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.

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Archive for December, 2010

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 »

Faith Schools – divisive indoctrination

Posted by robertpriddy on December 16, 2010

Induction into a religious faith at a tender age is indoctrination. While physical abuse of children is now at last forbidden in the most civilized countries, mental abuse is still allowed, and this includes inculcating defenseless children with superstitious folklore and false conceptions.

It should be a human right not to be subjected to an environment where environmental pressures and ‘group effect’ acts to make any child accept a religion. Richard Dawkins has led the way in courageously speaking out to this effect (see here). Bringing up children under a system of education which contain non educative elements (i.e. proselytizing) is contrary to education, which means the learning of real facts about the real world and imbibing the human values (not divine commandments) upon which civilized society and international agreements rest. Faith schools differ from secular schools in that they are really belief-inducing schools. The increasing isolation and unwillingness of “faith” communities to integrate is a threat to future social harmony and world peace, where terrorism is the new kind of war.

All religions are actually ideologies, and their core beliefs are unsupported by any substantive facts or science. They differ as to values and consequently in many parts of the world they are at loggerheads and often in direct violent conflict with one another. To contribute to this disruption, this battle of the sects, however much one talks of peace and goodness, is a blind policy. Socially divisive ‘brainwashing’ – of whatever type and however mild – is unacceptable and to endorse it through an educational system should be made illegal. Divisiveness arises from the pretense that this or that faith has superior access to ‘the truth’, and often that truth will include claims about the unity of mankind… yet which only leads to hypocrisy in action. The consequences are already exploding on the streets of Europe and the USA, not to mention in the developing world where divisions are extreme.

Education deserving the name should develop the autonomy of people, enlightening them as to how to make their own choices in a reasonable way and with knowledge of possible consequences. Obscurantist scriptures should be banned from schools, which would mean the exclusion of large parts of most scriptural sources.

Often, faith schools are popular with parents because they impose more discipline on pupils than secular schools, not least because of the absolutism of the moral codes enshrined in their religions (the Ten Commandments for example). Though often effective, this is absolutely not the best way to achieve integration of pupils into harmonious working groups and communities. Understanding, communication and help in socialization (through special needs assistance and counseling) is the way to go instead. But selection of pupils on religious and other (often bogus) criteria excludes the problem children and avoids the social problems that such schools should bear and face up to, rather than avoiding them. Since their chief aim is religious indoctrination, however, they manipulate so as to avoid those who will be ‘difficult’ and especially potentially critical children and parents.

One commentator (protogodzilla) wrote in the Daily Telegraph

“I attended an RC school in London in the ‘fifties. We were indoctrinated into believing protestants were the spawn of the devil. When I mentioned to the priest that we were all Christians I was caned. We were brain washed into believing that our religion was the most important matter of our lives. I abandoned my religion on the day I left school – there was too much hatred in it for my taste. As a recipe for division, mankind has never devised a better stick than religion to destroy itself. Muslims hold to their brand of bigotry as savagely as the RCs of my youth. If there is a God would He/She be happy with this state of affairs? Faith schools segregate rather than integrate and should be outlawed to encourage social cohesion.”

On such a background one can understand the horrendous events that have terrorized Northern Ireland, and – mutatis mutandis – which are yet worse in the Middle East, Africa and the Indian subcontinent.

Posted in Atheism, Belief, Catholicism, Disinformation, Environment, Ideology, Religion, religious faith, Understanding | Tagged: , , | Leave a 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 »