Religion


If no one can prove that God exists, then how can God can be the ultimate authority? When the occurrences that could be called “Divine Retribution” fall equally on the “evil” and the “innocent” it appears that the only authority of “God” is the fatwa, the inquisition and the burning at the stake. “Acts of God” rain indiscriminately on humans. Theologians cherry pick and memorialize the cases supporting their view and suppress the instances where the innocent are struck by brimstone or the nasty guy gets ahead.

The font of morality comes from a successful human species. What works for a society is good. What is bad for human society is in the long run, rooted out of both the genome and the society. A fixed (over tens of generations) morality is no more than a fable. The rules of acceptable behavior (morals) of the middle ages are wildly different from modern western society. Huckleberry Finn thought he would go to hell because he helped the slave Jim escape. Infanticide was the solution to deformity 100 years ago in Oceania. Jesus was crucified because he because he claimed to be the Son of God. It is no longer permissible for Catholic priests to molest children.

So much for rules: Perhaps more important, altruism is a trait which has been selected by natural selection. It does not mean that the trait is universal, but that it is prevalent in the population. Its value comes from societial benefit. Societies will usually reward altruism and shun sociopathy in its members. I know that there are scientists who argue against group selection, but there is enough evidence for it that it should be permitted as a working hypothesis

Religion and the supernatural have recorded some rules of behavior (morality) which are clearly evil. (Slavery, sexual slavery, ethnic cleansing, intent to commit filicide (human sacrifice of a son), killing of war prisoners – just in the Bible – we can find lots more in the Quran and Talmud, and that is just the Abrahamic religions).

Religion has instigated many of the worst evils on the world (9-11, the Cathars, Kosovo, Sikh pogroms, the Thirty Years War, the Crusades, Witch burning, the Inquisition, the Lebanese Civil War, the Irish Troubles etc.) all because “God told them to do it!” The fact that the Nazis and the KKK are Christian organizations has been repressed.

When a society shows children the acceptable rules of behavior for its members – that is where morals come from. Some old books serve only as props and justifications for parents and leaders who are unwilling to take the effort to search out what is important for themselves. Hewing to a tradition is easier than rational analysis. Tradition brings a stability that damps out sudden changes which may have unintended consequences. Unfortunately, religion becomes ossified – particularly when it tries to apply tribal Bronze Age morals to global Information Age life.

Religion has no guidance for morals beyond the tribe, no guidance for technologies that can wipe humankind off the globe and change the nature of what it is to be human, such as radically extended lifespan, cloning, cyborgs, gene modification, artificial life, enhanced consciousness, human actions which effect the entire world, multinational corporations, monoculture food, global climate change, WMD.

Just as important, Religion is especially blind on how to interact morally with people and sentient animals who are very different from ourselves. When the extent of a person’s actions never extended beyond ten kilometers Bronze age guidelines were OK. When the president can blow North Korea or Iran off the face of the earth with a pushbutton, we need a revision of morality – one that can be shared among all peoples. One that does not murder abortioners, stone rape victims, exterminate whales, hang homosexuals, blow up Buddhas or burn witches.

Thomas Jefferson prepared his own “New Testament” bible by pasting the words and story of Jesus Christ of Nazareth by razor cutting from a King James Bible and his personal translations from Greek.  The “Jefferson Bible” is  a chronological amalgam of the four New Testament  books.  His first attempt to extract the philosophy in a less successful work The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth which he edited in 1804.  It appears that this first forty three page pasted book does not survive.

In the winter of 1816-1817 he produced a handsome morocco-bound volume, labeled on the back, `Morals of Jesus,’ which contained parallel texts in four languages.  This book is held by the National Museum, and 9000 copies were produced for the Congress.  Jefferson kept the book a secret from the public during his lifetime, but reportedly read from it each night before retiring.

Jefferson said his task was:

“… extracting the pure principles which he taught, we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to themselves. We must dismiss the Platonists and Plotinists, the Stagyrites and Gamalielites, the Eclectics, the Gnostics and Scholastics, their essences and emanations, their logos and demiurges, aeons and daemons, male and female, with a long train of … or, shall I say at once, of nonsense.”

The original bound manuscript is held by the US National Museum in Washington,   The actual manuscript has been scanned and can be viewed online, with the Greek and Roman next to the English King James excerpt.  Its age and old fashoned printing make this great as a reference, but hard to use to just read.

VATICAN CITY, Holy Thursday – Watching the pilgrims arrive for Holy Week, queuing through the metal detectors at the ends of the arms of St. Peter’s Square, I feel like a teenager watching the little kids line up for Santa Claus. It is remarkable how we are willing to cast aside the sweet myth of Santa, for the reality that it is the sure love of our parents that provide gifts and good cheer, yet the myth of religion clings with most of us until death.

So many are unable to cast off the myth of religion – perhaps the stakes are too high, or unlike the Santa myth, our parents believed their entire lives. We, as a race, need to recognize that the bounty that we enjoy springs not from some supernatural entity, but from our spaceship Earth. We are simply one organic part of it. The value of our lives depends on how good a tenant we are: Our contribution to human society, to good stewardship of Earth, and to posterity are all measures of that tenancy.

Religion serves to unify a group. The godhead set down rules for life, and everyone in the group recognizes that following or breaking them has consequences – multiplied by the concept of an eternal afterlife. The problem with this is that religion causes an us / them organization of thought. For example, the Ten Commandments were meant as rules for behavior between the tribes of Israel, and had no force with respect to other tribes. It was fine to rape or plunder the Philistines.

Religion ossifies rules. Leviticus held the best rules known at the time for Bronze Age Man. Don’t eat cloven hoofed animals, you will get trichinosis; you are unclean until dark if you handle roadkill, since you have no “sanitizing wipes”; two men should not lay with one woman, we won’t know the father; etc. These made excellent sense at the time and place. The problem is that there is no mechanism for editing to add new guides and remove irrelevant ones or ones whose purpose is no longer valid, such as “go forth and multiply” when we have already done that and the Earth’s population is burgeoning.

Even when religion comes from a single source, such as the Abrahamic faiths, there arouse differences that not only separate peoples, but cause great strife and bloodshed. Muslim, Judaism and Christianity all share the same roots, but have seen terrible bloodshed in the name of God. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Caliphate conquests, the Ottoman wars, the Papal wars all were driven by religion. Recent conflicts such as that between Israel and the Palestinians, the Irish troubles, and Serbia vs Bosnia and Herzegovnia, and Kosovo are all driven by religion as well. Even within a single faith Shiite vs Sunni, Catholicism vs Protestantism the power struggles divide peoples.

With a death in my family only last night, I see how the myth of “life after death” holds a powerful claim on our beliefs. Not only is it packages of toys we are talking about, but the continuation of “MEness” contained in our sentience after death is at stake. This is a powerful question.

Don’t we surrender sentience daily in sleep? How is sentience to return after death if it has been lost in the dementia of Alzheimer’s? Do we not leave bits of ourselves in everything we do, particularly everything we teach? Are not my thoughts borrowed by everyone who reads these words? Is not the sum of a life the totality of what that person has done, and its effect on the world and humanity? Perhaps this is the true meaning of the final judgement, and not some standing before a god, but simply a clear understanding of that tally.

No promise of dancing with angels before god holds sway with me. It is inconceivable to me that so many people hold this myth firmly based only on wishful thinking and some verses in a book sustaining it. I suppose the same could be said about Ptolomy’s celestial spheres, yet people believed them for years after Copernicus and Gallileo showed them to be false.

I for one, am content with the idea that my sentience, that I hold most preciously, will most likely fade at my death or before. I measure its purpose by the good I do, and by my failures, using as a measure the best information on the “right course” I can find. This, I believe is a successful and fulfilling life plan, sans any need for supernatural interference. I will go to my final sleep knowing the good and bad I have accomplished will weigh the scales on how much of that life was used well and how much wasted. Those scales are mine, not of some supernatural being, and free of obsession will show the truth.

Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal

The French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote in his Pensées, a collection of notes made towards the end of his life, that when making a life wager on the existence of God, belief in God is the best bet.  This is known as Pascal’s Wager.  Using the first formally structured decision theory and probability theory Pascal started from the proposition that reason and experiment cannot establish the existence or non-existence of God.  He developed the proposal that no matter the state of existence of God, it was a better bet to behave as though there was one.  In his other writings, Pascal expressed his belief that in comparison to other options, like stoicism, paganism, Islam, and Judaism,  the Christian faith is the only one that could be correct.  A corollary of Pascal’s thesis is “If it is impossible to know whether God exists, it follows that it is also impossible to know (in the case that God does exist) God’s expectations of us.” This corollary makes Pascal’s belief in the correctness of Christianity unsupported by his own logic.

Pascal’s wager has been attacked and defended by philosophers over the ages,  Voltare – treatied it as a proof, as opposed to a pragmatic analysis.  Denis Diderot, and J. L. Mackie point out that the same argument could be said about any religion, many of which each claim to be the only true path to salvation.  Richard Dawkins further challenges the scope of outcomes by proposing the possibility of a God who rewards honest search for truth, and punishes blind faith.  You see, taking these refinements into consideration, the decision matrix no longer supports Pascal’s clear odds.

My contribution to this discussion is to show that there is a third choice.  When the decision matrix is evaluated with my “third way”, it can be seen that this is the only sure bet.

Pascal’s original wager can be shown in a formal presentation as:

God exists (G) God does not exist (~G)
Living as if God exists (B) +∞ (heaven) −N (Pointless actions during life)
Living as if God does not exist (~B) ?? not specified
perhaps N (limbo/purgatory/spiritual death)
or −∞ (hell)
+N (none)

(more…)

The Supreme Court Building

The Supreme Court Building

If the test that former Supreme Court Justice O’Connor used to decide Establishment Clause issues relating to the separation of Church and State was:

“Encouragement”; i.e. did the State encourage a religion, and in doing so, made others not of that religion feel ‘excluded’;

Why, then doesn’t the concept of “marriage” (which is the religious ceremony piece of a civil union) violate the same Establishment Clause? Wouldn’t same sex couples feel excluded on the basis of a religious belief?

Perhaps the solution to arguments on same sex marriages is to remove the word “marriage” from the purview of government.  If the states and federal government only recognized civil unions, and left marriage to religious and other nongovernmental bodies it moots all the political arguments.

Under this regime, two Individuals who wished to be considered a unit for tax, inheritance, medical, child custody and all other legal and practical matters would enter a civil union.  This civil union could be “blessed” and become a marriage by whatever church, lodge, association etc. the parties may choose.  As far as the state is concerned, nothing except a civil union is required.  A marriage without an underlying civil union would have no force of law, and a marriage ceremony would have no effect on rights or privileges of the couple.  The governmental and legal benefits would accrue solely through the civil union.

This concept would simplify the law with respect to polygamy.  A person could be a member of only one civil union at any time.

The goal of this site it to open minds. These are days of change, and the changes should be guided by fact and thoughtful consideration.

Please join in to illuminate the information found here. This is my site, and I want to hear opposing views. Two rules: All posts must be respectful of others and their opinions. No false witness – facts stated here must be true to the best of knowledge of the writer.

I read in Science Times in the New York Times today of some new discoveries about the “sexually deceptive” tongue orchids of Australia.

God
I was discussing the basis of religion with a friend at a party. He is a serious theologian and a born again Christian. When the subject of existence of God came up, my friend said that the best argument was made by Saint Thomas Aquinas in his “The Five Ways”. I decided that it is best to go to the source and evaluate it.

St. Thomas was a pretty good logician, but the unscientific and erroneous beliefs held in his time makes many of his conclusions irrelevant now that we know the universe better. St. Thomas used the knowledge of the ancients, mainly that of of Aristotle to form his worldview. He did not have the benefit of modern science. The discoveries of DesCartes, Bacon, Newton, Einstein and other modern thinkers and experimenters had not been made.

One of St. Thomas’ most important theses in Summa Theologica is The Five Ways - considered by some as a conclusive proof of the existence of God. (more…)

River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (Science Masters Series)

River out of Eden is Richard Dawkins’ clear, readable and well researched explanation of basic Evolution and Natural Selection. This entirely accessible explanation dispels many confusions and erroneous views of the current scientific understanding of the “Origin of Species”. It includes a comprehensive (through 1995) bibliography for those who want to continue their reading. Dawkins is a firebrand for the Brights athiest-naturalist movement, and many religious folks would cast anything he writes out as the word of the Satan. I picked up my copy for a quarter at the local Salvation Army thrift shop, and probably would not have gotten it at a regular bookstore because of Dawkins’ reputation as a strident, evangelical athiest. I am very glad I picked it up.
Well, Dawkins does make a case that if an “Old One” holding the keys to life exists, he either could care less about his creations, or reallly loves to play dice. Dawkins’ conclusions in this area do not overburden this book with anti-religious philosophy – he sticks to the facts and exposes how we now understand the way that species vary and optimize for their unique environments. Upon careful reading of River out of Eden, the mechanisms of the DNA evolutionary process become not only clear, but obvious. The Utility Function for evolution and natural selection is simply optimizing the prevalence of the particular DNA patterns of an organism in the universe. (more…)

Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge

Consilience brings together information from different disciplines to generate a far greater knowledge than the sum of the parts. Edward O. Wilson‘s bestseller explains just how that occurs. For those of us who have already come to that conclusion, the book starts kind of slow. He carefully and thoughtfully builds the case for a unity of knowledge, that for folks who already understand, is plodding. He does this so the rest of the world can follow the case he builds. The source of the data is meticulously laid out in the work itself and in extensive final notes.

For those who don’t see his point, or had not thought about consilience and its multiplicative effect on knowledge, he hammers the point home that information without context is not very useful, and putting it in the context of the total knowledge of the human race is how it gets value. If you do not yet see how science and art, or biology and chemistry are cut from the same cloth, this book will change your life.

Wilson’s underlying goal with Consilience is to prove and sell the world view that the Human Race is a race for survival: That humans are consuming the world’s resources at a rate which will shortly cause cataclysmic destruction. Our numbers and wastefulness are destroying the ecology in which humans have evolved. The gains of consilience can permit the dramatic adjustments our footprint on the earth so that it will remain habitable. (more…)

Next Page »