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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

What is the Incentive for People under Communism?

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We have to realise that capitalism has distorted our humanity. Social Darwinism is utterly mistaken so “survival of the fittest” is not how evolved societies work. Darwinism applies to solitary animals competing for resources, but society is one way in which animals can evolve so as to have better chances of surviving through co-operation, sharing, caring, empathy and altruism. Capitalism pretends that humans within society are equal to solitary animals outside it. On that basis they establish that the least human (the most greedy and selfish) will do better than the ones who stick to their social instincts to help others and care for them.

In the primitive communistic phase envisioned by Marx before there was any surplus to exploit, society still had different tasks to be done, and those that did not do their fair share were punished by the community, almost certainly by expulsion in serious or persistent cases. That will have meant death, and will have been the way the prosocial genes were increased in the genome relative to the anti-social ones, the latter over several million years being culled out (a process not completed). What though made someone agree to take on an onerous job like say the group leader? A leader was necessary because there is no time nor inclination to hold a conclave when we are attacked by a pride of lions, say. A leader shows the way, but why should anyone accept such a job?

There are no perks in terms of surplus value but what there is is prestige, the esteem of others in the group. Once we have had a few generations of socialism—which will need to guard against lapses back into capitalism meanwhile (“dictatorship of the proletariat”, would you believe), the instinctive kindly, sharing, helpful nature of people will return and the attitude will be one of wanting to do risky and unpleasant things for others, to have the regard that comes with it. Wanting to be admired is another natural instinct, complementary to sharing and caring. When we return to natural behaviors, helping each other because we like it and want to, the state can whither away.

Milton quotation: Gratitude
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Which Bits of Scripture are Literal and which Allegorical?

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Richard Dawkins and Jonathan SacksProminent atheist Richard Dawkins and Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks met in an hour-long debate on science and religion, as part of the Re:Think Festival in Salford.

“How do you decide which bits [of scripture] are symbolic and which bits are not?” asked Prof Dawkins at one point during the discussion.

“Very simple,” replied the Chief Rabbi.

“The rabbis in the 10th century laid down the following principle: if a biblical narrative is incompatible with established scientific fact, it is not to be read literally.”

Christians take note. The Old Testament is the scripture of Jews. Maybe the Rabbis can be expected to know it better than TV evangelicals.

Written by mikemagee

16 September, 2012 at 5:27 pm

MIT Series on Scientists—Cambridge Nights

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Written by mikemagee

9 September, 2012 at 10:57 pm

No Relationship Between the Level of Sacrificial Behaviour and Religiosity

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Sacrificing to God Game

Physorg.com reports that Professor Paul Frijters and World Bank economist Juan Baron, economists at the University of Queensland (UQ) and the World Bank in Washington found a pervading and persistent “default belief” among believers and nonbelievers in bargaining with the unknown, and it was greater in times of uncertainty. Professor Frijters said:

There seems to be a default belief that people can bargain with the unknown, and they need a lot of evidence to the contrary before it fades away. Much like some cultures dance for their gods in order to get rain, Western participants will spend money on problems even when that expenditure has no demonstrable effect. Even when witnessing hundreds of occasions where it made no difference, they keep sacrificing large portions of their income to the perceived source of the problem. Only if they personally experience dozens of disappointments will they slowly stop sacrificing.

Professor Frijters said the study was an important stepping stone towards a general theory of human behaviour that will be revealed in a book due later this year called An Economic Theory of Greed, Love, Groups, and Networks, to be published by Cambridge University Press.

In it, 500 participants played a game in which the price for the goods they “produced” was determined by a source of uncertainty called Theoi. Although the price was set completely at random for each of 20 rounds, the participants had the option of contributing some of their produced goods to Theoi. At the start, the average participant donated half of all production towards Theoi, even when there was no relationship between the level of sacrifice and the market price. Professor Frijters said:

Even after 20 rounds, the average participant still donated a quarter of all production. There were no participants who didn’t donate anything for all 20 rounds, and there were very few who didn’t donate anything the last 10 rounds. The wish to sacrifice was very strong. In an experiment where the level of sacrifice was set initially at 10 per cent, nearly all participants changed the level to much higher. Aggregate sacrifices were over 30 per cent of all takings in the main experiments, and only slightly lower if we didn’t use a human name for the uncertainty in price (like Theoi) or if we allowed participants to see what others experienced. Sacrifices only really dropped when the level of uncertainty was lower.

General findings were:

  • there was no relationship between the level of sacrificial behaviour and whether participants belonged to a recognised religion
  • engineering students donated more than economics students
  • participants who were selfish towards others were also less likely to sacrifice to Theoi.

The authors conclude that “any important source of uncertainty” will witness the development of a religion around it in which people sacrifice towards its perceived source.

While this is only a summary by an online agency of the paper, if it is at all accurate, the findings are terrible. The authors totally lack any scientific credibility on this evidence. Their choice of the word Theoi (Gods) suggests they had already a conclusion in their minds when they chose that as the name of this mysterious agent.

It seems the subjects’ knowledge of the mechanics of the game was simply that they could donate some of their money to Theoi (“a sacrifice”) before it decided upon their winnings. To be told that is to imply that the “sacrifice” might influence the outcome. It is therefore quite natural to any inquisitive human being to conduct a series of experiments to determine what the optimum “sacrifice” is. For most people it would simply be a matter of “suck it and see”, and in only 20 tries there is little chance for anything more sophisticated, anything approaching a scientific method. So, on the information provided in the summary, Professor Frijters and Juan Baron have presupposed an outcome—everyone believes in a supernatural agent, so must be at heart religious—and have not even been clever enough to disguise it, by using words like gods and sacrifice that give away their thinking. The subjects, whether atheists or believers are simply trying to get a clue about what strategy will give the best rewards in the game. The superimposition of gods and sacrifice are simply in the minds of the experimenter. One would hazard a guess that they are themselves religious believers!

Written by mikemagee

4 September, 2012 at 12:42 am

BBC Documentary: What Darwin Didn’t Know

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An excellent BBC programme with Professor Armand Leroi explaining evolution. Professionally presented and widely recommended.

Written by mikemagee

10 July, 2012 at 9:39 pm

The God Debates, a New Team Blog on WordPress

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A Goddess of Pure Goodness and Innocence

Hugo Gatsby, the leader of a new team blog, the God debates, on wordpress.com, says his aim is to provide high quality discussion on important questions, drawing on a panel of eleven others. So far, there is not much there but he and his team have been diligently posting on other relevant blogs including this one to create interest, and they have succeeded. In return I made a couple of comments on the discussion on their page called Recommendations, unfortunately but predictably, being taken over by the tedious ignorance of the creationists. Hugo will have to curtail this dreary, mindless fundamentalism if he is to achieve the “Genuinely Intelligent Discussion on Theological Questions” his subhead promises.

These are the two relevant points I made…

Good and Evil

We all are serving someone or something—a good question to reflect upon would be—who or what are you following and what defines your purpose? Every person acts in their own best interest… there are “Good” and non-destructive ways to act in your own self interest and the interest of others and there “Evil” and destructive ways to act in your own self interest and the interest of others… choose wisely my friends.

Comment at The God Debates

We are all serving two things ultimately. Our own interests, and other people’s interests. If all of us choose to serve only our own interests then society must collapse because society is a way for people to serve each other. We would revert to being solitary animals, mutually antagonistic, scared, timid, primitive.

By serving other people’s interests we are helping to preserve society, and by so doing we are helping ourselves, the point of society being mutual aid, and therefore being served by carers and sharers, receiving the empathy and security of our fellows, cooperation, help, companionship, and so on in the complex of practical assistance and emotions called love. What is “good” preserves this benevolent system, and what is “evil” harms it.

The choice is the entirety of morality, and requires no supernatural being, merely the response of society, approval or disapproval, praise, admiration and reward for doing good, and disgust, condemnation and punishment for being wicked.

Traditional religion provided these responses, but modern society uses democratic means of selecting its representatives, so that supermen are not needed. One therefore has no need to choose between belief in a god or not, because it is irrelevant provided that everyone accepts that religion is a private matter.

Arguably, religion always has been a set of myths to exemplify the practical choice we have and to encourage the choice of the Good. The Persian religion, from which much of Judaism and Christianity comes, came down to choosing to follow the good god, Ahuramazda, or the bad god, Ahriman, in the course of one’s life, expressed as choosing the Truth or the Lie. All the rest is a metaphorical or allegorical illustration of our choice.

Atheism

A-theist… “no god” or “without god”. Curious way to describe one’s self. Defined by opposition to something or someone you say doesn’t exist anyway. Why all the fuss over those who do believe? If there is no god, then why not let others believe what they want and leave them be? Why the “compulsion” to not only define yourself by what you don’t believe, but also convince others not to either? Sounds too much like “proselytizing” to convert people to the “non-religion” religion. Could it be that Atheism is actually a religion of no religion?

Comment at The God Debates

Surely you have noticed that atheism is a word used by theists, not one chosen by the atheists themselves. The proper distinction is between skeptic and believer. Skeptics require tried and tested evidence for them to believe, but believers make belief itself without the need of adequate evidence a virtue–faith! It is obvious that faith is no virtue but a scam when you realize that an equal faith could have you believing in fairies and goblins, alien abduction, Dionysus, Cthulhu, Dagon and so on. Indeed, the Hebrew god is quite likely to be their version of Dagon!

Lastly, the atheists have no love of trying to persuade believers of the errors of their ways, but do so because they are acutely aware of what the believers cannot seem to notice, the horrible consequences of religion in the world. Religions overwhelmingly want to be right and show it by making everyone accept their set of dogmata. It is hard to comprehend that people are so blind that they are completely unaware of their own faults, while blaming anyone else they can. The self righteousness induced by religion is among its worst features.

Parallels of Reform Judaism and Secular Christianity

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Rabbi Jacobs Inaugural Speech

Rabbi Rick Jacobs was installed as president of the Union for Reform Judaism at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, NY, June 9, 2012. The inaugural address he made ought to be the inspiration of most modern, particularly US, Christians, who betray constantly that they know nothing in the least about the teachings of the man whom they believe is God incarnate, Jesus Christ, and how he expected Christians to behave to be Christians.

Here following are some slightly modified extracts from the speech with “Reform Judaism” replaced by “Secular Christianity” and mutatis mutandis so that Christians can get some idea of what a practical moral life should be.

Too often “Secular Christianity” is regarded as Christianity lite. What nonsense! “Secular Christianity” is built on the shoulders of “Secular Christian” forbears who took Christian tradition in an entirely new direction, re-envisioning our sacred texts and practices in the light of scientific inquiry and the new frontiers of human thought. Today we embrace the best of tradition and modernity, science and spirituality. Ours is the Christianity of autonomy, inclusiveness, creativity, passion, relevance and depth. We are the Christianity for a new era, and it’s time we let the whole world know.

“Secular Christianity” is unafraid to change our tradition when it holds us back from growing and deepening our faith. For us, change is not only permitted but obligatory. And sometimes it isn’t even fast enough.

Ours is an inclusive Christianity. For too long the Christian community had no place for interfaith families and LGBTQ Christians. But we leant the sacred power of inclusion. The loving embrace of all who had been excluded adds to our numbers and to our strength.

No questions are off limits in our texts. The core mission of the practical morality of Christianity has always been defined largely in social justice terms—to solve, on the basis of justice and righteousness, the problems presented by the evils of the organization of society. That sacred mission still inspires commitment among “Secular Christians” of all ages.

“Secular Christianity”, when practiced with commitment, is no less demanding than other expressions of Christianity—and some would argue even more demanding because we do not practice by rote but by informed choice.

Rabbi Jacobs observed that through Abraham all Jews have been given their charge:

“Through you shall all of the families of the world be blessed.”

What Jews do together is meant to shape a world of holiness, dignity, and equality for God’s children everywhere.

That is the objective of “Secular Christianity” too. All people, all human beings, according to the Christian God, are not merely His children, but they are God! A Christian who wants to abuse another human being wants to harm God Himself, and God Himself repeated it once in a positive and once in a negative light (Matthew 25:40;45) in the very context of eternal punishment and salvation (Matthew 25:31-46). Any “Christian” concerned about their place in the future life they hope for ought to know this passage as the minimum Christian lesson.

The Rabbi ended with this little story of a prayer answered by God, which is both essence and substance of “Secular Christian” commitment:

“Dear God, there is so much pain and anguish in your world. Why don’t you send help?”
And God answered, “I did send help. I sent you.”

It is the duty of us all to help and not to harm others, and that is inescapable if anyone wants to claim to be Christian. Caring and sharing might not appeal to most Americans, especially the right wing ones who most frequently claim to be Christians, but that only proves what an intrinsically evil country the US is. It claims to be Christian because so many utterly unchristian Americans self designate themselves as being Christian. Yet almost everything that they think, say and do shows they are children of evil.

“Secular Christianity” is saying that the very least you can do to be a follower of Christ is to follow his basic practical precept. Be kind to other people, by imagining that God is within every one of them and suffers every blow and jibe you aim at them, as well as every kindness offered them. Help yourself by helping others. That is another way that Christ put it—the Golden Rule:

As you would that people should do to you, do likewise to them.

Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31

Ultimately, Jesus Christ was a Reform Jew, teaching his understanding of God’s commandment in Leviticus 19:18:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am Yehouah.

Perhaps Jesus was in a line of them from Rabbi Hillel who preached:

Love all creatures.

Avot 1:12

and:

Whatever is hateful to you, do not do to another.

B Shab 312

What is sure is that Jesus linked failure to act in this kindly way to other people with eternal damnation. So do not regard anyone who is deliberately cruel or unkind to others as being a Christian. They are kidding themselves, and probably because they aim to kid you. You have to be kind to be Christian. That is what loving others means!

Now print this off and keep it in your Tephillin or your wallet to read and remind yourself! Not least if you fear for your soul.

Written by mikemagee

13 June, 2012 at 2:23 pm