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 November, 2011

What mainly characterises religion?

Posted by robertpriddy on November 7, 2011

Religion is based almost totally on human ignorance combined with wonder or awe at the natural order.  This arose from not understanding the processes of nature and causality and of human nature in particular, while needing some explanation, invariably supplied in terms of unseen motivators (spirits, deities etc.).  Religion is sustained by galleries of distorting speculative theories, ossified doctrines, edited/mistranslated/wrongly copied/partly censored scripture and the denial of virtually all facts contrary to them (until they become so widely recognized as to be indisputable and socially unavoidable). The origin of human language and how meaning arises was considered an inscrutable divine mystery, by most people even until the 20th century. Philosophy, backed by a range of scientific and historical disciplines, has demystified those processes to an amazing degree.

Defenders of religion’s often argue that they provide the moral basis for mankind and that ethics cannot be derived from science. However, ethics can be developed from secular reasoning, and in fact religion derives much of its more reasonable moral insight  from common sense, practical experience and the values that humans have often held to and developed independently of any religion.  Ethics cannot be other than dependent on reason without becoming entirely irrational and will so conflict with  common sense and the findings of science.  Ethics based on faith or beliefs alone – or on dogmas developed from these – are constantly being challenged on a wider and wider front as research develops, superstitions are blown away and unusual event like paranormal phenomena are being probed with advanced computer and brain-imaging technology. Supposed ‘divine miracles’ are investigated from the angles of many scientific disciplines and are gradually being undermined by the resulting discoveries. For example, scientists now can even easily recreate so-called ‘out-of-body experience’ through using virtual reality scenarios to induce this kind of experience in subjects.

A believer in God is:-
1) one who wants to justify anything (that suits them and their dogmas – or to defend the God they believe in)
2) one who does not know that we create our own meaning, or has a minimal understanding of how we actually do it.

See an interesting article on the human brain and ‘spiritual’ or religious experiences: The God of Mind : Exploring the Implications of Neurotheological Research

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Theism and the ‘God Within’ ploy

Posted by robertpriddy on November 6, 2011

Theism involves belief in the existence and influence of a transcendental Creator. Because of the impossibility of providing the slightest unambiguous empirical proof of this imagined Being, those who find this position untenable have tended towards imagining that God resides only within the individual person’s deepest reality… in the human “heart”.  It can be discovered within oneself and experienced, it is found through variously differing ‘methods’ from prayer, to meditation, doing good works to simply having steadfast faith (in the supposed God). These ideas are widespread in Hinduism and the teachings of the mystics of most traditions. Christianity is increasingly turning towards this apparent way out. So-called New Age writers and gurus are among the most active promoters of the “inner path” and the ‘universal super consciousness’ which is equated with God. The location of this is supposedly everywhere and the route to it is via the “human heart”. The appeal to ‘the heart’ as superior to ‘the head’ is a numinous but ultimately vague and confused conception arising from primitive beliefs that the mind resided in the beating heart rather than in the brain. The physical heart is thus considered (most wrongly) to be the seat of human emotions and even of human wisdom and judgement.

To claim, as in some religions, that “all people are divine in essence” or Divinity is like a spark in everyone (and/or in every living being) is not to eliminate the assumption of the existence of God, it is simply to assuage the perplexed by diverting attention from the inability of proving that God has a separate existence – invisible, inscrutable, beyond human intelligence and ‘out there somewhere’. Others insist that God is both ‘within and without’. The inner reality of God is stated in a variety of summary ways – all of them without exception – when looked at closely – vague and ultimately insubstantial. The simplest version is perhaps ‘God is Everything’. Another is ‘All is one Divine Consciousness’. Both imply that we are God. However, to explain to unbelievers how we are not aware of this, God is said to be “within us all”, though our born ignorance, ego desires and much else hide the fact from us. Advaita holds that God is our true nature, that we really are God (sometimes qualified by ‘in essence’). Indian gurus preach advaitic variants like ‘God resides as consciousness in the heart’, ‘God is omnipresent’ and many other such vague and always untestable imagined conditions. The highly misguided doctrine of ‘god within’ is often promoted in mantra-like repetitions. None of it makes any proper sense because it is totally divorced from anything whatever which is observable by anyone anywhere. It rests entirely a a handed-down belief… that God is Almighty Creator and Ruler of All. “The scientific method is rejected in favour of revelation, belief and otherworldly projections and hopes, and one is trained to construct and maintain a view of reality which fits the mould set by the guru.” (Kramer & Alstead, ‘The Guru Papers’). This doctrine – known as advaita – incomplete and full of sheer speculation – is itself what one might call the final outcome of a long process of rejection of God concepts.

Human history presents a desolate mindscape of broken beliefs, especially religious beliefs which have
successively had to be abandoned because they could no longer be upheld in the face of mankind’s increasing discoveries of a majority of the actual causes of every kind of phenomena. Nonetheless, the remnant religious beliefs still rule the lives of billions of earth’s inhabitants… idols, deities, holy incarnations, holy places, holy men and women, saints, avatars. The various theologies of each religion meet with more and more insuperable difficulties in explanation, whereupon they retreat more and more into the abstract and the mystical.

The flat earthers eventually had to bow before Columbus’ discovery, the earth-centered universe before Copernicus, while scientific advance after advance dispelled all manner of false religious ideas concerning the earth’s history, human origins, the causes of all manner of human suffering, and even the origin and development of the entire universe. The flight of religion into the insubstantial bastion of the abstract and the unknown – that there are mysteries we cannot fathom because they are God’s preserve – is the result. Christianity usually asserts the ‘Holy Ghostliness’ of God, advaita the total but entirely unseen permeation of everything and everybody totally with incorporeal God. Theologies which put some limitation on God – like Catholicism, has to invoke Satan as God’s weaker counterpart even today to try to explain ignorance, wrong-doing and all that is fearful and destructive in mankind and nature. The doctrine of there being both eternal heaven and hell most likely go right back to early mankind’s attempt to explain the mysterious fact of the unreachable sky and the fearful outflows of volcanic magma.

I have written a somewhat lengthy analysis which shows the degree of conceptual and general confusion that reigns throughout these sectarian ideas.
God is everything, in everyone – as a spiritual teaching 

also Advaita – historical flight into abstraction and speculation

and The Ultimate Fallacy, which I wrote here some time ago.

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Non-theist moral agendas

Posted by robertpriddy on November 6, 2011

Surely we should never let our beliefs stop us from doing what is right and good. Religious beliefs are founded on uncertainty – not on knowledge, but on faith alone – and therefore cannot be absolute criteria of what is right or good. Actions motivated by religious beliefs very often conflict with our vastly increasing knowledge of all human circumstances, and are upheld by their proponents by all manner of specious argument, many logical fallacies and factually-unsupported claims. Religious morals are often distorted by the hegemony of faith and incomplete moral doctrine over common sense, consensus and shared human values.

“God knows” is the same as saying ‘no one knows’. It has even become a fixed expression in many languages! 

Sam Harris has shown the essential identity of the claim that ‘God exists’ to the claim that ‘Elvis exists’
(see hilarious YouTube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwG9pDNSAXA&feature=youtube_gdata_player).

See also Sam Harris on “Science can answer moral questions” http://www.ted.com/talks/sam_harris_science_can_show_what_s_right.html

Why don’t we feel compassion for rocks? Because they don’t suffer. Why do we feel compassion for human beings, animals and even sometimes insects (“wouldn’t kill a fly”)
There is a continuum of facts about human conditions and their well-being.Failed states where all that can go wrong does so, where mothers have to let their children starve, where people are murdered indiscriminately… these facts speak loudly of certain values… that states should have workable systems of economy, law and accountability to ensure basic human rights.

Basic human morality sustains itself by and large independently of differing cultures, so it is not determined by any religion or specific social or cultural system but by the principles that support any workable society. The Indians call this ‘dharma’ or ‘right action’, the basic sense of moral right and wrong sustains society and holds it back from falling into barbarous anarchy. Though Hindus and many other Indians surround their concept of ‘sanathana dharma’ (eternal right) with religious concepts and precepts, it has a valid fundament in commonly-held human values (i.e. human because not divinely-commanded). In sort, I hold that it is natural to prefer peace to warfare or unrest, to value care and concern more than apathy and carelessness, to prefer the truth to lies, to prefer security, peacefulness and life to fear and death… and so forth.To say this is natural is to say it is in accordance with sane understanding – even common sense.

This obviously does not mean nature determines that these values always apply in life on earth, but that humans and no doubt most sentient beings seek conditions where these values prevail wherever or whenever possible. In this respect, human values are embedded in the order of things as they have evolved over the millennia.
See my more thorough treatment of human values at http://www.saibaba-x.org.uk/4/Human_Values_as_Common_Ideals.html

Regarding the appeal to experience that religionists often make… meaning what they subjectively-experienced, Sam Harris has also explained why ‘experiences’ of the religious type are no less delusional than ‘experiences’ like being abducted by aliens, being threatened by zombies or whatever figment of the imagination the mind may get transfixed by:-

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