Posts Tagged ‘Atheism’
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!
… The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything ‘chosen’ about them.
In general I find it painful that you claim a privileged position and try to defend it by two walls of pride, an external one as a man and an internal one as a Jew. As a man you claim, so to speak, a dispensation from causality otherwise accepted, as a Jew the privilege of monotheism. But a limited causality is no longer a causality at all, as our wonderful Spinoza recognized with all incision, probably as the first one. And the animistic interpretations of the religions of nature are in principle not annulled by monopolization. With such walls we can only attain a certain self-deception, but our moral efforts are not furthered by them. On the contrary.
Now that I have quite openly stated our differences in intellectual convictions it is still clear to me that we are quite close to each other in essential things, i.e; in our evaluations of human behavior. What separates us are only intellectual ‘props’ and ‘rationalization’ in Freud’s language. Therefore I think that we would understand each other quite well if we talked about concrete things.
With friendly thanks and best wishes,
Yours, A. Einstein
Update: July 20, 2012 America’s “Nones”—the nonreligious—are at an all time high, now comprising nearly one in five Americans (19 percent), according to a new study by the Pew Center for the People and the Press. The 19 percent count is based on aggregated surveys of 19,377 people conducted by the Pew Research Center throughout 2011 and reported by USA Today. Nones are the second largest “denomination” in the nation following Catholics, up from joint third with Baptists.
Nones were already the fastest growing segment of the US population, according to the definitive American Religious Identification Survey, whose 2008 study showed adult Nones up to 15 percent from 6 percent in 1990. ARIS, released in 2009, actually estimated Nones at 20 percent. A 2009 Pew Forum on switching religious opinions found more than 10 percent of American adults became Nones after growing up within a religious group.
Most minority religions, however tiny in numbers, are treated with respect, inclusion and sometimes deference. It’s time public officials and the American public wake up to the changing demographics and stop treating atheists and agnostics as outsiders. With nonbelievers at about 20 percent of the population, there is no longer any excuse for leaving us out of the equation. Public officials cannot continue to assume all Americans believe in a deity, or continue to offend 20 percent of the population by imposing prayer at governmental meetings or government hosted events. These surveys now show that “In God We Trust”‘ is a provenly inaccurate motto. Nonbelievers should not be treated as political pariahs.Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF.
FFRF, the Freedom From Religion Foundation—the nation’s largest association of freethinkers, atheists and agnostics—based in Madison, Wisconsin, aims to keep religion and government separate. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity.
The Test of Truth
What better test of truth do we have than the ablest men’s acceptance of it?
So asked the historian J A Froude in his 1851 essay, “The Philosophy of Christianity”. He was defending Christianity against the accusation of being intellectually absurd, practically an offence and generally a misfortune. In essence, he was arguing that the best minds could not have been wrong for 1800 years. Or, if they were, then we have no basis for believing anything, for whatever it is might turn out to be just as absurd, offensive and unfortunate.
Well, for good or ill, that is nevertheless what science does teach. Science has to be corrigible or it cannot make progress. So what is true today, may not be true tomorrow. Science determines what is true by testing its ideas against reality. If they can predict reality—if the ideas work—then they are considered true, but not otherwise. A Christian has the idea that there is a mighty personal power in the universe that can do what it likes. Science would want to know how that can be tested.
One way would be to say, God answers prayers and therefore changes reality. We can test that. Yet no such test of the effectiveness of prayer has ever produced a convincing result. When they have seemed to, a fault in the method has been found skewing the results. So the idea of God has not so far been confirmed by science, and consequently scientists cannot accept the idea of God. For the corollary of testing is that we do not believe what is not shown to be true. It is called skepticism. The Christian understands it for they are skeptical of all other claims of divinity other than those of their own gods.
So, by this process of incremental testing, science accumulates knowledge. The increments are most often small ones, but sometimes a basic idea might need to be changed and then a large step is necessary, called a paradigm shift. But rarely is any new truth far removed from an older one, and always it must be a better one, more precise or comprehensive.
Religions are not generally corrigible, but, on the contrary, claim to be permanently fixed by the all encompassing power of the universe called God. It is not strictly true, of course, authorities like the pope or some council somewhere do change religions, and, besides that, they evolve from generation to generation, therefore imperceptibly to each in its day. As it is fixed by God, at least notionally, it needs no criterion of truth. A religion is accepted by a child or convert as being true—they are assured it is the only truth—and thereafter there can be no basis for questioning the truth of it.
Even so, Christians are allowed and perhaps encouraged to doubt, as long as the doubt is not itself allowed to change belief. It is not therefore a genuine doubt, for a real doubt can be resolved in one of at least two opposite ways. To be genuine, doubt must frequently lead to a loss of faith, something the local priest or pastor cannot allow to happen for that is to let a church member fall into sin and hell fire, a serious matter, they think. Consequently, the doubt of the Christian is to be countered by a firm application of faith bolstered by the assistance of the ablest of church men in accepting “the truth”. In short, Christian doubt is spurious. It is a mere test of a faith which once applied generously should cure the patient.
Knowing No Better
As churches have no criterion of truth other than faith, Froude’s criterion is the one they always have used. It is the reason why religions base themselves on authority—the judgement of the ablest of the men among them. It is not therefore an objective criterion of truth, but the opposite—these able men accept the truth they have been taught, and have no other criterion than what they have been told. It is biased, and there is no way of rebutting the bias in it except by contradiction. Yet throughout that 1800 years, it was the only “truth” available, so even the ablest did not notice the bias or felt unwilling to contradict it, probably for love of their mortal lives, the lure of heavenly bliss notwithstanding. Had we been in the same situation, with no alternative to the “truth” offered us besides death, we would have been the same.
So, the modern skeptic ought not to scoff at the Sumerians “feeding” their gods because it was their duty as god’s slaves to do so, and if the priests always looked well fed, it was because the gods looked upon them favorably! They ought not to scoff at Abraham being willing to sacrifice a child to his god because that is what Canaanites did, according to their beliefs, and as many were poor and could not afford to support large families, they might have been grateful that their gods were pleased to take back a child. Nor ought we to scoff at a medieval Catholic peasant brought up to the “absurdities” of Christianity for those were all they were allowed to know, for they could not read their bibles for themselves, unlike the modern Protestant who chooses not to and therefore believes everything except what Christ taught them. We are entitled to scoff at them.
The modern skeptic scoffs at those who now should know better, but prefer to put their heads in a bucket because Christ sounds more like a liberal than a libertarian. These people do not want to know the truth but still want to profess “the truth” as they define it. Today we have proven methods of investigating the truth of things, and we have criteria for truth so as to test that it indeed is. It is those who are perverse and refuse to consider the progress we have made in investigating reality who deserve the disdain of the scoffers. Whatever the ablest once thought, though wrong, was excusable then, but it is inexcusable now.
Possibly primitive people took it for granted that the earth was flat, but by the time of the Greeks of Alexandria, it had been proven to be a sphere. We are justified perhaps in scoffing at those after then who still believed in the flatness of the earth, depending on their level of education, but we are led to believe that many even of the ablest men still believed it. Of course, a reason for the lamentable education of everyone except the very rich, and even some of them, was that the Church had refused to copy any books it deemed superfluous—most of them except Latin and Greek grammar books for priestly education, bibles and devotional books. It suggests how dangerous and destructive mere faith is.
Contrary to Froude therefore, the ablest men are not necessarily right and can be utterly wrong en masse when alternatives are forbidden and scholarship is considered subversive. It is those who were willing to speak up for alternatives to “the truth” whom we can thank for the modern world’s achievements.
Good and Evil
Yet “the truth” persists in the face of truth, and we are held back by a large number of people who will not let go of medieval religion, even in the knowledge of the technological sophistication achieved in our world. Matter was the source of evil. The Persians had solved the problem of theodicy by conceiving a wicked god whose aim was to spoil everything the good God did. These were metaphors for the bad and good behavior that humans could choose between—we were meant to choose good and reject wickedness. We ourselves had to choose with every decision we made and act accordingly. Given sufficient people choosing “good”, the world would be good.
Unsophisticated people cannot understand abstracts and have to think they are like real solid, perhaps living, beings, albeit supernatural—they are out there! So the metaphors always became actual entities for the simple. As is the inevitable rule dictated by opportunism and human selfishness, the simple creed, “good thoughts, good words, good deeds”, was changed. The individual was not directly to blame by making the wrong choices, instead the wicked entity had infected the material world, which was therefore contaminated with wickedness. Choices still had to be made, but the presumption was that worldwide pollution left everyone compromised. In Christianity, it became “Original Sin”.
The ablest men could now have little or nothing to do with the material world. They were safer withdrawing from it rather than trying to make the right choices while living in it. They had to be devout, had to exercise their minds with prayer and incessantly praising God, so as to leave no room for anything but God, and thereby cease to be a normal human to ensure entry into God’s angelic kingdom after death. Real life and the real world had no purpose, unless ceaseless other worldly devotions are considered it. Needless to say, if everyone did that, then we should all die. But many of the ablest did just that, albeit many with an utter lack of sincerity, paying lip service to piety while fully enjoying the temptations of the sinful world.
The crucifixion of the good God while visiting the earth as a man had saved all believing Christians from the wickedness around them, so they might as well seek high office, palaces, good food, fine wines, seraglios, and so on, while they were here, content in the knowledge they already had the key to the Pearly Gate. Though their own God while on earth had blessed poverty and damned the rich, they saw no incongruity, continuing to think they had been saved by their belief, even though they made no effort to act upon the moral instructions the incarnated God had issued from his own mouth.
The material world was a world of disease, decay and death, a world in which entropy inevitably increased, but another world free of entropy awaited simply for accepting “the truth”. Matter is the cause of evil, and Christianity is the cure. Mere belief in Christ, a savior, is the magic salvific thought. No choice of good deeds over evil ones was necessary, and so nothing in the wicked world could, in fact, change. There was no will to do it, as there had once been. Reward came after death. That was it.
Christ taught an admirably practical philosophy, but Christians sidelined it. Now, not only is Christianity intellectually absurd, practically an offence and generally a misfortune, it is the ultimate scam.
When those who deny the existence of God at the same time reveal that they ardently want Him not to exist, are we justified in feeling skeptical? It seems a parallel case of the one presented a couple of posts back, in which we decided we were justified in being skeptical when an ardent believer asserted that God exists.
The trouble is that the case of the atheist is not truly symmetrical with the previous one. The argument which held before now fails. The two cases are not symmetrical because God is not now the base case. That is the natural world we experience. We do not experience a supernatural God. Believers may say they do, in one way or another, but while they may experience something, it is their assumption or hypothesis that it is God. After all, the same experiences can be simulated by means that can only be natural ones—drugs, fatigue, starvation, electrical stimuli to the brain.
God is formulated as the explanation of experiences we cannot otherwise explain, but we are no better off, no nearer an explanation to say that a figment of our imagination explains these things. With nothing more than wishful thinking to support the hypothesis of God we have to eliminate it on the basis both of skepticism and Ockham’s Razor.
The base case is the skeptical case, not the credulous one—we reject what we cannot demonstrate as true. By Ockham’s Razor, we have no need of the entity, God. So far, like Laplace, we have been able to explain our experiences without that hypothesis.