Utility of Religion

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Zcorp
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Zcorp » Fri Jul 17, 2009 7:26 am UTC

guenther wrote:I won't belabor the points about death and sports too much more. For the former, I was making the point that we don't just naturally behave well, and it actually takes a strong structure to get our society humming well. The sports point was to demonstrate how I think about issues. The locus of control stuff might look good on paper, but I won't take it on faith. However, everything you've presented on it does sound very reasonable in terms of good qualities.


Basically all theories in psychology disagree with the assertion that we are predisposed toward greed, ignorance and intolerance. Locke's tabula rasa led into behaviorism. Jung-Keirsey on temperament theory lists lots of predispositions none of which relate to any of those innately. Except Jung's Shadow which simply believes we need to overcome self-deceit. An evolutionary perspective is the closest you're going to get to support your idea. Which states that addiction maybe intelligence and some other aspects are innate.

Also Google is ourfriend. Simple searches on researched topics often allow us to get results, thus we don't have to take things on so much faith.


I think the result of happiness is a good indicator that things are going well. But that doesn't mean that actively pursuing happiness is the proper way to go about it.
I don't think I ever suggested that it was.

I agree with this. I suspect it's because belief is one of the most effective motivators to behavior, and religion is the most effective packaging for instilling belief.
Can you provide a citation for either of these, or is it just conjecture?

The secular community is removing structure, not replacing structure. It makes sense that we'd get worse performance, and it has nothing to do with intrinsic qualities of the people. I'd say that the bigger mystery would be if they performed the same. Charity donations just happen to be easy to measure, but I expect it extends beyond that into other qualities that we generally hold as intrinsically good.
Again, you seem to just ignore all my points. What about schools, internet, secular government, sports, esports etc. How is this removing structure rather then replacing it.

And again do you have any information that proves that charity leads to a better society, or as Philosophaster mentions that the cause of charity is religion rather then a correlation. What about in other religions? Or is it just Christianity. What about other countries and societies.

guenther
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Fri Jul 17, 2009 6:11 pm UTC

Philosophaster wrote:It may not be "religion makes people act charitable," but "people who want to act charitable gravitate toward faiths that embody their ideals."

That's a possibility I hadn't thought of. And if it's true, it would allow us to estimate someone's propensity for good actions based on whether they're religious or not. However, I don't think that's the case. In my experience, people don't go to church to be told to give. In the three churches I've attended regularly, they only do one sermon a year where they give their full pitch as to why we should tithe. Outside of that, they had to walk a fine line because apply pressure in this sensitive area will make people go to a church where there's less pressure. Being told what to do with your money is probably the least popular church activity.

You might have a point on some more general self-selection sorting, though. However, I suspect Christianity gets most of it's members through young indoctrination rather than conversion (but I don't have any statistics), so it seems the self-selection bias would be weak. I was going to make this point for the secular community, since I suspect most of it's members come from self-selection, and any system they come up with might just happen to work for them but would fail when applied to the general population.

Zcorp wrote:Basically all theories in psychology disagree with the assertion that we are predisposed toward greed, ignorance and intolerance. Locke's tabula rasa led into behaviorism.

First, we can look at the recent economic troubles to see the effects of our propensity for more. And greed implies it's in excess, which I presume means in excess of what people generally perceive as enough. I think we can be predisposed to self-interest without needing to be greedy. Second, I mentioned that Steven Pinker thinks we will naturally treat people as subhuman. Do you disagree, or would you say that treating as subhuman doesn't include intolerance?

For the comment about the motivations of belief, I was conjecturing.

Zcorp wrote:Again, you seem to just ignore all my points. What about schools, internet, secular government, sports, esports etc. How is this removing structure rather then replacing it.

I didn't ignore it; I addressed it last time you brought it up. Which of your examples is a replacement for religion? I would say that the primary function of church is to make people morally better. What structure does that for adults in the secular community? You mentioned schools, but most of us don't stay in school forever (plus I'd disagree that it's for teaching any more morality than you need to meet their educational goals). Books and the internet are resources and are available regardless of your faith or lack thereof. To me, it seems that in the secular community, one's moral growth is left to self-motivation rather than having a system of social pressure and support.

I don't have any more evidence for charity stuff beyond what I presented. I don't know how we would demonstrate at the society level if there's a benefit or not. I'm appealing to the notion that charity is generally held as a good value. Why would it so widely be seen as a virtue if it didn't make society better? And if our basic intuitive concepts of goodness are not good metrics of how to improve things, then a system that has us meter our behavior by our internal moral compass will not likely work well.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Zcorp
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Zcorp » Mon Jul 20, 2009 1:02 am UTC

guenther wrote:First, we can look at the recent economic troubles to see the effects of our propensity for more. And greed implies it's in excess, which I presume means in excess of what people generally perceive as enough. I think we can be predisposed to self-interest without needing to be greedy. Second, I mentioned that Steven Pinker thinks we will naturally treat people as subhuman. Do you disagree, or would you say that treating as subhuman doesn't include intolerance?

Do you have any basis at all to state that recent economic troubles are due to an innate greed of human nature, rather then say, capitalism, laziness, miscommunication, a representative democracy, rule of law, a society based in external locus of control, or a failed understanding of progressive economics.

I did not find anything about this in the link you provided, although I'll grant the axiom that we treat people not within our perceived and cared about world better then others. This however has nothing to do with how Christianity is superior to secular influences in society. As Christianity more so then secular institutions preaches conformity and an desire to control others. This of course leads to conflict, and as most people in US culture believe that killing is wrong and that we should treat humans with tolerance and respect that when they feel like killing or hating an opposing faction or individual they have to demonize them into being subhuman to overcome the anxiety of the internal conflict.

I didn't ignore it; I addressed it last time you brought it up. Which of your examples is a replacement for religion? I would say that the primary function of church is to make people morally better. What structure does that for adults in the secular community? You mentioned schools, but most of us don't stay in school forever (plus I'd disagree that it's for teaching any more morality than you need to meet their educational goals). Books and the internet are resources and are available regardless of your faith or lack thereof. To me, it seems that in the secular community, one's moral growth is left to self-motivation rather than having a system of social pressure and support.
So you feel that our laws, friends, family and community offer no social pressure or support outside of religion?

All of the examples are a replacement for religion. They did not spring up from religion, they came about through our secular educational institutions. Self-motivation is what makes people go to Church as well, that or a community guilt trip. Do you really feel that Christianity should not be a choice for people? That if we forced everyone to be a Christian, even probably a specific sect, we would be better off?

guenther
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Mon Jul 20, 2009 9:06 pm UTC

Zcorp wrote:Do you have any basis at all to state that recent economic troubles are due to an innate greed of human nature, rather then say, capitalism, laziness, miscommunication, a representative democracy, rule of law, a society based in external locus of control, or a failed understanding of progressive economics.

I'm no economic expert, but back when this stuff was coming to light, I heard lots of radio programs about it. Everyone from the guy getting a loan he couldn't afford to the guys buying and selling repackaged mortgages, all were motivated by getting more money. Whether or not it's greed, it was motivated by self interest. I'd be surprised to hear an economist deny this. That doesn't mean that we can't lay blame elsewhere such as capitalism, laws, etc.

Basically my point is that when we stand to gain personally, we're more prone to having lapses in moral judgment. The likelihood and extent varies from person to person, and with how much we stand to gain, and how much our sense of morality might get violated. There are ways we can structure how morality is taught to make this problem worse or better. I believe having a well-defined moral code helps this, having a more loosely defined one makes it worse.

Zcorp wrote:I did not find anything about this in the link you provided, although I'll grant the axiom that we treat people not within our perceived and cared about world better then others. This however has nothing to do with how Christianity is superior to secular influences in society. As Christianity more so then secular institutions preaches conformity and an desire to control others. This of course leads to conflict, and as most people in US culture believe that killing is wrong and that we should treat humans with tolerance and respect that when they feel like killing or hating an opposing faction or individual they have to demonize them into being subhuman to overcome the anxiety of the internal conflict.

It was lazy of me to link to a 20 minute video, quoting, then not giving a time. The quote is at 16:15, and he's actualy quoting Peter Singer. He talks about an expanding circle where we treat each other decently. Having a moral code of "Love your neighbor" helps this since it exands the circle to everyone. I suspect a watered down version of this would yield worse results.

And I don't follow your example at all. How many people are killing in the name of Christianity today?

Zcorp wrote:So you feel that our laws, friends, family and community offer no social pressure or support outside of religion?

All of the examples are a replacement for religion. They did not spring up from religion, they came about through our secular educational institutions. Self-motivation is what makes people go to Church as well, that or a community guilt trip. Do you really feel that Christianity should not be a choice for people? That if we forced everyone to be a Christian, even probably a specific sect, we would be better off?

First, I think laws, friends, and family offer a weaker moral feedback control. I don't know what your friends and family dynamic is, but I don't like getting moral lessons when I go visit mom or when going to happy hour. It baffles me that I am having such a hard time making this point. Christians have church, what do secularists have that religous people don't?

Let me try this analogy. Suppose someone wants to study to become an accountant. He can 1) take a class, 2) study on his own with books and the internet, 3) go to sporting events, 4) hang out with family and friends. Which of these techniques give the best chance of success (assuming they just need skill, not a degree)? The first option is the one that has a structure designed to make you a better accountant. And I bet that if we compared on-line versus in-person classes, the in-person one would do better because it's a better social environment for learning.

Second, regarding whether we should enforce Christianity: Even if I believed that every individual would have a better life if they were Christian, I wouldn't want it enforced. I think adding government control would sap away a lot of the benefit. And regardless, I don't think the evidence supports the claim that every person would have a better life with Christianity. I'm simply claiming it's a good option.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Zcorp
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Zcorp » Fri Jul 24, 2009 11:15 am UTC

guenther wrote: That doesn't mean that we can't lay blame elsewhere such as capitalism, laws, etc.
This being the key point. You attribute it to humanity, I think it is much more circumstantial.

It was lazy of me to link to a 20 minute video, quoting, then not giving a time. The quote is at 16:15, and he's actualy quoting Peter Singer. He talks about an expanding circle where we treat each other decently. Having a moral code of "Love your neighbor" helps this since it exands the circle to everyone. I suspect a watered down version of this would yield worse results.
Found it! You linked us to "Language and Thought" instead of "Myth of Violence".

All this speaks to is the Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Theory which I mentioned previously. Historically Christianity focuses mainly on the meso and micro spheres. With little to no emphasis on the macro.

How many people are killing in the name of Christianity today?
I said it creates conflict (by which I meant violent conflict) not that it directly kills people. That it gives improper tools for thinking. Extreme cases being much of Bush's rationale for Iraq or Andrea Yates.

First, I think laws, friends, and family offer a weaker moral feedback control. I don't know what your friends and family dynamic is, but I don't like getting moral lessons when I go visit mom or when going to happy hour. It baffles me that I am having such a hard time making this point. Christians have church, what do secularists have that religous people don't?
Why do they need to have something that Christians don't? that doesn't make sense. And I do have everything Christians have as well. I can choose to attend Church, Mass, Synagogue etc and not define myself by those religions or beliefs. Not subscribe to the tools of thought that they preach. I've attended each of those and various other Christian gatherings, none of them gave me useful tools for thinking.

And yes I engage in significant discussion with friends and family about ethics, law, morality and more. I find it unfortunate that you do not. Why do you want someone to preach/lecture at you? This is everything I'm talking about when bringing up locus of control. Why don't your friends and family encourage you to question and partake in discussion of these concepts. Just speaking at you is useless.

Even within accounting I'm sure they are presented with all sorts of ethical and moral information, a quick google search comes up with a huge number of links regarding ethics and finance, various Books and articles. Additionally educational systems try to give a good baseline of functional knowledge in addition to specialized knowledge. Universities offer all sorts of ethics classes.

Second, regarding whether we should enforce Christianity: Even if I believed that every individual would have a better life if they were Christian, I wouldn't want it enforced. I think adding government control would sap away a lot of the benefit. And regardless, I don't think the evidence supports the claim that every person would have a better life with Christianity. I'm simply claiming it's a good option.
I thought you were claiming that every individual would have a better life if they were Christian, and that Christianity is not merely a good option but that it is superior to any and all secular options.
My theory is that it's good, quite good, for society. And a lack of religion would be quite bad.

guenther
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Sun Jul 26, 2009 5:16 pm UTC

Sorry about the link before. I've edited my earlier post. I had to go search for it after the original link vanished, and I didn't know Pinker gave more than one TED talk.

Zcorp wrote:I said it creates conflict (by which I meant violent conflict) not that it directly kills people. That it gives improper tools for thinking. Extreme cases being much of Bush's rationale for Iraq or Andrea Yates.

You attribute it to Christianity, I think it is much more circumstantial.

Zcorp wrote:Historically Christianity focuses mainly on the meso and micro spheres. With little to no emphasis on the macro.

This is a good point and is a succinct statement of a point I've been trying to make. Christianity helps with the morality of the micro. Basically, it's about what you are doing wrong, and about what you can do to improve. Sometimes we need to hear when we're being too prideful, selfish, angry, mean, etc., but these lessons are often hard to take. It can help when we hear it from someone we respect as a moral authority. (And when we don't want to hear the advice, the first thing we tend to do is attack their moral credibility.)

And it could be taking these lessons in a lecture can help; when we think a lot of people have similar failings (even the respected authority figure) it's easier to take, but when we are singled out specially for our short-comings, our defensiveness can kick into overdrive. Anyway, that's a guess at a mechanism as to why it helps. And if I decide to attend a lecture for school rather than learn from a book, am I shifting to an external locus of control? I'd say that I'm picking a method of learning that best suits me.

Big moral issues like we see on these forums are important and are easier to discuss. But they're less likely to impact us in our daily lives. Despite they're big picture importance, I'd say they're less impactful than the sum of all the little things that are in our lives every day.

Zcorp wrote:I thought you were claiming that every individual would have a better life if they were Christian, and that Christianity is not merely a good option but that it is superior to any and all secular options.
My theory is that it's good, quite good, for society. And a lack of religion would be quite bad.

Well, I'm glad we can clear this up. That's a macro statement about society. There too much variability to say anything meaningful about every person.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Zcorp
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Zcorp » Sun Jul 26, 2009 11:13 pm UTC

guenther wrote:Sorry about the link before. I've edited my earlier post. I had to go search for it after the original link vanished, and I didn't know Pinker gave more than one TED talk.

No reason to be sorry, just wanted to explain why I was confused.
All of Pinker's talks are pretty good if you find sometime to watch.

Zcorp wrote:I said it creates conflict (by which I meant violent conflict) not that it directly kills people. That it gives improper tools for thinking. Extreme cases being much of Bush's rationale for Iraq or Andrea Yates.

You attribute it to Christianity, I think it is much more circumstantial.

I attribute it to an External Locus of Control, and cited a correlation between American society and External Locus, and a bigger correlation between Christian Americans and External Locus.

This is a good point and is a succinct statement of a point I've been trying to make. Christianity helps with the morality of the micro. Basically, it's about what you are doing wrong, and about what you can do to improve. Sometimes we need to hear when we're being too prideful, selfish, angry, mean, etc., but these lessons are often hard to take. It can help when we hear it from someone we respect as a moral authority. (And when we don't want to hear the advice, the first thing we tend to do is attack their moral credibility.)
In terms of the word 'we' I assume you mean Americans and not Humans, as the latter would be untrue.

Again, I'm left confused. Isn't your argument that Christianity is superior on a societal level then non-Christianity?
If the point was to discuss the Christian morals there are various other threads for that.

And it could be taking these lessons in a lecture can help; when we think a lot of people have similar failings (even the respected authority figure) it's easier to take, but when we are singled out specially for our short-comings, our defensiveness can kick into overdrive. Anyway, that's a guess at a mechanism as to why it helps. And if I decide to attend a lecture for school rather than learn from a book, am I shifting to an external locus of control? I'd say that I'm picking a method of learning that best suits me.
Locus of control is an subjective perspective of how someone views the world. It is a tool of thought not an actual external force.

Stated simply it is the difference between, "I don't steal because it is a sin and God with punish me" and "I don't steal because I feel hurting others is wrong"

One pretty decent book on the idea is Choice Theory.

Big moral issues like we see on these forums are important and are easier to discuss. But they're less likely to impact us in our daily lives. Despite they're big picture importance, I'd say they're less impactful than the sum of all the little things that are in our lives every day.
This is thinking on the micro and meso scale that Christianity promotes.These big moral issues have profound effect on our daily lives, our ways of thinking and interaction. I'd argue that our marco context has a much more profound effect then our micro and meso once we reach adulthood, so most of our lives. We can choose to change our chrono, meso, micro spheres. Generally we can have an significant effect on our socioeconomic sphere. But having an effect on our state, country, world, galaxy or universe is much more difficult, and having an effect on our chronological sphere may well be impossible.

To use extreme examples do you feel that being in 2009 BCE is less of an effect on you and society then growing today in 2009 CE?
That had grown up in Niger it would have less effect on you then your family?

Well, I'm glad we can clear this up. That's a macro statement about society. There too much variability to say anything meaningful about every person.
We are not trying to make meaningful statements about 6+ billion individuals we are trying to make meaningful statements about a broad group of people. It is the difference between sociology and psychology. Between quantum mechanics and classical mechanics. If there is a poisonous gas released we can accurately estimate where it will go and attempt to deal with it, we cannot however accurately estimate where any electron will be within that cloud nor is it immediately relevant to the circumstance.

The American Identity is an interesting thread with relevant discussion about marco influence. Pez Dispens3r first post is good, and is now trying to lead others through the thought process of understanding "American" as a self-concept. Those that choose to include "American" within their self-concept exhibit some correlation in perspective within the thread. They view themselves generally as superior to other nationalities, have a fairly self-righteous view (people don't call themselves individualistic if they don't believe they are relatively more so then all others), and that self-serving bias is more acceptable then ignorance. Of course all of those are attributes of an external locus of control, something that is prevalent within American culture.

guenther
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Tue Jul 28, 2009 11:32 pm UTC

Zcorp wrote:
This is a good point and is a succinct statement of a point I've been trying to make. Christianity helps with the morality of the micro. Basically, it's about what you are doing wrong, and about what you can do to improve. Sometimes we need to hear when we're being too prideful, selfish, angry, mean, etc., but these lessons are often hard to take. It can help when we hear it from someone we respect as a moral authority. (And when we don't want to hear the advice, the first thing we tend to do is attack their moral credibility.)
In terms of the word 'we' I assume you mean Americans and not Humans, as the latter would be untrue.

Again, I'm left confused. Isn't your argument that Christianity is superior on a societal level then non-Christianity?
If the point was to discuss the Christian morals there are various other threads for that.

First, "we" meant humanity. What part isn't true?

Second, I've been very careful to compare religion to secularism, not Christianity to non-Christianity. For you, I've narrowed my discussion to Christianity, but I'm still comparing to secularism. I certainly am not trying to make any claims about how Christianity stacks up to other major religions.

And in regards to Christianity, I'm talking about the package deal. The Christian morals is a slice of the picture but not the whole thing. A moral code could be like an equation in a book; someone needs to use it and promote its use for it to mean anything. Some secular guy could have the best moral code in ever conceived, but if he can't get anyone to follow, it's worthless. When we look at the problem from the perspective of results, it's really hard to say which piece of the big package is responsible.

I'm not saying Christainity is superior, but rather it is a good option, and it produces good results. If someone decides to follow that path, we shouldn't feel it's a detriment to society. At the individual level, secularism is too vague, and it only describes what the belief system is not, it doesn't tell us what a person does believe. So it's hard to make statements. At the society level, there's no structure in place, there isn't even an agreed upon set of morals. So in my mind, it's the removal of religious structure that's the problem; if it is replaced it with something similar, then we could compare more directly how it stacks up with Christianity and other religions.

In a free society, I think it's both natural and healthy to have competing options. It's important that people explore other paths, even if those paths yield worse results.

Zcorp wrote:This is thinking on the micro and meso scale that Christianity promotes.These big moral issues have profound effect on our daily lives, our ways of thinking and interaction. I'd argue that our marco context has a much more profound effect then our micro and meso once we reach adulthood, so most of our lives. We can choose to change our chrono, meso, micro spheres. Generally we can have an significant effect on our socioeconomic sphere. But having an effect on our state, country, world, galaxy or universe is much more difficult, and having an effect on our chronological sphere may well be impossible.

We may have hit upon a fundamental disagreement here. Here's an analogy that I think about. In elections in the US, everyone feels an urgency to vote for the President, but lots of people don't know about the local politics. But the reality is that the smaller the scope of the election, the more impact one voter has, and the more likely it is to meet and get to know the people involved. Our effectiveness is actually the inverse of our intuition.

I see this all the time, when people try to push their ideas. They might be right on the big issues, but they come across so poorly that they've basically thrown away their effectiveness. The big issues are important, but the small ones are too. And I believe there's much more bang-for-the-buck with small scope stuff in terms of increasing our effectiveness on the world.

And, I'm sorry, but I didn't understand your questions.

Zcorp wrote:The American Identity is an interesting thread with relevant discussion about marco influence. Pez Dispens3r first post is good, and is now trying to lead others through the thought process of understanding "American" as a self-concept. Those that choose to include "American" within their self-concept exhibit some correlation in perspective within the thread. They view themselves generally as superior to other nationalities, have a fairly self-righteous view (people don't call themselves individualistic if they don't believe they are relatively more so then all others), and that self-serving bias is more acceptable then ignorance. Of course all of those are attributes of an external locus of control, something that is prevalent within American culture.

I saw this debate and thought about replying, but decided I didn't have much to add. I actually agree with much of what Pez says. I also think that having a positive belief about what one's nation stands for is a good thing. I think if we look for the good, it keeps us motivated in doing our part. But I think it's very important that the self-image is based on "how good we are" rather than "how much worse they are". It's a subtle difference, but we shouldn't build up our image by putting others down. And it's also important to acknowledge when we don't uphold our values.
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 Jul 29, 2009 9:21 pm UTC

guenther wrote:First, "we" meant humanity. What part isn't true?
Humans do not naturally attack others moral credibility when they object to hearing advice.

Second, I've been very careful to compare religion to secularism, not Christianity to non-Christianity. For you, I've narrowed my discussion to Christianity, but I'm still comparing to secularism. I certainly am not trying to make any claims about how Christianity stacks up to other major religions.
My mistake, I did not mean to imply other major religions. Just that there is not a singular secular agenda, thought or belief.

And in regards to Christianity, I'm talking about the package deal. The Christian morals is a slice of the picture but not the whole thing. A moral code could be like an equation in a book; someone needs to use it and promote its use for it to mean anything. Some secular guy could have the best moral code in ever conceived, but if he can't get anyone to follow, it's worthless. When we look at the problem from the perspective of results, it's really hard to say which piece of the big package is responsible.
And you feel that the bible is worth following and that most people follow only the parts that are productive to society. Personally I don't even feel that most of the bible offers good morals nor that the good morals are followed by most of Christians, making it quite worthless.

How did this theoretical secular guy learn his moral code and why can't others be taught the same way?

I'm not saying Christainity is superior, but rather it is a good option, and it produces good results.
If it is not the best possible available option why use it at all? Especially as it is an institution so abject to change and progression.
At the individual level, secularism is too vague, and it only describes what the belief system is not, it doesn't tell us what a person does believe. So it's hard to make statements.
It is no less vague then Christianity. Yet his fundamentals do not create inherent ignorance and intolerance like Christianity does. On a small scale I've argued in the other threads why Christianity is not progressive in thought and how that these lack of thinking tools prohibits an individual from becoming a good member of society.


At the society level, there's no structure in place, there isn't even an agreed upon set of morals. So in my mind, it's the removal of religious structure that's the problem; if it is replaced it with something similar, then we could compare more directly how it stacks up with Christianity and other religions.
Again, there is structure in place, and just because the secular government allows christians to partake in its library's, work force, educational institutions and utilities like the internet. Does not mean the structure is not there, it simply means it is easy accessible and used by many people. Additionally the internet and these educational institutions are encountering massive changes in structures based on IP laws. From downloading songs to scientific journals.

Secular societies also do not prohibit competition, they in fact encourage it. I would even argue American capitalism encourages it to much.

We may have hit upon a fundamental disagreement here. Here's an analogy that I think about. In elections in the US, everyone feels an urgency to vote for the President, but lots of people don't know about the local politics. But the reality is that the smaller the scope of the election, the more impact one voter has, and the more likely it is to meet and get to know the people involved. Our effectiveness is actually the inverse of our intuition.
I'm confused by this. Are you just saying that if you there are 10 people voting in your neighborhood council you have more impact on that vote then the presidential election? While definitely true the impact of the presidential election is significantly greater then your neighborhood council. Saying that your vote then has less impact does not seem legitimate to me.

Of course this is not to say that politicians do not spin, dodge or otherwise confuse their voters. Or that they often loose and aspect of their goal in selling it to the people or other politicians. Even something like the rock the vote campaign. Which primary goal was to get young people to vote, cared more about people voting then educating people about the issues.

guenther
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Fri Jul 31, 2009 12:10 am UTC

Zcorp wrote:How did this theoretical secular guy learn his moral code and why can't others be taught the same way?

Some people have a good intuition for it. I compare it to dieting. Some people naturally eat very healthy because they want to. They are good at following their internal signals of what's good for them. Others can't withstand their impulses to satisfy their short-term reward system. And then there's a huge swath of people that fall somewhere in the middle. I think morality has a similar struggle, but between self and society.

Zcorp wrote:If it is not the best possible available option why use it at all? Especially as it is an institution so abject to change and progression.

What is the best possible system? I don't even think we could define a theoretical best, let alone recognize if we have it.[EDIT: I didn't read this part well.]
What is the best possible available option? And I'm not on board with the notion that "greater progressive thought" --> "greater system". As a society, I think we need a certain amount of conservatism and a certain amount of progressiveness.

Zcorp wrote:It is no less vague then Christianity. Yet his fundamentals do not create inherent ignorance and intolerance like Christianity does. On a small scale I've argued in the other threads why Christianity is not progressive in thought and how that these lack of thinking tools prohibits an individual from becoming a good member of society.

How do you say it's no less vague? If you ask two people what they do and one says "Doctor" and the other says "Not a doctor", even though Doctor is vague, we have a lot more information from the first guy than the second.

Feel free to share here if you have a case why Christians perform worse at being members of society compared to secular people.


Zcorp wrote:Again, there is structure in place, and just because the secular government allows christians to partake in its library's, work force, educational institutions and utilities like the internet. Does not mean the structure is not there, it simply means it is easy accessible and used by many people. Additionally the internet and these educational institutions are encountering massive changes in structures based on IP laws. From downloading songs to scientific journals.

Again, these structures are weaker at doing the job that religion does. I've never been told to treat my neighbors with greater kindness at work, school, or when visiting the libraries. People generally seem to assume we're all doing our part unless we make big missteps. So there's little in the way of feedback to improve our micro and meso behaviors. None of those structures have those as an explicit job.

Zcorp wrote:I'm confused by this. Are you just saying that if you there are 10 people voting in your neighborhood council you have more impact on that vote then the presidential election? While definitely true the impact of the presidential election is significantly greater then your neighborhood council. Saying that your vote then has less impact does not seem legitimate to me.

It's a different way of thinking about things. Instead of thinking "Which issue has the biggest impact overall?", we can think "What actions can I take to maximize my effectiveness?". Almost any one of us could be completely absent from the large scale issues and there would be virtually no impact. However, if we look at stories where people actually make a positive impact on others, it's probably tackling some local issue. Our single voice has a greater potential for impact the smaller in scope we look. The greatest is probably with our family and neighbors.

However, I'll rarely advocate that we should do one thing at the exclusion of everything else. We should really strive to be aware and effective at multiple scopes. But since there's a limit on how much we can do, we need to make good choices with where we put our time and energy.

EDIT: Sorry Az, I'll do better next time around.
Last edited by guenther on Fri Jul 31, 2009 3:07 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Azrael » Fri Jul 31, 2009 1:28 am UTC

How about 92% less tendency to quote snipe in this thread?

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Zcorp » Mon Aug 17, 2009 6:16 pm UTC

Sorry it took me so long to respond again.

1. I'm confused what you think that schools, books, internet tools like wikipedia, and other forms of storytelling are generally used for except to improve micro through macro interactions.

If the goal of schools is not to improve micro and meso behavior what is its goal? Do you not believe that educating people improves micro and meso behavior?


2. Why is the biggest effect you can have on the micro level? Do you believe most people lack the ambition and proficiency in their field to invent, manage or consult on a large scale. Surely you don't think that Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Sergey Brin & Lawrence Page, Freud, Martin Luther King Jr, Hitler etc etc etc effect is greatest on their mirco and meso spheres.

3. Greater progressive thought does not inhibit the ability to be conservative. It just allows us to look at possibilities for improvement and create a better understanding of the world around us. Progressive thought != taking extreme progressive action w/o evidence of positive effect. Politics are often limited by empirical evidence due to the conservative nature of law. While our economics and technology is changing exponentially our law is consistently failing to address these changes. Like current IP laws.


Churches in my experience focus very little on getting their practitioners to create their own philosophy of life rather then subscribe to their own. Which seems to result in little questioning of the religions fundamentals, not to overturn them necessarily but to understand them, and very little focus on the marco.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Tue Aug 18, 2009 5:14 am UTC

Hey, no problem. :)

1. For school, my geology class taught geology, history taught history, math taught math, etc. They didn't teach any more morality than was needed to administer the class. For books and on-line tools, we see that people tend to just niche themselves further into their own world view. I suspect that when people are left to their own to study, they are more likely to reinforce their biases rather than overcome them.

Also, I think a big problem with the secular community is that there's no agreed upon moral system. Or when people do agree, it's on a very watered down version. The most common one I've seen is defended on these boards is something like "Do want you want so long as you don't get in the way of someone else trying to do the same". This is a much easier moral code than what Christians and most other religious people try to adhere to. I think when we can define our own moral system, we realign it to something that's more in line with self interest.

2. The biggest effect is much more likely to be at the micro level. I can't state that as an absolute because clearly there are many people have had much greater impacts. But not everyone can be an Obama, Bill Gates, or Hitler. There are so many more opportunities at the very local level. And I don't consider people who focus on their local environment to be doing so because of a lack of ambition or proficiency. I think that's a very noble goal.

3. I'm in favor of people having a healthy balance between progressive and conservative thoughts.

In my experience, churches emphasize the truth of the Bible, but they try hard to get their practitioners to adapt it to their lives in a very personal way. Some churches probably do a better job than others. Some are filled with structure and procedure. My church and many others I've seen have stripped away a lot of the formalities and it's a much less formal learning environment. I think it's a feature to have a sort of free market of styles that cater to the many different ways people learn.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Zcorp » Tue Aug 18, 2009 11:29 am UTC

You didn't have philosophy, literature, film studies, creative writing, ethics or social studies? Cause I had all those classes in middle and high school. Even history and math give wonderful tools in thinking. Statistics is an amazing class that to few people learn, History teaches significant moral lessons. The American Civil War and revolutionary war, Ancient Greece, WW2. Now I'd expect to learn about Cambodia, Darfur, Rwanda and 9/11 in history classes through the k-12 experience.

Theres not an agreed upon moral system within the Christian community either. But the basics are within in every ethical system. The golden rule as mentioned is every where in each and every different religion or secular ethical/moral system.

Besides that some Christians want to kill pretty much all non-christians, some believe being gay is an insult to God, others that sex before marriage is sinful, that anything but sex for reproduction is sinful, that we should force christianity on others to save them. etc etc etc. There is no single Christian mindset due the the significant flaws within the bible. Secular morals are certainly not less ambiguous then Christian ones. They generally do not have preach morals with an answer something of along the lines of "cause it offends God"


2. The most likely effect has historically been on the micro and meso level. But technology has changed that. Now the world so small that having an effect on many people or letting many people have an effect on you is much easier. Travel times are a tiny and communication nearly impossible to avoid. The internet, cell phones, cars and airplanes have significantly changed how we impact each other on a macro level.


3. What is the truth of the Bible?

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby MoghLiechty2 » Thu Aug 20, 2009 7:51 am UTC

Zcorp wrote:Theres not an agreed upon moral system within the Christian community either. But the basics are within in every ethical system. The golden rule as mentioned is every where in each and every different religion or secular ethical/moral system.

A better distinction between the secular and the Christian moral system is that the Christian one is foundational, if not necessarily agreed upon. You state that Christianity cannot agree on morals, but I doubt you would view it as a good thing if it did, because these established morals would most certainly contradict an ethical system you've devised on an evidential basis. In fact you also apparently don't believe that Christians can't agree on morals, because you are also quick to point out the negative effects of the general moral mindset of most Christians (which you argue on an evidential basis). So either this moral mindset is sufficiently pervasive to be a negative effect on society as well as being attributable to the existence of the Christian worldview, or Christianity is not the attribute that causes this, and variation of morality in the Christian church is simply a function of how evidential rather than foundational is the general Christian's thinking... i.e. how little they actually accept Christianity. But you would view this as a good thing.

Besides that some Christians want to kill pretty much all non-christians, some believe being gay is an insult to God, others that sex before marriage is sinful, that anything but sex for reproduction is sinful, that we should force christianity on others to save them. etc etc etc. There is no single Christian mindset due the the significant flaws within the bible. Secular morals are certainly not less ambiguous then Christian ones. They generally do not have preach morals with an answer something of along the lines of "cause it offends God"

"Significant flaws" is vague enough to seem relevant, but also enough so to be hollow without further explanation. You are, again, quick to point out where people who are Christians have gone wrong (and, as I could easily, thoroughly, and conclusively demonstrate, being absolutely unbiblical) without considering why and how you came to believe that the negatives of people within the Christian community are caused by the direct influence of Christianity on their mindsets, rather than them just being human, as secular people also are. You have no way of determining whether Christianity has actually made these people more foundational or more varied in their beliefs, since you can't know what they would've been like otherwise. It's also important to note that most of the beliefs you list here are not intrinsically harmful unless put in the minds of the wrong people. Of course, this would be a detriment to the utility of religion if it gave people a mechanism to do be harmful, but you can't turn around and claim that secularism is a default state, and not recognize the fact that apostasy has been for many people a mechanism to be harmful as well, especially at the "micro and meso" level.

If you would, head over to the religion thread and type out what you believe to be the Bible's "significant flaws." That's always an enjoyable discussion for me :)

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Zcorp » Thu Aug 20, 2009 8:51 am UTC

MoghLiechty2 wrote:stuff

Context is everything.
I'm did not state I think it is bad that Christians have variety in morals. I simply stated it as a rebuttal to the premise that being Christian makes people have less variety in morals then being non-Christian.

I pointed out the significant flaws within the Bible and Christianity in the other thread, which you choose to ignore.

And yes I'm quick to point out the significant flaws that Christianity offers, as the whole premise of this tread is that Christianity is superior to all other systems for teaching morals in bettering society. Again, their variety of belief or lack their of is not something I'm painting as a negative aspect. It was presented as a fallacious argument as to why Christianity is some how superior to secular morality. Instead of ignoring the comment out of hand I figured it would be wiser to rebut statement as it is factually not true even if irrelevant to the thread.

I do think that Christianity has something productive and useful to offer to society. In fact I've stated so multiple times in the thread. I've also stated that I think it wise to adopt these aspects utility that Christianity offers into a system that removes some of the significant flaws if which I have spoken of. Again mentioned multiple times within this thread.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby MoghLiechty2 » Thu Aug 20, 2009 4:28 pm UTC

Zcorp wrote:
MoghLiechty2 wrote:stuff

Context is everything.
I'm did not state I think it is bad that Christians have variety in morals. I simply stated it as a rebuttal to the premise that being Christian makes people have less variety in morals then being non-Christian.

Whether you think it good or bad isn't the point, in and of itself. I apologize if my tone was abrasive, but I really do want to hear your answers on this.

The point was that you somehow posit that Christianity is both that cause of people being too foundational (in a bad way (to you that is, simply because you disagree), and too an extent great enough to be noticed in society) in addition to saying that Christianity doesn't offer any less variety in morals than secularism.

I pointed out the significant flaws within the Bible and Christianity in the other thread, which you choose to ignore.

I do remember you from the religion thread. We discussed if everything that exists would be empirically observable, and then we god into a moderated quibble about whether the Old Testament having regulations was Theologically contradictory. Your absolute statements about the latter sounded extremely unfounded and unresearched at the time, but I'd be open to re-opening the whole vein of discussion on a broader scale.

And yes I'm quick to point out the significant flaws that Christianity offers, as the whole premise of this tread is that Christianity is superior to all other systems for teaching morals in bettering society. Again, their variety of belief or lack their of is not something I'm painting as a negative aspect. It was presented as a fallacious argument as to why Christianity is some how superior to secular morality. Instead of ignoring the comment out of hand I figured it would be wiser to rebut statement as it is factually not true even if irrelevant to the thread.

Yes, that's fine again, but the point was how you determined many of the negatives you mentioned to be due directly to the existence, as opposed to non-existence, of Christianity.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Zcorp » Thu Aug 20, 2009 5:10 pm UTC

MoghLiechty2 wrote:The point was that you somehow posit that Christianity is both that cause of people being too foundational (in a bad way (to you that is, simply because you disagree), and too an extent great enough to be noticed in society) in addition to saying that Christianity doesn't offer any less variety in morals than secularism.

I don't find its morality too foundational, I find the philosophy of life often too foundational. The core moral foundation that I hear mentioned although rarely practiced (not because they are Christian but simply because most people see to find it hard to do and understand) is the Golden Rule. However, it is certainly not unique within Christianity. Every different framing of moral life works off of that foundation.

Then regardless if it is foundational or not there are Christians that view things that I cannot conceive to be harmful to society. They interpret the Bible to say that being Gay or engaging in sodomy is destructive. This is generally believed because they think people are being tested to get into heaven and hating what they think God hates allows them a greater chance. That the core book of the faith can even be interpreted that way makes it flawed, that it can be interpreted that way by a large number of people over many generations makes it significantly flawed. This is leading into discussion for the other thread.

Yes, that's fine again, but the point was how you determined many of the negatives you mentioned to be due directly to the existence, as opposed to non-existence, of Christianity.
I think we many be viewing the concept of Christianity a bit differently. Which is probably my fault for being unclear in my meaning. I mean to speak of the effect the Churches have on the population, not theoretical concepts that practiced theologians believe Christianity is. The idea that it is wrong to question the Church (or authority) or ask for explanations has become prevalent in our society one that is perpetuated by many of the Churches I have attended. People are consistently expected to accept garbage such as "God works in mysterious ways" when asking questions, which is really just a polite way of saying 'stop asking questions' and masks the truth that the speaker is ignorant of an answer.

This of course happens in secular institutions as well, however questioning authority seems to be met with much greater positive regard within our Universities.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby MoghLiechty2 » Fri Aug 21, 2009 8:49 am UTC

Zcorp wrote:That the core book of the faith can even be interpreted that way makes it flawed, that it can be interpreted that way by a large number of people over many generations makes it significantly flawed. This is leading into discussion for the other thread.

You don't believe the existence of people with a poor understanding of science makes science flawed, do you?

I see the weight of such points about the overall utility of Christianity. I've not yet decided for myself how positive the role of the Christian religion really is, but would be prepared to evidentially accept that it is actually a net negative. I need not worry about it, though, since I know the tangible benefits of it being done in a way that eliminates the major negatives you describe, and is actually Theologically correct as well. And this is my general experience with the Christian church. (But maybe I've just chosen to only hang around this part of the church my whole life...)

I'd be interested to hear you attempt to quantify how large the proportion is of the Church that actually portrays the extreme or subtle negatives. It's easy to sit on digg.com all day and find hundreds of anecdotes about evil, terrible Christians, but it's harder to find smaller, more common stories of unexpected altruism or increased humility, e.g., due to the direct influence of the religion, and certainly harder to objectively compare the extent of all of these effects. TBH I couldn't guess the sum total, but I'll continue to support the form of Christianity that is clearly positive.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Zcorp » Fri Aug 21, 2009 6:43 pm UTC

MoghLiechty2 wrote:You don't believe the existence of people with a poor understanding of science makes science flawed, do you?

Straw men are fun.
I think if a that is book teaching science is so ambiguous that it gets interpreted dozens if different ways it is utterly flawed. The book should be rewritten and made to increase general understanding of these ideas, not perpetuate fantasies and unsubstantiated believes that cause harm to society. Or any form of education that is inefficient in teaching its meaning and allows its students to incorrectly understand the lesson is flawed. Which is why I'm studying education reform.

The whole purpose of math and science is to take very subjective understanding of ideas and assist humanity in being able to understanding them objectively. This objective understanding allows us to easier discuss these ideas with our colleagues and pass that understanding down to students allowing civilization to progress over generations. This requires constantly challenging the objective measures to make sure they are truly representing the subjective feeling. Evolution of idea is sorely lacking within Christianity, in fact Christianity in general must be against its own evolution to sell its thought. It is a core requirement of Christianity that people believe in God and the Christian path to finding God and entering heaven is correct. Or else why call yourself a Christian? If Christians were taught to constantly question the foundations of the religion it would be evolving outside the external influence that forces it to adopt to modern thinking.

Please note that I am not saying that it cannot give some people a greater understanding of themselves and the world around them, a personal unifying philosophy of life. I am saying that in general it is not interested in progressive thinking, new ideas and reforming its roots. Which I think harms society, yes there are things that Christianity offers that are great and useful to keeping the population happy. I also think that those things are being found by other individuals and can be found by Christians and further generations outside of the Christian structure and doctrine.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby MoghLiechty2 » Sat Aug 22, 2009 1:49 am UTC

Zcorp wrote:Straw men are fun.

Oh-Kay, don't start that again. Asking an instructive rhetorical question about your position (the rhetorical answer was 'no' by the way) is different than implicitly assuming that you hold a position and then refuting it. The point was that since you don't believe that the variety of incorrect scientific belief is cause to call science flawed, then you have no reason to turn around your logic in the case of Christian Theological or Moral understanding, unless you can give a substantive reason that the two are different. Have you considered the possibility that there really is an objective way to study the Bible, and that Theological understanding may actually be said to be "progressing" rather than "ambiguously changing," or do you have a good reason evidentially or historically why not? Can you give good reasons why a studious read-through of the Bible can yield theologies or moralities that vary so substantially due to specific ambiguities that you can actually point out? Are you aware of the fact that there has in fact been a system in place for quite some time for Christians to share greater and better amounts of moral and Theological understanding to Churches accross the nation? Are you aware of, or have you studied the implications of the fact that most of the 'bad apples' of Christianity are directly refutable by a coherent reading of Scripture?

I'd encourage you to step back for a moment and carefully consider these things to find out why, other than its apparent effects on society and its variety of interpretation, you believe the Bible is substantially more flawed than any other source of knowledge. Variety of interpretation only points to the existence of flaws to the extent that it can be determined that the varying interpretations are equally valid. If they aren't equally valid, then we call those invalid interpretations flawed and then move on... I can accept the argument that, even if the Bible weren't flawed and didn't lend itself to more correct levels of understanding how it could still have a negative effect on society. But lending itself to more correct levels of understanding and actually, practically being better understood in the hands of humans are two different things.

I do, in fact, advocate a better and more in depth understanding of theology and morality. Theology is a field of study, and just like any other field, some conclusions are less valid than others. Just like science, if we can eliminate all the false conclusions, we'll be left with ones that are more likely to be correct. This isn't to say that every field of study is equally easy for the average, unconscientious human to make good conclusions about, and I would even accept that to some extent, Christianity fits this description. But I still believe it's foundation is unambiguous enough to be considered unflawed, if unbeneficial to society.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Zcorp » Sat Aug 22, 2009 5:00 am UTC

MoghLiechty2 wrote:The point was that since you don't believe that the variety of scientific belief is cause to call science flawed, then you have no reason to turn around your logic in the case of Christian Theological or Moral understanding, unless you can give a substantive reason that the two are different.
Except that is not what I considered the flaw within Christianity. Thus the strawman.
Which I clearly stated.
interpret the Bible

Then despite your 'rhetorical' question, I described how you twisted my words to create an easily destroyed argument, a straw-man.

Science creates theories about ideas and when those theories are wrong, they get re-written to corporate new material. Obviously there are some people who still interpret the Bible in ways that are harmful to society, thus keeping the Bible the same without adapting it stories and information to modern thought is harmful. If you don't believe God said you should to stone women who get raped why not remove that section for the book you worship? Much like how gravitation moved into relativity. It is the archaic mindset that the Bible creates that causes many problems.

And then you straw-man me again.
you believe the Bible is substantially more flawed than any other source of knowledge.
Why is it more rude of me to point our you fallacies then you to use them? Why cant you engage in sophisticated discourse and actually read what I a written and respond to simply that. Maybe I'm misreading your intent. But this is not what I believe nor have I ever stated it as a belief of mine. So please do not try to speak for me when you are certainly wrong.

I do, in fact, advocate a better and more in depth understanding of theology and morality.

As do I, that does not change the fact that the Bible creates significant problems within out society, external locus control, refusing/scared to learn about others religions and ways of thinking because a Church views it as blasphemous. Believing that being Gay is an insult to God etc etc etc.

Of course there are others groups of people and books secular and non-secular that have the same problem. American Bi-partisanship, views on amendments and understanding their intent. All of which I consider harmful as well. Christianity is just the most prevalent religion in the world making any flaws it has significantly greater by group think, and misinterpretation.

All I'm saying is that Christianity is resistant to change and it is flawed. Thus I propose that if we could adopt a system that is more open to the evolution of society it will have a greater positive effect then Christianity. Something our universities do an alright job, the internet is doing an amazing job of and I hope we can create better education and government systems that do an even better job. I do not expect to find that in a religion that is refuses to even clarify many of the lessons in the Bible to is practitioners, so that they do not perpetuate hate.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby MoghLiechty2 » Sat Aug 22, 2009 5:51 am UTC

Zcorp wrote:And then you straw-man me again.
you believe the Bible is substantially more flawed than any other source of knowledge.

Zcorp, previously wrote: That the core book of the faith can even be interpreted that way makes it flawed, that it can be interpreted that way by a large number of people over many generations makes it significantly flawed.

I'm trying not to misinterpret you, I really am. Explain this, and I'll adequately respond to your other points.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Zcorp » Mon Aug 24, 2009 12:46 am UTC

Something being flawed does not make it the more flawed then any other source of knowledge, and I'm certainly not making that argument.
It mostly just makes it flawed, in the case of the Bible its flaws lead to ignorance and hatred.

Most things are flawed, if we had perfect and complete understanding of our world and a perfect and complete way of passing that understanding on we wouldn't need this discussion. The problem I'm addressing is the the Bible's tendency to lead some people toward hatred and ignorance and the Christian communities unwillingness to adopt its tools to reduce these tendencies.

Because the Bible is viewed as some form of the word of God adapting it is difficult. This tendency and its aversion to progression is the problem I see with its effect on society. What lessons have you learned from the Bible that you cherish? Do you feel the Bible is efficient in teaching those lessons? Do you think those lessons could be taught more efficiently of parts of the Bible were removed, modified or new content was added?
guenther wrote:
  • 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.


  • collection of generations of wisdom: Except for the last 2k years. Then even 2k years ago it offers arguably as much negative advice as positive.
  • sense of right and wrong: Because something is difficult is not sufficient reasoning to choose not to do it. Of course simplicity is incredibly important. No one can study every field or often even keep track if recent innovations of their own. Presenting abstract ideas simply is very important, it allows the layman to understand them. But this is a constant progression of education. We not only have to push each field of study to better understand ourselves and our cosmos but as mortals we need to teach the next generation all of the previous knowledge in a less time so that they can spend time pushing our societal knowledge even further. Simplicity is necessary but should not come at the cost of progression.
  • source of community: Churches do a wonderful job of creating communities, they create an environment where everyone has a the same general mind frame and is welcoming of new people. It meets at the same time every week offering structure and stability in addition to comfort and belonging. However, I can't imagine these communities are exclusive to Christianity. Building such institutions without the belief in the Bible should be very feasible.
  • source of strength: Having a philosophy of life is very powerful. I see little benefit in believing in the Christian God though, and often see the negative side. If life is just a test to get into heaven, which it seems many Christians view it, it creates little incentive to care about further generations beyond a moral requirement set forth please to God. Maybe more information can offered you and others about why the Christian philosophy of life is greater then others as a source of strength.


Trying to clarify my position for you, hopefully this helps.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby MoghLiechty2 » Tue Aug 25, 2009 4:39 am UTC

Zcorp wrote:Something being flawed does not make it the more flawed then any other source of knowledge, and I'm certainly not making that argument.
It mostly just makes it flawed, in the case of the Bible its flaws lead to ignorance and hatred.

If my argumentation actually depended on you believing that the Bible was a more flawed source of knowledge than a brick, then I suppose your accusation would be justified. As it is, the points I made and the questions I prodded in no way depended on anything other than you believing the Bible was any more flawed than some arbitrary status quo of flawed-ness.

Listen, I really don't like us talking past each other, which is essentially what we're doing. I'll be sending you a PM sometime soon here so we can both take deep breaths and talk face to face and hopefully get to the heart of the disagreement here.

Sorry, Az, for the interruption of public discourse.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Wed Aug 26, 2009 12:07 am UTC

Now it's my turn to apologize for a delay. :) I was away, then I had to take time to figure out how I'd jump back in. Thanks for your comments, MoghLiechty2.

@Zcorp: We've been going back and forth for a while, and I appreciate your stickwithitness. Here's what I'd like to do: I think should be able to settle on certain statements that we each hold to without enough evidence to prove one way or another. They'll represent our perspectives on life that we'll have trouble convincing the other to change. Let me know if that appeals to you. Here's my list which contains a mix of items that we both have raised.

- We have a sinful nature - Why don't we let bankers come up with banking regulation rules? Are they simply selfish, greedy, bad people? Or are they too full of bias that they can't remove themselves enough to be objective? I think the latter is true, and it applies to morality. When we open everything to interpretation, we give individuals too much room to redefine morality in a way that's personally more useful. I think that bias to self (and in particular, short-term personal gain) is what Christian's mean when they say that we are born sinners.

- Actively revising the Bible would remove much of the benefits - I think much of the utility of religion comes from a faith in the importance in behaving a certain way. Christian's believe that the Bible is the divine word of God. Overtly editing the it would puncture that belief in a way that would deflate the usefulness. I think this is one of the tools that the evolution of society has devised to overcome our sinful nature.

- Christians are not more hateful and ignorant than others - You've mentioned it a bunch, and I don't buy it. For hate, I personally see just the opposite. Ignorance is trickier, because it depends on what body of knowledge we use to measure ignorance. We could craft a test to make any group lose. Personally I think decision-making is much more important than knowledge.

- Resistance to change is important - You ding Christianity for it's resistance to change, but I think it's a feature. I'm sure either of us could come up with problems of society changing either too fast or too slow, but I suspect that I would predict an optimal change rate that's slower than what you'd predict.

- Morality is hard to study - There's too many variables and it operates on a long time scale. I don't think science will have much to offer in terms of prescribed systems of moral behavior anytime soon. This means that new rules are based on what feels right rather than empirical evidence. I think our feelings are too narrow in scope to allow us to intuitively develop effective rules for large groups of people.
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 Aug 26, 2009 11:23 pm UTC

- We have a human nature - There are various theories about what human nature is. Maslow's hierarchy wants us to believe there is an ascending order of how our human needs get fulfilled. Glasser's choice theory wants us to believe all animal needs are survival, belonging, freedom and fun and that power is a unique human need. Different individuals require different amounts of stimulus to fulfill those needs.

We can also look at John Locke's tabula rasa, Christianity's Original Sin. However these offer less of a conceptual definition about how humans function.

According to the aforementioned psychological theories, humans have needs that we desire and we act upon trying to fulfill those needs. How those needs go about being fulfill is dependent upon the individuals nurture. Their conditioning, their knowledge and temperament.

As for why we don't let bankers come up with banking regulation rules...well sometimes we do. When we don't is it due to systemic effect that banking has on society. While there are people that are out to screw over others at their own personal gain. I imagine that most of the bankers within our system were not standing idly by waiting for the housing market to burst. I'd imagine that many of them were ignorant of the circumstance. Of those that were knowledgeable about the impending collapse there was probably a good amount of blame differential as well as a learned helplessness from our political and economic system. Group think is a very powerful force, for 30 years telling people it is wise to pay minimum mortgage and instead invest money into the stock market or mutual funds as the end pay off is greater has generally been accurate. Many of our hedge fund operators, bank investors, etc grew up knowing nothing else. I don't attribute those actions to a sinful predisposition so much as a ignorant one. It is generally our own ignorance and not our desire to harm others or society that leads to our failings. The exceptions seem to correlate to extremist action most often found in abundance within our religious institutions, or political parties.

I think that bankers like all humans are subject to human nature, and that blanket statements like 'we have a sinful nature' is actually a detriment to society. If this was the all encompassing view we would not have the psychology, sociology fields that we have today, and I believe the effect these fields have had on our understanding of groups of people and the individual have given significant benefit to society as a whole.

- Actively revising the Bible would remove much of the benefits - It may also create a book of worship that is harder to misinterpret, have a greater positive effect on society as a whole and create a better understanding of our selves and our world. While I agree that having a philosophy of life is an very powerful tool of thought, can you provide reasoning for why you think the Christian philosophy is superior to the Buddhist, Naturalist, atheist, or taoists ones?

- Christians are not more hateful and ignorant than others - I never said more hateful and ignorant then others. I did say that it perpetuates hate and ignorance, falling back on the Bible as a justifying reason. Even if you do not interpret the Bible to say being Gay, sex any position except missionary, or sex for pleasure is an attack on God,others do. Simply because they can interpret the Bible this way perpetuates that hatred. If I were a Christian I would want to worship a Bible that is more clear in meaning and message.

- Resistance to change is important - Societies change very slowly already, with our exponential increase in technology our schools are falling behind, our laws (especially IP laws) and correctional facilities. Perpetuating ignorance, by advocating teaching abstinence only for example, is an unreasonable, unnecessary and archaic resistance to change.

- Morality is hard to study - Again, something being hard to study is not sufficient reason not to try. And science already has a huge amount of data to offer in terms of morality and societal utility. Science is used now extensively in creating laws, in some correctional facilities. Game theory speaks to morality, the earlier concepts of human needs speak to morality. The process of political science and sociology are all building on morality in an attempt to create a progressive society. Science has created all sorts of tools that make fulfilling the needs of human nature easier, resulting in less death and violence then any time before.

guenther
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Sat Aug 29, 2009 12:12 am UTC

Well, you and I make very different assumptions about how the world works. We even read the statement "We have a sinful nature" very differently, which I take as a valuable belief and allows us to be aware that there's always room for improvement. I suspect that when you run virtual Christians through thought experiments in your head, they are very different than the virtual Christians in my head. I always like to hear other perspectives.

Zcorp wrote:While I agree that having a philosophy of life is an very powerful tool of thought, can you provide reasoning for why you think the Christian philosophy is superior to the Buddhist, Naturalist, atheist, or taoists ones?

Well, atheist doesn't give much insight into one's philosophies of life (at least not definitionally, though perhaps it correlates with certain philosophies). For the others, I don't have a good way to distinguish why to choose one philosophy over another. The best I can think of is that philosophies that are old and widespread are more likely to yield good results as compared to newer or more niche philosophies. But at the individual level, it's hard to make strong statements about which path to take since there's such a wide variability of people. And it could be that there's really no single best answer.

I suspect that the structure built around the message is almost as important as the message itself. It is integral for how a message is translated into behavior. Reading a book about Buddhism won't have as big of an impact as living in a Buddhist Temple for a while, even though they might contain the same information. Christians are very well organized and have developed very good methods at getting the message out and supporting those that already believe. This area is what I've been picking on the secular movement for in recent posts. But perhaps it just needs to go through a maturing.



One other point: Regardless of the utility of Christianity and religion in general, they're not going away any time soon. At the individual level, I think it's fair and healthy for the different groups to try to win people's hearts and minds. But at the big group level, we should offer groups respect and encourage better behavior rather than pushing for their removal. Getting Christians to behave better will produce much better results than pushing for the end of Christianity.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Zcorp » Sat Aug 29, 2009 1:19 am UTC

Considering the context you used, relating sinful nature to greed. I assumed that you used sinful semantically close to evil. Can you explain in more depth what you mean by a sinful nature?

Do you mean something closer to Jung's Shadow? Maybe with a bit of animus and anima mixed in?
The best I can think of is that philosophies that are old and widespread are more likely to yield good results as compared to newer or more niche philosophies.
Why? There are various wide spread and old philosophies that are false, or considered false today. The Greek Pantheon, the Norse pantheon, Egyptian pantheon, the earth being flat, demons make us crazy etc.

Christians are very well organized and have developed very good methods at getting the message out and supporting those that already believe.
The problem is the message many of them are giving out.

One other point: Regardless of the utility of Christianity and religion in general, they're not going away any time soon. At the individual level, I think it's fair and healthy for the different groups to try to win people's hearts and minds. But at the big group level, we should offer groups respect and encourage better behavior rather than pushing for their removal. Getting Christians to behave better will produce much better results than pushing for the end of Christianity.
We aren't discussing if they are going away anytime soon, we are discussing the utility they have on society.

I think that letting any group perpetuate ignorance and hatred especially overtly and with recognition of their actions is not in anyway healthy. To continue with the abstinence only example: Refusing to teach people about sex, leading to much more frequent teenage and early twenties births (generally meaning the parents are much less experienced in the world and have less formal education) and eventually large families from these young parents is greatly hurting society. These uneducated parents who have lots of children are ill equipped to educate their own children and often lack the finances (even if not for the first 1-2 for the next 3-X) to pay others to educated them properly. As their belief system may still be against sex ed their many children are more likely to duplicate their actions of early and numerous offspring.

How do you propose we go about teaching people to behave better when defining 'better behavior' is often the area of conflict?

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby General_Norris » Sat Aug 29, 2009 1:02 pm UTC

Zcorp wrote:I think that letting any group perpetuate ignorance and hatred especially overtly and with recognition of their actions is not in anyway healthy.


I agree.

I think the mesage every religion sends is pretty much bad and we are better off without it. Whatever good parts they might have is irrelevant because we can do the same other ways without taining everything.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Mon Aug 31, 2009 7:24 am UTC

I think our sinful nature represents a bias towards self (and perhaps immediate familiy) and a bias towards short-term gain. And further our mind hides that bias, so it's very hard to compensate for. The shadow concept sounds similar, but I bet there's a better explanation in terms of neuroscience. I think these biases are fundamental to how our mind works. They provide a pressure to certain behaviors that are vital to our day-to-day life. But if we are guided by them too much, it will be a source of poor decision-making. This is our sinful nature, and when unwisely followed, they lead to sins.

That's my working theory.

Zcorp wrote:Why? There are various wide spread and old philosophies that are false, or considered false today. The Greek Pantheon, the Norse pantheon, Egyptian pantheon, the earth being flat, demons make us crazy etc.

What matters is their effect on behavior. I don't know how believing the earth is flat affects behavior, but I can't imagine it being useful. The old, dead religions might have provided useful guides to behavior, but if we can't muster the belief, then it doesn't matter.

The statement about old and widespread is really about the quality of the wisdom. But there's probably many collections of wisdom that are sufficiently effective such that the dominating factor to success is the structure around it. Dead religions will have no structure.

Zcorp wrote:How do you propose we go about teaching people to behave better when defining 'better behavior' is often the area of conflict?

That's a tough one. I think if we knew the answer, then the world would be a very different place. But marginalizing a person's way of life is probably not the best way to open them up to new ideas and ways of thought. I think there should be a clear distinction as to how we regard the person's actions apart from the person. These get blurred a lot. The hatred you've mentioned are strictly against the Christian teachings. One would find many Christian allies to promote better Christian behavior; however those same people would close ranks to defend their way of life if they feel it's threatened.

Plus I bet there's a lot more common ground than we think at first glance. I think our natural groupings cause us to amplify our similarities within our group and amplify our difference with others. It creates a distortion of perspective. There's certainly disagreement on how to structure sex-ed, but most parents don't want their kids getting unwanted pregnancies. A polarizing issue makes it harder for people to rationally evaluate evidence, and I think there's techniques to lessen the polarizing effects so people can make better decisions.

General_Norris wrote:I think the mesage every religion sends is pretty much bad and we are better off without it. Whatever good parts they might have is irrelevant because we can do the same other ways without taining everything.

I think your definition of "bad" is based on ideology, and if you have a goal of having less hatred in the world, then I think that ideology will lead to poor results.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Le1bn1z » Mon Aug 31, 2009 6:56 pm UTC

I'd like to flip this topic on its head for a moment.

Most posts on this way that I've skimmed through have been intelligent thoughts concerning the possibilities of utilitarian applications of religious disciplines.

Of course one of the ironies of history is that the most prominent example of an attempted religious organisation formed entirely on untilitarian grounds, the Cult of the Supreme Being in revolutionary France, is one of the more horrific religious experiments in the modern age, serving as it did as an intellectualised form of the moral impetus behind the Great Terror, and the birth of modern terrorism. It seems that this particular Cult embodied all of the worst of what we moderns see in organised theocracy: a forced spiritual enthusiasm crafted in the name of a political agenda, by which the power hungry, corrupt or ideologically insane could veil acts of horror in a shroud of legitemacy and virtue.

Its founder, Robespierre the Incorruptible, was notorious for his pious acts of brutality, which culminated in the murder of untold thousands over a very short period of time.

The most intelligent critique of the spiritual side of the Revolution came from one Joseph de Maistre, a violent reactionary whose writings, alought pointing the way to fascism in the 20th century, still provide keen insight into the nature of the existence of religion and its tie to civics.

Maistre begins by more or less tossing out the Enlightenment assumption that religion was something entirely artificial, that is to say, not necessarily false, but something external and created, either through false reason and confused perception, though lies or even through a pure revelation from God himself.

Rather, he argues, I think correctly, that religion is a necessary, eternal and strutural part of the human mind, encompassing moral, rational, emotional and heuristic imperatives.

Just as, no matter how hard we try to create systems of egalitarianism, we always end up looking for the Great Leader to guide and lead us (a product of our herd-mammal biological heritage), so to we are internally compelled to create a higher and immutable structure of belonging which includes a sense of purpose for our lives. Whether this was, as Maistre believed, imprinted by God as his mark on the human soul, or as some sociologists would have it, a biological/psychological survival construct, its still always there.

One need only look at attempts to create purely secular or atheistic societies to see the process in action. Ironically, Communisms of the 20th century, the USSR, PRC and North Korea, have the most elaborate cults and most immutable and "unquestionable" doctrines of belief and moral guidance. Their leadership cults of Stalin, Mao, Kim-Jong Il make fundamentalists portrayals of Christ seem like he's just some real swell guy. The preserverence of cult menality was inescapable, even within a movement dedicated to destroying all cults.

The question then becomes NOT is religion useful, but rather, to what use can we put this indestructable reality of human experience? Since we can't destroy it, how can we bend it for good?

The old centrist-semi-conservatives of Britain had what I think was probably the most intelligent answer: Ensure the prevailence of officially supervised moderate religion throughout the country. Promote religion, or rather, allow it to promote itself, and crack down on "extremeism." At the same time, allow for dissent and non-participation.

In other words, create a system where people have a helpful or at least harmless form of religion to "opt into" if they so choose. The alternative is to let the wild human imagination and unpredictable nature to froth up whatever wild version of religion comes to mind in the spiritual anarchy of the "secular" space. Organisations such as the Salvation Army, YMCA, the abolitionist movement and so forth prove an excellent pre-fab outlet for religious enthusiasm, and a great alternative to Cromwellian crusades or Al-Qaeda wierdness.

Perhaps our governments ought to be working with Islamic versions of the Salvation Army, to provide a constructive outlet for the newer forms religious enthusiasm. Certainly, its better than the "Enlightenment" model of pretending its all just a temporary problem, closing one's eyes and hoping it all goes away.

Hope I didn't go on for too long.
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transubstantiate(Bread b) {
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}

Zcorp
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Zcorp » Tue Sep 01, 2009 12:21 am UTC

guenther wrote:I think our sinful nature represents a bias towards self (and perhaps immediate familiy) and a bias towards short-term gain. And further our mind hides that bias, so it's very hard to compensate for. The shadow concept sounds similar, but I bet there's a better explanation in terms of neuroscience. I think these biases are fundamental to how our mind works. They provide a pressure to certain behaviors that are vital to our day-to-day life. But if we are guided by them too much, it will be a source of poor decision-making. This is our sinful nature, and when unwisely followed, they lead to sins.

Please understand me and Brains and Careers are one modern psychologists theory on human nature. Keirsey developed his ideas from various sources but two key catalysts in this thoughts are Carl Jung again and Isabel Myers. He talks about differences in temperament (biological predispositions of personality) and how the manifest themselves on individuals and the effect these individuals have on society.

I'm not sure why a bias towards self or close relationships is really harming society. While bias toward short-term gain can certainly be harmful, there are also many benefits that go along with the archetype predisposed to that immediate (Guardians, Artisans) rather then remote (Rationals, Idealists) actions.

We probably need both for society to stay productive and progressive. Your sinful nature leads to poor decision making thought, not 'sins'. Unless your definition if sin is simply poor decision making. That is however quite different from my understanding of christian sin.

What matters is their effect on behavior. I don't know how believing the earth is flat affects behavior, but I can't imagine it being useful.

But it is an old and wide spread philosophy. Because it was old and wide spread seems to have no correlation to yielding good results.
I agree that the behavior is important, the duration and societal proliferation seems irrelevant, especially when juxtaposed to a system that is newer and smaller but creates better behavior at a more consistent rate.

Additionally as things get older they often become irrelevant do to technological change. Like the idea of women not working and being subservient to the male. When the primary area of acquiring independence was hard physical labor it is of little surprise that men were generally more adept at performing that task. Now that the primary area of acquiring independence has changed due to technology women as part of the work force are just as adept as men. Yet the old and widespread tradition Christian and otherwise is that women are the inferior gender. I see little benefit in valuing something simply because it is old and wide spread.

The Bible has been translated and translated and translated. Likely loosing much meaning with misunderstandings. I fail to see how this creates more wisdom.

Also I feel it important to reiterate that there are various very positive messages given out by the Bible and Christianity. However, I've yet to find any of the positive messages unique to Christianity, while numerous negative ones are unique to Christianity. I also do not feel this is marginalizing a person's way of life. But refusing to accept the flaws in a system is irrational and bias. The hatred I've mentioned is strictly according to Christian teachings, according to the people that teach them, thus the whole flaw I'm pointing out in Christianity. Its ambiguity in meaning. Which leads to hatred and ignorance.

If you want to get more specific then Christianity, I imagine that would be a productive place for this tread to go. What aspect(s) of Christianity do you practice and find to be useful to society.

Distortion of perspective in psychology is social identity theory and in group bias.


Le1bn1z wrote:Rather, he argues, I think correctly, that religion is a necessary, eternal and strutural part of the human mind, encompassing moral, rational, emotional and heuristic imperatives.
Can you define religion for me? Science does all of those things. I generally think Religion is very productive to society, when using my definition of religion. The definition proposed in the OP is not similar to mine nor is it encompassing of Buddhism, Science, Taoism or others that fit the above criteria.

The discussion has progressively gotten narrower in scope. Is religion useful? Yes. Now why and how is it useful (we skipped over what is religion). Why and how do our current religions create problems despite being useful. How can those systems be improved. Or how can we build systems that incorporate the useful for not the problems (We are currently discussing these last two). It seems as though you're trying to make it broad again, which will just require us to shave through the semantics again. First we need to find like conceptual definitions of the lexicon in the discussion before we can speak so broadly.
Last edited by Zcorp on Tue Sep 01, 2009 12:50 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

General_Norris
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby General_Norris » Tue Sep 01, 2009 12:48 am UTC

General_Norris wrote:I think the mesage every religion sends is pretty much bad and we are better off without it. Whatever good parts they might have is irrelevant because we can do the same other ways without taining everything.

I think your definition of "bad" is based on ideology, and if you have a goal of having less hatred in the world, then I think that ideology will lead to poor results.


My definition of bad is based on morality because good or bad doesn't have any meaning beyond morality. Religion is bad because it leads to poor morality as it's statements can't be moral laws unless you create a Kantian religion and I don't feel that's the point of this thread.

Also all the religions I know have some very bad things like gay-hate or hatred to the body. Perhaps an ideal religion would be fine but no real world religion that I know of is.

However that doesn't mean I'm going to pick the hammer and kill them all. I respect people, I don't respect opinions at all. To think all opinions are respectable is the death of Truth itself. This means I attack all the arguments I don't find valid, but I still give a handshake to my opponent and tell him to have a good night.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Mindor » Tue Sep 01, 2009 7:57 am UTC

First off, I've enjoyed reading the thread, and I'm excited to finally get to the end so I can post without worry that my replies are no longer relevant. It's taken me nearly two weeks to get to this point.

You get the 'Best Newbie (Nearly) Ever" Award. -Az

@Guenther:
Throughout the thread you claim that Religion and in particular Christianity is a good, or perhaps the best tool available for instilling morality in people.
For the most part your definition of Religion seems to be a belief system that incorporates faith in at least some supernatural (or irrational) aspect.
The whole problem is that any rules imparted this way depend on the authority of the religious doctrine. If/when the doctrine is challenged and/or abandoned, any rules that depended on it fall into jeopardy.
While I'll grant that in populations in which the expectation and desire for education(and intelligence in general) is low this may well be the best tool because these people 1. May lack the reasoning skills to develop a complete and robust understanding of moralality, and 2. The expectation for them to question the authority of the moral code imparted by the religion are low, so they will continue to follow it.
In populations where there are higher levels of education and desire for education, imparting the desired moral code through more philosophical approaches will yield greater long term benefits and will not carry with it the intellectual baggage that faith requires.
i.e. Challenge children with theoretical moral dilemmas and discuss what the possible courses of action along with the consequences of those actions. As the children grow in their reasoning abilities, pose more complicated and advanced concepts.
A member of society that gained his moral center through this process, as opposed to being told what his moral responsibilities were, would be much more capable of fulfilling his moral obligations and applying his moral code in new environments and situations because he understands it, not just knows what it is.
He is also at a lower risk of losing his moral center. Do a google search "loss of faith = loss of morals". (I'm not supposed to specifics cases at this time: I believe it is against the rules here for me use external links having fewer than 10 posts) You can find many articles showing the connection between people losing faith leading to a loss of the moral code connected to that faith.

Would you use a hammer to build your home, knowing that if it was ever discarded, any of the nails placed with it would vanish as well?
Any tool, that upon its destruction, has the potential to take with it the work it has done is not a safe tool to use.
This is where the real danger of any faith based religion lies.
Suppose your house was built with such a hammer. To protect the house, you are forced to protect the hammer. Anything that comes along that threatens the hammer must be rejected.

Anyone that ascribes to a faith based religion, will inevitably find the claims of that faith challenged at some point. If their 'house' is built upon that faith, they must either reject the challenge, or risk losing their 'house'. If the challenge cannot be rejected in an intellectually honest and rational way, they then either must reject the faith, or reject rational thought and intellectual honesty. The result of either path is bad. Rejecting the faith could lead to a destabilization of any aspects of their person that relied of that faith, without their foundation these must also be called into question, or thrown out completely. Rejecting rational thought leads down other roads undesired in a society that values seeking of knowledge.

Regarding the Golden Rule: You've said that it is not enough. I challenge you to present to me one moral tenant that cannot be expressed using the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you).

I had intended responses to others as well, but It's 3AM now, and I can already see the writing I've done thus far has suffered for the lateness, so further comments will have to wait until later.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby General_Norris » Tue Sep 01, 2009 2:30 pm UTC

Mindor wrote:Regarding the Golden Rule: You've said that it is not enough. I challenge you to present to me one moral tenant that cannot be expressed using the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you).


Kant's example. A prisoner duly convicted of a crime could appeal to the golden rule while asking the judge to release him, pointing out that the judge would not want anyone else to send him to prison, so he should not do so to others. Yes, taken from Wikipedia.

The problem Kant poitns out wit the Golden Rule is that it defines what we must want and thus is not capable of covering each possible situation. In other words, what we would want is not what we should want. However the categorical imperative is very similar to the Golden Rule and solves this problem. Besides it is directly formed from how morality should be and can be easily demostrated.

Otherwise agreed with you.

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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Mindor » Wed Sep 02, 2009 5:06 pm UTC

General_Norris wrote:
Mindor wrote:Regarding the Golden Rule: You've said that it is not enough. I challenge you to present to me one moral tenant that cannot be expressed using the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you).


Kant's example. A prisoner duly convicted of a crime could appeal to the golden rule while asking the judge to release him, pointing out that the judge would not want anyone else to send him to prison, so he should not do so to others. Yes, taken from Wikipedia.

Ahh, but the judge's action effects more than just the prisoner. What he decides to do he also does to every member of the society he is a part of. As a member of that society, the judge would also not want anyone else to release criminal into his midst before justice was served, so he should not do so to others. In this case, it seems sending the guy to do his time is more 'golden'.

General_Norris wrote:The problem Kant poitns out wit the Golden Rule is that it defines what we must want and thus is not capable of covering each possible situation. In other words, what we would want is not what we should want. However the categorical imperative is very similar to the Golden Rule and solves this problem. Besides it is directly formed from how morality should be and can be easily demostrated.

Otherwise agreed with you.

I must admit, before your response, I had not looked much at Kant (and still haven't really). Wikipedia's description of categorical imperative seems to match very closely with how I imagine applying the Golden Rule, though it is much more carefully defined. I had not made the distinction between would want and should want, but assumed in a sufficiently educated, and psychologically sound population, the two would be convergent. Kant's careful definition does seem to remove any wiggle room present in the looser form of the Golden Rule. Even so, without being sufficiently educated (as to the situation at hand), and wholly sane, applying it would run into the same problem.
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby guenther » Wed Sep 02, 2009 11:07 pm UTC

@Le1bn1z: Hey there, glad you could participate. Out of the 200+ posts so far, I think yours is the closest anyone has come to sharing my perspective. :) But I'm not sure how much I want the government supervising religious stuff. Rather than "bending" religion for good, I think we should encourage good behavior.

@Zcorp: I like your list of book references. I'm jotting them down for one day when I have time to read them. Thanks!

Let me make two quick comments on sin:
1. I do think sin is about poor decision making. Ultimately I think behavior is what matters, and the quality of the decision making seems to me like a good way to rate behavior. However, not all poor decision making is sin, since I believe morality is only one slice of the decision-making pie. Christians see this through a different lense, but they see lots of stuff through different lenses. But ultimately if we could set up an objective way to study this stuff, I think this is how we'd do it.

2. Speed limits are a good analogy for our sinful pressure toward self (i.e. bad decision making). If the speed limit was raised, we'd all likely go faster. And this would continue until we felt some bad consequence for our actions, i.e. more accidents. Our internal pressure to go ever faster on the roads is based on our self-interest to get to where we want to go sooner. And if we could each decide for ourselves what speed to go (i.e. no enforced limit), I don't think we'd have a more optimal solution. I think an external rule provides balance by apply the opposite pressure. (Imagine roads by elementary schools if you think we shouldn't have speed limits on the highways.)

Zcorp wrote:I see little benefit in valuing something simply because it is old and wide spread.

I agree. I don't think it's anywhere near that simple. I started my comparison of Christianity to other philosophies by saying that I didn't know a good way to compare them. I do think there's information in the age and proliferation. Namely it's that we have really no other way to evaluate a moral system other than observing it in the wild, so to speak. This line of thinking is what initially made me think of the comparisons between morality and DNA. Something newly created is much less likely to be as effective as something that has demonstrated a high degree of fitness. But just because some old bacteria covered the earth for millions of years doesn't mean it's better than us. It's a much more sophisticated problem. And I think it's the same framework that we would use to evaluate morality if we could since it came about through a natural selection process. (Besides old and widespread, not extinct is probably another important quality.)

And by the way, I do consider Buddhism a religion. (I don't know much about Taoism). I left my definition of religion vague because I don't know how to define it. I did provide some suggestions of what a religion should do, like provide guidelines for behavior. And my claim of utility includes the notion of beliefs that are not grounded in observations of the natural world.

Zcorp wrote:The hatred I've mentioned is strictly according to Christian teachings, according to the people that teach them, thus the whole flaw I'm pointing out in Christianity. Its ambiguity in meaning. Which leads to hatred and ignorance.

The Bible does have ambiguity, but it's call for us to love not hate is far from ambiguous. And I'd say that the fact that some Christians preach hate is a result of our human nature. I agree that ambiguity creates problems. But in a system where we get to define our own morality, this problem seems even worse.

My favorite quality of Christianity is to love one another, even when you directly oppose them in conflict. And my church is doing a sermon series now on the Fruits of the Spirit, which I like a lot.

@General_Norris:
You and I have a very different take on morality, but I like your handshake perspective. This is something I could do more of.

@Mindor: I'm very impressed you read the whole thing. I don't think I could do that. :)

Let me ask you a few questions. Do you have a complete and robust understanding of morality? If so, can you share it? And how do you know others won't question the moral authority of what you describe?

Mindor wrote:A member of society that gained his moral center through this process, as opposed to being told what his moral responsibilities were, would be much more capable of fulfilling his moral obligations and applying his moral code in new environments and situations because he understands it, not just knows what it is.

How do you know this is true? Is it simply your best guess?

I agree with you on the hammer analogy. I think it can be damaging to lose faith. But I don't think this faith is as fragile as you indicate. Religion has been losing ground to science for hundreds of years now . But how much has that hurt people's ability to maintain their faith? I'd say not much since the vast majority of the world is still religious. My best guess is that our lives are full of faith, or more generally belief without evidence. (I see faith as an explicit belief without evidence, but we could also mistakenly think we have enough evidence when we don't.) The whole notion that goodness matters in some fundamental way can't be substantiated by science any more than the notion of God. I think the hook that religion uses to grab hold of so many people is a part of us as fundamental as our emotions.

Also, your school-like discovery method for learning morals can work within the framework of religion. I think what's important is that we own the responsibility to act according to a certain moral code, and that we know how to effectively apply it to our lives. Our ability to align our behavior with a moral code is separate from whether the moral code comes from old religious texts or an enlightened scholar. (The quality of the wisdom does depend more on the source of the text, but that's a separate issue.)

Mindor wrote:Regarding the Golden Rule: You've said that it is not enough. I challenge you to present to me one moral tenant that cannot be expressed using the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you).

The Golden Rule only equates what behavior I expect to receive with how I behave to others. It doesn't specify how we should behave to each other. Mathematically it says A==B without actually saying what A or B should be.

So one could write "Love your neighbor as yourself" using the Golden Rule. But then someone else could say that they expect no such love from neighbors, rather they simply want to be left alone. Therefore their moral responsibility is merely to leave others alone. So A==B is not enough, we need some indication of what A and B are.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Zcorp
Posts: 1255
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Re: Utility of Religion

Postby Zcorp » Thu Sep 03, 2009 4:42 am UTC

guenther wrote:Speed limits are a good analogy for our sinful pressure toward self (i.e. bad decision making). If the speed limit was raised, we'd all likely go faster....(Imagine roads by elementary schools if you think we shouldn't have speed limits on the highways.)
Bad choice of analogy. Speeding laws just the like Bible often fail at creating conditions that reflect their original intent. In fact speed limits in America cause a swing in opposite direction of their intent. More deaths, more road rage and worse drivers. It is these poorly created rules that get incorrect or even inverse results.
Here are a few links about the effects of speed limit laws. There are many more all over the internet, many of these studies were federally funded and date back 15+ years.

It is this same fallacious and non-fact based reasoning, the same reasoning that often perpetuated by Christian sects, that creates problems in society.
Something newly created is much less likely to be as effective as something that has demonstrated a high degree of fitness.
no, it really is as likely. The likeliness of something being effective is not at all dependent upon the data that we have on it. New ideas and implementation of those ideas can be highly effective without time and proliferation. It is how progression works. If new ideas effectiveness were dependent upon the amount of time they had been used, then we would never implement new ideas.

I've been trying to articulate the problem with your logic for 3 posts now. I'm trying to figure out another way to say it.
And my claim of utility includes the notion of beliefs that are not grounded in observations of the natural world.
Now you need to define natural and supernatural, there is undoubtably things I consider natural that you consider supernatural. We can take the same path with Buddhism that we are taking with Christianity, although the suttra's are clearer in message they are much less clear in application.
The Bible does have ambiguity, but it's call for us to love not hate is far from ambiguous.
Generally I agree, the problem is the difference in what loving behavior means. Additionally it is not the overt hatred that is the scariest. It is the covert hatred, prejudice.
The people displayed in the aforementioned documentaries certainly believe they are being loving, but their effects on society are not positive.

Mindor wrote:A member of society that gained his moral center through this process, as opposed to being told what his moral responsibilities were, would be much more capable of fulfilling his moral obligations and applying his moral code in new environments and situations because he understands it, not just knows what it is.

How do you know this is true? Is it simply your best guess?

Educational Psychology tell us it is true. Students reach Bloom's level of understanding much easier if they have intrinsic motivation which is more often found in learning systems that utilize an internal control vs external control (going back to a topic previously mentioned).

Sorry for the quite sniping.

MoghLiechty2
Posts: 629
Joined: Sat Jan 24, 2009 8:55 pm UTC

Re: Utility of Religion

Postby MoghLiechty2 » Thu Sep 03, 2009 5:06 am UTC

Zcorp wrote: Bad choice of analogy. Speeding laws just the like Bible often fail at creating conditions that reflect their original intent. In fact speed limits in America cause a swing in opposite direction of their intent. More deaths, more road rage and worse drivers. It is these poorly created rules that get incorrect or even inverse results.
Here are a few links about the effects of speed limit laws. There are many more all over the internet, many of these studies were federally funded and date back 15+ years.

It is this same fallacious and non-fact based reasoning, the same reasoning that often perpetuated by Christian sects, that creates problems in society.

You are correct that it is a bad analogy for the positive usage of Biblical interpretation, but for a different reason than you suggest.

Speed limits being set at speeds that reflect the actual speeds drivers drive is beneficial because it is easy, accessible, and self-beneficial for drivers to pick a speed for themselves that is likely to create safer road conditions as a whole. The payoff for making yourself twice as unsafe (by, say, driving 10 mph faster than everyone else) is less than than the detriment of arriving at your destination 15% later. It's a simple mathematical system that can easily be solved for an average outcome.

The question, then, of whether its an appropriate analogy for morality is a simple survey of the factors in the system. With morality, it is substantially difficult (as guenther has, I believe, argued) to choose correct moral behavior evidentially. There are also far more barriers (less accessible) to finding a moral system that is self-beneficial, such as generation-perpetuated self-destructiveness and one's memory being marred by correct moral systems portraying themselves inappropriately on a corporate level. And to a much lesser extent than speed limits, what is beneficial for the individual is only marginally beneficial for the system.

I'm not sure that the Bible fails as often as you suggest at creating conditions that reflect its intent. A survey of the various Christian groups and their positive or negative interpretations of Biblical teachings, and a weighted quantization based on population would be the only way to learn it's overal impact on society. But I doubt such a survey is possible or has been done.


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