. I'll post again on the topic of free will when I have more time.



atheism, Enlightenment, philosophy, religion, science

Abandon the Marital Bed

On The Barefoot Bum, I found a link to an article on Islamic prescriptions for violence against women.

It is really no surprise that Muslim men exhibit medieval attitudes toward women, after all, the West has only recently adopted an officially non-demeaning attitude to women.

Art reflects life: Shakespeare's Petruchio took a subtle approach in The Taming of the Shrew, yet John Wayne – who should simply have fetched his wife's belongings – was ultimately less than gentle with Maureen O'Hara in The Quiet Man.

Despite an improvement in society's official attitudes, some men-will-be-boys-will-be-bullies and violence against women does continue as a manifestation of immaturity and control-freakism. In the West, violence against both women and men is illegal.

The author of this rambling piece in the Yemen Times concludes an apology for violence against women with:

"Dear readers – especially women – don’t think that I hate or am against women; rather, I simply mean to preserve the morals and principles with which Islam has honored us.

I hope my message is clear, since it’s really quite relevant to the future of our societies, which must be protected from any kind of cultural invasion."


This pronouncement that Islam has honored society with morals and principles that include beating wives and daughters follow fast upon the following declaration:


"For men, it begins with abandoning the marital bed, by opting to sleep elsewhere in the house. After this, they may discuss the matter with any respected person for the husband’s or the wife’s family, who could be in a position to advise the wife. If this also does not work, then the husband yields to beating the wife slightly. They do this because of a misunderstanding in the Quran, as the word says Darban, which is commonly understood today as beating. However, in Classic Arabic it means to set examples or to announce and proclaim. The more accurate meaning of this last one is that the husband finally has to set forth, to make a clear statement or proclamation, and if these measures fail, then divorce is preferable."

If wife beating is the result of a misunderstanding of the Quran, then how can the author claim that Islamic society has been "honored" with attitudes that the civilized world despises? This is just a case of special pleading – justifying wrong action by saying that it is a sign of honor that must be protected from reasonable criticism.

One wonders if Muslim husbands ultimately resort to more punitive coercions because their wives are only too delighted to have the husbands abandon the marital bed.

Original: There must be violence against women.

Found : Why I love Islam, There must be violence against women

Seeker after the truth

This quote was used by Roger Bingham in his introduction to Beyond Belief: Enlightenment 2.0:
"Therefore, the seeker after the truth is not one who studies the writings of the ancients and, following his natural disposition, puts his trust in them, but rather the one who suspects his faith in them and questions what he gathers from them, the one who submits to argument and demonstration, and not to the sayings of a human being whose nature is fraught with all kinds of imperfection and deficiency. Thus the duty of the man who investigates the writings of scientists, if learning the truth is his goal, is to make himself an enemy of all that he reads, and, applying his mind to the core and margins of its content, attack it from every side. He should also suspect himself as he performs his critical examination of it, so that he may avoid falling into either prejudice or leniency."
~ Ibn al-Haytham, Persian polymath, 965 – 1039 CE (Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan ibn al-Haytham, also called Alhacen, Alhazen, or al-Basri)

The Unholy Trinity

If you look closely, you'll see that I've altered some of the signs to religious advertisements. The venue is different, but the messages and images are much the same.
In the Movie A Few Good Men, Tom Cruise's defense lawyer character says, "you both live in the same dreamworld. It doesn't matter what I believe. It only matters what I can prove!" What really matters for any trial that appeals to opinion or beliefs, is what can be sold to whatever jury.

Religions have had a lot of time, and a lot of personnel, and a lot of money to sell a set of propositions that happen not to be the truth. Religious organizations, particularly fundamentalist Christian organizations, seem to spend a huge portion of the tax-exempt funds that they collect from believers on advertizing their product back to believers and on promoting their secular ends. Yes, secular ends. Politics is part of the secular world. The highly religious political candidates hoping to next mismanage the US demonstrate their lamentable theocratic yearnings.

Over the holiday season, as my recent posts hint, I have been watching Beyond Belief 2006: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival. This was a conference that Roger Bingham and The Science Network organized in November, 2006.

Appropriate Chrismas fare, in my opinion.

During Session 9, featuring (26) Sam Harris, Jim Woodward, and Melvin Konner, discussion became rather vitriolic.

Jim Woodward accused conference participants of making statements about religion without subjecting those propositions to empirical testing. I'm not sure how much empirical evidence for harm directly connected with religion need be put forward before Woodward would concede that religion is sometimes connected with harm.

Anthropologist Konner, in particular, gave an anti-new-atheism speech, arguing for continuing politeness to religion because it offers some hope and does some good, and disputing that religion contributed in any way to the murder of 6 million people who simply happened to be Jews. Konner is an atheist, but his weak pro-religion arguments sounded much like arguments made by theists.

Sam Harris remained calm and logical in face of the attacks, Richard Dawkins grew somewhat heated in response to misrepresentations of his actual position, Woodward maintained his equanimity, while Konner looked increasingly grim.

Alonzo Fyfe has written good summaries of BB2006 Sam Harris: Morality and Religion, Jim Woodward: Empirical Study of Religion and Harm, Melvin Konner: Hope, Benefit, and Prohibiting Religion, Discussion: Faith as a Vice.

This session in particular, and the rest of the conference in general, raised questions about how best to counteract the worst elements of harmfulness associated with religious dogmatism. I don't think that the best tactics would even remotely approximate any of Konner's suggestions.

If nothing else, session 9 demonstrated that, contrary to theistic claims, all atheists definitely do not think according to the dictates of some new fundamentalist religion with Harris, Dawkins, and Dennett as the Unholy Trinity. (The number four is not convenient for this particular theological allusion, so Hitchens shall have to settle for portraying Satan.)


atheism, religion,

Rolly Polly Revisited

Taking a hint from Vjack, Mojoey, and Jon Swift, here's my embryonal, alphabetical blogroll. I shall add to it as I find (and recall!) blogs that I like.

If you think that I have overlooked your blog as the result of some terrible error or glitch in the system, such as my failure to discover your atheist / evolution / humanist / liberal / philosophical / science / skepticism blog, feel free to let me know in a comment. (Results not guaranteed, but it’s worth a try, eh?)

For convenience, I'll put a link to this blogroll post in the sidebar too (technorati ignores sidebar blogrolls when assessing page rank.)

Jon Swift noted: "Although I haven't made a scientific survey, I have noticed that for the most part the blogrolls on the top conservative blogs tend to be bigger than the blogrolls on top liberal blogs."

Interesting! Could it be that there are more conservative blogs, that conservatives are more likely to support the in-group, have more time to read other blogs, a combination of these factors, or something else?

Atheism
A Whore in the Temple of Reason
Black Sun Journal
Greta Christina's Blog
Planet Atheism
Skepticum
Why Dont You Blog?

Evolution
EvolutionBlog
Pharyngula
Sandwalk

Neuroscience
Developing Intelligence
Greg Laden's Blog
Neurophilosophy

Philosophy oriented
Atheist Ethicist
Barefoot Bum
Evolving Thoughts
Five Public Opinions
Metamagician and the Hellfire Club
The Thinkers’ Podium
The Uncredible Hallq

Science
Cosmic Variance
Life before death
Primordial Blog

Tongue-in-cheeky
Pat Condell