Robert C. Priddy

Writings on diverse themes from philosophy, psychology to literature and criticism

  • Robert Priddy


    In this blog I post information and critical views concerning ideologies, belief systems and related scientific materials etc. I am a retired philosophy lecturer and researcher, born 1936.

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 15 other followers

  • Feedshark

Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

Stephen Hawking: “philosophy is dead!”

Posted by robertpriddy on May 26, 2011

Stephen Hawking: “… almost all of us must sometimes wonder: Why are we here? Where do we come from? Traditionally, these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead”
Now, there are other interpretations of why we are here and where we, as individuals, came from than the astrophysical ones. Hawking really ought to know enough about philosophy to realize that it is highly misleading to make sweeping generalizations (i.e. imprecise and therefore are open to differing interpretations). Such as the old slogan statement “Philosophy is dead”.

Of course, on his kind of interpretation he is wholly correct. Philosophy is neither capable nor actually trying to add anything to the fundamental questions of the natural of the physical universe. The origins of philosophy as the first natural science are long since superseded. But philosophy embraces much else than physics (which it still embraces as the most valuable source of information about the composition and origin of nature). Physics is itself limited in important ways – it can add nothing to the philosophy of law, to medical ethics, to the interpretation of meaning and the comparative analysis of language, to pragmatics and semantics, even to logic. We even have eco-philosophy and meta-philosophy of the cultural, psychological and social sciences. Still, there is real substance in Hawking’s claim that ““Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” and that new theories “lead us to a new and very different picture of the universe and our place in it”. He also wisely notes, of course, what all know – that physics’ most complete ‘M theory’ is not yet fully or satisfactorily verified by a long chalk.

Another sense of ‘philosophy is dead’ might be that it is no longer practiced – properly and within its legitimate scope.  (However, we may wonder whether some of those professional academician philosophers are alive in a wider connotation of the word). It would be easier to defend the generalization “Theology is dead” and Hawking would surely agree with that, even though there are as many theologies as Gods or religions.  Despite all the faith of theologians in God as a being which is more alive than ever, they deal only with the dead matter of scripture – the past warmed over and projected into the future. His latest book ‘The Grand Design’ claims that no divine force was needed to explain why the Universe was formed. “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist.”

Thereby Hawking has rejected his former musing about a possible mindful God. He denies the existence of such a being – other than figuratively as equivalent to ‘the law of science’ – including any ‘personal god’ is. In this he is an outright atheist, and it should be pointed out that this amounts to a conviction, a belief… and, if he were a philosopher, he would reserve absolute judgement (until all the facts about everything may finally be in). This would give no substantial succour whatever to religionists, but only to the principle of scientific inquiry and scepticism. On safer ground, one is inclined to say, Hawking ridicules the idea of heaven as a “fairy story for people afraid of the dark”. He might have added that hell a myth for those afraid of fire (or a place suggested by the inside of volcanoes)!

He has a liberating view – parallel to his liberating life: “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail.” No need to fear beliefs that no one can every test, like the existence of an afterlife, rebirth, the continuance of one’s accumulated karma (good and bad). Instead, with here and now sanity he says: “We should seek the greatest value of our action.”

Posted in Atheism, Ethics, Philosophy, Psychology, Science, Theology | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Spiritual ’doublethink’ – the basis of religious denial of reality

Posted by robertpriddy on February 6, 2011

When there arises a conflict between facts we perceive and ideas we hold, “doublethink” often comes into play. Spiritual teachings often require a lot of such double-thinking, for they deal with an alleged transcendental reality which cannot be perceived and which apparently contradict what ‘mere’ worldly conditions imply.

First see what Orwell said ‘doublethink’ is (from the novel 1984):

The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them….To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary.

This is expressed in religion by the well-known schism between the ‘profane’ and the ‘sacred’ (as analysed by Mircea Eliade). Piety and all thoughts of transcendent divinity are seen as sacred (or holy, blessed and divine). All worldly concerns belong to the profane. The two terms suggest that all that is not holy is a kind of ‘profanity’. So the awkward task of the priests to interpret profane events in terms of the divine… awkward because most non-religious happenings and facts are really impossible to account for in terms of divinity or holiness. What we regard as bad, wrong, tragic, insufferable and so on has to be accounted for by religionists. God cannot be held responsible for such ‘evil’ and unsacred matters… so one has recourse to blaming human sinfulness, or even demons, Satan and the like, or perhaps rationalizations as to why such things are unavoidable in a ‘best of all possible worlds’. The dilemmas involved can be solved only by rejecting and distinction between holy and unholy, sacred and profane. The dualism leads to doublethink… ‘one the one had and on the other’, where the two hands can never meet.

Orwell had more to say about doublethink:-

“To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it… and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed.”

Such a dualism exists in the Christian concept of Christ. Though there are various doctrines on how a man could be a ‘son of god’ or God himself or a dual being and so forth, none can resolve the issue satisfactorily (i.e. rationally). Therefore, the matter is declared a ‘sacred mystery’ and rational approaches to it are put down as below the level of an all-knowing Being. The mystery of God and religions has to be maintained through embracing irrationality… because two fundamentally opposed conceptions of reality – the divine and the human, the sacred and the profane preclude any understandable account (on the basis of belief and acceptance of the otherworldly realm and supposed entities there).

To be continued…

Posted in Atheism, Belief, Catholicism, Ideology, Philosophy, Religion, religious faith, Theology, Understanding | Leave a Comment »

“God is Imaginary” – see linked proofs

Posted by robertpriddy on January 29, 2011

SCAN OF WEBSITE WHICH DESERVES WIDEST POSSIBLE DISTRIBUTION

  • MAIN SITE – CLICK HERE OR ON IMAGE ABOVE – FOR EACH OF THE PROOFS CLICK HERE BELOW

  • Proof #1
  • Proof #2
  • Proof #3
  • Proof #4
  • Proof #5
  • Proof #6
  • Proof #7
  • Proof #8
  • Proof #9
  • Proof #10
  • Proof #11
  • Proof #12
  • Proof #13
  • Proof #14
  • Proof #15
  • Proof #16
  • Proof #17
  • Proof #18
  • Proof #19
  • Proof #20
  • Proof #21
  • Proof #22
  • Proof #23
  • Proof #24
  • Proof #25
  • Proof #26
  • Proof #27
  • Proof #28
  • Proof #29
  • Proof #30
  • Proof #31
  • Proof #32
  • Proof #33
  • Proof #34
  • Proof #35
  • Proof #36
  • Proof #37
  • Proof #38
  • Proof #39
  • Proof #40
  • Proof #41
  • Proof #42
  • Proof #43
  • Proof #44
  • Proof #45
  • Proof #46
  • Proof #47
  • Proof #48
  • Proof #49
  • Proof #50
  • Bonus #1
  • Bonus #2
  • Bonus
  • Posted in Atheism, Belief, Free will, Philosophy, Religion, religious faith, Theology, Understanding | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

    Critical Research into the New Testament and Jesus’ identity

    Posted by robertpriddy on January 23, 2011

    The two following scans I found on Flikr.com The content is quite authoritative and interesting:-

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/whiteyk/5381124695/


    Posted in Catholicism, Disinformation, Historical research, Ideology, Religion, religious faith, Research, Theology | Leave a Comment »

    ‘Everything is relative’ – the bane of religions

    Posted by robertpriddy on January 1, 2011

    Relativity theory gave impetus to the common saying ‘everything is relative’. This slogan does capture one central insight behind relativity theory, which rejects the belief that there is an absolute truth applying for all times and places on any question. Almost paradoxically, what is regarded as a most objective theory also led to an increased appreciation of the role of subjectivity both in nature and consequently in all human affairs, especially in the human sciences and philosophy. It is the relation of the observer to whatever is observed that decides the character of the observation, which is reflected in much C20th philosophy.

    The theory of relativity is still the best-supported, ‘universal’ theory, having stood up the most exacting experimental tests for a century. Einstein predicted otherwise unimaginable states of affairs, such as the slowing of time at great velocity (now experimentally proven) and the extraordinary Bohr-Einstein condensate (neither a solid, a liquid or a gas) – which would form near to absolute zero, which was only seen 70 years later after decades of work by many major laboratories.

    The key insight is that absolutely no observation is possible independently of the observing consciousness or mind. The human brain or mind always interprets what it perceives according to what it has already learned. Observation is always influenced by individual memory, subconscious inclination or habit, and the person’s aims or direction of interest. This ‘subjective ingredient’ of every perception can be neutralized (if not always entirely subtracted or eliminated) by various means:-

    1) reductive analysis of the individual’s pre-perceptual propensities and mental habits together with the conceptual mindset involved

    2) by comparison with the aggregate of perceptions by large numbers of other observers of the same data from differing backgrounds and circumstances… which reaches its ultimate expression in scientific knowledge.

    Set religious belief vs. scientific comparison: Not only do most religions and their sub-sects and many political ideologies maintain their established beliefs and practices, but they tend mostly to resist the very idea of change, because of the challenge it poses to the absolutes or eternal verities they would rely upon and promulgate. Relativism in thought is a serious threat to ideologies (which means non-scientific systems of ideas) because it leads to comparison of differing systems of belief, spirituality, ideology, where a conflict of alleged ‘truths’ is inevitable between the main religions. Comparative religion and the the critique of ideology are rightly perceived as threats by all religious institutions and vested political systems respectively.

    A majority of the earth’s population is driven by the need for security of life and livelihood in the face of a threatening natural environment, in relating to death and all other matters which have overwhelmingly been far beyond human understanding for countless ages. Throughout the world, billions of religious believers are still labouring in dead-ends in the search for true knowledge - unwittingly bending under the scourge of obscurantist institutions and their unprovable and false doctrines. The human brain’s proven tendency to recognise human features and figures in many perceptual contexts also contributes to the anthropomorphic belief in deities as having human figures and other human qualities, such as intelligence and creativity… multiplied in imagination to perfection.

    The agonizingly slow growth of human knowledge – countless failed ideas, theories, endless blind alleys of opinion, and mutual ignorance and gross misunderstanding between human societies and cultures has led to tried and tested science and its amazing fruits – medicine, labour-saving and productive technology and confidence in human enterprise and learning. Yet though these achievements benefit a majority of mankind, the slowness of the outward spread of the knowledge which sustains them is truly agonizing, faced as it is by all manner of ignorant resistance and the force of misguided traditions… and above all, religious opinion.

    The human need for security gave rise to a vast variety of traditional symbolic acts and beliefs concerning the unknown. These coagulated into religious cultures and eventually into scriptures and theologies, subsequently also into political ideologies and a variety of theories from the plausible to the fantastic. All too often, the belief component of religious and secular ideologies overwhelmed and excluded the empirical observations which were emerging as practical and theoretical scientific knowledge advanced. This struggle continues to this day, traditional religions and ideologies being basically too rigid for radical changes and the force of custom and vested interest behind them resisting change to the last moment possible.

    For a closer look at the issues raised here see my longer article Relatedness and Relativity

    Posted in Atheism, Belief, causality, Creationism, Ideology, Philosophy, Religion, religious faith, Science, Theology, Understanding | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

    Materialism vs. mentalism as non-dual ‘unifying’ philosophy

    Posted by robertpriddy on December 29, 2010

    There are two opposed viewpoints about the origin and nature of being, the universe: in the first it arose from spirit or ’universal’ consciousness (e.g. as God), and is also called ‘creationism’. The other view describes a physical event (Big Bang) which was (presumably) self-generated and developed over an extremely vast time span, eventually leading to human evolution. The first of these is sometimes termed ‘mentalism’ as opposed to the second as ‘materialism’.

    Mentalism is historically predominant, arising in speculation about agencies making everything happen, eventually one such (God). This is theory in the sense of ‘just theory’ – not proven or provable, nor does it set about systematically to examine its assumptions critically or consistently try to test and even disprove its own tenets or beliefs. It rather embroiders them further in speculative thought. On the other hand, scientific theory began with assumptions about physical events being due to natural causes, but it constantly questioned the validity of all assumptions and puts them to the test of experience, observation and experiment.

    Materialism depends on hypotheses which are verified (increasingly so at a deeper levels and wider scopes) and essentially regard the origin of everything as energy (not only in its material form). It ensures that every statement it upholds is based on observation or experimentation. It eventually expanded so vastly that it has confirmed the assumption that the universe arose from a single material event (the Big Bang) and that all life on earth evolved from the simplest physical processes, right up to the rise of human beings (with consciousness or ‘spirit’).

    Mentalist theories, including ‘creationism by intelligent design’ are bolstered by various theological and philosophical speculations that are invariably opposed to the outlook of the physical and other sciences. Mentalist theories do include some very sophisticated versions, and though all is based on beliefs and speculations, they have strong appeal to many intellects and so need to be examined. Such is Advaita (lit. ‘Non-divisiveness’) In one form or another it is historically behind most modern mysticism, certainly most Indian gurus and their Western counterparts. It rejects materialism in favour of universal awareness/bliss/being, arguing that the split between spirit (or soul/mind) and matter (or psyche/body) is an illusion of the phenomenal world, which is itself ultimately an illusion.

    Of course, that is non-empirical, even though it appeals to personal experiences (mainly of an extra-sensory kind) and aims – through spiritual mystical practices – to raise individual awareness to the level of the undifferentiated universal unity.

    The ideal of unity of knowledge: The unity striven for by science is that of validated theories which together form a consistent and non-conflicting account of everything. This may be referred to as the ‘unity of science’. Unlike mentalist theories, the sciences do not strive to uphold any unitary theory unless it is in accordance with all known facts.

    I have gone deeply into non-dual theory both in the philosophy of science and in spirituality/religion – both in practice and theory in both respects. In post-graduate research into scientific research from the angle of sociology of knowledge I became aware of the complexities and problems of the process of scientific development towards establishing knowledge in competition and with evolving paradigms. In spirituality, where experience is a prerequisite and is understood as the result of willful good actions and inward reflection/meditation, I found after many decades, that the unity of transcendental experience is but an inward perception and does not actually require any belief in – or application of – the theologies or doctrines which promote it.

    Eventually I emerged from the spell of mentalism in its many forms to become increasingly aware and convinced that this entire otherworldly project (as in all religions) is fruitless and largely without real basis. I do not deny that exceptional states of being can occur – I assert it from experience – but I no longer see these as necessarily connected to any form of spirituality or religion.

    Sciences do have a common unifying agenda in that science aims at universality of knowledge, and compatibility of all its findings as based on experience as analysed and tested by its methods. Thus it combines subjective perception with objective generalisations within a unifying framework. The various religions, whether relying on mentalist or other ‘spiritual’  theologies, doctrines, theories, ideologies, and speculations, neglect common experience where it goes against ancient scriptures and, when they do appeal to experience, it is only subjective experience without it having been subjected to any rigorous test whatever (i.e. meditation, prayer, visions and much else of that kind). Thus the religions all assume an insuperable dualism at the very start – between soul and body (or mind), or spirit and matter, which is a fundamental schizm between the subjective and the objective.  This is not so in science – which rejects fundamental dualism a priori –  and is therefore capable of reaching overall, testable knowledge. This applies in all those areas it has so far conquered (and they are very many, even though there always remain issues it has not so far been able to address, things it has not yet been able to study for technological, financial or other practical reasons).

    I have set out to explain some of the problems of speculative spirituality and religious mysticism through the last decade such as at Experiences and Ideas of Unity – with Social and Other Consequences

    Posted in Atheism, Belief, causality, Creationism, Evolution, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Theology, Understanding | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

    Spirituality redefined without religion or mysticism

    Posted by robertpriddy on December 3, 2010

    The words ‘spiritual’ and ‘spirituality’ are nowadays being widely used to advance all manner of religious and pseudo-religious theory, such as unrealistic ‘New Age’ belief systems. They should be redefined entirely within the context of the ‘human spirit’, not any kind of imagined disembodied holy entity (God) or world of spirits (an afterlife or realm of eternal beings). The creations of human ingenuity – whether artistic or scientific, social or moral, practical or even technological – can be expressions of the human spirit. Genuine spirituality is – in real terms – about all those down-to-earth values whereby one does one’s best to advance society in everyday life, create secure and peaceful conditions for oneself and others. Always defending the truth and being truthful, loving others and where possible serving them while respecting their genuinely human qualities and acting in accordance with this to the best of one’s understanding and ability… these are signs of recognisable and real true human spirituality.

    A fair degree of self interest is not incompatible with such ‘spirituality’ as we also have a duty to ourselves to survive, develop and live fully. However, there is a vast amount of what passes for spirituality which is self-serving in that people aspire only or predominantly to their own supposed salvation or benefit. This involves putting one’s own wished-for ‘liberation’ from worldly problems entirely before other concerns, aiming to win divine benefits through worship, prayer, meditation,  rituals of many kinds. The desired attainments would raise oneself above others, such as in trying to obtain extraordinary psychic powers or other imagined ‘holy’ dispensations. Those who aspire to such believe in otherworldly and discarnate entities as promoted by mainstream religions and a host of sects and cults of almost every conceivable description.

    Looked at from the standpoint of non-belief, religions are seen mostly to be about moralistic control of others and creating false hopes of healing, miracles, divine forgiveness and other promised rewards which seldom occur (and when appearing to are without proof of any divine origin). Not least, religion exercises power over others through creating fears of punishments of many kinds, especially after death. Religion is too often largely about believing in beings which cannot be proven to exist and events which cannot be proven to have occurred – or in scriptures and doctrines about them. Countless conflicts are either caused by religious fervor – or are supported by religionists on opposing sides. Human values are – by the very concept – not divinely ordained, they are human… based in human interests for survival, happiness, peace, freedom from oppression and glaring inequality. Religions have tried to subjugate these values to themselves and/or the absent deities or God in whom they believe. (See some of the theological tricks involved examined here)

    It is unnecessary for any mention of God or religion in the context of moral issues, they can be discussed adequately and fully – and practised – without any such reference.  Human life teaches values naturally, for the peace, prosperity and happiness for all towards which good people strive arise from observable actions within the scope of such values, and equally man-made sufferings are easily seen to arise from false values. The desires for fulfillment of human needs are quite universal, though the needs will differ with changing circumstances, But ignorance of our nature and lack of empathy causes many to try to reach them through short-cuts like corruption, violence and crime. None of that has anything to do with any god, deity or spirit – and natural disasters are exactly that, natural not divinely caused! We should harm no living beings if avoidable and possible for the reason that it causes fruitless suffering, not because any god or cosmic intelligence created living creatures – they and we are all products of an enormously long, complex and amazing process of evolution which needed no divinity to operate, nor to begin. The real evidence shows only that we are all products of evolution, not of divine creation. (Those who still doubt the validity of this would benefit by seeing David Attenborough’s film for BBC and Discovery Channel  ‘First Life’

    Once entrapped in religious thinking, one tends to attribute everything to God even when it is really our own doing, but especially when it is something (negative) beyond ones control. God is a summary word for all manner of believed ideas, derived from groping superstitions handed down, extended and manipulated for countless generations. It is bolstered by millennia of ignorance (and fear) about the real causes of events and has generated a social inertia (i.e. an accumulated energy which is most difficult to counteract without an equally strong opposing force). Science has taught us the real causes of the majority of known events, starting really seriously only a few centuries ago. The scope it now encompasses compared with what it did even when left school in the early 1950s is amazing, and our knowledge is expanding at a colossal pace which is still increasing.  Since then has successfully been explaining more and more things humankind originally came to believe must be done by  some God, spirits or other non testable speculations.

    We can now look at the sky and realise there is no one up there, though long believed they must be, and since we could not get off the ground, physically or otherwise, we were in awe of it as ‘heaven’ or the abode of the ancestors or whatever. We understand, for example, that from seeing volcanoes the idea of an underworld and a hell where one burns arose. Yet religions still preach these absurdly primitive falsehoods to billions of people, and it is shameful indeed that Pope Benedict XVI
    (falsely claimed to be an intellectual) still preached the primitive and absurd doctrine of damnation in hell for non-believers in his particular delusions! As argued previously on this blog, on the evidence so far and with the highest probability, God is nothing but the creation of the human mind.

    See also Human Values as Common Ideals
    Human Values in Psychology

    Posted in Atheism, Belief, Catholicism, Creationism, Disinformation, Environment, Ethics, Evolution, Ideology, Religion, religious faith, Science, Spiritual propaganda, Theology, Uncategorized, Understanding | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

    Will Pope Benedict XVI go to hell?

    Posted by robertpriddy on September 19, 2010

    Since the Pope now visits Britain, why can’t he get a dispensation from the Lord also to visit hell, in which he firmly believes (see below)? There must be many there (in his view) who would long to see even one wave of his holy hand! He might even stay there and administer to the ‘lost souls’. Who are the lost souls? All of us billions who are not Roman Catholics!:-

    “The intolerance not just to other religions, but to other types of Christianity, is unfortunately fostered by the upper echelons of the Church. In August 2000 a Church declaration (called Dominus Jesus and endorsed by the Pope) announced that the Catholic Church represented the only ‘valid’ and ‘genuine’ Christian episcopate. Any other type of ordination – either Anglican or Non-Conformist – was simple heresy. Even to many Catholic onlookers it appeared like something from the Middle Ages. The inspiration for such announcements is invariably Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a man who heads what is called the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (an organisation that acts as the guard dog against pluralism and tolerance). It doesn’t take long to realise that Roman Catholicism is excruciatingly conservative and – like Italy itself- acutely hierarchical.” (‘The Dark Heart of Italy’ by Tobias Jones, 2003)

    As stated, the Pope believes firmly in eternal hellfire, as he showed before he realised the damage this would do him. He later tried to tone down his ill-advised ‘eternal’ pronouncement, but it was really too late… we know what he really believes, because The Sunday Times (March 27, 2007) reported “The fires of hell are real and eternal, the Pope warns“:  ‘Hell is a place where sinners really do burn in an everlasting fire, and not just a religious symbol designed to galvanise the faithful, the Pope has said.': “Hell “really exists and is eternal, even if nobody talks about it much any more”, he said.”

    The damage-limitation exercise which followed later on was reported by the Catholic News Agency, as follows: ” In reply, the Pope called heaven, hell, and purgatory “fundamental themes that unfortunately appear rarely in our preaching,” journalist and church expert Sandro Magister reports. Pope Benedict speculated that the condemned might not be numerous, describing how thoroughly they would have to have destroyed themselves: “Perhaps there are not so many who have destroyed themselves so completely, who are irreparable forever, who no longer have any element upon which the love of God can rest, who no longer have the slightest capacity to love within themselves. This would be hell.” (http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/what_the_pope_really_said_about_hell/)

    The obscurantism of Pope Benedict XVI almost takes ones breath away, except that we are inured to the Middle Age theology and backward-looking morality that the Papal visit to UK brings into focus yet again. In the Pope has any real investigatory capacity and critical intelligence, he would realise how much damage he is doing to the people of many countries who have no real defense against the cynical indoctrination in which they are brought up. Consider it, children are taught to fear hell at an early age by most priests, and not a few of them learn that to speak up about sexual abuse is to risk eternal damnation and hellfire. Too much in this religion is full of empty words, anti-rational teachings about sexuality and gender, and unsupportable beliefs about the past that one almost despairs of the human race which cannot so far completely eliminate it.

    Posted in Atheism, Belief, Catholic Church, Catholicism, Disinformation, Ideology, Religion, religious faith, Spiritual propaganda, Theology | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

    The Origins and Persistence of Religious Belief and Faith in God

    Posted by robertpriddy on September 5, 2010

    Views on the origins and development of religion expressed here are a contribution to secular and humanistic culture. They are no doubt anathema to believers in almost all religions today. There is a vast wealth of intricate evidence, interpretations and argument underlying my thesis into which I shall not digress much, so that the main lines are more readily graspable.

    Religion certainly had its roots in both awe and fear, the overriding fear being that of death.
    Wonder and awe at existence, at the world early humankind lived in and not least at ‘the heavens’ are common to us all and there is evidence that neolithic humans also had the capacity and the time for this. The human condition of not knowing the whys, hows and wherefores of being pertains even today, though is doubtless not so overwhelming as it once was. This awe cannot have been insulated from fear, which is so closely related to ignorance. (Even the word ‘awe’ is parent to the word ‘awful’). With the development of primitive technology and understanding of nature and with the inception of ideas of causation from a largely invisible (and often threatening) spirit world, the human mind groped through prehistory towards conceptions of creative and ruling gods, and eventually a single God entity. Gradually the idea of divine benevolence became more prominent than that of a jealous and punishing God, if only relatively very recently. All that has never been a smooth or painless transition, nor is the transition in recent centuries to the removal of a supposed divine agency from the one field of research after the other… and the spreading loss of faith in any God.

    Fear is a natural human condition in a hostile environment, which most often prevailed in prehistory. The mystery of death, the angst it engenders and the fear of it are obviously an existential reality, however one tackles it and remains a challenge to humanity. Since the earliest history of humankind, when the causes of death were not understood to anywhere near the extent that is the case today, it would have been ‘natural’ to suppose some ‘supernatural’ agency. This was surely one powerful motivation to seek explanations in an unseen world peopled by spirits or other unseen beings, to help allay that fear and to grapple with the many enigmas of life, natural events and inexplicable human physical and psychological conditions. Needing an explanation of the many circumstances that sustain human life and how to face and overcome the challenges of this world – as science now knows them to be – the continued life of soul or spirit (in later religious terms) and realms where they resided were conceived – and developed in many local variants. This belief in an after world – or parallel world – was developed along very diverse lines. It persists today in religious conceptions of heavens and hells.

    The struggle to deal with the conditions of life – scarcity of food, weather extremes, illness, wild creatures and many other circumstances related to such basic factors of existence, also involved a struggle to master and understand them. The causes were mostly seen in animistic terms – that beings inhabited and controlled the earth, water and the heavens. Rites and sacrifices came about in the attempt to propitiate and so influence these spirits (or deities) to protect and help the tribe. Contacting them ‘shamanistically’ through trance and altered states was a further step. Ideas about transcendental entities and places were no doubt based on experiences from intense rituals, tribal rites like dance and deprivations, shamanist induction of trances, rigorously demanding initiations, and not least through altered states of consciousness caused by a variety of psychotropic plants and fungi, through high fevers, extreme starvation or loss of blood… and so on. The break with more simple kinds of animism took many ages to effect, and it is not even over today for few religious cultures or groups have been rid of all animistic beliefs. Here and there, resurgence of certain natural and pagan superstitions regularly happens. Animism is yet very prominent in various sects among Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Islamic sub-cultures and in amalgams of Christian with spiritualist and/or traditional tribal beliefs. In these practices one clearly sees the general prototype of religious beliefs as are widespread today. The sheer extent and time span of these primitive urges to understand the world has a tremendous cultural inertia.

    The Inertia of Religious Belief: We grow up under the pressure of ideas caused by what I call ‘the inertia’ of religion. This inertia was generated by millennia of human culture where one knew almost nothing of the infinitely complex systems of natural causation. From misty beginnings, we sought to explain them as results of the acts of spirits, deities, gods. Fear of terrible scourges that beset early humans must have given rise to desires and hopes of propitiating whatever or whoever caused them. Human sacrifice is known to have been a fairly common kind of ‘offering’ to please whatever powers-that-be, and it still occurs even today in some parts of the world. The idea of influencing an invisible agency grew, multiplied, divided and were propagated – being employed in many ways to regulate or control human affairs, in short – the root of religion. These conceptions formed the glue of many societies and were the basis of a considerable part of every language, interwoven in many ways into words and phrases, and in ever-developing forms up to this day. Religions still try to propitiate idols, deities or holy figures through countless and changing rituals… and in more knowledgeable or enlightened societies this mostly takes the form of prayer, devotion, personal sacrifice and social work. In many cases, a religion is sustained by its being the policy of a State. Such is the case with Islam in Iran and other similar countries, and even with Anglican Christianity in UK (though enforcement of religious values  is no longer involved in UK, of course)

    Since the sky was probably the most impenetrable mystery to early humankind – unreachable and inexplicably dark or sunlit – it was the repository of our early ideas of gods. Probably only much later did the speculative ‘heaven’ as a derived realm to which the spirits of the dead went and which was hopefully imagined to be ‘paradise’ in its being close to the God the Creator and source of all wisdom and whatever. Similarly, volcanoes must have been equally impenetrable and fearful, and no doubt prefigured the widespread visions of hell as a burning realm. It only became a place of burning torture for souls for all time – eternally, much later.

    Human beings have always had to rely since birth until maturity on their parents to answer their needs and questions. Where lacking, elders or other authorities capable of fulfilling these requirements took the place of father and mother. Yet the adults and elders themselves had not such paternal being to watch over them, to whom the could appeal for solace or justice. Thus the idea of God easily filled that role – the great spirit which made the wonderful world work and who could hopefully be appeased when troubles descended. Voltaire most likely also considered this when he wrote: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” (“Si Dieu n’existait pas, il faudrait l’inventer.“). Times have changed, however, as the need to ‘un-invent’ God becomes more widespread and intellectually and morally pressing.

    That cultural heritage is the motor which drove religion forth for most of human existence on earth. What is now known to be superstition persisted and is carried along well after it has been explained away. We know that God does not bring the rain (Latin “Jupiter pluit” – i.e. Jupiter causes it to rain) or the drought. Yet many primitive religions still believe this and even educated people go to church to pray for the end of a drought… and the same with many trials and tribulations. Not least also, of course, thanksgiving to one God or another all manner of things which arise as normal effects of nature and life.

    The secular, humanist value system’s embodiment: The increasing smouldering away of the props of religious faith led to the establishment of many human institutions which re-embodied and improved human values. Values which religious theologies had appropriated to themselves as God-given were becoming more and detached from their religious context. Further, mainstream religions had proven incapable of resolving their differences to reach a common value system or to organize and body with universal appeal and authority – often due to internecine strife. Major religious conflicts amounting to warfare (eg. Hindu-Muslim, Islam-Judaism) persist today and religions have shown themselves unable to create a world of peace. Instead, the secular and humanistic striving of enlightened societies resulted, after the 2nd World War, in the remarkable political embodiment of human values in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 of that document holds that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion & expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference & to seek, receive & impart information & ideas through any media & regardless of frontiers”

    This ideal had long been suppressed and rejected in one practical or theoretical way and another – often quite totally – by all mainstream religions. These require adherence to belief in the authenticity of each their various scriptures which must be regarded as the will of God and not to be doubted or criticized with the aim of challenging them. This limitation on freedom of information – and consequently on the scope of education – student the growth of those brought up within a belief system and either delays or stops natural human development of knowledge in the search for the truth (which may contradict doctrine). Religious bodies have had to pay respect to human right, though sometimes grudgingly and only as lip service (as in much Hinduism and most of Islam).

    Religion and equality: All mainstream religions and virtually all sects still contravene or silently ignore (less in theory than in practice) central values in the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights, Article 2, which states: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights & freedoms set forth in this declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion.” Sex or gender is almost universally regarded in discriminatory ways by religious scriptures and doctrines derived from these. Even where women are accorded freedoms in religious scriptures, the organised religious communities often fail to allow them to exercise the few freedoms the doctrines allow.

    The discrimination against non-heterosexual persons is rife in most religious communities, and has traditionally been punished by the most brutal means… and this occurs widely still today with religious doctrinal backing. Even religions which preach and emphasize love and compassion at the same time also often supported (or fail to condemn) extreme religious bigotry, intolerance of dissenters and provoked fanatical zealotry and social hatred to convert others through unfreedom. This has been due to the absolutist nature of most handed-down scriptural injunctions and to the many doctrines derived more or less from them. These have caused only hate, violence and have contributed the driving force in countless destructive wars and conflicts to this day. Organized religions have supported many wars as ‘holy’, the idea of the ‘jihad’ not being confined to Islam by any means. No all mainstream religions extend universal rights or equality to all, whatever they happen to believe. The two religions with most adherents, the Roman Catholic Church and Islam, provide prime examples of this non-universalism and divisiveness.

    Freedom of thought, conscience and religion: Article-18 of the Geneva Convention states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience & religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief,& freedom, either alone or in community with others & in public & private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship & observance”. There is a potential inherent conflict in this article in that freedom of thought and conscience do not at all always concur with religion, for many dictate what one must think and what is right or wrong (other than what ones personal conscience insists). Tolerance of religious belief is essential, though any pressure to ‘respect’ and therefore not criticize beliefs one rejects and sees as harmful would not protect the freedom of speech and thought and should be avoided. Non-interference in the private life of others is an ideal which seems essential to personal freedom. This gives the opportunity to foster a universal attitude, one where human equality and common rights, duties and destiny are understood. This universal humanistic attitude enables people to work for common human benefit. Yet where it is done more or less out of fear of punishment or hope of reward in a next (invisible) world it is not done for the sake of fellow humans, but for oneself. Being able to think freely and express one’s ideas without being persecuted (provided that one does not break the laws of an enlightened or ‘liberal’ society) gives much creative energy and personal fulfillment. This is a secular value, above all, and is the result of millennia of struggle towards liberation of humanity from the bonds of ignorance and unfounded fear.

    Are spiritual beliefs a human necessity? To start with religious faith (assuming ‘spirituality’ can have some fruitful meaning apart from religion or faith in a God), the evidence is that people can live well – most likely far better – without belonging to or believing in any religion. This presumes a social and cultural environment where there is no strong authoritarian or group pressures to be or become a believer (or to cease believing)… in short, in societies where there is freedom of thought and expression both in law and in practice. Only in the latter case can interchange of ideas, values and friendships really develop, with the security, harmony, peace and pleasure that this engenders.

    See also On the roots of religious, political and other fanaticism

    Posted in Atheism, Belief, Catholicism, causality, Creationism, Environment, Ethics, Evolution, Free will, Intelligence, Religion, religious faith, Theology, Understanding | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

    How Does the Brain Create God – and in which ways?

    Posted by robertpriddy on August 17, 2010

    A new discipline referred to as ‘neurophilosophy’ has been promoted by evolutionists like A.C. Grayling – also by geneticists and neuroscientists. Their serious and fully scientifically-oriented discipline attempts to interpret the results of neurology in terms of human experience and ideologies. It is specifically NOT related to the hybrid science-mysticism of ‘neurotheology’ as promoted by Iona Miller, which is examined critically from a philosophical aspect in the following:-

    1) Iona Miller article “How the Brain Creates God” suggests that God is entirely brain-created, but that misleads as to her main purpose, to instate the religious impulse and mystical experience (of God, unity, whatever…)  as fundamental to the human brain.

    2) The schism between ‘outer’ and ‘inner’, mind and its objects, the brain and the mind (an underlying Cartesian dualism inflect Miller’s language and thought)

    3) The irreconcilable positions of dualism and monism (to both of which Miller appeals)

    4) The extra-scientific influence of Jungian thought (who claimed he knew God exists and misled a generation of psycho-analysts)

    5) Denial of living reality, all is illusion – Miller reveals her basic agenda, that of non-dualism (as in advaita, zen, diverse mysticism)

    CLICK ON EACH OF THE SCANNED IMAGES BELOW TO ENLARGE THE TEXT (or click here for the entire text enlarged) See also On the Roots of Religious Fanaticism

    Posted in Atheism, Belief, causality, Creationism, Evolution, Ideology, Philosophy, Religion, religious faith, Science, Self-awareness, Sociology, Spiritual propaganda, Theology, Uncategorized, Understanding | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

     
    Follow

    Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.