Monday, March 05, 2007

God is a minimally counterintuitive spandrel!



True, John Lennon didn’t use this phrase, when he homilized his personal weltanschauung. He wrote catchier lyrics. But it is one of many compelling insights I picked out of a wonderful NYTimes Sun Mag article: "Evolution & Religion – Darwin’s God".

While the tempest in a teacup simmers, for a few media cycles anyway, from last night’s “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” program, Robin Henig’s article offers shelter from the storm. It’s a wonderfully researched & written piece, dealing with a fascinating subject – is there an evolutionary explanation why no society has ever survived without religion?

4 Comments:

Blogger dErEk said...

A couple of quotes from Sam Harris' new book, Letter to a Christian Nation:

"Some researchers have speculated that religion itself may have played an important role in getting large groups of prehistoric humans to socially cohere. This does not suggest, however, that it serves an important purpose now."

"Norway, Iceland, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom are among the least religious societies on earth. According to the United Nations' Human Development Report (2005) they are also the healthiest, as indicated by life expectancy, adult literacy, per capita income, educational attainment, gender equality, homicide rate, and infant mortality."

12:15 PM  
Blogger deano said...

I haven't read any of Harris' books yet. I was gonna try Dawkins' The God Delusion first.

What I found interesting in Henig's article was her focus on scientists who are studying the how and why of religiosity in the first place. Nature?Nuture?How?Why? It's less controversial & confrontational, but that's empiricism for ya.

2:56 PM  
Blogger dErEk said...

Sounds really interesting, I just printed her article which I'll read tonight.

It seems like it's the difference between saying "here's how and why man created God(s)" and saying "yep, man created God(s), and here's why you need to get over it, sucka".

On Sam Harris: End of Faith is a far more in-depth plea, but Letter to a Christian Nation is more to the point, and for me was a more satisfying read. It's "controversial" in the context of here and now, but I think to a truly objective spectator (ie, umm, aliens or future humans or something...) his would seem one of the few voices of reason, and an unapologetic one at that. But, then again, that's just my own non-objective opinion. He goes after moderates and apologists too, in a way I'd have probably found pretty compelling were I not already of the same mindset as him on the matter. But ultimately it is about the sheer and devastatingly obvious lunacy of extremism/fundamentalism/literalism. The beliefs, the dogma, the threats and promised rewards, the rituals (& the costumes and props!), the political influence, the divisive nature of it all, the wars, the wars, the wars... One can only "pray" for the day when look back in horror, instead of looking around and forward in horror as we are now.

I've only got a quarter-century under my belt, without the benefits of much traveling or a particularly advanced education, but that's how I see things at this point.

And it's not as harsh a book as I might make it sound... I'm just in a state of agitation over the whole thing these days. There are better reasons than religion to love and take care of other people, or for that matter to take care of the planet.

Yargh.

xoxo

7:14 AM  
Blogger deano said...

It seems like it's the difference between saying "here's how and why man created God(s)" and saying "yep, man created God(s), and here's why you need to get over it, sucka".

That’s the way I read it.

But ultimately it is about the sheer and devastatingly obvious lunacy of extremism/fundamentalism/literalism.

Literalism is a good way of putting it.

The aging quantum mechanic in me has a soft spot for uncertain relativism. If you break religion into two basic components, philosophy & practice, it’s the later part which causes all the problems. I’m certainly no expert on religion, but I haven’t seen one with a core philosophy that isn’t beautiful in essence. Even the monotheistic ones all say “God is Love.” That’s works for me.

Still, we’re a species that seems to crave order, answers, The Right Path. We lean towards following leaders and instructions on our (supposed) way back home to understanding. We harbor a dread of the unknown, the unknowable, because it suggests the course of existence isn’t clear cut with a pat happy ending. Or, no ending at all. Maybe, there is no beginning? It all gets to be too much – at least to those of the western modernist persuasion, who identify with the tangible aspects of ‘reality.’ Empathy for those with these fears.

Naturally, when we then convince ourselves we understand our existence & reality, other perspectives and perceptions are… wrong. And then, it starts.

Another aspect which amuses me is how most everyone professes to having a free will. But do we really live so? Unfortunately, it's a loaded phrase, with baggage: somewhere along the way, the opposite of having a free will became 'God' controls you. But it's not a binary either/or thing to me. The interconnectedness of everything in the natural universe - which is a debatable notion itself - could also be a legitimate contrary notion to free will. Is a society of free-willians oxymoronic? The Free Willies (as a band name, it’s already taken). I believe everything is part of the whole – the “I” is only a construct, in my personal philosophy. And God is just another construct for 'the whole.' I am he as you are he and we are all together is a message we almost relearned in the 60s, but I understand it’s a minority idea that’s been around for a good long while.

All of this is a long (& somewhat confused) way of getting around to saying people, at our current state of evolution, are the problem. We are all flawed. We don't understand our universe, our existence, and therefore rely on a construct that imparts a false sense of 'getting our brains around it.' Instead, we could just accept that we are of it and it is truly amazing. And because it is, and we are of it, we too, all of us, all things, even nothing, it's all truly amazing.

Until then, even with no religion, we’ll still have pain, hatred and sorrow. A Buddha said words to that effect. I think most of us get that it isn’t in our best interests to hate the haters (is that naively optimistic?), but we’re not wired yet with that as an innate, fundamental trait. We can’t pick our evolutionary path, but I hope it will encourage, select for, absolute compassion. That’s as good a way as any of explaining who we are at this stage in our existence: selectively compassionate.

I imagine eliminating religion, as currently practiced, might encourage this; but I still believe it’s sort of eliminating a symptom, and not the disease. I’ll have to read those guys; maybe we’re saying the same thing.

> I've only got a quarter-century under my belt,

Now, about the relativity of time, and age….;->

11:33 AM  

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