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Author Topic: The Genius of Charles Darwin
BlackBlade
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Mighty Cow:

quote:
Unfortunately, organized, deistic religion is even better at controlling huge segments of the population, and convincing them to do horrible things, or even just ignorant and sad things, in the name of their Deity.

I think I can agree with you on this. I submit that religion does not get a hold on a group of people until it has first demonstrated a propensity to better their situation. It is this principle that allows for religion to gain a hold on a people and then misdirect them. No lasting religion is born out of evil.

But again science is no different in this regard. We embrace antibiotics, and cure millions, and yet we create super bacteria. The internal combustion engine makes our lives so much better, but with an irreversable effect on our environment.

I find it hard to deny that the desire to believe in a God seems to be hard wired into most people's brains, if history is any indication.

I do not think the day will ever come where even 70% of the human race denies any belief in a God.

Also remember though, that if religion can bend people into doing horrible things, it can also create in them a disposition to do marvelous things.

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MightyCow
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:

quote:
The only people who fear an educated population are the ones who benefit because of their ignorance.
Generally I would agree with this. As to this particular discussion, I think it's nonsense. Just because someone doesn't want sex education taught in schools-a decision I disagree with-doesn't mean they don't want their children to know about it at all. All you can say for certain is that they don't want it taught in schools.
If people don't want their own children to learn sex-education in school, they can opt out of that particular class. If they want to prevent sex-education from being offered in school, they want to keep the population ignorant, in order to limit their choices.

They're often blatant about it, arguing that if we teach teens about condoms, they might choose to have sex. They absolutely want to limit choices by way of encouraging ignorance.

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Rakeesh
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quote:
If people don't want their own children to learn sex-education in school, they can opt out of that particular class. If they want to prevent sex-education from being offered in school, they want to keep the population ignorant, in order to limit their choices.

They're often blatant about it, arguing that if we teach teens about condoms, they might choose to have sex. They absolutely want to limit choices by way of encouraging ignorance.

Nonsense again. I have to wonder given statements like this how much critical thought you're really putting into considering how the people you disagree with think.

Here's a wild idea: maybe the people who want to prevent sex-education from being offered in school want parents to handle that particular job, and don't think it's the school's business to do it at all.

Of course it's more fun and gratifying to the ego to instead imagine they want to instill ignorance in the populace.

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MightyCow
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How is it their business if other children learn sex education at home or at school?

Besides, many Christian groups do want sex-education, but they want abstinence-only sex ed. So clearly it isn't about keeping sex-ed at home, it's about withholding information about other forms of contraception.

Insult me all you like, your argument isn't compelling at all.

[ September 01, 2008, 08:37 PM: Message edited by: MightyCow ]

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Rakeesh
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First of all, it's not my argument.

Second, of course it's a parent's business what is or isn't taught at their child's school. Such things affect the entire school whether that child is in the particular class or not, which in turn affects the child.

I'll bet you wouldn't be tolerant of an ID science classroom that parents could opt their children in or out of, right?

I didn't insult you-here anyway. I just stated my opinion that you haven't really tried very hard to put yourself into the other guy's head when it comes to this matter. To you, they're bible-thumping idjits who wanna keep people back through ignorance. You haven't said so explicitly, but the message comes through loud and clear.

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Strider
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quote:
I find it hard to deny that the desire to believe in a God seems to be hard wired into most people's brains, if history is any indication.
I don't know, I think that's making a logical leap here. You're obviously right in that history indicates an almost universal human trend to believe in a deity. I won't argue that. But the final product of belief in a deity may just be the manifestation of something else more rudimentary going on. Another way of saying maybe we're asking the wrong question. Why is there a trend for belief in deities? What causes it? Does the fundamental reason have more to do with our biological urge for curiosity and inquisitiveness? Early man is bombarded with all these things and events they don't understand. Why do people get sick? Why do people die? Why does it rain? What makes thunder and lightning? Why are we here? But early man has no base to answer this. We as humans, because we are intentional beings tend to anthropomorphize everything around us. It doesn't seem like a big step from there to get to the idea of a deity. And maybe these ideas have lasted so long because of the human tendency(for good evolutionary reasons if Dawkins is right) for children to believe what they're told, and because of what we know about the ability to change what we believe later in life when our world view has been set.

I guess what I'm saying is that, maybe it's not that belief in a deity is hard wired into our brains, but that there are these other tendencies hard wired into our brains that continually result in belief in a deity. Small distinction, but one that I think is important. My explanation may not be correct, but I think it takes a more nuanced approach at looking at the root cause of the human tendency to believe in a higher power, and I think ultimately one like that would do a better job at explaining things.

quote:
I submit that religion does not get a hold on a group of people until it has first demonstrated a propensity to better their situation. It is this principle that allows for religion to gain a hold on a people and then misdirect them. No lasting religion is born out of evil.

Not necessarily . Or...define "better their situation". I think religion gets a hold on a certain percentage of people through fear of eternal damnation and promise of everlasting bliss after death. The hope of bettering their situation after death, and maybe as a result making them feel better about a crappy situation in the now.

The aspects that provide a social network, a feeling of community, rituals and traditions, are all very good at bringing people into the fold as well.

oh, btw, I've watched the first 45 minute episode and some of my fears were realized. He doesn't just try to teach kids evolution, he infuses the teaching with atheism and the pointing out of the falseness of their religions. I don't get it. That kind of intro will automatically turn off the majority of his audience and make them less likely to hear out evolution on its own merits. And then he is shocked when the majority of them haven't renounced their god after one day. Some of the things he asks them to think about are very valid, I just think that by coupling it with teaching them about evolution they can't separate one idea from the other.

Let's see what the second video is like...

[ September 02, 2008, 12:59 AM: Message edited by: Strider ]

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BlackBlade
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quote:
I guess what I'm saying is that, maybe it's not that belief in a deity is hard wired into our brains, but that there are these other tendencies hard wired into our brains that continually result in belief in a deity. Small distinction, but one that I think is important. My explanation may not be correct, but I think it takes a more nuanced approach at looking at the root cause of the human tendency to believe in a higher power, and I think ultimately one like that would do a better job at explaining things.

Your explanation is certainly plausible. But even saying that having several tendencies hard wired into our brains that results in a belief in deity a majority of the time, is in a way identical to simply saying the belief in God is hardwired into our brains. Though we continue to explain the previously unexplainable, the belief in a greater being is hard to shrug off.

quote:
Not necessarily . Or...define "better their situation".
"better" could have myriad interpretations. Improves one's health, enlightens the mind, opens the heart, cleanses the soul, sharpens the wit, broadens the horizons, enlarges the community, comforts the depressed, purges the evil, etc. Whether it be that a person simply feels they belong, or that they have found an important truth in religion, that is what draws people to it.

quote:

I think religion gets a hold on a certain percentage of people through fear of eternal damnation and promise of everlasting bliss after death. The hope of bettering their situation after death, and maybe as a result making them feel better about a crappy situation in the now.

Well those are certainly valid selling points. I can't see how many would refuse religion if it, "makes them feel better about a crappy situation." That's how most remedies work. As for the promise of eternal bliss or the threat of eternal damnation, sure that can be used to manipulate some, but you will find a lot more substance is required if a people are going to sit still and behave until the next life.

quote:
The aspects that provide a social network, a feeling of community, rituals and traditions, are all very good at bringing people into the fold as well.
These I think are for more important in drawing people to a religion, especially community. Feeling a sense of kinship with a community that reciprocates that feeling towards you can bind so tightly precious little can sever it.

Even evil secret organizations thrive when a sense of brotherhood or sisterhood within it's ranks is emphasized.

But nothing makes me understand the point of religion more than when the faith I belong to empowers me with the ability to help others in ways I normally would be unable to.

edited for one kitten killing apostrophe and some unnecessary text.

[ September 02, 2008, 09:25 AM: Message edited by: BlackBlade ]

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Launchywiggin
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quote:
..but that there are these other tendencies hard wired into our brains that continually result in belief in a deity
A little light went on in my head after reading this. Perhaps the genes for "believing in a God" are still valuable to the species, and that is why they continue to prosper. Anyway, nice post, Strider.
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Strider
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thanks.

update! Stephen Pinker is in episode 2! Dawkins is redeemed.

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Mucus
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I may respectfully point out that while some flavours of Bhuddism and Taoism can have deities of a sort, in practise the worship of those deities was a distinctively different beast than the God of the Middle East since they aren't required. Especially if you mix in strands of Confucianism and ancestor worship, it is quite different, a less virulent and exclusive blend if you will. Thats among the religious though.

Of course, statistically, there is difficulty in estimating the number of non-religious in China. Adherent.com apparantly judges roughly 59% of the population as irreligious and 8-14% as explicitly atheist. A study by Shanghai University gives 31.4% as religious. So one could argue that China has already reached the 70% denying a belief in God stage or is pretty close.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_China#Statistics

There are a few countries in Europe that have reached similar levels as well such as Sweden (80%).

Now one could argue that these are isolated cases or due to government manipulation (works the other way around too sometimes, in Hong Kong one of my parents was a "rice Christian" since that was a barrier to certain better schools, but dropped it once able to), but I think that there are deeper cultural forces at work at least in China and that there will be an interesting struggle for people's minds as China becomes more prosperous and simultaneously more open to outside ideas but more assertive of its own ideas.

So do I think there will *ever* be a day where 70% of humans do not believe in a god (a different thing from "denying God"), I'm not entirely sure if I would bet against it. The future is a long time, possibly infinite...

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Tresopax
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quote:
I find it hard to deny that the desire to believe in a God seems to be hard wired into most people's brains, if history is any indication.

I do not think the day will ever come where even 70% of the human race denies any belief in a God.

The repeated existence of a belief in different cultures does not necessarily imply that we have a desire to believe it, or that it is hard-wired in our brains. For instance, history indicates that most cultures believed that the sun exists - this could be evidence that human beings have an inherent desire to believe in the existence of a sun, or it could be evidence that the sun does in fact exist and that human beings throughout history have simply been observing that fact. I'd bet the day will never come when 70% of the human race denies any belief in the sun - except, of course, if the sun ceases to exist. I don't think we have a "desire" hardwired into our brains to believe in the sun. We simply have powers of observation, and repeatedly, throughout history, have observed the sun to exist.

It should be noted, as Mucus just pointed out, that the gods of other cultures have historically differed quite a bit, and are often not consistent with the modern Western concept of God. Instead, what has repeatedly popped up is the more general concept of religion - spirituality, the belief in higher beings, and life after death. I think this stems less from anything hard-wired in brains than it stems from mankind's accurate assessment of the world around us: There are things we observe about the world that simply cannot be explained without resorting to religion and spirituality. (Dawkins, of course, disagrees. [Smile] )

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Strider
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oh man, at one point in episode 3 Dawkins talks to a creationist science teacher. When he finds out the teacher believes the earth to be under 10,000 years old the look on Dawkins's face is priceless. It's like a mix of revulsion and disgust, with a sucker punch to the gut thrown in there for good measure.
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rivka
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Yeah, respect for other people is so overrated.
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Mucus
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"Respect is earned, not given" [Wink]
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King of Men
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quote:
Originally posted by Launchywiggin:
quote:
..but that there are these other tendencies hard wired into our brains that continually result in belief in a deity
A little light went on in my head after reading this. Perhaps the genes for "believing in a God" are still valuable to the species, and that is why they continue to prosper. Anyway, nice post, Strider.
They would not need to be. Industrial society is a flash in the pan on the scale of human evolution; we have all sorts of hardwired responses that are not at all appropriate anymore, such as a desire for fat and sugar in our diets. Them's valuable calories!

However, although it is not necessary for its continuation that a god-belief gene is useful, I think there's a pretty good case that such usefulness nonetheless exists. Beliefs in gods can be largely explained as a side effect of the mental wiring that lets us predict other people's actions. The main environmental influence on humans is other humans; a mind that can predict their actions is clearly a very useful thing to have. The best way to predict other humans is to have a mental model of them as akin to yourself, and ask "What would I do in his position?" But the human brain is such a spatch-cocked abortion of a mechanism that this sort of thinking gets applied everywhere, so you begin to think "What would I do if I were the rain god", and you start giving it sacrifices so it'll do as you want. Works fine with other members of the tribe, after all. And it's such a compelling model, and it does occasionally work (just like tapping the slot machine before you push the button), so it can last forever, with the rain god being progressively refined out of existence.

Please note, a lot of people do still believe in quite literal rain gods, as witness the prayers for rain to spoil the Democratic convention. "What would I do, if I were God? Well, if I was asked nicely, maybe I'd do a small favour for someone, like make it rain." Or reduce gas prices, as was also prayed for recently. Or kill a politician you don't like. Or even just "tell someone what action they should take in a difficult situation", as I'm sure many religious Hatrackers have prayed for on occasion.

Anyway, all this rests on the part of the brain htat predicts other people's actions. There is nothing to stop you from applying the other-mind-model that children develop around age 3 to other things than humans, and many people do. Hence the widespread belief among hunter-gatherers in spirits for every tree, river, and rock.

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Tresopax
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quote:
"Respect is earned, not given"
Respect says more about the person offering it than about the person receiving it.
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Mucus
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Can't say I've ever come across that one, neither has Google.
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Rakeesh
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You know, Mucus, you make it quite difficult to tell if you're joking or not, and if so how much. Is it intentional?

Either way, here's something to consider: just because you don't respect someone doesn't give you license to vent disgust and loathing at them.

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Tresopax
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I hope not - I just wrote it down... I'd be guilty of plagiarism! I think it's true though. Dawkins could be the sort of person who doesn't respect those he thinks hold irrational beliefs. Or he could be the sort of person that gives respect to those who believe even foolish-seeming things. The difference between the two isn't so much about whether that creation science teacher "earned" anything. The difference is what sort of person Dawkins is, and how freely he offers respect.

My personal opinion is that it is better to give respect generously - and that if you don't, you should not be surprised if the people you are disrespecting won't listen to you.

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Mucus
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Rakeesh:
Why is it difficult to tell when I'm joking or not? It is not intentional anyways.

Besides, that seems to be a mis-characterization of Strider's post. He said "look on Dawkins's face is priceless" not that Dawkins "vented." Being unable to hide ones true emotions is different from "venting."

Tresopax:
Well, correction. Google with quotes gives no match. "I'm feeling lucky" gives a post entitled "The youngest person who earns respect deserves it more than the oldest person who expects it."

Anyways, I think that you're over-simplifying if you really think those are the only two choices that Dawkins can have as a person. I can think of people with rational beliefs that Dawkins disrespects and people with foolish beliefs that Dawkins nonetheless respects. There are clearly other factors at work here, and earned respect is definitely one of them.

My personal opinion is that if you give respect freely without judgement or thought, you may as well call it politeness or courtesy. Respect carries more weight and earned only when something (or someone) demonstrates value.

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Strider
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quote:
Either way, here's something to consider: just because you don't respect someone doesn't give you license to vent disgust and loathing at them.
Here's something else to consider...none of you guys have seen the clip in question and are all working off a very short snippet of information provided by a third party. So I'll expand.

The look of disgust doesn't immediately follow the claim of the earth's age. It it a look that forms slowly over the next minute of conversation as the teacher talks about God's word and providing healthy debate in the science classroom. The look is also just that, a look, an emotional reaction to what the person is saying. The conversation itself remains pretty civil. In fact, there are plenty of conversations in this series of videos as well as many others where Dawkins remains civil and respectful in the face of people who offer him no such respect in return. What's more, I suggest you watch the hour long conversation Dawkins has with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is a friend of his, and then say he doesn't show religious people respect.

There's also a larger question of causation going on here and I feel I need to stick up for Dawkins a bit. I've already said that I don't like some of the tactics and methods Dawkins has resorted to recently, and that I much prefer his writings where science and atheism weren't so fused together. But when you look at the history of Richard Dawkins, it all makes a little more sense. Dawkins wrote The Selfish Gene in 1976 and for something like 25 years Dawkins was harshly attacked by religious people of all types, particularly creationists and fundamentalists. He spent years and way more time than he should've responding to these attacks on his theories and his person. Mind you, this is all before his started writing about atheism prolifically(though he was certainly an unabashed atheist throughout all this). Could you imagine spending over two decades dealing with attacks that for the most part had no science to back them up, and were fundamentally arguments that said, "you're wrong because my religion says you are". For most of this time Dawkins' religious attacks were constrained to specific arguments against specific religious doctrines that people quoted to refute his theories. Like I said earlier, it was only after 9/11 that Dawkins changed his mental stance on all of this and started actively opposing religion in general.

The hate mail this man receives is ludicrous; I hope you die slowly and burn in hell, i hope god strikes you down, i hope you die, i hope a church bus kills you, f you you fn atheist. Some of them are so filled with expletives I won't even bother reproducing them here. Never in all the media i've seen of Dawkins have I ever seen him come close to anything like that level of hatred and disrespect.

And so yes, after decades of ignorant attacks on his theories, and now more and more vicious personal attacks on his character and his person I can understand why Dawkins sometimes comes off like an ass or a jerk to some people. I'm in no way excusing him, or anyone else, acting like a jerk, but I'd hope it'd give those with a really unfavorable view of him a bit more empathy to understand where he's coming from. Ask yourself how well you'd be able to handle that level of hatred towards you. Same way I understand why some religious folk get so angry with what he has to say given it is trying to destroy everything they hold true and dear in this world, but it doesn't excuse their reactions.

also, rollainm, if you watch the videos, in the third episode, at around 10:30 in you'll see a lady come up to Dawkins and say she's a huge fan. She was at the AAI convention we went to and was the one who booed extra loud after Sam Harris's talk and then attacked him pretty hard in the Q&A after!

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MightyCow
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At the most simple level, a tendency toward religion is an evolutionary advantage because historically, people of one religious group have systematically murdered everyone who doesn't believe the way they do.
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Strider
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I don't know that an evolutionary argument holds water for that one. People believed in deities before organized religion came about. And the group on the losing end of that systematic murder believe in deities as well, it just happens to be the wrong deity.
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Samprimary
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quote:
And so yes, after decades of ignorant attacks on his theories, and now more and more vicious personal attacks on his character and his person I can understand why Dawkins sometimes comes off like an ass or a jerk to some people. I'm in no way excusing him, or anyone else, acting like a jerk, but I'd hope it'd give those with a really unfavorable view of him a bit more empathy to understand where he's coming from.
Oh man, don't get me wrong. I can easily empathize. Flame-mail from creationists is bonkers. It is the fourth plague.
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Strider
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I should note that this is only my own personal interpretation of the situation from everything I know of dawkins and his history.
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Rakeesh
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quote:
At the most simple level, a tendency toward religion is an evolutionary advantage because historically, people of one religious group have systematically murdered everyone who doesn't believe the way they do.
Oh, geeze.
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BlackBlade
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Mucus: Being irreligious does not mean one denies the existance of God.

quote:
Of course, statistically, there is difficulty in estimating the number of non-religious in China. Adherent.com apparantly judges roughly 59% of the population as irreligious and 8-14% as explicitly atheist. A study by Shanghai University gives 31.4% as religious. So one could argue that China has already reached the 70% denying a belief in God stage or is pretty close.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_China#Statistics

When the Chinese government actually permits religious proselyting, I think you will find that that number will adjust significantly, if not drastically.

Sweden is certainly a stricking example, I'll have to look into that.

As for the dieties of Taoism and to a lesser extend Buddhism being different than the Western concept of God, I am reserved on fully agreeing with this. The pressure that can be exerted by family and society on the individual is the equal of any Christian equivalent, as far as I have seen. If Taiwan is a fair example, the biggest hinderance to Christian conversion was that my sect did not permit worship of ancestors, and to a lesser extent idols. Even if the individual seemed to agree, relatives and neighbors would exert enormous pressure on the investigator.

I honestly don't wish to insult anybody, but I think the belief that a verbal profession that Christ is one's savior, and that that alone guarantees the individual's safe passage into heaven, is identical to many a Taoist who believes that burning spirit money, and waving incense sticks on the few required holidays accomplishes in eseence the same thing. You don't really have to worship God in either circumstance, just acknowledge his/her existance.

quote:
At the most simple level, a tendency toward religion is an evolutionary advantage because historically, people of one religious group have systematically murdered everyone who doesn't believe the way they do.
That hardly seems like an advantage, and furthermore has not been the case in most instances.
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MightyCow
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quote:
Originally posted by Rakeesh:
Oh, geeze.

Your argument sir, is quite compelling, as usual. I have altered my opinion to match your own.

quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
quote:
At the most simple level, a tendency toward religion is an evolutionary advantage because historically, people of one religious group have systematically murdered everyone who doesn't believe the way they do.
That hardly seems like an advantage, and furthermore has not been the case in most instances.
Are we looking at different history books? Perhaps we're not both seeing the same news stories, wherein even now, religious groups are busily trying to ethnically cleanse one another.

The advantage lies within the fact that the religious folks get to breed and have religious-tending babies, while those who are killed do not pass on their non-religious tending genes to future generations.

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Threads
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At this point I think there is little genetic evolution going on in the human race. There's probably some but it's hard to imagine that it will have any significant impact (especially as technology is developed to replace defects). Cultural evolution is much much faster and has basically made genetic evolution obsolete.
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Mucus
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quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
Being irreligious does not mean one denies the existance of God.

Never said that it did. I never really addressed "denying God" except to note my non-acceptance of the term. I prefer non-religious.

quote:
When the Chinese government actually permits religious proselyting, I think you will find that that number will adjust significantly, if not drastically.
I don't necessarily think so, at least I think that it is a common mis-prediction that belief in Christianity's God is guaranteed to spread rapidly after restrictions are dropped. There are a number of cultural reasons, but I'll note a few.

First, the government anti-missionary policy is not a totally alien principle that was catapulted into China's government, rather it is just an extension of a common hostility toward Western religions bred during the Century of Humiliation. Many people still view missionaries with special suspicion. Second, Christianity is not a "native" religion, one can look at India to see that even in a free society, Christianity can have a hard time dislodging native beliefs. Third, government restrictions on Western religions are not absolute, many people have been exposed already via converts among overseas Chinese immigrants and underground proselyting. Fourth, while religious restrictions are being debated, the Chinese education system continues to improve and develop, particularly in areas such as the hard sciences. (Re: As to the OP, I have yet to hear about an evolution controversy in China and polled belief in global warming is surprisingly high)

So, we'll see and to be honest, I think that it will be an interesting interaction to watch. I don't think that a drastic increase in the belief in God is guaranteed.

(Perhaps if all other factors were equal then maybe, but clearly they won't be)

quote:
If Taiwan is a fair example, the biggest hinderance to Christian conversion was that my sect did not permit worship of ancestors, and to a lesser extent idols.
That seems to be a problem with your sect (and its exclusivity clause?) rather than with their beliefs though. In other words, while people can freely convert from and to Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism while worshipping ancestors it is your sect that does not allow it. (As an analogy, Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism use an open-source Apache license, Mormonism is a proprietary license)

If Mormonism allowed itself to mix in ancestor worship, I suspect that relatives and neighbours would exert much less pressure.

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BlackBlade
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Mighty Cow: Simply killing another human being does not increase the survivability of one's own offspring.

I'm not saying that there have not been murders and wars committed with religious motivations in mind, and in the name of religion. But to say that murder and war are germane to religion is a pretty strong statement.

Lookeing at the known history of the world, to say nothing of what we have no record of, how often has religion been simply part of a package deal we call, "country?" How often has that very complex package gone to war against another equally complex country? Now how often has religion, by itself, or even as a primary factor waged war against another group for purely religious reasons? It's not as often as I think you believe, but again I can't read your mind so maybe I am the one who is mistaken. But by my definition, The Crusades were not a religious conflict, but the purging of Canaan by the Israelites was. "The Troubles" in Ireland isn't, but the Tai Ping rebellion is.

But perhaps you are suggesting that religion does not need to be the cause in order to be damaging. It merely needs to be the impetus that brings people together into a cohesive group, that can later be directed to do bad things. Is that right?

In short, I think the vast majority of wars and even murders are the result of coveting. A desire to own more and rule over many. Were we to completely eradicate religion, I think people would still form communities, possibly less tightly knit ones, and they would find just as many occasions to go to war with each other.

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Strider
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quote:
The advantage lies within the fact that the religious folks get to breed and have religious-tending babies, while those who are killed do not pass on their non-religious tending genes to future generations.
again, the problem with this argument is that when religious people kill "non believers", they are not killing atheists, but people who believe in a different god. As far as i know there has never been any sort of organized group of atheists large enough to be exterminated in this way.

quote:
At this point I think there is little genetic evolution going on in the human race. There's probably some but it's hard to imagine that it will have any significant impact (especially as technology is developed to replace defects). Cultural evolution is much much faster and has basically made genetic evolution obsolete.
agreed, in fact, you could argue the opposite side of things. that because of science and technology many genes which through natural selection would not get passed down are now being propagated because of the advantage technology provides. which is fine, it in a sense puts everyone on an even playing field, lets just hope we never lose all our advancements!
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King of Men
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quote:
At the most simple level, a tendency toward religion is an evolutionary advantage because historically, people of one religious group have systematically murdered everyone who doesn't believe the way they do.
I do not think this is true. In the first place, evolution very rarely works on groups. It particularly doesn't work on groups who are not closely related. I don't think you can possibly make a kin-selection argument for those religions that had enough infrastructure to organise massacres. What's more, as was pointed out, the people on the receiving end generally believed too, they just believed something a little different.

Indeed, you could rather make the argument that evolution ought to select for the ability to convincingly profess whatever religion has the preponderance of force in your immediate region at the moment, so as to avoid being killed as a heretic. In order to be convincing, it would also be useful to really believe whatever religion that happens to be. So we ought to see an evolutionary pressure towards, not a generalised belief in gods, but an ability to be rapidly and genuinely convinced that a particular theology is true. It seems to me that the history of religion in Europe demonstrates that no such tendency exists: Any number of <insert persecuted group> not only refused to be convinced, in the face of torture, they wouldn't even make a public statement of conviction!

Now, what you do see is that people who convert, to whatever religion, feel a strong sense of being refreshed and renewed - as witness the description, "born again". The phrase is fundie Christian, but the emotion is felt by converts to any group. Indeed a lot of recent atheists report a vast feeling of relief at no longer having to struggle with their faith, and of feeling refreshed at being able to tackle life without that vast burden. It turns out that not only does it not matter what you convert to, it doesn't even matter that you've converted to something else in the past. Some people even get addicted to the rush, and change religions every six months or so (roughly how long the sensation lasts) to re-experience it. Well, clearly this is something that makes it very easy to project genuine convinction when you state "Yes! You were right all along, I see my error now!" This making it easier to avoid the stake.

I wouldn't argue that this is the result of selection pressure in any sort of serious venue, but I'll defend it over beer, excepting of course that I don't like beer.

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King of Men
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quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
Mighty Cow: Simply killing another human being does not increase the survivability of one's own offspring.

Yes, it does, actually. Firstly by freeing up resources for their use, secondly because all survivability is relative. As the saying goes, you don't have to run faster than the tiger, you just have to run faster than your friend.
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C3PO the Dragon Slayer
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Since most human beings in the history of the human race have managed to survive without killing anyone, obviously whatever eugenic explanation for murderous tendencies is not necessary for survival.
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King of Men
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A selection pressure need not be universal. What's more, although the selection pressure to kill may not be very strong, the pressure to not be killed is obviously huge.
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Strider
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udpate: Episode 3 has Dan Dennett! Redemption is complete.
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BlackBlade
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quote:
Originally posted by King of Men:
quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
Mighty Cow: Simply killing another human being does not increase the survivability of one's own offspring.

Yes, it does, actually. Firstly by freeing up resources for their use, secondly because all survivability is relative. As the saying goes, you don't have to run faster than the tiger, you just have to run faster than your friend.
Right but this only applies in cases of limited resource availability, or if there is imminent danger of death from an outside player. Sure there are animals such as male lions or bears who will often slay all the cubs born to other males, but there are far more animals who do not.
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BlackBlade
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Mucus: Those are some interesting points.

quote:
First, the government anti-missionary policy is not a totally alien principle that was catapulted into China's government, rather it is just an extension of a common hostility toward Western religions bred during the Century of Humiliation.
Well I'd say it was a common hostility towards anything Western period, not just religion.

But remember, Christianity in the past has already made major inroads into China. Persians brought the religion to South West China as early as the days of Paul's missions to Europe. There are already Chinese Catholics today and it's quite possible that one day they will merge with the church in Rome.

Again Taiwan makes for an interesting example as it endured the Century of Humiliation, and yet, since the 1940's we've seen steady and recently accelerating growth of just my church there. Other Christian sects are well established there. The government in Beijing has permitted Mormons to start a branch in Beijing so long as they do not proselyte or invite Chinese men and women to attend. But even with these restrictions there has been alot of curiosity.

I know anecdotal evidence does not hold much weight but here goes. Some Japanese entrepreneurs who were also members of my church opened a factory in China. Some of the workers asked them about their religion and they ended up sharing some pamphlets, Bibles, and some Books of Mormon with their workers. A number of them after doing research expressed an interest in baptism. The owners organized a trip to Japan, got tourist visas for all of them, and 86 of them spent the week getting the necessary instruction, interviews, and received baptism. My father interviewed most of them.

You might still be right, but I think the Chinese people are curious and interested enough that if permitted to browse the halls of the world's religions, many of them will find something they like.

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King of Men
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quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
Right but this only applies in cases of limited resource availability, or if there is imminent danger of death from an outside player. Sure there are animals such as male lions or bears who will often slay all the cubs born to other males, but there are far more animals who do not.

Resources are always limited. Sufficiently limited, in fact, that people starve to death in thousands and tens of thousand every year. Even now. Two hundred years ago, people starved and froze to death every winter, even in rich Western countries. Two hundred years before that, they would die like flies every time the harvest failed. The infrastructure that brings grain from lucky regions to those where the weather was bad is a modern invention.
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MightyCow
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quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:

But perhaps you are suggesting that religion does not need to be the cause in order to be damaging. It merely needs to be the impetus that brings people together into a cohesive group, that can later be directed to do bad things. Is that right?

Indeed, this is the core of my argument. Religion itself need not be the factor which actually causes or even directly contributes to the evolutionary selection, but I would argue that it is strongly correlated.

For example, to be a "successful" in a large, theistic religion, one needs the ability to accept things on faith with enough conviction to be willing to make fundamental life changes. One needs a willingness to readily accept the word of authority figures as being right. One needs a certain desire to be involved in a group of like-minded individuals.

These traits also lend themselves to being successful in a tribe of close-knit people with a powerful, charismatic leader - certainly a recipe for success in an environment with limited resources. The group that fights together, stays together.

So it isn't even necessary for religious traits to be directly selected for, but that traits which lend themselves to a strong theistic religious belief are also successful in other ways.

People who tend to be individualistic, question authority, and are unwilling to go along with the group's goals will have a harder time when push comes to shove and resources are scarce.

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Rakeesh
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MightyCow,

I didn't think a compelling argument against an obviously wrong and ridiculous statement was called for.

But since apparently it is...

quote:
At the most simple level, a tendency toward religion is an evolutionary advantage because historically, people of one religious group have systematically murdered everyone who doesn't believe the way they do.
This statement is obviously wrong for one plain and simple reason: the world isn't a homogenous population of one religious group. Even if I stretch your words to suit what I think is your meaning - that is, historically people of one religious group have frequently done their best to murder people of other religious groups - well, it's still silly. Because people kill each other for lots of things. Religion is hardly special in that regard. Politics is at least as big a 'killer' as religion is.

But in any event, that's not what you actually said, which was why I was laughing.

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Mucus
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quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
Well I'd say it was a common hostility towards anything Western period, not just religion.

Indeed, but religion has a special place above such things such as say music or technology. Special in the sense that while those two can influence people, religious conversion can alter a converts culture in a way that the latter two can only hint at. Also, while those two can be made "Chinese", religion is not as easy to break from its loyalty to overseas authority.* We've touched on it with tea and ancestor reverence.

quote:
But remember, Christianity in the past has already made major inroads into China...
That was part of my third point and its a sword that cuts both ways. Christianity has had a presence since at least the Ming Dynasty, but Christianity is still quite negligible, there are other factors than just government repression.

quote:

Again Taiwan makes for an interesting example as it endured the Century of Humiliation, and yet, since the 1940's we've seen steady and recently accelerating growth of just my church there. Other Christian sects are well established there.

On the other hand, if we examine tables such as those at Wikipedia, we see that Christianity in both major forms is still far behind native Taoism and Buddhism which together comprise 68% of the population and non-religious a further 19% or so. Christianity is even behind something called "I-Kuan Tao" which I will certainly need to do more research into, but only started in the 70s *
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Taiwan

While I don't exactly mean to belittle the efforts of Christianity, but if Taiwan is a model for China's future, it seems that the future is conversion from the irreligious to the native religions as opposed to conversion from the irreligious to foreign religions. (Perhaps not even conversion, but just "admitting to")

That said, I think some of the factors I mentioned before may change that.

________

* As a total tangent, to be honest, I wonder if it will be more likely that a "native" religion will splinter off from a fusion of a native religion and the West and enjoy wild success. The growth rate of Falun Gong before it was repressed, this "I-Kuan Tao", or the Taiping before their military defeat seem more impressive, in part because they can tap native beliefs in a different way but IIRC all three also borrow elements from the West. Just as (forgive an atheist's POV) Mormonism is a uniquely American Christianity, there may evolve a uniquely Asian or Chinese Christianity that is better adapted to grow.

If social inequality and powerlessness increase, I dread that kind of event more than any growth in Western religions.

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rollainm
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Strider, do you have links to parts 2 and 3?
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Strider
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This guy uploaded it to google video, who knows how long it'll last.

And here's a link to download the torrents if you do that.

I also have all the files on my pc now if you wanted me to send it to you.

Interestingly, it seems Dawkins genuinely wanted these videos freely available, but the distribution company pulled them off. He seems to be posting regularly on his site now, i'll have to check out what he writes about.

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rollainm
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Thanks.
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Earendil18
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Thank you for linking these Strider. I've watched all of them, his documentary, and I'm reading his books now.

I don't think he's a meanie, but he clearly states his position on how religion gets special handling gloves, and how he's not going to use those.

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Strider
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Which books?

just curious.

[ September 04, 2008, 03:39 AM: Message edited by: Strider ]

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Kwea
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I think if anything, in the past religion bound large numbers of people together in cooperative living, and people survive and flourish in such environments. It isn't just that they were aggressive towards other beliefs, although that could be part of it, but cooperative living allowed for specialization in professions, and led to the rise of city living.


People who dealt with others well tended to be more comfortable in that setting, and prospered, while people who tended not to bond in those groups....which were quite often religious in nature...had less of a chance of success.


How much of that is social vs genetic I doubt we will even know at this point. [Smile]

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Earendil18
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Interesting question Kwea, I'm not sure (yet). [Razz]

Strider, I'm currently reading The God Delusion, but I plan on reading ALL of them.

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