Utility of Religion

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Rinsaikeru
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Rinsaikeru » Mon Jun 01, 2009 2:48 am UTC

I agree with Zcorp,

What benefit to the discussion is offered by making the assumption "that religion really does improve happiness, health, giving, and stress management"?

"Let's assume I win this discussion and then discuss that instead."



Since we DON'T actually agree that religion is a net benefit in terms of stabilty/happiness etc--and because you can't offer any proof that this is the case, assuming this for the sake of argument seems very silly to me.

Perhaps what you mean to say that there are some individuals for whom religion performs these services--but I'm much happier as an athiest than I ever was as a christian.
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Enuja
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Enuja » Mon Jun 01, 2009 3:58 am UTC

guenther, I agree with you that ...

1) An instantaneous, miraculous massive loss of faith in the US of A would seriously damage society.
2) Many individuals depend strongly on their faith to make them better people.
3) There are past and current cultures that use religion to support and transmit values and morals.
4) Religion can be used to create community.

I disagree with you in that I think that ...
1) The non-religious transmission and creation of morals and values has been at least as historically important as the religious transmission and creation of morals.
2) Non-religious systems can do better than religious systems at creating and transmitting societally advantageous morals.
2) Systems other than religion can make better communities than religions.

So, sure, I agree that if religion had a strong utility for society, then we shouldn't get rid of it. But, as Zcorp said, discussing this from the perspective that you are correct isn't really relevant.

I strongly suspect that humans can a will construct a much better future society without religion. You strongly suspect that any future society without religion will be worse than our current society, or at least worse than any future society would be better with the addition of religion. Because this is about the future, evidence is irrelevant to this question, and I don't know where else this discussion can go. I'm happy to discuss any of the three points I think we disagree on, but you don't appear to be interested in doing that.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Kaelri » Mon Jun 01, 2009 5:23 pm UTC

guenther wrote:let me respond to the point about self-deception and truth. You say people want truth, but I believe we really want the perception of truth. An easy example would be in politics. You give everyone an amazing wealth of information on the web and instead of becoming more open-minded, they niche themselves into a world of like-minded perceptions. They work to reinforce their beliefs rather than attaining some truer truth. I do believe we look for truth and meaning, but the desire is sated by perception, not reality.


But I can't believe you're content with that behavior. In fact I don't believe it, because you're here, arguing it, debating it, seeking out the opinions of people who disagree with you and inviting a challenge to your hypothesis based on its merits. If you wanted to surround yourself with ideologues who showered you with "evidence" of religion's benevolence, it would be the easiest thing in the world. You're smart enough to recognize that this crucible method, whatever the outcome, will leave you with a clearer, stronger, more stable understanding of the issue. You are demonstrably not content with the "perception" of truth; you are proactively closing the gap between your perception and reality.

What if you had someone telling you to give up this empirical pursuit? 'You'll be happier, more secure, more prone to positive behavior, if you simply assume without evidence that religion provides more utility than any other system, disregarding the possibility that it doesn't.' Is this not a microcosm of what you're suggesting for humanity as a whole and its method of socio-moral determination?

A few posts ago, you asserted that some faiths are "quite bad and worse than no religion at all," and that you've used empirical evidence to identify those with a stronger "claim of success." How can I reconcile your robust application of the scientific method with your claim that rejecting an anti-scientific institution would be detrimental to society? I see you saying, "we must not deceive ourselves about the best form of self-deception!" It requires two mutually-exclusive ways of thinking to objectively analyze the utility of a faith-based epistemological belief, and to actually embrace that belief. The day we convince everyone on Earth to accept a scientific defense of religious faith is the day when they will no longer be capable of partaking in it.

This is why pursuing true beliefs isn't just a philosophical virtue, it's a vital part of acquiring all those other virtues we desire. Now, on the philosophy, I stand by my assertion that anyone who promotes religious faith without sharing that faith, solely for its "utility," has made himself a social engineer. It's quite an arrogant thing, I think, to believe in a certain social model for one reason, and tell people to follow it for a different reason, as if they can't be trusted to display the same fidelity in their motivations that you do. Making this argument at all requires that you do have a concept of absolute good (without which "utility" would be meaningless), and I would be concerned if that concept did not include maximizing the truth in one's perceptions, partly because - to circle back to the descriptive argument - it must have been, in lieu of faith, that very pursuit which led you to acknowledge the empirical value in all of the rest of these virtues.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby SpazzyMcGee » Mon Jun 01, 2009 8:31 pm UTC

guenther wrote:What if I said "I would respect children so much more if they embraced the truth". I could make the case that we should do away with arbitrary rules and punishment and teach the kids what it rationally right. I will meter my respect based on how rational they are. Well hopefully we can agree that that's a foolish thing to do. Kids are not good at being rational and need help with boundaries and punishment to learn how to behave responsibly. We can change our perspective without lowering our respect. We are able to appreciate them based on who they are, not who we want them to be.

Now adults are better at being rational and we should have a higher bar. But we still need realistic expectations or we'll be in for a lot of disappointment.

I think this child vs adult analogy is a very good one. Being childish is not respectable. I don't respect children as I do adults. Why would I? For any individual to earn my respect he or she must demonstrate good character. It is a much greater character trait to deal with reality instead of buying into myths no matter their perceived practical purpose. Like my previous comparison of two aliens worlds (one without belief in the "Master Spoon" and one with) the former civilization is "more adult" and able to deal with reality no matter what it may be while the latter is more child like because it is unwilling to accept reality preferring to keep its false belief in the Master Spoon. The first civilization is more respectable.

I don't really feel like delving into my past points of how many modern day secular nations are very prosperous today showing society is not dependent on religion, so lets just assume human civilization would crumble without supernatural beliefs keeping them in line. In such a world I would have less respect for humanity than I would if humans could get along merely by knowing the truth instead of depending on falsehoods. To say human society is indeed dependent on such things is very pessimistic. I believe I mentioned this earlier, to not be part of any religion while simultaneously supporting it one must be very pessimistic of humanity. I have an optimistic perspective of humanity thus I do not accept your pessimistic view point. Feel free to make an argument for why the opinion that humanity needs to believe in falsehoods to function is not a pessimistic perspective of humanity.

guenther wrote:I'm not sure why you use this analogy unless you just want to express your disgust for religion. There's many technology examples like swords/guns, horses/cars, candles/light bulbs (where you could even talk about the fire hazards of candles). Religion has been a pillar of civilization for a long time; who has ever quenched their thirst with urine and thought it was a good solution?

You took that analogy MUCH too literally. Let me explain it for everyone. Watered down urine does offer the benefit of hydrating one should they drink it, but urine is an advantageous addition. I know religion can offer us benefits, but religion also offers us the advantageous addition of supernatural beliefs which I hold as the sole source of every negative trait of religion. By merely removing the urine we are left with the only beneficial thing within the original beverage, the water. By removing the supernatural beliefs from religion we are left with the beneficial aspects, the guidelines for living. Hell, if one were to say the definition of religion is not dependent on super natural claims then I am not against religion. Cultural traditions and guidelines for living are indeed beneficial and in many cases institutions that promote both are indeed good to have around also. It is these things that you are saying are beneficial to humanity right? You are not saying the supernatural claims by themselves are beneficial correct? If so then we agree.

Or are you saying you think supernatural claims are independently useful no matter if they are false or that all cultural traditions and guidelines for living are dependent on supernatural beliefs. I cannot see how you could hold either one of those positions. You might say that cultural traditions and life guidelines are better if they are enforced by religious institutions that claim their own traditions and guidelines to be immutable laws that cannot be offered up to debate and that human society would suffer without such institutions, but then we are back at this pessimistic perspective of humanity not to mention you would be supporting culturally motivated limitations on thought.

Let me elaborate on the aforementioned position supporting culturally motivated limitations on thought. In a world where cultural traditions and life guidelines are tied to supernatural claims of reality one is not free to evaluate individual traditions or guidelines. Because of the supernatural claims the entirety of the religious institution is either false or true. For example, lets say I claim stealing, murder, and sleeping in on Wednesdays is very bad things because the Master Spoon says so. This statement infers there is a Master Spoon and that it claims that stealing, murder, and sleeping in on Wednesdays are all very bad. I an unable to doubt any of those claims because they are all tied to the fact the Master Spoon said it. If I say one of them is not a good guideline (like not sleeping in on Wednesdays) then I call into question the supernatural claim of the Master Spoon, thereby calling into question the other two claims (like stealing and murder being bad). Now if one just removed the Master Spoon from the original statement that problem is erased. All the guidelines can be evaluated separately and freely. In a world with no religion and where mostly everyone follow philosophies like Zen Buddhism or Secular Humanism, it isn't that big of a deal to disagree with one position in one philosophy or to disagree with the entirety of another. It's not like one would be damned or that one would be threatening humanities salvation by not supporting any one philosophy in its entirety as many religions claim. I think we could both agree that such fluid institutions would never be able to be used for destructive means such as killing abortion doctors or destroying sky scrapers, and yet they offer the same benefits religions do.

guenther wrote:
SpazzyMcGee wrote:Philosophies offer everything religion does accept without the baggage of indefensible supernatural claims.

It seems like the only reason you believe this is because it "sounds" right. Why are you so willing to believe that something else can perform better without evidence? And if you have no evidence, would this qualify as faith?

I thought I had been laying out my position in great detail. I believe I have already claimed that I do not rely on faith for any of my beliefs and if one were to point out where that is the case I would admit my position is unsubstantial and surrender the argument.

I fail to see where anything within what you quoted of me is dependent on faith. Xen Buddhism and Secular Humanism DO offer the benefits of religion without indefensible supernatural claims. On the contrary I do not see how it is even debatable. What do they lack that every other religion has or what supernatural claims do they make?

guenther wrote:Open Question to Everyone
Suppose I could provide indisputable evidence that religion really does improve happiness, health, giving, and stress management. Let me ask two questions:

  1. At the societal level, are you really willing to sacrifice on happiness, health, etc. to make a secular society? How much?
  2. At the individual level, if you knew that on average a person's life improves (as stated above) by becoming religious, would you still try to convince people away from religion even if you knew you would in all likelihood make their lives worse?
These questions help me understand how much discussing the utility of religion matters. Discussing the utility of gay marriage to most Christians won't make them overcome their ideology, and I'm curious if there's a similar ideological divide here.

One can find happiness in so many other ways and you know. I know many people lead better lives after finding Jesus, or Mohamed, or what have you. However people have also lead better lives by finding a lover; joining a school of thought like Zen Buddhism; or following respectable people of the past such as Gandhi, Confucius, or even Jesus (without submitting to the Christian church).

Inversely, would you tell someone who is ecstatic because they just bought a lotto ticket which they believe guarantees them a million dollars the next day that their happiness is misplaced? You know its not true that he or she will get a million dollars the next day (or at least very VERY unlikely), but he or she is are very happy because of this belief and that happiness is transferred to those around that person. I doubt you would say one should let them go about their ignorance despite that being exactly what your previous arguments logic would claim. My argument's logic would lead one to correct the mistaken person and direct them to some other means of finding happiness beyond a lot of money.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Thu Jun 04, 2009 12:15 am UTC

I'm happy to have more active participants here, but it comes with the downside that I can't reply to everything. My post is already enormously long. If I miss something you feel is important, let me know and I'll respond.

Open Question
The purpose of this is to "help me understand how much discussing the utility of religion matters". I suppose I could have expanded on it more though. I'm not trying to change the topic; conversely I'm trying to filter out arguments that a utility defense can't handle. If you agree that religion should be valued in our culture if it provides the benefits I described, then I'm not wasting time trying to convince you that it provides those benefits.

Agenda
The scope of my argument has shifted back and forth since my first post. I'll try to lay out my goals in order of importance.
  1. Raise the level of respect towards good examples of religion like Christianity in America. Reading various threads on these forums shows a general contempt for religion, and I think it spills over onto the practitioners as well. People of faith need to respect other people's right to live life differently even if they don't agree with the wisdom of that decision. Non-religious people should be equally respectful. I believe when we see an option as "bad", rather than "less wise", it limits how much respect we can offer. Communicating without offering mutual respect generally seems to lead to irrational bickering.
  2. An intellectual debate on the practical merits of religion. I'm happy to discuss this in the past, present, or future. With this second round of debates I shied away from discussing the future because I felt I already spent a lot of time on it at the expense of point (1). Also, I got the impression that people were getting tired of me making the same arguments over and over. :)

@Zcorp:
  • Community - Christianity and other religions strongly promote community as a responsibility, not a suggestion. Also, it demands that we treat each other with love and respect. This is why I think it's good at building community. Perhaps there's something specific about faith that's helpful too, but I don't know. Secular institutions often promote community as well (because humans are very social creatures), but they don't list it as a moral obligation. And if a fellow member is an asshole, there's no requirement to treat them in a loving way.
  • Religion - For practical purposes, I am either talking about the potential merits of some abstract "good" religion, or I'm referring to empirical evidence for Christianity in America. I have no idea how much of my utility arguments apply to the various religions across the world. I practice a non-denominational brand of Christianity, and I have no idea how long it's been around. If we don't have a good model of how or why religion is so pervasive and widespread throughout society, then we have to look at the results. Anything that has survived and thrived natural selection for a long time has demonstrated some staying power. A newer system might be better, but we have no way to know other than to see it in action.

@Enuja:
Enuja wrote:I disagree with you in that I think that ...
1) The non-religious transmission and creation of morals and values has been at least as historically important as the religious transmission and creation of morals.
2) Non-religious systems can do better than religious systems at creating and transmitting societally advantageous morals.
2) Systems other than religion can make better communities than religions.

What is the source of these beliefs? Is it based on statistically measured data, personal experiences, intuition, etc.? Do you believe that existing evidence makes your claim stronger than mine? (And I'm quite happy to talk to you about these, sorry if I gave the wrong impression before.)

@Kaelri:
You ask some very tough questions that really made me think. :) I hadn't spent as much time on the philosophy of the matter, so that took a while to write. Here's my response in separate parts.

  • Philosophy - I am content with this sort of behavior because I believe it is a fundamental part of who we are, and there's nothing we can do about it. Every time we talk about the truth of goodness, compassion, equality, or even truth itself, we are appealing to a perception, not reality. Mr. Pratchett was right to observe that these qualities don't fundamentally exist in the universe; they are fabricated constructs of evolution that exist only in our perception to increase some sort of fitness function. The "Good delusion" is actually much stronger than the "God delusion" since our culture will no longer shun you if you deny God, but it will if you deny Good.

    The reality-based truth, as far as I can tell, is that morality is just a tool to make society stronger, just like religion, love, and opposable thumbs. But knowing that doesn't make anything in life easier; it doesn't fill any of our fundamental needs anymore than learning how a black hole is formed. Instead we fill our lives and culture with a perception of truth that reminds us that being good matters in some fundamental way because doing something important is easier than doing something irrelevant.

    In my opinion, religion extends this by making claims on reality, which I suspect makes a stronger tool for encouraging morality and controlling behavior. But when religion's arbitrary claims conflict with science's empirical measurements, it directly dilutes the utility of science. Over the years, science has gained ground over religion because the technology it produces has had a much greater impact on social fitness. In turn, religion's claims on reality have been retreating to areas thought untouchable by science. It turns out that the creation of man is touchable, but so far the afterlife is safe along with the belief in an invisible hand of God in our lives.

    I choose to participate in the delusion that morality is one of the fundamental virtues in life, and is more important than happiness, wealth, health, and even truth. We need tools that make people more good, and if religion can provide that, I'm happy to have it. If people follow a Godless system that helps promote morality, then I'm happy for that as well.

    Why do you believe truth is on par with morality in terms of virtue? Is there a practical reason, or is it ideology? Are you OK with people giving up happiness, wealth, and health for the greater good? How about truth?

  • Practicality - Bursting people's perception bubbles is a really hard thing to do, especially in regards to religion. If you look at it in terms of energy spent versus benefit gained, I bet you'd see a very dim picture. It's only worth it if you perceive religion as a serious danger. But if you believe it's innocuous or even useful, then it becomes a big waste of energy. I think we'd get much better results if we encouraged people of faith to use religion responsibly rather than to demonize the whole institution as a plague.

  • Me - As a Christian, I am called on to evangelize my faith, but I will tell you that this is the hardest part for me because of the issue you raised about social engineering. I do believe that if I knowingly promote a falsehood, I am doing something very wrong. So when I'm asked to spread the historical truth of the Gospel, it's challenging because I don't know if it's historically true. Instead, I simply say that I love the concept of Christianity and I find it useful (which is precisely why I am a Christian). I strongly believe in open information, so if someone probes further, I will give my more detailed, nuanced perspective.

    Personally I value these sorts of discussions, just as I enjoy learning about physics, astronomy, etc. But I would feel arrogant if I assumed everyone shared the same passion for it that I do. I want people to see a door if they are looking to probe the edges of their perception bubble, but I don't want to push them through unless their specific delusion is causing troubles.

EDIT: I probably come off pretty unconcerned about people being niched inside their own perception bubble, and fundamentally I don't believe it's always wrong. But there are many instances of this that do frustrate me with the biggest one being politics. When people communicate across niches, it seems nearly impossible to come to any sort of agreeable compromise, and more often turns into arguments and name calling. I believe strongly that these perception bubbles need to be at least softened somewhat because they are harming our ability to govern effectively. I think it's possible to be tolerant of someone else's position while still maintaining your own perspective, but I don't know how to represent this in my bubble metaphor.

@SpazzyMcGee:
Can my view of humanity be pessimistic even if I feel optimistic about it? Optimism/pessimism are a function of where our expectations lie in relation to the bar of success. I feel that if I use a lower bar in terms of rationality, then humanity will meet my expectations more often, and I will have a better perspective to gauge our other virtues. My view will lead to less disappointment.

SpazzyMcGee wrote:I fail to see where anything within what you quoted of me is dependent on faith. Xen Buddhism and Secular Humanism DO offer the benefits of religion without indefensible supernatural claims. On the contrary I do not see how it is even debatable. What do they lack that every other religion has or what supernatural claims do they make?

You are using logic in place of evidence. What do I need to do to convince you that Christianity has benefits? Do you think you've demonstrated that with those two philosophies?

And for your lottery ticket example, even if I claim that some self-delusion is useful, it doesn't make each and every instance of it useful. I do place a strong value on truth that lines up with reality. If a religion promotes a belief that's easily refuted, then people will lose their faith. The practicality of a useful delusion has to allow us to interact in the world in a useful way. Clinically, delusions are bad because they disrupt our life.

(Throughout this whole post, I use delusion as anything we hold as true without evidence, i.e. we "delude" ourselves into thinking we have better evidence than we have. It's a very broad definition and is different from the regular connotation. But when people talk about the "God delusion", I believe they mean it in the same broad way.)
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Zcorp » Thu Jun 04, 2009 6:10 pm UTC

If you agree that religion should be valued in our culture if it provides the benefits I described, then I'm not wasting time trying to convince you that it provides those benefits.

I agree that religion provides benefits. I don't agree that those benefits cannot be found elsewhere. And I think that they can be found else where without a lot of the negative things associated with religion.

I don't think anyone has proposed that religion has nothing on its pro list.

Agenda
    Christianity in America is just about the worst modern example. For all of the reasons I previously cited. It stifles progression (many sects and practitioners still putting faith in outdated gender and sexual roles and more), is delusional in accepting reality (creationism/abstinence and more) and has even fundamentally destroyed one of our two main political parties. Republicans now are more associated with being socially conservative than with fiscally conservation and small government. Which the public (especially the younger generations) is seemingly against social conservatism in America and is certainly against all over the rest of the western modern world. It is also associated with the most fanatical individuals in America today. It puts value on the meso and micro sphere with little regard to the macro. Which Results in significant tragedy of the commons scenarios such as over population, where fertility rates correlate heavily to the religious. There are even people so scared of such absurd notions they make videos like this
    http://www.youtube.com/user/friendofmuslim

Community
    The social sciences dont promote community as a suggestion, in fact I'd wager is has much stronger sense of projected responsibility by the scientific community then the Christian one. Their goal is to provide education and reasoning not require individuals to take things on faith alone. They provide data, theories and conduct experiments so that we can make better hypotheses. Additionally the responsibility created by education reaches to a global and systemic effect while Christianity focuses mostly on the local or just individual. The Christian faith also looks to external forces in relation to responsibility, while social sciences require the individual to overcome the Self and accept the internal responsibility.

Religion
    Yeah...so all I asked was you call it Christianity and not religion as what you do not mean is religion. Calling the argument utility of religion when thats not what the discussion is about is a bit disingenuous, and can halt productivity.

    Having empirical data is certainly useful for finding correlation, but experimental data is generally used when finding causation. Saying that Christianity can have a good effect is true. But the important part for the betterment of society is finding the cause of that good effect and applying that cause to a model that does not include the various negative effects that also correlate to Christianity.

Missed areas
    You failed to address my point about secular institutions. One that I believed to be at the very heart of this discussion.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Thu Jun 04, 2009 6:59 pm UTC

@Zcorp: I will respond to your post in a little bit. I wanted to share my perspective on something else (which by the way is about religion in general).

"People are complicated"
The last xkcd comic is in line with a concept I've been making for a while. Sitting around and thinking is a great way to innovate, but it is a lousy way to come up with practical, workable solutions. To do the latter, you need to do lots of field testing.

As an analogy, we don't trust airplane travel because we believe in the talent of the engineers. Rather we trust it because we've been using the technology for several decades now and despite some tragic accidents, it's proven very reliable. As humans, we greatly value experience over theory. We believe something when we see it work.

Just like we marvel at airplanes, jets, rockets, and even our human body, we should look at religion and marvel at a successful solution to a very complicated problem (I would say the most complicated problem we know of). This doesn't mean we can't out-innovate nature, since we have already done so many times in the past. But if we want to be serious about getting it done, we should be realistic about the immensity of the problem.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Zcorp » Thu Jun 04, 2009 8:07 pm UTC

guenther wrote:which by the way is about religion in general.
Then you need to define religion to discuss it. Which I've attempted to prompt you to do multiple times.

Just like we marvel at airplanes, jets, rockets, and even our human body, we should look at religion and marvel at a successful solution to a very complicated problem (I would say the most complicated problem we know of). This doesn't mean we can't out-innovate nature, since we have already done so many times in the past. But if we want to be serious about getting it done, we should be realistic about the immensity of the problem.


First please define the problem you speak of.

Second, I can infer you mean the problem to be 'progression of society.' In which case I greatly disagree with the assertion that Christianity is a solution. It sets up institutions that perpetuate hate, intolerance and worse ignorance. It bases its dogma on a book that is not of Quality. There is no Objective to its Subjective, no Structure to its Creativity, no Pessimism to its Optimism, no Yang to its Yin, no Masculinity to its Femininity, no Classical quality to its Romantic quality or whatever words you want to use to look at to attempt to view reality/existence/Everything/God/Enlightenment/Transcendence. It is an incomplete guide to a path/way/journey/understanding of those concepts as well.

As it is incomplete it can be improved upon thus we should not settle with and worship Christianity as our societal status quo. Because something is complicated is not reason to not try, when we fail we don't give up we learn and try again. Constantly pushing for new heights. Because something is complicated it is a fault in our understanding of it, something we need to overcome in ourselves. It is not a fault of the thing.


We can do better then Christianity.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Idhan » Sat Jun 06, 2009 5:49 am UTC

Suppose that you're a Roman living around 70 AD, Guenther. Is there any reason, following the logic you follow today, that you wouldn't support Rome's civil religion and oppose the newborn Christian faith as a subversive force too untested to be a foundation upon which to build a society?

That's not to say your logic forces you into supporting the vicious persecution of Christians, like feeding them to lions. You might object to that on basic humanitarian grounds seperate from matters of religion. However, leaving aside the cruelty involved in the persecution of Christianity, doesn't the logic of staying with the tried and true and being suspicious of the untested compel you to support the faith that has guided Rome from being a small backwards agrarian republic in central Italy to being the greatest empire in Europe over the past five centuries over some untested, newfound faith that has no track record of successfully guiding society?

If you do think that this is true, do you find that at all worrisome?

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Sat Jun 06, 2009 6:32 am UTC

Religion
    My apologies for not clearing it up sooner. I don't know how to precisely define it or where boundary conditions lie. Generally I mean whatever people think of when they hear the word. One of my main arguments for religion's utility is that it helps define morality and control behavior. It will probably contain a quick look-up chart as to whether an action is good or bad, which improves energy efficiency and reduces the impact of personal bias. And it will probably contain an element of the supernatural that emphasizes the fundamental importance of being good. I suspect other elements are important too, which might encourage community, art, tradition, etc. (By the way, the problem in my "People are complicated" example is a solution to creating a sustainable community. It's been quite successful at that.)

Community
    You're comparing the knowledge of community to a source of community. How many lonely people seek out the science to feel more connected? The "lonely person" test is how I like to think of it. When you compare Christianity as a source of community to other sources of community, I would bet on average, the lonely person would walk away from a Christian social gathering feeling more connected and more welcome to return. This is a statistical statement, so there would certainly be cases where a person feels rejected by a group of Christians, but feels welcome when he meets people in a sports bar. But this "lonely person" metric would be an example of how I would measure which source of community is more powerful. (There are certainly other useful metrics like how long people stay members, how much investment they put into the group, etc.)

Zcorp wrote:Christianity in America is just about the worst modern example.

Now if you said it's a "bad" example, I would still disagree, but that's an easier claim for you to make. But you really believe it's the worst? I can't believe you could say that and be aware of the situation in the modern world; this seems completely out of step with reality.

Negative effects of Christianity
    I avoided this section before because it's tough to debate point by point without losing focus on the original debate. Second, you presented the list to defend that Christianity is the "most" bad, which I think you fall far short on evidence. If you reduce the claim to bad displays on the part of Christians, we might find some common ground. We can go a round or two on this if you want, but we don't want to divert the thread.
  • Prop 8 - I'm not sure if you mean the very fact that there is a prop 8, or in regards to Christian behavior surrounding the vote. If you mean behavior, then I'm happy to agree that some people behave bad. However, some will label the very act of voting "yes" as hateful and intolerant of people, which I think is very misguided and harmful.
  • Pro-life - I'm not sure why this is defense. Isn't this pretty much morally ambiguous ground? Unless you're Catholic, but that's a problem with the Pope, not Christianity.
  • U.S. president - Again, I don't see how this is defense. Where is the hate, intolerance? This is a statement of culture. I suspect it's like the airplane example I gave where we trust experience, and we have a long history of good Christian people.
  • evangelicals and southern baptists - These are anecdotal, as you said you can get bad actors in any group.
  • stifles progression - Religion is conservative by nature, and I think that's a safety mechanism, even if I don't agree with every application of it.
  • delusional in accepting reality - How damaging is this? The US is a predominantly Christian country and has been at the leading edge of technology. It seems very proficient at wielding the rules of reality.
  • destroyed Republicans - I would say that Bush plus a bad economy ruined the Republican party. Plus they're divided on how to get their message out, using a loud-mouth like Rush, or treating people with respect. (I do agree that to become a candidate of either party, you have to be tested by the fires of your extreme base, which winds up yanking policy back and forth. I discussed this in a Left vs Right thread, and I think it's based more on our political system than anything else.)
  • fertility rates - I'd tend to agree with you on this one, but it seems more a Pope thing than a Christian thing.
  • perpetuate hate, intolerance and worse ignorance - I'm not sure what your examples are here. I'd say that labeling a group of people as full of hate and intolerance actually creates more hate and intolerance.

Negative effects outside of Christianity
  • respect - This is my big one. I believe that when we treat respect like candy to be dealt to only the worthy, we are directly harming our social fabric. Treating someone like crap is about the fastest way to get an irrational reaction. If we really want to bring about rational behavior, we should feel a responsibility to treat others well. In Christianity, there's a correcting mechanism here since this behavior is a moral responsibility, and it's actually preached in sermons quite often. In the secular world, I don't know what the correcting mechanism is. Generally I think people agree that treating nice people like shit is bad, but it seems either tolerated or promoted to treat shitty people shitty. I don't have any statistics, but since we're sharing our personal experience, I see bad behavior self-policed much better among Christian groups, and tolerated more among secular groups.
  • secular intolerance - Universities was my example of a secular institution. Imagine the reaction in a university classroom to someone saying "I hate Bush". Would it be rejected as poor behavior, tolerated, or applauded? I would guess the latter. What about someone in church saying "I hate Clinton"? I would guess that mentality of spreading hate would get shut down pretty fast because it's considered a sin.

Why is Christianity fundamentally the problem?
  • When you demonstrate that some Christians do stupid things, you seem to think that it's fundamentally a problem with Christianity. Is this an assumption, or do you have evidence to support this? Do you think it could be improved by a better Christianity, as in the same religion but culturally taught better? I presume you have a problem the view on homosexuality, but is there something else in the religion that you believe is fundamentally flawed?
  • My take is that the behavior you are seeing as bad is actually a result of human nature and not religion. I think we first have an impulse to act, and then we try to use logic to justify the behavior. Religion is a convenient excuse since it's a very powerful social force. If we remove religion, then people will just have to find another excuse (they're a different race, they're bigots, they're rich, etc.). When you take a group of people and remove a mechanism to reduce hate and intolerance, unless you have a replacement mechanism, I can't understand how we could get less of it. If you think the anti-religious movement is offering up a mechanism, then let me know. And if you think it performs better at this than Christianity, I'd like to know why you think that.
  • Your objections seem pretty subjective, but I'd like to point out that whenever this issue gets studied objectively, Christianity comes out looking good. Why do you think this is if Christianity is as damaging as you think it is?

@Indon: Glad to see you back! And sorry my response to you gets stuck at the bottom of a large post.
Idhan wrote:Suppose that you're a Roman living around 70 AD, Guenther. Is there any reason, following the logic you follow today, that you wouldn't support Rome's civil religion and oppose the newborn Christian faith as a subversive force too untested to be a foundation upon which to build a society?

I would probably have supported the Jews over that upstart. :) My same arguments could be used to say that loving your enemy and turning the other cheek will never work. Looking in the past (usually) gives us an amazing clarity of vision. There were probably many other religions, that would have popped up then, and if I were a progressive I could have easily picked one that died very quickly.

Jesus had the goal of pushing people into a practice, not pushing people out of one. He would not have considered it a success if people simply left their old religion. The anti-religious movement does seem like it counts as a success every departure from God regardless of what they turn to (assuming it's not an something like explicit cruelty or something). There's seems to be this vision that once we remove religion, there will be a rational awakening among the people, but I suspect all the same problems will be there.

Finally, I don't oppose people trying to find something better than Christianity. And if I were back in 70 AD, I hope I would have peacefully recommended my old religion and let people choose for themselves what path to take. I'm happy for the anti-religious movement to take that route, but I don't like demonizing Christianity as bad when I think evidence shows quite the opposite.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby SpazzyMcGee » Sun Jun 07, 2009 2:20 am UTC

guenther wrote:@SpazzyMcGee:
Can my view of humanity be pessimistic even if I feel optimistic about it?

Uhm? No? You can't be both pessimistic and optimistic at the same time.

guenther wrote:Optimism/pessimism are a function of where our expectations lie in relation to the bar of success. I feel that if I use a lower bar in terms of rationality, then humanity will meet my expectations more often, and I will have a better perspective to gauge our other virtues. My view will lead to less disappointment.

So you are purposefully thinking less of humanity so you won't get disappointing? Didn't you scold me or something earlier because you thought my opinions weren't based on the evidence? Well now you are admitting to lowering your bar of expectations despite the evidence for your own sake. I am genuinely optimistic of humanity. If you aren't just say it. There is nothing wrong with holding that view point when considering all the stuff humanity has done throughout recorded history. You don't think humanity is capable of dealing with the truth (whether or not supernaturally based religion is true or not), yes or no?

guenther wrote:You are using logic in place of evidence. What do I need to do to convince you that Christianity has benefits? Do you think you've demonstrated that with those two philosophies?

Have you been reading a single any of my posts? I have my ENTIRE argument is based around the fact that religion DOES have benefits, that those benefits can be attained by other philosophies without the superstitions that follow with most religions, and that it is those superstitions that are the source of every major problem with religion. And I don't see how you can say Buddhists or Secular Humanists don't believe their lives are improved by joining those two "religions"/schools of thought. Have you never met either before?

guenther wrote:And for your lottery ticket example, even if I claim that some self-delusion is useful, it doesn't make each and every instance of it useful. I do place a strong value on truth that lines up with reality. If a religion promotes a belief that's easily refuted, then people will lose their faith. The practicality of a useful delusion has to allow us to interact in the world in a useful way. Clinically, delusions are bad because they disrupt our life.

So what you are saying is that false beliefs are fine so long as they can't be proved false. Isn't that like saying lying is alright so long as you don't get caught? Both center around having people believe stuff that is false is OK so long as they don't find out. And how can you say religion isn't disruptive? A few thousand people involved in the September 11th attacks would disagree with you. So would the millions affected by the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and all of the Sunnis and Shiites dying in Iraq. I don't see how you can say religion isn't disruptive. I thought you were arguing that the benefits of religion outweighed its many failings. I on the other hand have been arguing all those benefits can be achieved through alternate means, without the many failings of religion.

Do you agree that superstitious religion has failings? Yes or no?
Do you believe that those failings are outweighed by its benefits? Yes or no?
Do you believe "religions" devoid of superstition can fill the role of superstitious religions to at least some extent? Yes or no?
Do you believe that the difference between the benefits of superstitious religion over non-superstitious religion is greater than the failings of superstitious religion? Yes or no?

Or maybe we can loosely quantify it (I will fill out my own answers as an example):
Benefits of superstitious religion (between 0-10): 7
Benefits of non-superstitious "religion" (between 0-10): 6
Detriments of superstitious religion (between 0-10): 4
Subtract the benefits of non-superstitious from superstitious to find the difference: 1
Is that difference greater than failings of religion? No, therefore the the minor difference between superstitious and non-superstitious religions is too small to outweigh the failings of superstitious religion.

You seem to have been misinterpreting my argument. Do you get it now?

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Whimsical Eloquence » Sun Jun 07, 2009 5:54 pm UTC

guenther, you insist you care for, and place high value on the truth yet can't what you propose be summed up as this:

Neither x, nor y can be proved. Both are invented superstitions.
However, because we believe that society will receive a myriad of benefits (which we will call z) if we take x as truth and follow its practices. Thus we take as truth x, despite it having just as much validity as y which we dismiss thereby setting double standerds, and destroy our previous necessitation for evidence based aquisition of knowledge.
Now, others argue that benefits z can be achieved in ways which don't adopt x or y and therefore perserve our integrity for truth and empiricism.

It's not that the others arn't saying there is no benefits z to x (as you seem to be saying in your post) rather, they argue that we shouldn't impose delusion on ourselves to achieve z, and that z might be achieved without x. Indeed that by achieving z without x, society also benefits from an added advantage x dosn't bring: empirical standerds to what we believe as truth.

Thus while both accepting x, and not accepting x can have the pros z, x also has the con of being self-delusional and destructive of empirical standards. On the other hand, not accepting x has the added pro of maintaining these standards of truth.


In addition to the arguments outlined above, the main problem I find in a theocratic society is that any questioning of power or disagreement with the establishment becomes something more than a temporal debate between two individuals rather it becomes a dispute against that God. The leaders of this society, or the leaders of its Church (if you kept the Government and Church somewhat separate) would have unchecked and unaccountable power because they are understand to be acting on behalf of god.

Similarly, any action they order cannot be questioned by their citizens, or it can be taken as criticism of God's plan.


Note: I use the term God to refer to both a polytheistic pantheon, great spiritual force or simply a monotheistic deity ect.
“People understand me so poorly that they don't even understand my complaint about them not understanding me.”
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Mon Jun 08, 2009 11:36 pm UTC

Truth
We've been throwing around the term "truth" for a while, and I want to make sure we're all talking about the same thing. I mean reality-based truth, testable, falsifiable, useful for modeling real-world phenomenon. Morality, justice, compassion, happiness, etc. are all perceptive truths, and have no more real-world basis than the notion of God. Outside of our perception, there's nothing physical about any of it.

So when I hear the word "truth", I think "science-based perception of reality". If someone means it differently, then let me know what you mean and why you mean it that way. Here's some further bullets about truth:
  • Truth as utility - I would like to see the notion of truth knocked down from an ideology so it can be evaluated based on utility (which is precisely how I'm handling religion). If religion is stifling our societal pursuit of science, then that's a utility argument for why religion needs curbed in this regard.
  • Diminishing return - People need some familiarity and understanding of how the world works, but as we teach them more and more, there's a diminishing return how useful it is. Aside from a specific yearning for knowledge, I don't know how understanding science's claims about the origin of man improves someone's life anymore than learning how a cell phone works.
  • Neighbor vs. Society - We want society to pursue science because it does some amazingly wonderful things to impact our quality of life. But for a neighbor, would we rather have someone grounded in the verifiable truths, or someone who goes out of their way to say hello to you? How about a fellow driver, waiter, guy behind you in line? We value goodness in others much more than any other quality. Goodness is more important than reality-based perception.
  • Perceptive truths - People care more about perceptive truths than reality-based truths. Science books and movies only appeal to a niche audience (of which I'm a member), while stories of romance, adventure, revenge, happiness, etc. appeal to pretty much everyone.
  • Honesty - This section is about our perception of reality, not about whether we communicate truthfully to others. I consider honesty under the umbrella of morality, and thus I hold it as an ideal.

@SpazzyMcGee: I feel genuinely optimistic about humanity. I do not mean to come across as scolding, but if I did, I apologize for that.

Can people deal with the truth? Well, I have to understand what you mean by "deal". To me, the question seems like "Can people deal with math?". Well what level of math are you talking about? We can push more and more math on people, but it will take bigger amounts of energy for smaller amounts of benefits. As I stated above in the Truth section, I believe the same is true with reality-based truths.

And I think on a lot of levels, people show a difficulty in dealing with science-based reality. The problem is that there's no perfect information, so we should always be thinking in terms of "most likely", "best guess", "fits observation", etc. (This is what trained scientists do in interviews by they way.) But our brain isn't wired for that, I presume because it makes decision-making very hard. Our mind wants us to push information to either True or False, Yes or No, Black or White. It's a simple way of looking at data that can provide lots of insight, but when we think of it as reality as opposed to a projection, then we are deviating from a reality-based perception. Our brain does not handle dealing in likelihoods very well. (I think climate change is a good example of this: the public debate is about True or False, but science really says "best guess", "fits the models".)

SpazzyMcGee wrote:Or maybe we can loosely quantify it (I will fill out my own answers as an example):

The idea that you can answer these and make conclusions with confidence without looking to science for research or evidence makes me think either: you don't understand how much evidence you need to make such statements, you don't understand how much evidence you have, or you have a faith in philosophies that supersedes evidence. If you say that you are making a judgment call based on what you know and what you've experienced, then fine. In a world of imperfect information, that's what we have to do. But I'm trying to point out that you have actually provided very little evidence for your case. Looking at your past messages, I saw you mention your physics major friend and Sweden.

Your claims:
  • those benefits can be attained by other philosophies without the superstitions that follow with most religions
  • it is those superstitions that are the source of every major problem with religion
Your first statement says "can be attained", which is actually a very weak claim since showing one successful example proves you correct. But on average does it get attained across large groups of people? If you believe Zen Buddhism* and secular humanism would work, can you give evidence without just claiming it's obvious? And how do you know that removing the supernatural parts of religion will fix any of the problems you see?

*(By the way, based on reading Wikipedia, Zen Buddhism has a supernatural element in that it claims to give the enlightenment of Buddha. It can be practiced without believing that, but then we can't use it's success in the past as an example of the potential of a secular philosophy.)

@Whimsical Eloquence:
Let me respond to four statements you made.
  1. It's not that the others aren't saying there is no benefits z to x (as you seem to be saying in your post)
    The benefits that I've referred to are the ones in the cited studies that say on average, religion makes you happier, healthier, less stressed, and more giving. I don't believe I gained much traction on convincing anyone here that they're true. I'd be happy to hear that I'm wrong. :)

  2. z might be achieved without x
    I hear them saying that, but I don't think they've demonstrated that it's true. I'm not claiming proof for my side, but I do think the evidence is with me.

  3. x also has the con of being self-delusional and destructive of empirical standards
    The US is primarily Christian and has been at the leading edge of science and technology for a long time. How can this be if religion is so destructive of our empirical standards?

  4. The leaders of this society, or the leaders of its Church (if you kept the Government and Church somewhat separate) would have unchecked and unaccountable power because they are understand to be acting on behalf of god.
    Again, the US is a good example of this not being true. If you don't like what your pastor is saying, go to another church. Even in Catholicism, people become protestant when they don't like what the Pope is saying.

I think the negatives of Christianity are taken as self-evident, and the positives are taken with a grain of salt. But whenever Christianity in America is studied objectively, it comes out looking pretty good. (If someone has a counter-example, let me know.)
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Kaelri » Tue Jun 09, 2009 5:22 am UTC

Here's my cue to jump back in. :)

guenther wrote:
  • Truth as utility - I would like to see the notion of truth knocked down from an ideology so it can be evaluated based on utility (which is precisely how I'm handling religion). If religion is stifling our societal pursuit of science, then that's a utility argument for why religion needs curbed in this regard.


As a matter of fact, you answered this challenge yourself:

guenther wrote:...we don't trust airplane travel because we believe in the talent of the engineers. Rather we trust it because we've been using the technology for several decades now and despite some tragic accidents, it's proven very reliable. As humans, we greatly value experience over theory. We believe something when we see it work.


I agree with this completely. And it is a powerful elucidation of the following idea: the pursuit of truth is necessary to identify the value in everything else we call a "virtue." We don't take it on faith that morality contributes to the survival of the species. It's a causal relationship supported by observable reality, and by closing the gap between reality and our perception of reality, our analysis of this utility is not only more philosophically meaningful, but simply more accurate and useful insofar as it informs our decisions.

To address Neighbor vs. Society, this is exactly how we want individuals at all levels of society to think about every descriptive intellectual challenge, to determine everything from the utility of morality to the best way to hold a socket wrench. (On Diminishing Return: yes, we trust "experts" with more specialized challenges like medicine and law, but the distance between faith and trust is measured by evidence: there's a reason doctors and lawyers hang their degrees on the office wall for all to see.) How can we ask people to think scientifically in their work, education, politics, family management, etc., and then take their morals - arguably the most fundamental axioms guiding social behavior - from an unqualified, unquestionable, inflexible institution which requires a belief-forming method antithetical to science? Is it possible to support one of these disciplines without undermining the other?

I honestly don't think they can coexist in the long run. I repeat: if we convinced everyone on Earth to accept a scientific defense of religious faith, they would no longer be capable of partaking in it. It is a paradox to want "society" to achieve progress by the scientific method while individuals relinquish it. Science doesn't work like economics, where self-interest unconsciously benefits the social interest (and even that's not an absolute, as recent events show). We would still need conscious creativity and innovation to advance in all arenas, including, if nothing else, the determination of religion itself. And not even the human capacity for self-deception would enable a person to believe in the doctrine he just consciously helped fabricate. Which leads us to the biggest problem with this idea:

Let's say most of the world was willing to settle for whatever perception of truth is handed to them. Maybe they're just that predisposed to self-deception (the way church attendance spikes during times of crisis or discontent), or maybe the descriptive falsehoods employed by this religion are so abstract or nuanced that most people don't possess the level of scientific knowledge to articulate the problems to themselves (for example, "God exists on a metaphysical plane outside space-time" is a lot easier to swallow than "God lives in the sky and thunder is when he goes bowling"). Both are plausible. They've happened, at least on a smaller scale.

But even if most people believed, it would require at least a small, elite minority who are allowed to opt out of the rest of the world's religious deduction, and, behind closed doors, work out the best moral code they can based on theory and observation, which would then be presented to the public in the form of a new revelation from God, or something analogous. (The alternative, in which religious leaders actually believe what they're saying, is pretty much what we already have, and obviously does not guarantee the natural emergence of optimal religion.) This duality would bear the qualities of a master-slave relationship, with the majority of humanity obliged to relegate judgment on a set of scientific questions to an oligarchy of self-selected social engineers.

It would have utility. No doubt about it. Any society living under this system would have a strong advantage in survival and stability, and, at least until science encroached on religion's non-normative turf, it would even provide for technological advancement. But it would require the total abandonment of honesty, which you hold up as an ideal.

More importantly, I do not believe this dream world would be able to sustain itself, because I disagree with the premise. The more people are taught to expand their knowledge and think critically about the world around them, the harder it is to invest in an institution as completely devoid of observable evidence as theology. For religion to survive, much less thrive, I think non-overlapping magisteria is its only hope. The gap between truth and Perceptive Truth is continuously closing; even the most believable myth will eventually appear as silly as claiming that 2+2=5.

I think my whole position here can be boiled down to four words: science always catches up.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Fri Jun 12, 2009 12:11 am UTC

(TO ALL: I have some more open questions at the bottom.)

Let me first say that I would oppose any religion that is propagated through deliberate deception. I find it morally wrong, and I don't think we can wield deception as a tool without it going badly. In general when we treat morality as a tool, to be used only when it seems beneficial, then we go down a dark path. We will always find ways to improve our own situation if we can violate morality from time to time, and we'll find plenty of handy excuses as to why it's OK this one time. But, to use a cliche, it's a very slippery and very steep slope, and we won't know we've gone too far until we're plunging downhill at full speed. This is why I believe we need to hold to the ideals of morality.

Kaelri wrote:if we convinced everyone on Earth to accept a scientific defense of religious faith, they would no longer be capable of partaking in it.

I disagree. I actually like the notion that the plan God has laid out for us is scientifically defensible in terms of its benefits. And I actively partake in Christianity despite knowing that science has zero evidence of the supernatural claims.

Kaelri wrote:How can we ask people to think scientifically in their work, education, politics, family management, etc., and then take their morals - arguably the most fundamental axioms guiding social behavior - from an unqualified, unquestionable, inflexible institution which requires a belief-forming method antithetical to science? Is it possible to support one of these disciplines without undermining the other?

I very much believe we can support both without undermining the other. And I would say that religion is a-scientific rather that anti-scientific. As I said before, the US is a very religious country and we've been leading on science and technology for a while. When we look at results, it's quite clear they can get along very well.

And fundamentally I think we want people to make good decisions. Thinking scientifically is very expensive in terms of time and energy. If I choose to spend time trying to figure out how to fix my car, that's less time I can spend with my wife, family, doing home improvements, expanding my professional knowledge, having fun, etc. We have a finite amount of time, money, and energy, and becoming energy efficient at producing good results in any of those categories is a good thing.

Think of baking a cake. Most people don't want to think scientifically about whether there should be one egg or two, how much flour and oil to add, how long to bake it, etc. They just want to make a good cake. Some people want to grow in the art of cooking, but for others that want to use a recipe, we don't use cultural pressure to make them think harder about it. We're happy to provide an energy efficient solution.

This is what religion does for moral behavior. It's energy efficient, and from science we know how much nature adores energy efficiency. I don't think we have a better option right now in terms of producing better results (see studies I cited), let alone for producing the same results with the similar efficiency. We shouldn't ask people to turn to religion from a social engineering standpoint, but we should allow it as a door, and if it does something good for them, so be it.

Openness of information
Aside from morality, I think the most important thing we need in society is openness of information. When you limit what information a group gets, you can wildly manipulate their perception and thus control their behavior. There's a limit to how much this can be done in the US because of our openness. In this environment, the fact that religion has only lost a little ground should be remarkable evidence that the open market of information can't do better. If there were a better solution, people would be flocking to it.

I want a free market of ideas; I think it's healthy all around. Everyone gets their own school where they can promote their way of thinking about the world. And then, we as consumers get to pick which school appeals to us more, or we can even create a new school. Over time we'll see clear results on which one performs better.

The poison to rationality
Nothing brings out our irrationality faster than being pissed off, scared of losing something, or having a bruised pride. These are the real poisons and are so much more damaging than promoting unscientific views on reality. If someone really wants to bring about more clarity of thought, I would advise them to tackle those issues.

Also, in my schools of thought example above, when the schools build their message on their own positive message, we get a healthy system. But what happens in reality is the message is built on the negatives of the other system. This creates a wedge that irrationally pushes perspectives to the extremes and gives people a huge bias when evaluating information. The mutual anger and mutual fear of losing turf is the poison to clear thinking, but instead of seeing that, I think both sides just blame the other.

The rational brain as a filter
Some people scoff at using a checklist for morality, but I bet it's quite advantageous. I described my energy efficiency theory above, but my other thought is that our brain is a terrible rational filter. I've read in many places that our brain often makes a decision based emotion, intuition, gut reaction, etc. and then our rational brain attaches logic to it after the fact. This means we spend more time hunting for loopholes rather than for truth.

Using our brain as a moral filter is a bit like the banks being in charge of their own regulation. It's so easy to appeal to our short term goals by doing questionable things, and then it's a matter of demonstrating that it's really not morally questionable. Perhaps this is a special situation, or perhaps the guideline to morality is really suspect and we can't trust anything. It's not hard to find excuses. Also, we have such a limited view on life; this is what makes being young and wise so rare.

I think the only cure is to use multiple brains. This is the power of community, and science knows it quite well. When we have a lot of minds process the data, each with it's own perspective and biases, we get something much more objective that comes out. For morality, it really important that rely on the wisdom of others. When I read various opinions on these message boards (mostly in other threads) I get the impression that unless something can be proven bad, there should be no problem with it. But that's throwing wisdom away because wisdom doesn't offer proofs.

Open Questions
Here's some questions that I've posed before to which I don't recall an answer. So I'll pose them openly to all:
  • In objective studies of the lives of individuals, Christianity (or perhaps religion in general) comes out looking good in America. How can this be if it's so damaging, especially when people think it's a source of intolerance?
  • Do you automatically credit religion with bad stuff, while expecting more research before giving it credit for the good stuff?
  • If religion is such an assault on reality-based truth, why has the US done so well in science and technology despite being predominately Christian?
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Kaelri » Fri Jun 12, 2009 5:06 am UTC

@guenther

First, a mea culpa: I think I made an unjustified assumption that you were in favor of deliberately promoting supernatural claims that you don't really believe. I now realize that we're more or less on the same page when it comes to social engineering. I'm still concerned that it's a factor, though, as an unavoidable implication of your vision of religion's role. But I'll get to that further down.

Normative vs. Descriptive

I am emphatically in favor of a strictly normative religion - a religion that offers a moral code without justifying it by inevident supernatural claims. This is the only kind of religion that I would be comfortable to call "a-scientific," and I believe that a secular institution is entirely capable of it; we don't need anything beyond philosophy and empiricism to develop a moral code, prognosticate its effects, and defend it as a good course for society to choose. And if such institutions challenge and compete with each other, so much the better. I entirely support your "free market of ideas."

I have two problems with using supernatural claims - unfounded descriptive statements about what is actually true - as a basis for morality.

  • It invalidates. This is where truth becomes a vital pillar of morality's utility. I know you agree that not all moral codes are equal. We need some criteria for differentiating a good moral from a bad one, and a vital criterion is that its basis actually reflects reality. Are people really happier and more prosperous if they refrain from lying, stealing, murdering, and so on? We can provide some good empirical data that they are. Without this ontological criterion, the descriptive implications of a moral are totally meaningless. If you supposed, without evidence, that God's purpose required you to lie, steal and kill, and that he would reward you with eternal paradise for doing so, then no amount of visceral chaos and suffering would invalidate the "morality" of your actions. Supernatural claims may therefore happen to encourage good morals, but they may just as easily encourage bad ones, which makes them useless for the purpose of forming desirable beliefs.

    Now, I think I can predict your response to that point by now: if people believe in God, and that belief leads them to adopt good behavior, then it doesn't matter whether their belief is true and justified, because the behavior is what's important. But this leads to my second objection:

  • It discriminates. What I mean is this: even under a single hegemonic religion, there will always need to be someone, whether it's one individual or a whole class of citizens, to examine, justify and refine our understanding of morality. (Correct me if I'm wrong, but I can't think of any religions that just emerged out of collective culture, without being articulated by a personal authority.) This sets up a tradeoff between two very unattractive options. On the one hand, if the keepers of morality genuinely believe in the supernatural tenets, then they cannot be expected to prescribe a scientifically defensible morality - their hands would be tied by an untouchable supernatural premise ("x is moral because God said so"). On the other hand, if the keepers are not themselves beholden to supernatural claims, but nonetheless use them to convince the rest of society to follow their religion, then they have no choice but to become social engineers. And this, as I described in my last post, results in a master-slave establishment, which obviously violates the principles of honesty, equality, and "openness of information," which we both think are essential to a good moral code. Thus, even though this is probably the arrangement that yields the most "utility" (to the end of society's survival), we are morally obliged to reject it.

The only way to escape this is if every member of society shares the same belief about morality's legitimacy, and that belief is scientifically formed.

Faith vs. Trust

guenther wrote:
Kaelri wrote:if we convinced everyone on Earth to accept a scientific defense of religious faith, they would no longer be capable of partaking in it.

I disagree. I actually like the notion that the plan God has laid out for us is scientifically defensible in terms of its benefits. And I actively partake in Christianity despite knowing that science has zero evidence of the supernatural claims.

You have excellent taste in analogies, sir, and this time I'm going to steal your cake. I completely agree that we don't want every individual wasting his time by working through an infinite series of scientific vindications just to bake a damn cake. I believe in recipes - but only because I am given good reasons to believe that the experts who wrote my cookbook knew what they were talking about, and if I follow their instructions I will in fact end up with a cake. If the recipe calls for cyanide and lighter fluid, and the author just says "I saw it in a vision on Mount Olympus, just trust me," I will do nothing of the sort.

Trust is belief with evidence; faith is belief without evidence. Of course, there's a whole spectrum of trust - the magnitude of the evidence is variable - but I think it takes a fundamentally different kind of thinking, an irrational and dangerous one, to believe something is true literally without reason to. I wholeheartedly reject faith in all contexts. I could shower you with examples of where a failure of critical thinking has led our society to downright embarrassment: this article on Oprah's unwitting support of mass pseudoscience in medicine has been stuck in my mind for days. Through religion, it manifests in even more terrifying ways: suicide bombings, Prop 8, the George Tiller murder, ad infinitum. The point is not just that religion has its ups and downs, but that religion alone cannot be trusted with moral judgment. We clearly augment our religious understanding of morality with something secular.

So when I said "if we convinced everyone to accept a scientific defense of religious faith," I chose my words very carefully. The moment a person is reliant on a scientific defense of his belief, he no longer has faith. And without faith, the supernatural core of that belief is extremely vulnerable. Because of this, when people are taught to look to faith rather than reason, their understanding of morality is guaranteed to be shallow and easily destabilized. Conversely, when their understanding is well-founded, tested and justified by empirical reality, they free themselves of the need for supernatural reinforcement.

What I'm saying, basically, is that if you don't need myths to prop up your morals, there's no reason to think that others do.

Individual vs. Community

Your conception of the power of "multiple brains" is incomplete, in my opinion. You seem to be thinking of phenomena like economics, where individual self-interest can serve the overall social interest without the conscious intention of doing so. (Economics also, by the way, assumes that individuals make rational decisions.) But this is not a comprehensive model of human life, and psychology shows us how, left to its own devices, groups amplify the neuroses of the individuals - effects like mass hysteria, groupthink, Asch's line test, the Stanford prison experiment.

True progress requires conscious innovation and creativity, and although this manifests by harnessing communal wisdom, that wisdom is a function of individuals' thoughtfulness. If the majority of society accepted religious tenets on faith and suspended their personal deliberation of moral issues, this vital collective process would at best be stagnated, and at worst, hijacked by a regime of social engineers taking advantage of society's deference.

Open Questions

guenther wrote:In objective studies of the lives of individuals, Christianity (or perhaps religion in general) comes out looking good in America. How can this be if it's so damaging, especially when people think it's a source of intolerance?

I think that's quite a relative judgment. I think some of the examples I gave above speak against it, too. I do not believe that religion is all-bad; like most institutions, it has its share of goods and evils. I simply don't believe it is the optimal paradigm for human society.

guenther wrote:Do you automatically credit religion with bad stuff, while expecting more research before giving it credit for the good stuff?

Not at all. I can appreciate the accomplishments of David Livingstone, Florence Nightingale, Mother Theresa, the Salvation Army, and countless other charities and benefits. I know others have their reasons, but my arguments have more to do with principles than statistics. It is enough for me that faith is neither sufficient nor necessary to produce such accomplishments.

guenther wrote:If religion is such an assault on reality-based truth, why has the US done so well in science and technology despite being predominately Christian?
A few reasons. First, I think it has a lot to do with the secular pluralism of this country. Scientists of different faiths are able to work side by side, compelled to use a universal and objective language and peer-review process that does a pretty good job of sieving out personal biases and preferences. And on the flip side of that, they're able to publicly explore their findings with relatively little fear of persecution. Suffice to say Galileo would have envied our freedom from religious hegemony.

Second, because the number and diversity of religious denominations allows them to shift and adapt in what I would consider a constant retreat from science's encroachment on their territory. "New age" spirituality is an increasingly popular religious recourse, and I happen to think that's because it's a much more philosophical, subjective, metaphorical way of thinking that relies less and less on superficial supernaturalism.

Thirdly, because our national consciousness has been able to derive its sense of normative purpose from sources other than theology. Without oversimplifying too much, the country was formed at the height of the Enlightenment, with such ideals as "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" codified in our founding documents - we elevated the ideals themselves, largely without relying on a supernatural foundation. In the 20th century, we had the nationalist fervor of the World Wars and the ideological dualism of the Cold War to keep us going. I think it's significant, by the way, that the recent rise of the religious right coincided with the waning of the Soviet Union.

Zcorp
Posts: 1255
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Zcorp » Sat Jun 13, 2009 9:12 am UTC

guenther wrote:Open Questions
Here's some questions that I've posed before to which I don't recall an answer. So I'll pose them openly to all:
  • In objective studies of the lives of individuals, Christianity (or perhaps religion in general) comes out looking good in America. How can this be if it's so damaging, especially when people think it's a source of intolerance?
  • Do you automatically credit religion with bad stuff, while expecting more research before giving it credit for the good stuff?
  • If religion is such an assault on reality-based truth, why has the US done so well in science and technology despite being predominately Christian?

You seem to be missing this point that everyone has said in nearly every post since page 2.
No one thinks that everything Christianity offers is bad. In fact multiple times people have attributed good things to it in this thread. Yet, I and others do not feel that those good things are exclusive to Christianity. It is also believed that those good things can be found in societal norms that do not include as much of the negative aspects of Christianity. So its not that people are ignoring the good stuff from Christianity. Its just that the good stuff can be found elsewhere, in places that do not include as much of the bad stuff.

As for the US doing so well in science, well the US gained it economic superiority and scientific superiority after/during the world wars. With the help of a large amount of immigration into the US from various field experts. The majority of those who shaped the science and education boom in the US were not Christian. Even if the majority of the populace was people. Additionally as pointed out by your own stats earlier in this thread, the vast majority if highly educated individuals are agnostics or atheist within the country today, the US in relation to science has done so well due to those individuals. The Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Einstein, Warren Buffet etc etc. The leaders in all of our fields are in vast majority non-christian.

guenther
Posts: 1840
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Wed Jun 17, 2009 6:16 am UTC

@Zcorp: I'm glad your still around. I always get worried that I wear people down with words. Or perhaps I was so convincing in my defense of self-delusion that people decided to let me delude myself into thinking I've won. :)

Zcorp wrote:You seem to be missing this point that everyone has said in nearly every post since page 2.
No one thinks that everything Christianity offers is bad.

The debate is not about whether or not Christianity is 100% bad, but rather is it (along with the idea of religion in general) a net plus or minus. If you're position is "Eh, Christianity is OK, but we can do better" then I feel I've met my goal #1 listed above.

And I agree with you that the body of science and technology has likely been pushed by less religious people when compared to the country as a whole. My point is that having a large segment of the population believing in an unscientific God does not actually hurt the body of science very much at all.

@Kaelri: I think our perspectives line up in a lot of ways. We just have somewhat different assumptions, which makes our respective projected futures come out looking very differently. I'm glad we see eye-to-eye on the free market of information, and if religion can't compete in that environment, so be it.

To continue on cakes a bit more, suppose I told you that someone made a wonderful cake recipe based on divine inspiration from a dream. Then you say that divine inspiration is a lousy way to find the optimal cake. Well, both statements can be true. I feel like your saying that why should we trust the divine cake if that methodology is so poor. I'm saying that if we want a good cake, let's just try it and see; if we want to optimize, then let's look for a better methodology. (To be clear, the cake recipe is analogous to a prescriptive recipe for how to live life.)

From a real-world perspective, I believe natural selection has shaped religion, so it is neither arbitrary nor static. The rules have to provide a way of life that is more fit than what someone else proposes. And when it is not, it gets replaced. And even within the same religion, the way the principals get applied to everyday life changes over time.

I also believe that we don't have any reliable tools to design a better system of living life. In the cake analogy, we could say that we are optimizing the recipe based on the idea that salt is unfairly represented compared to flour, but we're not looking at the big picture principals on what makes a good cake. Science is doing its best to catch up, but in the realm of recipes for living life, it takes a very long time to measure results. I think you're arguing for a solid scientific approach for things, but it's not reliable enough to hang our hats on yet.

Faith
Why is faith so prevalent if it causes so much trouble? I suspect that it serves some important function or else our species would have learned to have less of it a long time ago. (My guess is that critical thinking is very expensive and we waste a lot of energy employing it all the time, so we have much simpler ways of convincing ourselves why common wisdom techniques work.)

Another way we can think about it is to compare it to something like anger. Every one of us has times when anger makes us do stupid things and sometimes bad things. It destroys our rationality almost instantly. But we know that we can't eliminate it from the population without fundamentally changing who we are. In the same vein, instead of fighting against faith because it makes us do dumb things, we should learn to manage it better. That's why I think the solution to bad religion is good religion, not no religion.

Scientific defense of Religion
Scientific defense of measured results won't hurt faith and might help as it did for me. In fact, I don't see any other solution if I'm going to believe in a God that lets the world reliably operate under well-defined rules. If it's going to provide results, there has to be a real-world mechanism for it.

On the other hand, if someone is making designer religions based on the knowledge of how religions work, that would hurt faith. If people choose which faith to follow based on a menu of predicted results, that would also hurt faith. This is why religion is such a slow moving beast; it has to come about slowly through cultural changes so we can believe in it.

Pros/Cons treated unequally
Kaelri wrote:
guenther wrote:Do you automatically credit religion with bad stuff, while expecting more research before giving it credit for the good stuff?

Not at all. I can appreciate the accomplishments of David Livingstone, Florence Nightingale, Mother Theresa, the Salvation Army, and countless other charities and benefits. I know others have their reasons, but my arguments have more to do with principles than statistics. It is enough for me that faith is neither sufficient nor necessary to produce such accomplishments.

I don't mean whether you can appreciate specific examples, but rather how you link inherent qualities of religion to results we see. You assumed a direct cause-and-effect relationship between faith and suicide bombing, but you entertain a more sophisticated model regarding faith and prosperity in America that allows you to detach faith from the results. This is the type of thing that I mean. The negatives are assumed while the positives are explained away.

@Everybody:
It's easy to say that we can achieve a better secular system, but when I look around today, I don't see it. Christianity (and probably most religions) have structures in place that directly help make people's lives better:
  • Core belief that something is more important than the self
  • Promotes hope and courage regardless of current circumstances
  • Weekly morality lessons
  • Encourages time daily to thoughtfully place other people's problems above your own
  • Lots of support for learning from the text book and applying principals directly into your life
  • Large community that is eager to help when life gets really hard
None of these features require a faith or belief in God. But what secular institutions offer this kind of support for character growth? Do you believe it is on par with what religious groups offer? As far as I can tell, the anti-religious movement has a goal to convince people to walk away from this structure and assume self-guiding principals will somehow do better. Some people work well in that environment (and they should have every right to choose it), but it seems that when we look how people really learn and grow (i.e. look at school), the "here's a book, good luck" method doesn't produce very good results.

If you have a different perspective of the anti-religious movement, let me know.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Zcorp
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Zcorp » Wed Jun 17, 2009 9:15 am UTC

guenther wrote:@Zcorp: I'm glad your still around. I always get worried that I wear people down with words.
I got busy had a long response half typed out for your previous post and never got around to finishing it. Then the conversation progressed a bit and it felt outdated to post it.
If you're position is "Eh, Christianity is OK, but we can do better" then I feel I've met my goal #1 listed above.
I'm glad you feel you met your goal. But I don't think everyone was every stating anything else then that.

My point is that having a large segment of the population believing in an unscientific God does not actually hurt the body of science very much at all.
But the body of science hurts the religions population. And with good reason, it stresses education instead of faith.


@Everybody:
It's easy to say that we can achieve a better secular system, but when I look around today, I don't see it. Christianity (and probably most religions) have structures in place that directly help make people's lives better:
  • Core belief that something is more important than the self
  • Promotes hope and courage regardless of current circumstances
  • Weekly morality lessons
  • Encourages time daily to thoughtfully place other people's problems above your own
  • Lots of support for learning from the text book and applying principals directly into your life
  • Large community that is eager to help when life gets really hard
None of these features require a faith or belief in God. But what secular institutions offer this kind of support for character growth? Do you believe it is on par with what religious groups offer? As far as I can tell, the anti-religious movement has a goal to convince people to walk away from this structure and assume self-guiding principals will somehow do better. Some people work well in that environment (and they should have every right to choose it), but it seems that when we look how people really learn and grow (i.e. look at school), the "here's a book, good luck" method doesn't produce very good results.

If you have a different perspective of the anti-religious movement, let me know.

Why is the core belief that something is more important than the self good? In fact it generally is not good. Individuals who work on actually bettering themselves end up being the most productive people in society. They generally become selfish in their pursuit for happiness, and as they become more education the become aware that their selfish needs coincide perfectly with those of society. In pretty much every psychological theory the healthiest, happiest and most useful members of society are the ones that took the time to work on themselves first.

* As for promotes hope and courage, it much closer to promoting delusion and faith.
* And for morality lessons...well again not really. Most of the time they do not get lessons on morality and even when they do it is not often good morality. I've yet to encounter a once church who consistently works to better peoples lives through education rather then just throwing out rhetoric.
* I'm confused by this point, your saying you think it is good that people learn from textbooks?

Well the educational system offers that kind of support and character growth, and yes i consider it vastly superior to anything that Christianity has to offer. Even though it is horrid inefficient. However unlike Christianity it continually improves its self, working out its flaws adding to its teachings and modifying its false assumptions. As for the "here's the book good luck method." Well I think you need to take a look at more modern learning theory. Cognitive learning theories, choice theory, personality theories etc.
Last edited by Zcorp on Wed Jun 17, 2009 10:42 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

winegums
Posts: 51
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby winegums » Wed Jun 17, 2009 10:08 am UTC

guenther wrote:Faith
Why is faith so prevalent if it causes so much trouble? I suspect that it serves some important function or else our species would have learned to have less of it a long time ago. (My guess is that critical thinking is very expensive and we waste a lot of energy employing it all the time, so we have much simpler ways of convincing ourselves why common wisdom techniques work.)

Another way we can think about it is to compare it to something like anger. Every one of us has times when anger makes us do stupid things and sometimes bad things. It destroys our rationality almost instantly. But we know that we can't eliminate it from the population without fundamentally changing who we are. In the same vein, instead of fighting against faith because it makes us do dumb things, we should learn to manage it better. That's why I think the solution to bad religion is good religion, not no religion.


I don't think that's a valid analogy. Anger is a basic emotion, a chemical reaction, and is present in many different species. Religion is a man-made tool. I think the reason religion has stuck around is that it managed to entrench itself very firmly in societies and cultures. Not many people "find" religion, typically it's passed down from your parents and community to you (and even that's in decline). If you were to take some children, raise them in an alternative universe with no religion, then present them with a slew of religious books and the cliffnotes on them, I really doubt they would take to any, except perhaps for the "hands-off, everything should be ok as long as you're not a bad person" ones.

Wwe maintain a degree of "spirituality" in our lives simply due to there being so many unknowns in the universe. I guess that's part of the "faith" aspect though.

@Everybody:
It's easy to say that we can achieve a better secular system, but when I look around today, I don't see it. Christianity (and probably most religions) have structures in place that directly help make people's lives better:
  • Core belief that something is more important than the self
  • Promotes hope and courage regardless of current circumstances
  • Weekly morality lessons
  • Encourages time daily to thoughtfully place other people's problems above your own
  • Lots of support for learning from the text book and applying principals directly into your life
  • Large community that is eager to help when life gets really hard
None of these features require a faith or belief in God. But what secular institutions offer this kind of support for character growth? Do you believe it is on par with what religious groups offer? As far as I can tell, the anti-religious movement has a goal to convince people to walk away from this structure and assume self-guiding principals will somehow do better. Some people work well in that environment (and they should have every right to choose it), but it seems that when we look how people really learn and grow (i.e. look at school), the "here's a book, good luck" method doesn't produce very good results.

If you have a different perspective of the anti-religious movement, let me know.


I've always strongly felt that religion and morality are opposed. Religion has rules. Strict, explicit rules. "X is good, Y is bad, because god says so". A religious person does what they do because their religion tells them to. I guess if it's moral that would just be a bonus.

Morality says "follow your gut". Guts can be taught right from wrong in terms of the shifting boundaries that are contemporary morality. Guts do what is right because they know it's right. They apply reason, logic, and evaluation to a scenario.

I'm not saying that the truly devout are robots with no ability to apply compassion and reason, but pure morality avoids any religious ambiguity and instead allows a person to assess a scenario based on its own merits.

You use the "here's a book, good luck" example. Instead of this, I would say that learning from morality is much like working through some textbook, but learning from religion is like trying to work through the same textbook with someone interjecting their interpretations of the content of the textbook every five minutes.

I think many of your bullet points are simply the product of a closely knit community. It just so happens that a lot of western communities are/were tied around a church, since it was a convenient place for large groups of people to meet at the same time on the same day.

guenther
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Wed Jun 17, 2009 9:49 pm UTC

@Zcorp: I can sympathize with being busy. :) And I'm glad I understand your position better now.

Zcorp wrote:Why is the core belief that something is more important than the self good?

Driving too slow or too fast on the freeway is bad. Eating too little or too much food is bad. Spending too little or too much money is bad. In all of these cases, society doesn't generally have to spend too much energy preventing the former because doing the latter lines up much better with personal utility. But no amount of pressure will ever convince a big group of people to give up something so useful like being selfish. We have a very strong built-in pressure to make our own lives better, and to keep a balance we need a societal pressure that opposes it.

By the way, focusing on others and bettering oneself are far from mutually exclusive. Christianity puts spreading the Gospel above selfish goals and it believes that if we are happier, healthier, better people, we'll be more successful at doing that.

As for your other points, I'm focusing on adult life where we are out of the education system. We should all recognize that we aren't done growing when we finish school. What secular institution helps people do this? Does it compete on scale and impact with churches?

Where do you get your information about morality taught in churches? What is the bad morality? I have been to a few different churches and regularly attend one now. Some of the lessons are specific to Christianity (praising God, prayer, baptism, etc.), but most are about how we can live our lives better. My church just went through a long series on confronting anger, selfishness, worry, pride, prejudice, condemnation, and slander. Where does the secular community get lessons on improving these things?

@winegums:
winegums wrote:I don't think that's a valid analogy. Anger is a basic emotion, a chemical reaction, and is present in many different species. Religion is a man-made tool.

I'm comparing anger to faith, not religion. I think we all have a faith-shaped hole in ourselves. And just as some have a stronger urge to eat or a greater propensity for anger, some feel a stronger need for faith. Religion is one way to fill that void, and I think it's a healthy option because it makes the faith explicit.

If we somehow removed religion, people would just put their faith in something else. We can see it across society where one's strength of belief is not commensurate to the existing evidence. Kaelri mentioned Oprah. Obama is another example; I supported him, but the belief in him went way beyond the evidence since he's so new politically. A common Christian lesson is to not worship at the false idol of money and possessions, but still many people will relentlessly pursue them despite the complete lack of evidence that it will make their lives better.

People want to believe in something that will give them answers. I think it's because we are looking for an energy-efficient way to make decisions. Critical thinking is very useful and important, but it's expensive in energy and time.

winegums wrote:I've always strongly felt that religion and morality are opposed.

I haven't heard this before and I'm glad you shared it. However, I don't agree. :)

Why do you believe that following a checklist of morality is somehow less moral than using your gut instinct? And why does believing that God is the source of morality impinges on the goodness of the action? It seems a God-based checklist is as arbitrary a source or morality as anything else.

I don't think morality says "follow your gut" but rather "do what's right". Our gut does have a built-in morality, but it's emotion-based, not reason and logic. And it's quite easily subverted when it conflicts with what we want. In our own lives it's very easy to see how we revoke someone's right to our good behavior when they do something bad. And when we peer around the world or in history, we don't have to look far to see people doing hideous things to other people.

winegums wrote:I think many of your bullet points are simply the product of a closely knit community. It just so happens that a lot of western communities are/were tied around a church, since it was a convenient place for large groups of people to meet at the same time on the same day.

I suspect there's more to why religion is close-knit other than convenience, but otherwise I agree with you. I think community is one of the biggest selling features for religion in terms of utility. We can theorize how to do the same thing in secular society, but right now I don't think we have a solution that can compete.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Metalhead636
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Metalhead636 » Thu Jun 18, 2009 4:28 am UTC

guenther wrote:In some of the religion debates, I see discussions of "Can we use logic to prove that God exists", or "physical evidence vs. faith", etc. I want to move away from that and talk about the utility of having a largely religious society. My goal isn't to convince people to be religious, but rather convince people to respect the value of religion in society.

My theory is that it's good, quite good, for society. And a lack of religion would be quite bad. Let me mention that my perspective is almost purely that of a Christian living in America. Also, I'm still organizing my thoughts on this, which is why I'm posting.

Why I believe this:
  • collection of generations of wisdom: This is my favorite reason. The Bible holds many, many pieces of wisdom, which are great guides on how to live an effective, happy life.
  • sense of right and wrong: Operating in the gray area of life is important sometimes, but is very difficult. I'm a engineer, so I constantly have to design systems that have to be balanced perfectly at the proper operating point and it's always a design challenge. To have to evaluate everything in life this way is too hard. Have a checklist of rights and wrongs is much more efficient (with an assumption that the checklist is reasonably compatible with a free society).
  • source of community: We are such social creatures. Churches must be one of the largest social networks (I'm assuming, I don't know the statistics). I attend one and these are extremely healthy communities to be a part of (though there are probably exceptions).
  • source of strength: Having a perfect, loving, infallible God at the center of one's life creates an incomparable security. Regardless of whether you believe it or not, so long as the person of faith does it is extremely powerful.

I can think of some anti-religion arguments.
  • religion versus science: I think science and religion are quite compatible. There are certainly areas where they sharply collide, but my experience is that they often work well together. (fyi: I'm very pro-science.)
  • religion and intolerance: Many religions actually promote tolerance, so the intolerance is a result of human fallibility rather than religion.
  • religion and control: Religion is very, very powerful, which means it can be abused. My theory is that having too much concentrated, unchecked power is the problem. Secular and religious organizations fall victim to this. Again I think this is a facet of human fallibility rather than religion.
  • religion and violence: I think this relates to control. Once religion is abused, it can be perverted into many bad things including violence.

I don't have any studies to cite for any of this. I'm basing it on my own personal experiences. I'm happy to hear other personal experiences or studies.


I see it is as this
[list]
[*]The world would not be where it is: There is no doubt that we owe our(humanity) current place in society to religion, to a very wide extent, to say the least. That does not mean we can not change.
[*]religion now, is leading to too much hate in the world: Many religions are leading to a lot of discriminations, such as religion a saying that habit x is bad, but religion b says habit x is good. It causes too much tension in the world, so it could relieve tension between peoples and nations.
[*]The morals can be found somewhere else: The good moral values can be found in other places, such as folklore, myths,kids books and even family stories
[*]What defines good and evil: No one man or group can define what good and evil are.

guenther
Posts: 1840
Joined: Sat May 17, 2008 6:15 am UTC

Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Thu Jun 18, 2009 11:19 pm UTC

Metalhead636 wrote:I see it is as this
  • The world would not be where it is: There is no doubt that we owe our(humanity) current place in society to religion, to a very wide extent, to say the least. That does not mean we can not change.
  • religion now, is leading to too much hate in the world: Many religions are leading to a lot of discriminations, such as religion a saying that habit x is bad, but religion b says habit x is good. It causes too much tension in the world, so it could relieve tension between peoples and nations.
  • The morals can be found somewhere else: The good moral values can be found in other places, such as folklore, myths,kids books and even family stories
  • What defines good and evil: No one man or group can define what good and evil are.

The idea that we can take what we see and make it better is a very important human quality and has brought about much in terms of innovation. But to improve on something we have to have a good handle on it's pros and cons, and I'm glad to see that you recognize that religion has been very important.

First let me respond to the idea that morals can be found somewhere else. People have been saying that a lot in this thread, but it's not enough. We can say that kids can learn everything they need from reading books at home and don't need school. But as Zcorp pointed out, our education system provides a better learning environment and is more likely to impart a better education on the kid. So far, I haven't seen anyone suggest a better secular learning system for character growth than religion. People can pick up moral values elsewhere, but I suspect they're less likely to implement it in their lives.

Second, I'm not convinced that religion leads to hate. My guess is that stressors in life cause us to hate and it manifests in religion because it's a particularly powerful part of our culture. If we take away religion, the hate will manifest differently.

Here's my evidence. 1) All the major religions demand that its followers treat each other with respect. So the hate happens despite the teachings, not because of them. 2) You get deadly fractures within a religion (e.g. Sunni vs. Shia, Catholic vs. Protestant). If religion was the primary factor, these groups would bind together, but I suspect there are other stressors and each side uses religion as a weapon against the other side. Like guns, religion doesn't promote hate, rather it is used as a tool for hate. Removing religion and guns will not remove that hate that people feel.

Third, society should decide what good and evil are. We can leave it up to the individual, but I suspect we'd get very poor results. Sort of like, "Let's let banks self-regulate, what could go wrong?"

EDIT: And I noticed this is your first post here. Thanks for deciding to join in. :)
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Enuja » Fri Jun 19, 2009 5:12 pm UTC

I am a goody goody two-shoes. Why? Because both my set of moral rules and my implementation of them was particularly strong. I was raised without religion but with very, very strong morals. Too strong, in my current opinion: my morals have changed and become more flexible since I was 5 (when I put construction paper made to look like coal into my mother's Christmas stocking for swearing), but I'm very interested in ethics and morals and the like. Most religious people I meet (in parts of the country that are very high majority strongly religious) simply don't think that it makes sense that I'm not religious, because I obviously have strong morals.

Both the state and the broader culture determine the general outline of this society's morals, but, even in religious communities, it is the parents that provide the actual moral teaching. You can't get around it: they who raise the children teach morals and ethics by example. And you absolutely, positively don't need religion to teach children morals, not even on the broad, societal level. Confucianism is one example, but so are the moral goods of capitalism and democracy in current American culture. They aren't Christian morals (some sects have adopted them, but they don't come from the religious teachings). Personally, I disagree with at least the "capitalism is good" moral, but it's certainly a non-religious moral teaching that is currently being effectively disseminated in America.

A culture can create a powerful, successful social system of morality both with or without the influence of religion, and it can be transmitted effectively to the next generation. I agree that we don't yet have enough data about which is a better way to transmit morals and create community in a hypothetically perfected future human society, but that means that you can't say that Religion does a better job.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Zcorp » Fri Jun 19, 2009 6:09 pm UTC

guenther wrote:As for your other points, I'm focusing on adult life where we are out of the education system. We should all recognize that we aren't done growing when we finish school. What secular institution helps people do this? Does it compete on scale and impact with churches?
So then your making the assumption that individuals never learned about morality during school. I never said that we are done growing, I said that school teaches morals. When individuals start taking learning into their own hands they have this massive resources, the internet, that allows people to get together from everywhere in the worlds and discuss a large variety of topics. Including morality. Like this forum for example. Which was created by secular institutions.

The educational system I was referring to btw was not just k-12. I was speaking about universities as well. Which besides teaching students [rather inefficiently overall, but well enough for the right kind of student] it offers a place for our leading thinkers to get employed and work on their area of study. Where they produce more information allowing people in general to make better decisions and generally shape the political atmosphere. Which leads to our legal system which is another secular institution. One that imposes morality by the fear of punishment, and allows individuals to contemplate why laws exist [many of which are used to extort to populace rather then better society] and why they should follow the laws set forth by the legal system.

Where do you get your information about morality taught in churches? What is the bad morality? I have been to a few different churches and regularly attend one now. Some of the lessons are specific to Christianity (praising God, prayer, baptism, etc.), but most are about how we can live our lives better. My church just went through a long series on confronting anger, selfishness, worry, pride, prejudice, condemnation, and slander. Where does the secular community get lessons on improving these things?

Reading, mostly. On the internet, in books, their friends, scientists, tv, movies and themselves. Why are you removing so much personal responsibility. You must believe that Humans are innately predisposed to be evil.

Bad morality would be stoning a women because she got raped. The OT tells us to do it, because it is Gods will and Gods will should make a better society right? Or that being gay offends God or sadomy. Additionally most churches do little besides telling people what is wrong. They rarely give arguments that hold up as to why, nearly always falling back on "Because its in the Bible".

What did your Church say about confronting anger, selfishness, worry, pride, prejudice, condemnation and slander? I'd hope it was for people to establish a internal locus of control, but I doubt that was the teaching.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Metalhead636 » Sun Jun 21, 2009 6:27 am UTC

guenther wrote:
Second, I'm not convinced that religion leads to hate. My guess is that stressors in life cause us to hate and it manifests in religion because it's a particularly powerful part of our culture. If we take away religion, the hate will manifest differently.

Here's my evidence. 1) All the major religions demand that its followers treat each other with respect. So the hate happens despite the teachings, not because of them. 2) You get deadly fractures within a religion (e.g. Sunni vs. Shia, Catholic vs. Protestant). If religion was the primary factor, these groups would bind together, but I suspect there are other stressors and each side uses religion as a weapon against the other side. Like guns, religion doesn't promote hate, rather it is used as a tool for hate. Removing religion and guns will not remove that hate that people feel.
)

Well, religion does lead to hate in the sense that it sometimes tells you to not accept individuals that do thing x.

1) Not necessarily, they often stress to treat others with respect (see love thy neighbor), but often times it says in the bibles teachings on homosexuality, that since the head cheese frowns upon it, you should too. 2) The fractures in a religion bring up more violence nonetheless, and these groups would bind together if religion was the primary factor. If we remove the religion, people would have one less outlet for hate.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby GoodRudeFun » Sun Jun 21, 2009 9:52 am UTC

guenther wrote: but it seems that when we look how people really learn and grow (i.e. look at school), the "here's a book, good luck" method doesn't produce very good results.
Actually, that seemed to be the only method that actually worked for me. In high school, the one time I did well, really well, was when I was on my own. Its much the same for my sense of morality and my philosophy. I could never listen to someone tell me how to live and not think "that's great, but I'd like to think about it for myself". By thinking on my own, I seemed to have come up with something that works well for me.

You claim that critical thinking is wasteful, I really do have to disagree. It doesn't take much to come up with an answer to many important questions, and generally when you think critically you come out with a much more optimal answer. I'll give my own thought processes as an example.

I asked myself why it was wrong to kill, just to see what I would come up with. Keep in mind that I have never, in my entire life, been spiritual or religious. Now, the first thing that I came up with was "because it would feel horrible." Of course it would, but why? I realized that each person is a distinct part of a social network in our society. You take that person out and you've created a very big hole in many peoples lives. I certainly wouldn't want someone to do that to me, how sad would I be if any one of the many people in my life were taken away? So, I realize that in most cases it would be wrong to kill. Now, this doesn't account for all cases, there's no "they have a soul, so its wrong no matter what", but from here on out I can think critically on a case by case basis when the situation comes up. Not that it ever will come up, but you see my point.

That, however, was a bit too obvious. So I asked myself why it was good to help people. Well, there's scientific evidence that when you help others, you help yourself. You'd feel better to give 100 dollars to someone who needs it, instead of buying something that costs 100 dollars for yourself. Not only that, but there are a million social benefits involved as well. People will be much more inclined to help me if I have helped them or someone else in the past, and people will feel closer to me for me having helped them, and I have strengthened some social ties.
(these are summaries, used as examples)

You seem to have the idea that what I've just done is far to inefficient for people to do. I see no reason why that would be true. You're best defense is that faith provides a more powerful force for committing to these morals. While thats all well and good, you still need to know what you're doing is right, which means you need to think critically about it. Thinking critically isn't really that inefficient unless you have to make snap moral judgments every second, and not even a judge and jury have to act that quickly. Perhaps there is a situation where one has to make such a snap moral judgement, but then it would still be better to have thought critically about it before, then to go directly on what religion has told you.

The problem with not thinking critically about one's morals is that one ends up with detrimental morals, such as homophobia or thinking that "everyone needs to be exactly like me, because its not a matter of what works best for them, its a matter of saving their souls". Both are extremely present in christianity. Prop 8 is a good example, religious homophobia was present enough to deny people a right to be lawfully bound the people they loved. There's no good reason for this, and anyone thinking critically can see that. Clearly it would have better if people had gone to the polls and voted on critical thinking and not religious belief.

I also have to say that faith isn't an emotion, it's more of a conditioned response. It has nothing to do with evolution, it's still here because it's conditioned into indoctrinated individuals. Indoctrination is the reason religion is still so powerful, despite the fact that some believe it has outlived its usefulness, and could easily be replaced. One generation indoctrinates the next, and so on and so forth. Its not a matter of people looking at what works best for them, in those cases they have no choice. To say otherwise severely underestimates the power of indoctrination (and the dangers).


I also have to question some of the "good" morals from Christianity. Specifically lust and pride. The puritanical view of sex is not only incorrect, but it seems rather detrimental to our cultural progress. It also seems horribly detrimental to a healthy view of sex. Saying that sex is dirty just doesn't seem right to me, and leads to all sorts of issues. For pride... well, its not great, but it doesn't seem that bad either. I see no reason for it to be seen as a sin.

Thats about everything. Honestly, your religion would be great if not for a few major issues. The fearing for the souls of others really doesn't help anyone, you have to understand that what works for you works for you, and that someone else might find something different. You might actually believe that they're going to burn in hell if they don't convert... in which case we would end up debating the truth in that belief. Another issue is indoctrination... so many people would be so much better off if allowed to decide for themselves. Anyways, my heathonistic self is going to stick around for just a little while longer before hitting the sack.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Mon Jun 22, 2009 4:55 am UTC

@Enuja:
Enuja wrote:A culture can create a powerful, successful social system of morality both with or without the influence of religion, and it can be transmitted effectively to the next generation. I agree that we don't yet have enough data about which is a better way to transmit morals and create community in a hypothetically perfected future human society, but that means that you can't say that Religion does a better job.

I can't say that religion does a better job than some hypothetical non-religious system, but I can say it has worked better than anything else throughout history. You and others keep saying "can". I'm an engineer, and I can tell you that it takes a lot of work to move from a solution that can work to one that will work with good reliability over a wide variety of parameters for a long period of time. "Can" is an important first step to a solution, but it's a long ways from the finish line.

I admire your attitude on morality, and fundamentally I think the goodness we produce is more important than where we perceive that goodness comes from. I also agree that parents are probably the biggest factor in what people learn. It makes sense considering they shape our environment when we are the most susceptible to learning.

The more important question is whether parents are as effective at teaching kids these important lessons outside of the religious framework. The fact that you turned out well could be the result of your natural aptitude, or it could be that your parents have a knack for teaching this stuff. One data point doesn't tell us how a typical secular upbringing compares to a typical religious upbringing.


@Zcorp: I've spent about 20 minutes now and I couldn't find a nice way to say "You have no idea what most churches do." :) If I'm wrong and you really do have insight into this, let me know why you think that and why my perspective as an active Christian might be so different.

If you're interested, you can check out the sermons I mentioned. The last of the series I mentioned was on 3/30/09, and you'll see the other topics before that. And we are taught a very powerful internal locus of control: Trust in God.

Zcorp wrote:Reading, mostly. On the internet, in books, their friends, scientists, tv, movies and themselves. Why are you removing so much personal responsibility. You must believe that Humans are innately predisposed to be evil.

First I think humans are innately selfish. Second, religion requires a lot of personal responsibility, especially in a free society where we can all walk away at any time. Third, I'm talking about an effective learning environment, while you are describing a rich set of resources. Not everyone learns well by just placing the in front of a library. If you disconnect the Christian message from the Christian method, you will find an effective learning environment. It has all the things you mentioned (perhaps not scientists), and there's an extensive social support system on top of that.


@Metalhead636:
Metalhead636 wrote:Well, religion does lead to hate in the sense that it sometimes tells you to not accept individuals that do thing x.

Christians frown on people stealing candy bars, but would you say they hate candy bar thieves? We are called on to love the sinner and hate the sin. I suspect these sentiments come out uglier in regards to homosexuality because many Christians are afraid of losing their influence on culture. But when we abandon our trust in God and succumb to fear and hatred, we are violating sins that are spoken of much more often than homosexuality.

And for the second point, religion is about the best social glue we have ever seen, but it's not all-powerful. Some fractures will happen no matter what.


GoodRudeFun: I don't mind heathens. I would likely be accused of heresy for calling the story of Jesus a MacGuffin (which I did in another thread). :)

First, let me say that I claimed critical thinking is expensive, not wasteful. We can't know if it's wasteful unless we see what it was spent on and what benefit was returned.

GoodRudeFun wrote:You seem to have the idea that what I've just done is far to inefficient for people to do.

I would actually question the effectiveness, not the efficiency. To me it sounds like when you start thinking about a question, you stop when you have an answer that sounds good. But I didn't hear you mention a feedback mechanism to make sure your beliefs track reality. Do you really believe that you don't kill people because you conjure up images of holes in people's lives? Would killing someone completely isolated cause you to feel horrible?

I agree that you are applying critical thinking, but if you don't close the loop with reality, then you are just placing faith in your own intuition. And unlike Christianity, your intuition has not been tested over the past 2000 years to see if it produces good results.

Gathering evidence to support our positions is the hard part, and we're often left with making judgments based on very limited information. I would state that the meaning of life as this: Making good judgments in a world of imperfect information. It's a hard problem, and I think part of nature's solution is giving us a mechanism to look for a source of wisdom and stick to it (i.e. believe in it). Over time we developed a formal anchor point for it in religion. When we remove religion, we attach it to something else (e.g. Oprah, Obama, money, science, our own intuition). Perhaps over time we'll find a healthy secular anchor point, but I don't think we know of one now. (I suspect the people that do well in secular systems have a weaker pull to believe in things.)

Anyway, that's my working theory. But I admit that I would struggle to actually close the loop with reality on this one.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby GoodRudeFun » Mon Jun 22, 2009 5:28 am UTC

I think the bit about helping others is a bit more clear. In that I go off of what I've learned in life, and not assumptions. You're right though, the other example was incomplete, and will likely remain so until I am in a position where I have to find out. Hopefully that isn't any time soon. The other though, is true, helping others makes me feel fantastic. I honestly see no need for any other reason.

Anyways, you still didn't address my other points. Specifically that of indoctrination. You think that your religion has lasted so long because it has merit, but I propose that it was more a function of indoctrination. People don't really get to choose their religion after they've been indoctrinated with one. Some do, but I suspect that most don't. So your claim that Christianity is effective because it's lasted so long and has been tested doesn't seem to work for me.

There's also this: Christianity may have been tested for ~2000 years, but none of that was in regards to me. My intuition, on the other hand, has been tested in regards to me, much more heavily than anything from Christianity.

I think each individual needs to at least spend some time thinking critically about their religion, and really think about their morals as well. I still don't see how this could be a problem at all. I also don't see the problem with attaching my "anchor" to science or my own intuition. Both have more of a basis in the real world and the latter has much more of a basis in regards to myself.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Zcorp » Mon Jun 22, 2009 9:45 am UTC

guenther wrote:why my perspective as an active Christian might be so different.
Because christian is way to ambiguous of a term. Which is still the problem with this discussion. You're promoting aspects of Christianity and not all of it. Which the people on this side of the conversation think can be taken out of the context of Christianity.

First I think humans are innately selfish.

Well, I disagree but I'll never convince you otherwise.

Second, religion requires a lot of personal responsibility, especially in a free society where we can all walk away at any time. Third, I'm talking about an effective learning environment, while you are describing a rich set of resources. Not everyone learns well by just placing the in front of a library. If you disconnect the Christian message from the Christian method, you will find an effective learning environment. It has all the things you mentioned (perhaps not scientists), and there's an extensive social support system on top of that.
How does Christianity require personal responsibility? And how does it provide a effective learning environment? And again secular institutions and specifically the education system because nothing else gave as much efficiency in learning.

And again I never said Christianity did not offer books, tv shows, and movies. You asked, "where do secular communities give lessons on improving these things". Then I told you. Stating that Christianity offers them as well is utterly useless. As we are still talking about taking the good aspects of different things and removing the bad.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby thatblackguy » Mon Jun 22, 2009 10:50 pm UTC

This is actually a reply to the first post in the thread, spoilered here for length.
Spoiler:
guenther wrote:In some of the religion debates, I see discussions of "Can we use logic to prove that God exists", or "physical evidence vs. faith", etc. I want to move away from that and talk about the utility of having a largely religious society. My goal isn't to convince people to be religious, but rather convince people to respect the value of religion in society.

My theory is that it's good, quite good, for society. And a lack of religion would be quite bad. Let me mention that my perspective is almost purely that of a Christian living in America. Also, I'm still organizing my thoughts on this, which is why I'm posting.

Why I believe this:
  • collection of generations of wisdom: This is my favorite reason. The Bible holds many, many pieces of wisdom, which are great guides on how to live an effective, happy life.
  • sense of right and wrong: Operating in the gray area of life is important sometimes, but is very difficult. I'm a engineer, so I constantly have to design systems that have to be balanced perfectly at the proper operating point and it's always a design challenge. To have to evaluate everything in life this way is too hard. Have a checklist of rights and wrongs is much more efficient (with an assumption that the checklist is reasonably compatible with a free society).
  • source of community: We are such social creatures. Churches must be one of the largest social networks (I'm assuming, I don't know the statistics). I attend one and these are extremely healthy communities to be a part of (though there are probably exceptions).
  • source of strength: Having a perfect, loving, infallible God at the center of one's life creates an incomparable security. Regardless of whether you believe it or not, so long as the person of faith does it is extremely powerful.

I can think of some anti-religion arguments.
  • religion versus science: I think science and religion are quite compatible. There are certainly areas where they sharply collide, but my experience is that they often work well together. (fyi: I'm very pro-science.)
  • religion and intolerance: Many religions actually promote tolerance, so the intolerance is a result of human fallibility rather than religion.
  • religion and control: Religion is very, very powerful, which means it can be abused. My theory is that having too much concentrated, unchecked power is the problem. Secular and religious organizations fall victim to this. Again I think this is a facet of human fallibility rather than religion.
  • religion and violence: I think this relates to control. Once religion is abused, it can be perverted into many bad things including violence.

I don't have any studies to cite for any of this. I'm basing it on my own personal experiences. I'm happy to hear other personal experiences or studies.

Hmm.

collection of generations of wisdom:
Can be done without religious connotation. Folklore in general.
Also if you consider starting from today, we have wikis :)

sense of right and wrong:
Brilliant, don't eat pork.
Yes it can help to provide a simplified sense of right and wrong but you can see the serious flaws with having a pure static system that doesn't explain its reasons, instead resorting to saying basically, don't do it cause I said so.

source of community:
Bars. Sports events. Dances. Concerts. So many other awesome ways to achieve this.
In a sense I agree with you here, cause I'm Indian and festivals are awesome here. They all have a religious aspect and though the basis for them existed long ago, one thing the freedom fighters did was increase a ton of them cause it helped have massive gatherings of people during pre-independence times. Any supression of that would be met with crazy hostility cause of it's very nature, and in current times is an awesome time to get family together with zero hostility.

source of strength: Having a perfect, loving, infallible God at the center of one's life creates an incomparable security.
Yes, but it's a lie as much as it's necessary to some people cause that's all they can have. I have no problem letting them believe whatever they want though having fragile foundations isn't really good. Works out well as a source of strength in practise though.


Anti-religion:
Made my point I think. Most problem we have is ironically, from people using it as a source of strength. They need to belive it, even when it's blown out of the water when it makes prediction of facts that science can screw over. They may become very defensive about it. After all, it's their foundations that you're challenging here. Then comes the opposition which is (in the craziest understatement ever) counter-productive.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Mon Jun 22, 2009 10:56 pm UTC

GoodRudeFun wrote:I think the bit about helping others is a bit more clear. In that I go off of what I've learned in life, and not assumptions. You're right though, the other example was incomplete, and will likely remain so until I am in a position where I have to find out. Hopefully that isn't any time soon. The other though, is true, helping others makes me feel fantastic. I honestly see no need for any other reason.

You may have found all the reason you need, but that doesn't mean it's a good system that works for everyone. Suppose we take a group of people, half of them take it on faith that giving is a moral obligation, the other half uses science and intuition as a reason for giving. Which group do you think will give more?

Regarding indoctrination, you'd have a better point if Christianity was a measurable detriment to their life. We would clearly see the power of indoctrination if it could get people to pass along a lifestyle over many generations despite the fact that it makes their lives worse. However, it measurably makes their lives better, so it seems a much simpler to conclude that this usefulness is what keeps it propagating.

The problem with using science as a source of wisdom is that it's a very poor source. Your own intuition could actually be quite good, but it's hard to transmit to other people. I agree that critical thinking is a good thing.

Zcorp wrote:
guenther wrote:why my perspective as an active Christian might be so different.
Because christian is way to ambiguous of a term. Which is still the problem with this discussion. You're promoting aspects of Christianity and not all of it. Which the people on this side of the conversation think can be taken out of the context of Christianity.

Specifically I meant that you keep saying that most churches behave in a certain way, which I take to mean that if we statistically measured, we'd find that more than 50% of them would do what you're saying. Perhaps you have data or life experiences to be able to make these statements with reliability, but my guess is that your working from a skewed perspective.

Zcorp wrote:
First I think humans are innately selfish.

Well, I disagree but I'll never convince you otherwise.

Specifically I mean that a system can get people to act in a less selfish way than we would do naturally on our own. See the statistics I mentioned earlier showing that religious people would on average give more money.

And again I never said Christianity did not offer books, tv shows, and movies. You asked, "where do secular communities give lessons on improving these things". Then I told you. Stating that Christianity offers them as well is utterly useless. As we are still talking about taking the good aspects of different things and removing the bad.

I'm not removing the bad, rather I'm saying that despite the bad, it's performing better. I'm trying to make the point that even if the secular set of morals were as effective as the Christian ones, the Christian learning environment is better than the secular one. Basically the two systems have the same resources (even school since everyone goes through the education system), but Christianity has wrapped it in a social network that continually strives to engage as many of its members as possible. In fact, it's so effective that GoodRudeFun is ready to call it indoctrination.

And in regards to personal responsibility, being a Christian is a lot of work. We are required to completely reshape our lives based on doctrine. In an environement with such freedoms as we enjoy, commiting oneself to this much work takes a lot of personal responsibility.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby thatblackguy » Mon Jun 22, 2009 11:04 pm UTC

A religious learning network? I religious support group I can understand such as religious counselling and such to help people feel better about themselves but religious learning?
It's contradictory and incompatible with learning objective facts.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Mon Jun 22, 2009 11:17 pm UTC

thatblackguy wrote:Can be done without religious connotation. Folklore in general.
Also if you consider starting from today, we have wikis :)

"Can" seems to be a pretty ubiquitious claim here. :) But it's not enough. We need a system that does perform reliably over a wide variety of people for a long period of time.

thatblackguy wrote:source of strength: Having a perfect, loving, infallible God at the center of one's life creates an incomparable security.
Yes, but it's a lie as much as it's necessary to some people cause that's all they can have. I have no problem letting them believe whatever they want though having fragile foundations isn't really good. Works out well as a source of strength in practise though.

That goodness matters is a lie as well. And I wouldn't call goodness or people's belief in God a fragile foundation. Anything belief system that alters the way we see reality will probably be very powerful.

thatblackguy wrote:A religious learning network? I religious support group I can understand such as religious counselling and such to help people feel better about themselves but religious learning?
It's contradictory and incompatible with learning objective facts.

You seem to think that the purpose of learning is to grow your knowledge of objective facts. Science is aided very much by this, but in our lives we are better equipped when we learn how to make good decisions. So I mean that it helps us learn how to take wisdom and use it in our lives. In Christianity, the majority of sermons I've listened to are about how to apply the wisdom in the Bible to the specifics of our lives.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby thatblackguy » Mon Jun 22, 2009 11:26 pm UTC

guenther wrote:
thatblackguy wrote:Can be done without religious connotation. Folklore in general.
Also if you consider starting from today, we have wikis :)

"Can" seems to be a pretty ubiquitious claim here. :) But it's not enough. We need a system that does perform reliably over a wide variety of people for a long period of time.

Yeah, like all the non-religious folklore.

guenther wrote:
thatblackguy wrote:source of strength: Having a perfect, loving, infallible God at the center of one's life creates an incomparable security.
Yes, but it's a lie as much as it's necessary to some people cause that's all they can have. I have no problem letting them believe whatever they want though having fragile foundations isn't really good. Works out well as a source of strength in practise though.

That goodness matters is a lie as well. And I wouldn't call goodness or people's belief in God a fragile foundation. Anything belief system that alters the way we see reality will probably be very powerful.

Goodness matters. The consequences of which enable a stable and prosperous society. It matters for a reason. Attempting to link goodness to belief in God is possible but isn't necessary.
You're also forgetting that religion has no place in objective facts. It affects the way you *see* reality maybe, though it won't protect you from reality.

guenther wrote:
thatblackguy wrote:A religious learning network? I religious support group I can understand such as religious counselling and such to help people feel better about themselves but religious learning?
It's contradictory and incompatible with learning objective facts.

You seem to think that the purpose of learning is to grow your knowledge of objective facts. Science is aided very much by this, but in our lives we are better equipped when we learn how to make good decisions. So I mean that it helps us learn how to take wisdom and use it in our lives. In Christianity, the majority of sermons I've listened to are about how to apply the wisdom in the Bible to the specifics of our lives.

The scientific method can be used to make good decisions in our lives as well. I said just a bit about this in another thread. Religion is alright at ethics, if someone is incapable of just making logical decisions for it. I don't mean that all theists are incapable of making logical decisions, just that religion provides a pre-pared path for some moral decisions.
<GauntletWizard> Here's the answer: Computers are far too complex, let's just program everything using Bubblesort. Hardware will catch up
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guenther
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Mon Jun 22, 2009 11:51 pm UTC

thatblackguy wrote:Yeah, like all the non-religious folklore.

What societies are built on secular folklore without a notion of the supernatural? How have they compared to societies built around a culture of religion? We need to see rubber hit the road to know if social systems work since studying them in the lab does not work.

thatblackguy wrote:Goodness matters. The consequences of which enable a stable and prosperous society. It matters for a reason. Attempting to link goodness to belief in God is possible but isn't necessary.
You're also forgetting that religion has no place in objective facts. It affects the way you *see* reality maybe, though it won't protect you from reality.

Goodness is not an objective fact. It can't be measured outside of our perception because it is not a physical property. The same goes with God. You can argue that believing in goodness is important, but you could argue that believing in God is important.

thatblackguy wrote:The scientific method can be used to make good decisions in our lives as well. I said just a bit about this in another thread. Religion is alright at ethics, if someone is incapable of just making logical decisions for it. I don't mean that all theists are incapable of making logical decisions, just that religion provides a pre-pared path for some moral decisions.

Science is a poor source of wisdom because it is about describing what we observe, not prescribing what we should do. And it's too fuzzy since it never says "True" just "best guess". It's not hard to find a scientific defense of really bad decisions.

In America people who follow religion are happier, less stressed, and healthier (I cited links earlier). They also donate more money. This is really the crux of my argument. When we scientifically measure the results of being religious it demonstrates that there's some good decision-making going on. When people abandon religion, they are not replacing it with a better source of wisdom.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

GoodRudeFun
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby GoodRudeFun » Tue Jun 23, 2009 12:28 am UTC

It is not simply that I call it indoctrination, it is indoctrination in every sense of the word. You yourself have claimed that critical thinking is too "expensive" correct? You basically say that it would be more desirable if people did not think critically about their religion or their morals, correct? According to Wikipedia, that is the exact idea behind indoctrination.

It is often distinguished from education by the fact that the indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned.


So it would appear that it is indoctrination, no matter how effective you may claim it to be. You yourself have made it indoctrination by claiming that critical thinking is not desirable.


I still have yet to understand why you feel that critical thinking is undesirable or "expensive". Do you have any evidence for this? Statistics? Is there any reason why individuals should not at least be encouraged to think critically about their religion? Individuals, in my opinion, need to given all options before they are made to choose, they also need to be encouraged to think critically about all options. If neither of these are present it is indoctrination, pure and simple. I highly doubt there are many churches that do this, there may be a few, but I suspect its a very low percentage. I've checked around for statistics though, and couldn't find any, so for now I'm going on personal experience.


I stand by my old stance that the "utility" of a religion is based entirely on the individual. For you Christianity is great, for me it isn't. It has no utility what so ever to me because I simply could not believe it. I have done well enough on my own without religion, while others may not have. So I feel it necessary to again suggest that each individual be given all options, and encouraged to think critically about it before deciding if they want a religion, or which religion they want. I fail to see the down fall of this. I think if each individual is allowed to choose, they will end up choosing the religion or secular school of thought that works best for them. Of course, this kind of attitude would only ever happen in a secular household, maybe a small minority of religious households, but it would be rare.

Indoctrination is inherent to religion. It is especially a large part of Christianity.
Oh. Well that's alright then.

guenther
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Tue Jun 23, 2009 8:46 pm UTC

Critical thinking is expensive, not "wasteful", "too expensive", or "undesirable". You keep putting a negative spin on my view, but I can't judge a particular application of it unless I know all the specifics. I'm actually in agreement with you that we should do more critical thinking in our lives.

I make this "expensive" claim as an appeal to the obvious. I don't have statistics. I liken it to having a math book and going through the proofs. It's very instructive to take a few theorems and personally verify them. But doing so takes time that you could be doing something else. If you go through the book and personally prove every theorem, then you have less time to critically think about how you can apply those theorems in the real world. You've spent your time whereas taking them of faith would have saved you the time.

By the way, if we know a priori that the teacher gave his students a reliable math book, then the student that takes this on faith is using his time more optimally than one that looks into the credentials of his teacher and the book itself.

If we live in a world where the Christian guide to living life is a good solution, then the person who takes it on faith with have more time to enact the goodness of it on the world than compared to the person that takes time to figure out if there's a better guide.

As I said, I do want critical thinking, but I'd like to see people use it to determine things like "should I sleep with this person I just met", "should I take another drink before hitting the road", "should I take a promotion that will make me stay away from the kids", "should I yell at the guy that just cut me off", "should I eat more healthy foods", etc. There's a lot of decisions that directly impact our quality of life, and being right or wrong about the origins of mankind is not high on the list.

GoodRudeFun wrote:So it would appear that it is indoctrination, no matter how effective you may claim it to be.

I don't disagree that religions use indoctrination. It would be hard to avoid for a system that expects people to have faith in a doctrine. But your claim before was that it was this indoctrination that keeps the religion propagating. I disagree and think it's more likely that the merits of the religion have kept the indoctrination going.

GoodRudeFun wrote:I stand by my old stance that the "utility" of a religion is based entirely on the individual. For you Christianity is great, for me it isn't. It has no utility what so ever to me because I simply could not believe it. I have done well enough on my own without religion, while others may not have. So I feel it necessary to again suggest that each individual be given all options, and encouraged to think critically about it before deciding if they want a religion, or which religion they want.

First, your talking about personal utility, and I'm talking about societal utility. If a technology improves the lives of a lot of people but it puts a whole profession out of jobs, there's a net positive social utility while individuals might feel a negative personal utility.

Second, giving people an option without the proper wisdom to make a good choice will do more harm than good. If we let people critically decide on their own how much to pay in taxes, I doubt we'd be doing our society a favor.

Third, I do agree with your desire for freedom. If you are not getting a personal utility out of Christianity, go choose something else. If Christianity can't compel people to come on its own merits, then let it fall. But in our free society, it's still doing quite well.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Lysias
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Lysias » Tue Jun 23, 2009 10:11 pm UTC

What kind of society are we worried about? A capitalist system that leans heavily towards benefiting the people at the top instead of focusing on equality? Religion does a great job of supporting that system, because it teaches submission and acceptance to the rule of law (Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's). It's great for monarchy, too, as the Middle Ages taught us. It's actually great for any hierarchical system that relies on oppression to keep afloat. Look at the Islamic countries in the world. Religion is doing the women and non-Muslims of those countries such huge favors, isn't it?

Claiming that religion is good for society makes some strong implications about one's political philosophy, which might need to be examined for serious flaws, if you prefer statist and classist societies.

If we live in a world where the Christian guide to living life is a good solution, then the person who takes it on faith with have more time to enact the goodness of it on the world than compared to the person that takes time to figure out if there's a better guide.

As I said, I do want critical thinking, but I'd like to see people use it to determine things like "should I sleep with this person I just met", "should I take another drink before hitting the road", "should I take a promotion that will make me stay away from the kids", "should I yell at the guy that just cut me off", "should I eat more healthy foods", etc. There's a lot of decisions that directly impact our quality of life, and being right or wrong about the origins of mankind is not high on the lis


Guenther, if this is the crux of your argument at this point, you're in serious trouble. You can't argue against critical thinking by claiming that Christianity is a satisfactory guide to living life. You need to use critical thinking to establish that claim. Assuming that it's right instead of exploring other options is nothing short of insanity.

And then you claim that instead of using critical thinking to judge the big questions, we should use it for the everyday moral situations that Christianity should be guiding people in! If you have a list of rules, you don't need critical thinking, you follow the rules. All of your examples have pretty clear and obvious answers within Christian morality. Only someone who critically questions the moral guidelines of Christian thinking would need to think critically about what to do in those situations...so where's your argument for critical thinking?

guenther
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Wed Jun 24, 2009 5:37 am UTC

Lysias wrote:What kind of society are we worried about? A capitalist system that leans heavily towards benefiting the people at the top instead of focusing on equality? Religion does a great job of supporting that system, because it teaches submission and acceptance to the rule of law (Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's). It's great for monarchy, too, as the Middle Ages taught us. It's actually great for any hierarchical system that relies on oppression to keep afloat. Look at the Islamic countries in the world. Religion is doing the women and non-Muslims of those countries such huge favors, isn't it?

You might tell me you have a design for an airplane where all parts are equal in size, then I'd tell you good luck on your first flight. It's easy to rearrange society's structure on paper, but that doesn't mean that anything we dream up will be equally viable.

If we assume that not all social systems will produce equal results, how do we know which, in practice, will do better? We can't set up experiments, we can't apply formulas. So the only scientific thing to do is to observe the past and see what has worked before. Religion is a big part of it. It's fair to pose a hypothesis of how to do equal or better without religion, but to presume it's true a priori sounds either like faith or a mistaken sense of evidence.

(P.S. I think you have a funny notion of oppression, but that's a different debate.)

Lysias wrote:Guenther, if this is the crux of your argument at this point, you're in serious trouble. You can't argue against critical thinking by claiming that Christianity is a satisfactory guide to living life. You need to use critical thinking to establish that claim. Assuming that it's right instead of exploring other options is nothing short of insanity.

So we're on page 4 of this discussion, and I've written a lot of words defending my position. If what I'm doing is not critical thinking, I'd be hard pressed to figure out what is. :) Also, the crux of my argument is the evidence of good decision-making. I have witnessed it personally, I have cited studies that support that claim, and I have proposed ideas as to why that might be the case.

Only someone who critically questions the moral guidelines of Christian thinking would need to think critically about what to do in those situations

Or anyone human. It's actually a hard thing to follow the Christian lifestyle. It restricts you from doing a lot of things that might sound fun, and our mind is really good at altering our perception to make our desires seem reasonable. And if we both agree that critical thinking is good, do I need to present evidence to support it?

Finally note that I'm not suggesting any behavior, just promoting respect and engaging in an intellectual discussion. If someone wants to challenge the morality of Christianity, they should do it. As I said, if Christianity can't withstand the questions, let it fall. However, if someone takes up the beliefs on faith, it would be foolish to challenge their ability to think critically based on that decision alone.

P.P.S. Thanks for the discussion!
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.


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