Tuesday, August 04, 2015

A Speculation

John Quiggin at Crooked Timber discusses the increasing number of people who do not have a religious belief.  Eli speculates:

In the last 50 years, the ability of humans (well at least some humans) to explain and manipulate our planet and particularly the biosphere which supports us has grown to the point where as a practical matter religion is irrelevant or confounding to that understanding. In the last 20 years the availability of that information has grown to the point where that knowledge is available to most. What remains for religion is ethics, but even ethics does not require religion although for many it is useful.


Mike Craig said...

It appears to me that "environmentalism" is showing the characteristics of a religion or at least an ideology. Perhaps this is a replacement?

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

The big problem is that people (some commenters here and elsewhere come to mind) who hold their religious beliefs tightly feel that they are somehow exempt from criticism for their nutty beliefs.

When I criticize religion and people who hold their religion a little too tightly, or feel that they speak for others besides themselves, my intent is to both shock them and insult them. And I am not apologetic.

Environmentalism and remediation is going to be relatively easy in the post modern world of routine reusable space flight and quantum physics. The real hurdles are going to be religion and culture.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

Religion is not some kind of early science that failed. As long as you think that, you will have the same false conclusions about the uselessness of religion.

Science is all about explaining how nature works. The religious question is whether something OTHER THAN, BESIDES, IN ADDITION TO nature exists. So scientific progress is completely irrelevant to that question.

Anyone with half a brain can see that humanity is dangerously screwed up for some reason. You can cite "progress" all you want, but it's difficult to understand how "progress" has put us in danger of destroying the ecosystem we depend on to keep eating. Not to mention the persistence of rape, murder, child molesting, slavery, and torture. And you can't say it's due to some folks (the bad guys) not getting enough education. Dr. Mengele had a perfectly good education. God knows Werner von Heisenberg had a good one, but it didn't stop him trying to make an A-bomb for Hitler.

Nor is it a matter of the good guys versus the bad guys. To one extent or another, we're all bad guys. The big change from 2,000 years ago is that many more people back then, as a fraction of the population, knew they had offended the gods and wanted release from their guilt. But we live in the age of "I'm okay, you're okay," "Believe in yourself," and even "Obey your thirst." To moderns, anything that goes wrong is always someone else's fault--never precious US.

The minority who have a conscience will always realize that they need something outside themselves to achieve an acceptable level of being. The Christian answer (the one I found) is that you get rid of your sins by repenting (turning away from them) and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord of your life--which doesn't mean accepting a bunch of theological propositions, or going to church on Christmas and Easter. It means letting someone better than you take over the helm of your life, because you've been making a hash of it.

I'm sure many here think they're quite okay just as they are. They're right that Christianity (or anything else) has nothing to say to them. It's for people who know they need help.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

I get rid of my sins by analyzing them and then attempting to modify my behavior in a (what I consider) positive manner. As far as that which is not yet known, science works fine for that too, it just requires more work and energy. Religion relieves you of that responsibility, if in fact you consider that a responsibility, as I do.

I happen to think that nature is everything that I see and don't see, and everything that I know (or think I know) and don't know, so I don't hold any woo woo crackpot ideas with any particular reverence or disdain, especially religion, culture, race, sex and mentality. I just comment, and criticize, since that is a necessity.

As far as humanity being screwed up, I know damn well what the reasons for that are. We evolved on a predator planet where we had to kill and eat prey to grow 'half a brain'. Technology just makes that easier. Cognitive intelligence, curiosity and a respect for energy, entropy and necessity can easily get us out of this dilemma.

Religion and culture can't. They are the entirely obsolete problems.

Russell Seitz said...

Impious rabbit !

Over a thousand Gods , many with PhD's, have signed the Organon Petition.

Behold their mighty wrath approaches !

Tom Curtis said...

Barton Paul Levenson:

1) There is no proof, or even convincing evidence of the existence of any god;

2) Even if we allow for the sake of argument that your god exists, there is no reason to think he can guide the life of believers any better than he guided his church over the last 2000 years;

3) Defining "god" as a being worthy of worship, then logically the judgement of worth precedes the judgement than any putative being is in fact a god. If your god is worthy of worship because of their supreme ethical nature, then you must first understand and accept ethical constraints to truly acknowledge them as god, and ergo do not need him/her/it to understand and accept ethical constraints. If your god is worthy of worship for reasons other than their supreme ethical nature, they are IMO no god but a demon - representing a positing of supreme power as the ultimate ethical good.

In light of (3) we would be better teaching people a rational basis of ethics than out of date religious beliefs that have, over history, signally failed to constrain the ethical behavior of believers in any event (a fact concealed by believers by the cherry picking of a few outstanding exceptions, while ignoring the many 'saints' from other, or no religious background).

EliRabett said...

Barton our understanding of the world around us has grown exponentially in the last half century. Many things that required faith for acceptance no longer do so. Agreed that ethics for many does require faith.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

Eli, once again, religion was never supposed to substitute for science. Augustine wrote "De Genesis ad Litteram" in the 4th century. Here's a quote: "Often a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other parts of the world, about the motions and orbits of the stars and even their sizes and distances, ... and this knowledge he holds with certainty from reason and experience. It is thus offensive and disgraceful for an unbeliever to hear a Christian talk nonsense about such things, claiming that what he is saying is based in Scripture. We should do what we can to avoid such an embarrassing situation, lest the unbeliever see only ignorance in the Christian and laugh to scorn."

St. Jerome said the creation narrative was written "after the manner of a popular poet." Creationism as we have it now is a travesty that would have been laughed at in the middle ages (though possibly not in the Renaissance). Or as Galileo said, the Bible is a book about how to go to Heaven, not how the heavens go.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

"De Genesi," that should have read. My bad.

izenmeme said...

Religion is a social meme that enables large numbers of people to live together in an efficient collaborative community beyond the size that can be sustained by tribal affiliation.

It is unlikely that function will become obsolete.

Kevin O'Neill said...

BPL writes:
"Religion is not some kind of early science that failed." &
"Eli, once again, religion was never supposed to substitute for science."

Thor, Adad, Zeus, Indra, Tlaloc ... and dozens more are each religious explanations for weather and/or other natural phenomena.

"Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months."

Religion has consistently offered supernatural explanations for natural events. As science advanced, fewer and fewer supernatural explanations were needed. I would agree that religion was not supposed to substitute for science (in many cases the concept was probably alien), but science - by offering physical explanations rather than supernatural ones - has in many areas supplanted religious belief. Not always without conflict.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

Religion in recent times has allowed large quantities of human beings to be procreated far beyond what is sustainable by a natural biosphere.

Religion been obsolete for 100 years now. But for some delusional reason you think we are absolved from our sins because of religion.

John said...

When sociologists conduct a telephone survey, they find that people report going to church recently.
However, when sociologists actually visit the churches, they find a long-term (decades) decline in church attendance.

The data have a problem, probably because the telephone surveys are self-reported data. People know that they should go to church, and respond according to a phone survey.

One additional wrinkle is that much of recent immigration to the US is from Catholic countries, and the religious new immigrants boost the Catholic numbers. Among older Catholic immigrants, or among Protestants, it's a long-term decline.

One personal data point: the Methodist church that I attended as a child has seen a decline from 2500 families to 500 families over a 40 year period. 80% decline over 40 years.
Church attendance for my generation (7 of us) is approximately zero, although there seems to be no single cause.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

"Nine out of ten doctors surveyed said, 'Who is this? Why are you calling so late'?"
--Dr. Leo Specimen

Brian said...

Religious fervor ebbs and flows, so some change is only cyclical (e.g., 19th Cent. Americans more fervent than 18th Cent. Americans, and modern Arab world more fervent than a century ago). Not all the change is cyclical though, especially the atheism.

I have one poorly-developed theory that ideologies get tired, so they either renew or are displaced. Modern religions have gone through a lot of changes in 2500 years, but maybe there's a limit?

My variant on Eli's view is that science and technology can answer more of our emotionally-distressing questions about life than in the 19th Century. When relatives get sick or mentally ill, many people still pray but after five generations of depending on doctors even more than religions, you could see a change.

Mike Craig - read David Brin's science fiction, he makes a similar argument. I'm doubtful but I like his stuff anyway.

Fernando Leanme said...

I don't agree with this post at all. Religion served a very useful function in the past, because it provided the ruling elite and the supreme leader with legitimacy (in addition to the legitimacy conferred by being very large and having the athetoid ability and cunning to cut opponents' heads and arms). As tribal groups merged into nation states it served to glue them together and deliver/support the legal framework needed to strengthen the emerging nation. Thus the group's/tribes/nations which had a stronger religion usually won.

Today we see less need for religion in democratic nations. The legitimacy and social glue are provided by democracy, which gives the ruling elite the stamp of approval they need to push people around as needed.

In the last few years I saw an interesting reversal of this tendency, the Maduro regime is weak, lacks legitimacy in many Venezuelans' eyes, and Maduro's handlers must have felt a need to reinforce loyalty amongst their remaining followers. This led them to create a state cult to the dead Chavez. They call him "Eternal Commander", built a very shintzy tomb high on a mountain overlooking Caracas, and Maduro even mentioned Chavez came to talk to him in the shape of a white bird. The religious cult seems to have failed, mostly because Maduro is seen as an incompetent human rights abuser, and people are sick of his shenanigans.

marktime said...

Well for probably the first time Fernando has offered something useful. Shamanism, as reflected in the cave art of the Upper Paleolithic has been suggested as a partner of hierarchical dominance which begins with brute force, a trait that is still usefule today, although cloaked as state authorised violence against protesters in front of the cathedral.

Howard said...

My theory on origins of male god as warrior style of religion that supplanted goddess worship was that it was started by huckster friends of scientists who could make astronomical predictions. The hucksters could then show they channeled divine power. The decline of western interest in Christianity started with Henry VIII which was the cultural change that eventually led to the Scottish enlightenment, the invention of photography which spurred abstract art which stimulated relativistic thinking and cubism which begat quantum mechanics. The unprecedented mass murder of the first half of the 20th century probably had more influence on the decline of monotheism over the last 50-years than the popular confusion from the simultaneous burgeoning of the environmentalist movement and scientific illiteracy.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

H: My theory on origins of male god as warrior style of religion that supplanted goddess worship...

BPL: Is irrelevant since it explains something which never happened. There was never a universal European pre-Christian goddess worship. That stuff was invented in the 1950s by folks like Gerald Gardner and Robert Graves.

H: The unprecedented mass murder of the first half of the 20th century probably had more influence on the decline of monotheism over the last 50-years than the popular confusion from the simultaneous burgeoning of the environmentalist movement and scientific illiteracy.

BPL: Why would it, since the people behind the mass murders were the atheists Stalin and Mao and the vague theist Hitler?

Blogger profile said...

BPL: you mean the trained priest Stalin and the avowed and devout Lutheran Christian Hitler? Or the "God is With Us" on the SS uniform. Or the frequent thanking of god for yet another victory (but never blamed for a failure)? Or the christian ideology of Germany at the time? etc, etc, etc.

Hey, what about that 80 years war. Totally not religion. Aberingian heresies and the severe ethnic cleansing in the south of France?

Because religion is made up, it can be used to justify everything. And it has been. EVEN IF it were done entirely and knowingly by a few people for material or non-religious reasons, the religion is STILL the "reason" for the death and destruction, because the very few were not doing the actual killing, they were getting others to do that.

The 80 year war would have lasted a few weeks if only the kings and popes were to do the fighting.

And, because religion IS made up, the "fiction" of a "fake" religion is just as valid a religion as your "true" one.

Peter Sutcliffe's murder spree being at the personal behest of Jesus Christ IS JUST AS VALIDLY PROVEN as any other person's religious experience.

As to proto-religions, they all seem to have been about mysteries. And the biggest one was childbirth, and that was Holy and reserved only for the women. And most religions grew from that. The men were the meat against meat, the women were the wards for the mystical world.

Monotheism will want to put a gender (on an asexual being???) and men will want to make it men. And there's no spare entities to have gender (but Spanish Christianity elevate Mother Mary to a coeval of Jesus Christ, not the only example)

Polytheism will want to put a gender (on sexual beings this time!) and the men will want the boss to be male, but there's room for genders.

Blogger profile said...

"The religious question is whether something OTHER THAN, BESIDES, IN ADDITION TO nature exists. So scientific progress is completely irrelevant to that question."

NOMA doesn't work.

If it doesn't affect this world, then science and religion are orthogonal, but this is a deist religion, not a theist one. And every theist has an immanent god, one tht takes action, where the faith makes some claim on reality. And as soon as that happens (even if it's a tale of a burning bush) CAN be argued scientifically and ruled out scientifically.

As to this "something other", I prefer the response given to the god hypothesis: There is no need for it.

And if it truly is NOMA, then there is no need for it by definition: there's nothing we can find that depends on it, else it isn't NOMA any more.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

BP: you mean the trained priest Stalin and the avowed and devout Lutheran Christian Hitler?

BPL: No, I mean the seminary drop-out-turned-atheist Stalin, and the vague theist Hitler who was never seen in a church as an adult. Where you got that Hitler was "Lutheran" escapes me, as Hitler's family was Roman Catholic and he himself believed only in an ill-defined "Divine Providence." Please read and learn:


Blogger profile said...

"BPL: No, I mean the seminary drop-out-turned-atheist Stalin,"

So, yes, you mean the seminary priest Stalin.

Blogger profile said...

BPL:and he himself believed only in an ill-defined "Divine Providence."

Just like every other Christian.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

BPL: he himself believed only in an ill-defined "Divine Providence."

BP: Just like every other Christian.

BPL: Okay, you seem to be going out of your way to be a jerk to anyone who disagrees with you on any issue in these threads. You want to insult my beliefs, fine, but I don't have to listen to it. You're on filter. Goodbye.

Blogger profile said...

BPL: Okay, you seem to be going out of your way to be a jerk

BP: Yes, the only reason why you're wrong is because I'm going out of my way to be a jerk. It's not like EVERY SINGLE POST YOU MADE failed to provide anything other than "an ill-defined Divine Providence."

Hell, you even used the words "something OTHER THAN, BESIDES, IN ADDITION TO nature exists". Where's that NOT "ill defined"?

Obviously you did that because I'm going out of my way to be a jerk and my mystic jerkness made you post ill defined twaddle and then claim Hitler wasn't a christian like you because he talked of ill defined twaddle.

It can't be YOUR fault, after all. I mean, you're the CHRISTIAN, right? Never your fault. God wouldn't let that happen... /sarc