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Posts Tagged ‘Spirituality

The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life After Death

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Heaven may not be what you imagine

Because every one of us will die, most of us would like to know what—if anything—awaits us afterward, not to mention the fate of lost loved ones. Given the nearly universal vested interest we personally have in deciding this question in favor of an afterlife, it is no surprise that the vast majority of books on the topic affirm the reality of life after death without a backward glance. But the evidence of our senses and the ever-gaining strength of scientific evidence strongly suggest otherwise. Until recently emotion and emotional processing have been largely neglected by experimental psychology and neuroscience more generally. Emotion has adaptive and biological value for humans and other animals, and substantial psychological and neuroscientific evidence suggests that each emotion is localized in specific neural structures, and so souls or spirits are not needed to explain emotions or emotional processing held to be distinctive of a soul.

In The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life after Death, Michael Martin and Keith Augustine collect a series of contributions that redress this imbalance in the literature by providing a strong, comprehensive, and up-to-date casebook of the chief arguments against an afterlife all in one place. Divided into four separate sections, this essay collection opens with a broad overview of the issues, as contributors consider the strongest available evidence as to whether or not we survive death—in particular the biological basis of all mental states and their grounding in brain activity that ceases to function at death. Next contributors consider a host of conceptual and empirical difficulties that face the various ways of “surviving” death—from bodiless minds to bodily resurrection to any form of posthumous survival. Then essayists turn to internal inconsistencies between traditional theological conceptions of an afterlife—Heaven, Hell, karmic rebirth—and widely held ethical principles central to the belief systems undergirding those notions. In the last section, authors offer critical evaluations of the main types of evidence for an afterlife.

Fully interdisciplinary, The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life after Death brings together a variety of fields of research to make that case, including cognitive neuroscience, philosophy of mind, personal identity, philosophy of religion, moral philosophy, psychical research, and anomalistic psychology. As the definitive casebook of arguments against life after death, this collection is required reading for any instructor, researcher, and student in philosophy, religious studies, and theology. It is sure to raise provocative issues new to readers, regardless of background, from those who believe fervently in the reality of an afterlife to those who do not or are undecided on the matter.

The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life After Death, Keith Augustine & Michael Martin (eds), Rowman & Littlefield (2015)

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Written by mikemagee

13 April, 2015 at 2:01 pm

The Meaning of the Spiritual

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Spiritual Intelligence?

Mark Vernon is a journalist with an interesting website about science, religion and human sociabilility, which has in it a test called the “spiritual intelligence test”, bizarrely called the SQ test, not the SIQ test, leaving you wondering where the “intelligence”, the “I”, went! IQ is the abbreviation for intelligence quotient, because it is the mental age divided by the actual age, and so shows whether anyone is ahead or behind the average in mental or intellectual development. It was meant as an educational aid, for testing people as they developed, and so becomes a fixed value in adults simply showing whether they are above or below average intelligence.

The SQ or SIQ test is not a quotient, and so there is no need for the Q at all, and it seems to be meant simply to draw attention to the supposed parallel with IQ. When you have done the test, you discover that it is really a test of humility, the scores of 0-100 apparently being on a scale from humble to overweening arrogance. My own score, answered as honestly as possible, which meant several answers could not be given because none of the three choices were adequate, was 45. Answering them all in what I thought was an obsessively scientific way gave me a score of 52, and answering in the way I thought religious believers would answer gave me a score of 72.

Doubtless, it is all meant as a bit of fun, and not seriously, but such bits of fun have a way of being taken seriously by half the population, probably the half with IQs below 100. Whether that is so or not, it is true that a large number of people think that spiritual is a meaningful word, and Mark Vernon seems to be among them. It is a word that everyone wants to use, largely to show their anti-reductionist credentials, but few can agree upon when it comes to discussing meaning. A definition from a dictionary has it that spiritual means pertaining to the human spirit as opposed to the material or physical.

So, it seems to be equivalent to imaginary, for what is not material or physical other than thoughts in the mind? It is a certain bet that most religious people would not count spiritual as meaning imaginary. No, religious people, think spiritual things are somehow real, even though they are not physical or material. In other words what is spiritual is somehow supernatural. Spirituality, to the believer, is supernaturality. Those who claim not to be religious but nevertheless believe that spiritual things are real in some such supernatural way are secretly religious.

There is a feeling, often described as awe, not meaning pure fear as it once meant, but a frightening sense of wonder, that people sometimes get and often when they see something entirely wonderful in nature, such as a stunning vista or spectacle, or a wonderful event, such as the birth of a child, a ferocious storm, and so on. The same feeling can come about unexpectedly, when it is called mystical, and is attributed, for no sound reason, as signifying the nearness of God. The feeling is utterly natural, and most people have had it in its milder form. According to surveys, even about a third of people have had the mystical experience itself. There is absolutely no reason why God or spirituality should be associated with this feeling. It merits attention, certainly, but is much more likely to be the sense of unity suddenly felt of ourselves with the world we live in.

Usually, we think purely selfishly. Self is a characteristic which has evolved to help us survive. If we did not have it, we would be much more altruistic if simply because we would realize how unimportant each of us individually is in the vast scheme of things. Self makes us seem more important than anything else, and therefore worth preserving. That is what spirituality is. It is a moment in which the sense of self dissolves leaving us knowing how wonderful the totality of Nature is. It is related in a sense to schizophrenia, when the self breaks down pathologically leaving us unable to even function as ourselves!

In a temporary, or better still, if it is possible, in a controlled, way it is a marvellous feeling that makes us appreciate God in the purely Einsteinian sense of the wonder of Nature. We are truly humbled before this purely natural interpretation of the divine. The opposite is to put yourself, or your beliefs, which are simply part of yourself, before it. Spirituality, then, is the sense humans have of kinunity. The whole world is kin. That being so, the spiritual person is the one who does least to harm the world we live in. It is the basis of Adelphiasophism. To harm it is to harm ourselves.

Updated from the original post on 27 November, 2006.

Written by mikemagee

8 July, 2012 at 3:38 pm

26 percent of Atheist Scientists are Spiritual, but What is Spiritual?

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It seems that new research from Rice University has found that more than 20 percent of atheist scientists are spiritual. 72 of the 275 natural and social scientists interviewed said they have a spirituality that is consistent with science, although they are not formally religious. If this is the measure quoted as 20 percent, it is actually 26 percent!

Elaine Howard Ecklund, assistant professor of sociology at Rice, is the chief author of the study which she conducted with Elizabeth Long, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology at Rice. Ecklund says:

Scientists hold religion and spirituality as being qualitatively different kinds of constructs. Spirituality pervades both the religious and atheist thought. It’s not an either/or. This challenges the idea that scientists, and other groups we typically deem as secular, are devoid of those big “Why am I here?” questions. They too have these basic human questions and a desire to find meaning. There’s spirituality among even the most secular scientists. These spiritual atheist scientists are seeking a core sense of truth through spirituality—one that is generated by and consistent with the work they do as scientists.

Apparently these scientists see both science and spirituality as part of their individual quest for meaning without faith that can never be final. Their spirituality is congruent with science and separate from religion. Spirituality is open to a scientific journey requiring empirical evidence, religion demands the “absence of empirical evidence”.

The terms scientists most used to describe religion include “organized, communal, unified and collective”. The terms used to describe spirituality include “individual, personal and personally constructed”. All of the respondents who used collective or individual terms attributed the collective terms to religion and the individual terms to spirituality. Ecklund said:

In their sense of things, being spiritual motivates them to provide help for others, and it redirects the ways in which they think about and do their work as scientists.

The spiritual scientists saw boundaries between themselves and their nonspiritual colleagues because their spirituality facilitated engagement with the world around them. Such engagement, according to the spiritual scientists, generated a different approach to research and teaching. While nonspiritual colleagues might focus on their own research at the expense of student interaction, spiritual scientists’ sense of spiritualty provides nonnegotiable reasons for making sure that they help struggling students succeed.

Much of the comment on the study by the authors is waffle. What is valid in it is not original, and what is original is not valid. It really is not surprising. The lead author seems to have done the research under a grant of $283,549 from the John Templeton Foundation to study “Religion and Spirituality among Natural and Social Scientists at Elite Research Universities”, and must have felt under pressure to find something to please the sponsor.

The researchers seem to have used the results of the research to define what they mean by spirituality, rather than defining the terms they wished to study first. Thus, it is a curious finding that only the science professors who do their teaching job properly are spiritual. It seems to mean that conscientiousness is at least one facet of spirituality. If so, the nonspiritual teachers could never get tenure, and so selection would push up the ratio of these mysterious spiritual ones in any science faculty.

In fact, the word “spirituality” defies definition, it is so meaningless. Etymologically it derives from the Latin for “breath”. Breath relates to life for which breath is essential in mammals, including humans. It is an early metaphor for life, actual breathing life, and came to be associated with an immaterial entity that gave life to inanimate matter. Thus God made Adam of clay and “breathed” life into him! The life that God has breathed into him and all of us is literally “breath” or spirit (spiritus).

Thus to accept the concept of spirituality is to accept a dualism that science can find no evidence for. When there is no evidence for any proposed phenomenon or hypothesis, the null hypothesis is that it does not exist, not that it does exist. That is scientific skepticism.

Some scientists might not think about these things too much because they are irrelevant to the practice of science, so some might not have strictly coherent views on spirituality. Even more so, given that the term, quite apart from its linguistic origins, is now so widely interpreted that no two people ever are speaking about the same spirituality. Proof is the discussion that the PhysOrg.com report of this research generated. Approaching 200 comments submitted showed it superbly. Few posts were talking about the same thing.

It seems, though, that a lot of people did think that a spiritual experience was a personal—subjective—sense of awe. It is this sense of awe that many scientists who are not a bit religious may be willing to describe as spiritual. It has nothing to do with religious belief, and the attempt of religions to hijack it as the presence of God, or whatever, is typical religious dishonesty. It is almost invariably a sense of awe at Nature or something natural, like a childbirth. Francis Collins, the head of the NIH, says his “Road to Damascus” experience came when he suddenly came across a frozen waterfall, an awesome but entirely natural phsnomenon. It should have strengthened his desire to investigate Nature, rather than stimulating his return to God. However, the wonder of human architecture, say, as in the spectacle of the interior of a cathedral, can induce it too. That was undoubtedly the objective of the medieval bishops in building such wonderful buildings.

Perhaps Professors Ecklund and Long will do a much more thorough study with a more representative sample, proper definitions, and greater objectivity. Let’s not hold our spiritus! A Templeton Prize might be awaiting.

Written by mikemagee

10 May, 2011 at 9:27 pm