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 the ‘Psychology’ Category

The psychology of faith and belief vs. doubt

Posted by robertpriddy on September 14, 2011

“For them. life begins with death”
“Which is as if one were to say ”Day begins with night.’”  (from Quo Vadis)

The belief that death can be defeated, that there is a life afterwards, that one may be reborn and all those fondest of imaginings, plays some part in all religions. Such unsupported beliefs are bolstered up by countless other surrounding scriptures, sayings, accounts of supposed miracles and divine interventions, of what seem to be answers to prayers (i.e. the relatively very uncommon fulfillment of a strong desire that comes about). In short, beliefs, once adopted, tend to grow of themselves.  When fed by what are marshalled together rather uncritically as supportive ‘facts’ and experiences, they continue to grow. Otherwise, they tend to subside and fragment. The same goes for doubts. One adopted, they grow and the more so when facts appear to justify them. Doubts can also weaken and disappear if facts and positive experiences arise sufficient to counteract them.

The history of humanity emphasizes how faith can mislead people into the most bizarre of experiences and beliefs and bring about the most severe consequences imaginable in terms of suffering, violence, wars, genocide, torture and debasement of the human spirit. Yet worse are supposed possible consequences of divine retribution, constant rebirth as animals of prey, immersion in eternal hell fires and just about any perversion of goodness the human mind could invent and attribute to the supposed ‘Divine Creator’. Putting one’s trust in an unworthy person usually leads to disillusionment, putting one’s
faith in religious teachings and spiritual leaders is also a serious gamble where the stakes can be high indeed.

The religious believer invariably seeks all that can reinforce belief and inherently tends to ignore and rejects whatever may conflict with the belief, especially radically. Often a belief may help inspire with an apparent meaning to life and strengthen good qualities in oneself and positive action towards the world. When the tinder of such a positive intention are fed by constant supportive ‘spin’ and stories of many others’ subjective experiences (i.e. which no one can control and the fewest can investigate to any reasonable extent), they ignite more faith by reinforcing what one want to believe. Our personal experience – being all that we really know first hand (however delusive or deceptive it may be) can often be interpreted and distorted by a doctrine or ideology.. whiten is what religions are. Personal experience becomes formed by indoctrination and narrowing of one’s scope of information, and is easily overshadowed by false expectations generated by a sect or a cult

When one has sought hard for a long time and finally arrived at something one can believe in quite strongly, the believer looks further for what is positive towards that belief and can reinforce. At the same time, there is a tendency to put aside or reject outright whatever may conflict with it. One will be loath to give up a belief which helps inspire and strengthen positive feelings, a more hopeful world view (then formerly held). If one adds to this a belief which gives one a sense of a meaning in life and and purpose in the cosmos, then it will be difficult to backtrack, and any challenges will be unlikely to dislodge it.

Many belief systems are of course shared by vast numbers, the mainstream religions into which one is more or less born and indoctrinated before one can use one’s own judgement at all. Should the belief system be more peripheral and diverge appreciably from mainstream cultures, it is most often part of a support network, a like-minded community or sect. As with mainstream religion, this often gives an outlet for social service and self-improvement, the increased sense of self-worth further strengthens the belief system.

There is a threshold of belief which, when crossed, sets off a psychological process of reinforcement. As in the Kirkegaardian ‘existential leap of faith’ the confusion of not knowing and uncertainty cause people to ‘take the plunge’ into some doctrine or faith which seems to promise to be rewarding spiritually, emotionally and usually also in various other ways. It is both intriguing and not least distressing to see how people become so entirely trapped in a ‘faith’ as to be unable to see even when the most glaring discrepancies for what they are. Even then a pivotal personal crisis or mental-emotional upset – perhaps a major emotional shock or personal loss – may be required for freeing oneself from the ganglion grasp that a system of belief and its associated way of life and behaviour.

When serious doubts emerge, doubts that could only be ignored with difficulty, however, they too can grow as the facts support them further. This is one way in which an internalized faith and system of ideas be shaken, and there is usually some critical personal event which sets such a process in motion. Once crossing the ‘threshold’ in reverse, doubts can grow as facts emerge to support them. Doubts can be corrosive at time, but it can also mitigate the severity of inflexible doctrines and not least fanatical ideas. Without any doubting, everyone would become a doctrinaire fundamentalist of whatever brand, which would be another bane on humanity.

If faith in some doctrine or religion revives, and radical doubts are overcome, a certain euphoria often follows – one to which critical doubting seldom gives rise. The process cannot but involve interesting and challenging shifts in ideas and perceptions, when thought is stimulated by novelty and seems to move forward into unknown but exciting territory. One feels free of brakes or cross-checks that may have been part of one’s former mentality. The positivity generated by ‘having found the answer’ and reached certainty makes for a self-fulfilling strengthening process. Reaching the apparent security of a spiritual renewal, if not also a worldly kind, and ridding oneself of uncertainty along with the trust that promising developments (‘blessings’) will eventually ensue can be a very beguiling matter.

Eventually novelty always wears off, and both practical and other hindrances invariably resurface, contradictions arise in new guises and reality exerts its usual resistance against anything that is too uncertain, too otherworldly.

Posted in Atheism, Belief, Psychology | Leave a Comment »

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 »

Fallacies in doctrines of ‘karma’ (and healing)

Posted by robertpriddy on January 24, 2011

The doctrine of ‘karma’, that illness is an inevitable result of the past actions of the sufferer, either carried out in this lifetime or an earlier incarnation, has become more widely believed since the advent of Indian ‘gurus’ and preachers of Hinduism in the West. However, it is extremely hard to accept or understand by people of modern scientific education and humanistic outlook. The central aspect of the doctrine of karma – is that whatever happens to you is what you deserve because of your own actions in the past. When, as very often, there seems to be nothing in ones past that can account for it (eg. no ‘sin’ or ‘good act’), it is supposed that you lived in one or more ‘former lives’ and caused your present circumstances by your acts then.

The whole idea of karma arose as an attempt to account for what non-believers today would call accident, luck or the result of circumstances beyond ones control (genetic traits, society, other persons’ actions). That a good person should suffer disasters needs explanation if one is a believer in a benevolent God, and even in a punishing God.  What most repels Westerners, perhaps, is that all the ‘bad’ results of karma are not to be blamed on others, on nature or on God, but solely on the individual involved (as an inevitable reaction attaching to his or her ‘soul’). Many Eastern gurus also teach – with typical inconsistency – that the ‘good’ results can only be attributed to God (not to oneself or other persons). The idea of karma has become popularized by New Age people, often in most superficial ways. Some proponents of karma doctrine even argue that all the most horrific events that occur including all heinous human acts – are necessary and integral part of the divine cosmic harmony, which is ultimately for the benefit and good of all! This doctrine that ‘everything is as it should be’ and/or that this is ‘the best of all possible worlds’ is sheer escapism. How much further one can get from reality and sanity without actually suffering from a pathology it is hard to conceive.

The sheer disdain which this doctrine of blame receives in well-educated countries is shown, fortunately, by the huge national uproar this doctrine caused in the UK in the 90s when the manager of England’s national football team, Glen Hoddle, no more than indirectly hinted at as a possible explanation of some illness ! (see under ‘Dismissal from England job’ Wikipedia) Prime Minister Tony Blair then denounced the doctrine firmly in public and contributed to the immediate sacking of the England coach from his position, one of great prestige in the nation. The doctrine of karma – and it associated primitive Hindu religious ideas – has been held by many Indian intellectuals to be the main cause of discrimination and almost total neglect of sufferers of all diseases and ills by successive Indian governments and authorities, as well as by the general public. The state of a country is always related to the predominant beliefs held by the majority there. The severe lack of social welfare, old age pensions, health care and much else can be seen as the historical result of the karma doctrine and related otherworldly religious belief and ‘non-dual’ philosophy.

One reason for aversion to a doctrine of retributive karma as ‘inevitable punishment for sins’ can hardly be better stated than by the English writer Edmund Gosse in his autobiographical book, Father and Son of 1907. “The notice nowadays universally given to the hygienic rules of life was rare fifty years ago and among deeply religious people, in particular, fatalistic views of disease prevailed. If any one was ill, it showed that ‘the Lord’s hand was extended in chastisement’, and much prayer was poured forth in order that it might be explained to the sufferer, or to his relations, in what he or they had sinned. People would, for instance, go on living over a cess-pool, working themselves up into an agony to discover how they had incurred the displeasure of the Lord, but never moving away.” (p.34)

Not all aspects of karma doctrine are so harmful: Among Western supporters of the general idea of karma, some are less stringent and more acceptable. According to Edgar Cayce, a 20th century American ‘mystic’ who sometimes talked sense, “Karma is the meeting of oneself in the present through thoughts and deeds from the past. Karma is tied to the concept of reincarnation and balance. Karma is neither a debt that must be paid according to some universal tally sheet, nor is it necessarily a set of specific circumstances that must be experienced because of deeds or misdeeds perpetrated in the past. Karma is simply a memory. It is a pool of information that the subconscious mind draws upon and can utilize in the present. It has elements that are positive as well as those which may seem negative.”

The idea of evil and sin is a religious ideology and an unsolvable logical problem in all theistic religions. In an attempt to deal with this problem, Alan Watts wrote a book entitled ‘The Two Hands of God’. He regarded that what we perceive either as good or evil are both part of a unity, which some call God. His idea of God is one having two aspects (hands) the good and the evil. The Christian tradition tried to make God exclusively good  and so the origin of its opposite was relegated to Satan – and human beings are born sinners. Islam and Hinduism have their own variants of this pseudo-solution of ‘the theological problem of evil’. The split between the worldly and the other-worldly, the profane and the sacred, the transient and other supposed ‘eternal’ and so forth was all part of this mental confusion and ideological schism. To resolve the dilemma finally, the only rational solution is to reject the entire hypothesis that there is a God who created or rules over the cosmos. It is only a belief, and one which brings with it endless troubles for believers, conflicts for society and misappropriation and misdirection of human resources. The belief may bear up people who cannot manage psychologically without it, but it is no less of an empty hope for that.

In Britain, where people once widely believed in healing by holy touch (of the king, primarily), things have changed vastly in modern times. Two examples: In A History of the English-speaking Peoples, (London, 1956), Winston Churchill wrote about the murder of Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket: “All England was filled with terror. They acclaimed that his relics healed incurable diseases, and robes that he had worn by their mere touch relieved minor ailments. (p. 167)” and about Henry de Montfort: “Among the common people he was for many years worshipped as a saint, and miracles were worked at his tomb.” (p 225). Yet despite this, the business of “spiritual healing” has flourished in recent decades in UK and many another affluent Western nation where the health services – however scientifically advanced – are far from perfect. Spiritual healing of most ‘New Age’ varieties depends on the karmic theory in one or another form, seeing (all or at least some) illness as originating in the human soul or spirit (as originally determined by past actions). Many attribute the cures to outside agencies, however, such as whoever is the spiritual healer or a divine figure (Christ etc.), other schools see cure as a combination of the person’s attitudes and actions with a healer’s agency, while a few regard all cures are self-generated through self-faith and techniques of self-healing which have to be learned from someone, most often for money.

Among the weirdly superstitious and medically laughable ‘truths’ that a widely-accepted God Avatar (Sathya Sai Baba) advances is: “Today man is putting his senses to misuse and as a result his body is becoming weaker day by day. He shortens his life-span by his unsacred vision and by indulgence in sensual pleasures. Lakhs of light rays in his eyes are being destroyed because of his unsacred vision. That is the reason what man is developing eye defects.” (Sai Baba, discourse on 5/7/2001 (Sanathana Sarathi, August 2001, p. 226) As if the vast improvements in health, life span and eye-care made by science in recent centuries have not occurred and age expectancy had not risen progressively in almost all countries in the world. This the kind of absurdly anti-scientific doctrine, totally unsupported by any facts, experimental or other knowledge, is being taught in India and in many New Age sects and cults. Apropos, Bjørn Lomborg writes in his 2001 book The Sceptical Environmentalist: “Fewer and fewer people are starving. In 1900 we lived for an average of 30 years; today we live for 67. According to the UN we have reduced poverty more in the last 50 years than we did in the preceding 500, and it has been reduced in practically every country.” So, any shortcomings in world health certainly have quite other causes than unsacred vision!

Posted in Atheism, Belief, Creationism, Ethics, Ideology, Philosophy, Religion, religious faith, Self-awareness, Spiritual propaganda | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

On the roots of political, religious and other fanaticism

Posted by robertpriddy on November 2, 2010

Religious, political and varied other kinds of fanatic are those who defend beliefs as certainties and tend to hold absolutist opinions. In neurological terms they are said to have developed “hard-wiring” whereby certain neuronal pathways in their brains have been so strongly reinforced that they maintain ideas and opinions against otherwise overwhelming contrary evidence. Such mindsets may be unreflected – unquestioned assumptions about many things which have been ingrained in their make-up in early life. So how can one learn about the most likely and most general causes of such fanaticism?

In the relative lack of well-articulated and systematic empirical studies on the circumstances influencing the adoption of one or another kind of extremism or fanatical attitude, we must rely mostly on recorded case histories and insightful literature. The chief source of understanding is probably individual life experience… and the longer and more varied the life, the higher accuracy and value the experience will have.

On such foundations it seems indisputable that, very often, sustained fanaticism occurs in persons who have had a disturbed upbringing causing them to lack what Medard Boss and other existential psychologists have termed ‘basic trust’. Obviously, the specific causes of each kind and degree of disturbance can vary enormously, but a general process definitely seems to pertain in that the need for security or mental-emotional comfort which has lacked is relieved by a pseudo-remedy. Such remedies may include the acceptance of someone as a father- or mother-figure (such as a charismatic preacher or guru, established religious or even political figures as an idol – which ‘transference’ of need is used therapeutically by psycho-analysts). Aids used to relieve emotional suffering also include imagined entities (angels, deities, aliens etc.) to largely mental abstractions, from religious doctrines to conspiracy theories, set philosophies to totalitarianism.

However, on the positive side of things, such strongly held positions, also when long entrenched, can sometimes be overcome. The (undamaged) human brain is reportedly never so “hard-wired” as to be irretrievably fixated into set patterns of responses. New paths can be opened if sufficient stimulus is there, and what was “hard-wired” in the shape of cast iron beliefs or opinions set in stone, and even over a long period of time can – with lack of reinforcement – eventually fade into insignificance.

However, where the person concerned is unable to overcome or neutralise the root cause of unfulfilled needs or a badly disturbed sense of trust, the evidence points to substitution of other cognitive distortion in place of the defeated ones. Thus, a believer who is severely jolted out of belief in a religious sect, cult or guru will very often seek another such in place of the first. The same applies (with due alteration of details) in political extremism and other kind of ‘fanatical fixation’.

One main cause of religious zeal: Religious enthusiasm is often fuelled by the desire to be part of a greater whole and ‘surrender’ ones worries and anxieties into the keeping of a wise super-being… whose existence is deduced through false logic from observations and especially from unconfirmed and non-confirmable second-hand reports (i.e. such as scriptures and hagiography). This applies equally to followers of many political movement of the more or less totalitarian kind. The all-too-commonplace assumption of religionists that a super-being is controlling everything that everyone thinks or does, and all that happens from the tiniest detail to the unknown reaches of the vastest universe would seem to rank near the top of the greatest conspiracy theories of all time. This assumption leads to cognitive distortions of many kinds, from the somewhat innocuous to the truly dangerous and highly destructive doctrines. This assumption is so widespread and has had such a pervasive influence throughout the history of the world that it must be considered one of the chief causes of religious fanaticism.

One symptom of clinging to cherished beliefs is seen in most conspiracy theorists. Such theories are sometimes surely designed to defend against a perceived threat to the way of seeing the world that the proponent feels it imperative to maintain. They avoid or belittle investigation of substantive facts and are liable to rely on assertions about others’ assertions for fact (whether in support of their fancy or the opposite), without themselves confronting the factual basis itself.  Such theories detach from the basic factual evidence and are generally highly selective as to what they take into account. One can see the avoidance of psychological denial in the ways they concentrate almost exclusively on verbal statements and the character of those who made them, rather than on collected and sifted evidence.

See also Neuronal Pathway Finding: From Neurons to Initial Neural Networks

How your brain creates God (i.e. subjective ‘realities’)

The Origins and Persistence of Religious Belief and Faith in God

Posted in Belief, Disinformation, Ideology, Psychology, religious faith, Self-awareness, Spiritual propaganda, Understanding | 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 without 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 to the next… 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 and fear of it is 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 afterworld – 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.

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 by religion’s inertia 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.


Religion and Politics:
Politics in the very broadest sense includes all forms of leadership, however enforced enforced or chosen. The multitude of primitive superstitions and beliefs which formed religion in tribal societies since the stone age (as known to us) were so intertwined with the interests of those who were leaders that separating the two would be near impossible from our perspective. This relationship has always persisted with few probably exceptions even to this day. The preponderance of religion in most nations at least since before the Enlightenment, still applies to most nations and its intimate associations with the origins and influences of national law are historical fact. This being so, the United Nations 1948 Human Rights declaration had no option but to include freedom of religious expression and tolerance of religion throughout both private and public life. This is an embodiment of the secular, humanist value system. "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance." (United Nations’ ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’, Article18).

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).

Two quotes capture essential features of the problem of interaction or interference of religion in politics: "You cannot avoid the interplay of politics within an orthodox religion.
This power struggle permeates the training, educating and disciplining of the orthodox community. Because of this pressure, the leaders of such a community inevitably must face that ultimate internal question: to succumb to complete opportunism as the price of maintaining their rule, or risk sacrificing themselves for the sake of the orthodox ethic.
" and "When law and duty are one, united by religion, you never become fully conscious, fully aware of yourself. You are always a little less than an individual." (Frank Herbert in the ‘Dune’ series).


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: Article 2:
"Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty."

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.

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. 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.

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

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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 »

How your brain creates God (i.e. subjective ‘realities’)

Posted by robertpriddy on July 10, 2010

 

New Scientist article on human brain and its natural inclination for religious belief

In relation to the inset article: This is interesting because it indicates – at the least – how the human brain is most likely the creator of myths… rather than there being any spirit or soul which instructs the brain. On the other hand, the (admittedly tentative) conclusion that humans have a ‘natural’ inclination to religious belief is rather facile, to say the least. It is rather disappointing that the New Scientist publishes material which contains research based on imprecise or questionable usage of terms (eg. ‘religious ideas’, ‘natural inclination’, ‘hard-wired’).

The instance quoted to support this – hard times such as the Great Depression causing a rise in authoritarian church attendance – is not much of an empirical generalization… for surely countless counter examples could be found. The talk of the ‘brain being hard-wired’ for many different things, such as ’empathy’ and ‘romantic rejection’, then also ‘religious belief’ strikes a semanticist as an exaggeration in terminology for findings which are yet of a very tentative nature. For example, if the human brain is, through evolutionary pressures, now hard-wired for religious belief of some kind, how is that so many people are atheistic, agnostic or simply don’t care and never bother themselves with God in any shape or form.

Widespread atheism in a society is a recent development in human history, and does this not indicate that but the alleged “hard-wiring” proved soft after all? In the most progressively intellectual countries of Northern Europe, America (apart from the alleged USA religious majority), Australasia and so on, religion has lost it iron grip on the common mentality of people. Prevailing attitudes – which share the noosphere with opposite attitudes, can hardly be said to be evidence of ‘hard-wiring’. One suspects that there can sometimes even be a pseudo-religious agenda in emphasizing this supposed powerful ‘natural’ inclination (Thank goodness it is not called a ‘natural instinct’ any longer, as on the Cartesian-type model of a ‘God-embedded’ idea of God in human minds). In short, the jury must remain out and should not speak about their private conclusions until the evidence is overwhelming… which it most likely never will be, considering the huge exceptions I have so far only touched on.

The continued preponderance of religious ideas and their role in the arts, music, literature etc. can be explained in numerous other ways than by reference to evolutionary brain developments, which researches still remain in the shadow area of speculation, not verified and well-established hypotheses. Firstly, there is no longer a common religion in all cultures, and most religions were virtually unknown to one other in the main before the modern age of global communications. Besides, there were – and still are – many cultures where what religionists interpret as religion bears little resemblance to any of today’s mainstream religions. What can be defined as a religion is almost a political issue. This vastly complicates research addressing such sweeping terms as ‘religious’.

Secondly, the development of arts in civilised societies are understandably influenced by the other ideas, including prevalent religious beliefs. There can be many reasons for such influences other than then brain’s inclinations. There is the matter of getting accepted by others, which means communicating in terms they understand or prefer. The successful artist is almost always  dependent on a degree of pandering to prevailing tastes, fashions and the lingua franca of the ‘moral’ leaders or law-makers of society, often a priesthood,  if only so as not to be persecuted (one things of Bruno and Galileo for a start). Thirdly, that the brain can “conjure up an imaginary world of spirits, gods and monsters” is no more fundamental than what the mind of a child can create beyond the everyday world from which it draws its elements (especially of a religiously un-indoctrinated children) . Imagination is not limited to spirits, gods and monsters – of course – though these were employed by primitive humankind in an attempt to grasp the causes of the otherwise ‘mysterious’ nature (plagues, droughts, calamities rule a population and even that it rains ‘Deus pluit‘ and a thousand other daily enigmas to early people). This emphasis on religious element in imagination in the ‘hard-wired religion’ camp is without any empirical stringency, since alternative figments of the mind are innumerable too, especially today when all have potential access to everything all cultures have produced.

One of those who capitalizes on such research findings is Iona Miller of the Asklepia Foundation, 2003 writes: “The god-experience is a process, a subjective perception, rather than an objectively provable reality. Distractions cease, replaced by the direct impact of oceanic expansion, sudden insight, childlike wonder, ecstatic exaltation above bodily and personal existence, dissolution in a timeless moment, fusion, gnosis” I shall consider this in a separate blog later.

Se also On the roots of religious fanaticism

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Avoiding leaps of faith into conclusions

Posted by robertpriddy on November 29, 2009

It is remarkable how many people believe many things on rather insubstantial evidence, but just as remarkable is how so many reject things out of hand without having even investigated at all, let alone as fully as possible!  I have observed more and more clearly in latter years – many people will believe just about anything, especially if it suits them, their lifestyle, their habits and accumulated opinions. This cuts both ways, of course, both as to believers and unbelievers. When the facts cannot be established and an issue is still in the balance, most people prefer a certainty than a continued state of uncertainty… even if it is a false certainty. Most people are very poor at questioning their own beliefs, especially those held most dear. But any genuine search for truth must question beliefs, however deep-rooted – and this is most demanding. It calls for a patient condition of inconclusiveness and tolerance of the uncertainty caused by reservation of final judgment until certain knowledge is attained.

There are always pros and cons in any matter, increasingly so the larger and more important the subject. To keep in the mind all of them from both sides, yet not to conclude in favour of one side or the other is a feat of conscious tolerance of uncertainty that few people can sustain for long… at least when the issue is at all crucial. Only when the evidence is so powerful as to make its factuality believable to the well-informed can reservation of judgement be concluded. One should be wary of the fact that belief is endemic, and it takes many different and new shapes which also often shift as experience proceeds.

An even-minded approach allows us not to pre-judge – whether the prejudice be for or against – and helps us takes the rough along with the smooth. But this requires restraint in reaching conclusions together with continuous reflection upon one’s own mind and personal, experiential knowledge. It is not easy to remain open-minded towards all evidence and various interpretations of it, by many-sided reasoning. While investigating the case against Sathya Sai Baba, I have always borne in mind how further questions and answers of which I had not yet thought might arise. This was because I wanted to follow a most stringent method of seeking the true facts.

In general, I do not believe that all or even most of my convictions represent absolute certainties or that what is apparently incontrovertible fact cannot ever prove to be otherwise. Yet personal responsibility requires that I hold to convictions that I have been able to reach after thorough examination [and repeated reexamination as new information emerged] until the cogent reasons for them have been shown to be incorrect by stringent methods of proof. I am aware that some of my important convictions have been overturned by the facts again and again in the past and that many a ‘scientific fact’ and theory have been modified, superceded or rejected in my own lifetime. This applies all the more to human acts and historical developments, as distinct from natural events and processes. That I have moved with the emerging truth and not stuck in a belief that fact has superseded I consider an achievement.

The hardest part of the search for truth, I think, is to remain undecided when sufficient facts and evidence are lacking… for most people everywhere like to get rid of uncertainty quickly and would even prefer to live with false certainties than with inconclusiveness.

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Links to pages on philosophy of science and psychology

Posted by robertpriddy on September 30, 2009

Understanding concepts of truth, their meaning and essence

Understanding and Truth. The multiple problem of what truth is seems so confusingly fathomless that there is quite simply no general consensus about it.

Language, communication and interpreted meaning

It is widely thought in contemporary philosophy that the limits of what is known are, at any time, determined by language.

The person as a whole – self-integration

I told him about scientists who had begged to come with me, some because they wanted to measure Bushman heads and behinds… others to study his family relationships, and one to analyse his spit; but when I asked them etc…

Holistic psychology’ outlined

With what kind of questions does a philosophical psychology try to deal? The answer is whatever concerns the problems of human life as seen and experienced from the viewpoint of a person who seeks to understand it.

Human values in psychology

Much controversy arises or is made out of the question of values; what is meant by ‘values’? Which values are good and which bad, if any? Which values are to be tolerated even if their rightness is controversial?

Intelligence in psychology

Few people are not at all concerned to improve their own level of intelligence where possible. One key to doing this is to have a balanced appreciation of what human intelligence is, what are its best qualities.

Self-awareness in psychological understanding

The understanding of what it is to be a person oneself is the natural and unavoidable basis on which any intelligible psychology necessarily builds.

The human faculty of understanding (intelligence)

The psychology of understanding has not been developed to any appreciable extent in Western psychology, neither as regards inter-personal understanding nor understanding as a basic human need.

Past-oriented therapies critically reviewed

The crucial role of self-inquiry and self-reliance in all forms of psychic improvement does not mean that therapy cannot be of assistance.

Understanding and the concept of human unity

Understanding and Unity. The need for holistic understanding is emerging with increasing persistence in subject after subject as the process of globalization…

‘Science Limited’ by Robert Priddy

(a 13-chapter book critical of the role of the sciences today) Intellectual/social problems due to scientistic beliefs on solving it by Robert C. Priddy Formerly University of Oslo (ret’d)

Critics of populistic propaganda in science presentation

Science as an institutionalised social activity and scientific theory are in a constant process of change.

The scientific problem of human subjects.

The above quote illustrates the dilemma of much contemporary social science: it studies humans physically, as psycho-physical entities.

Scientific explanation and metascience

It is evident that the vast majority of major decisions made by human beings are not based on science.

Science questioned – a metascientific challenge

On the chief causes of a serious decline in intellectual culture on a reformed model

Multiple cause effect in science

The keystone of science is that everything has a cause, yet how can an act of genuinely free will be caused…

Intellectual crisis under the ideology of scientism

The prevailing attitude of intellectuals in the last decade of the 20th century still appears to exhibit an almost unquestioning belief in science and the secular

Fallacies about research freedom in science

The necessity for the science to have freedom to research whatever scientists see as worthwhile has long been as much part of academic ideology.

Sathya Sai Baba

Information by Robert Priddy (Author of the book “Source of the Dream – My Way to Sathya Sai Baba” Born 1936. British. Researched and taught philosophy and sociology at the University of Oslo 1968-85.

Posted in causality, Free will, Holistic psychology, Intelligence, metascience, Past-oriented therapies, Science, scientism, Self-awareness, Understanding | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Evolving intelligence – starting point for human understanding

Posted by robertpriddy on September 21, 2009

The “crib” of life conditions
Every living being grows up within a particular set of environmental influences. This is so even from before birth. In the womb, the egg, the seed and so on, the conditions for life and growth vary for each individual and species. After millions of years of evolution, humans are no doubt subject to the same principles, and this extends beyond our physical natures to the experienced product of our brains… our consciousness and intelligence. Even so, each person develops uniquely according to circumstances, which understanding of any person must therefore always take into account. Because of the ingrained traditions and sheer inertia of primitive superstitions and pre-scientific thinking where one could understand nothing about all but relatively very few natural causes, one believed that the human differed from all natural beings in being endowed with a God-created spirit or soul. This is called ‘creationism’, which is disproved as thoroughly as any idea can be though the massive evidence and explanatory power of evolutionary evidence. We were not born in the lap of the gods, but in the crib of the earth.

Speaking figuratively, the “crib” from which every person begins to experience the world represents the entire yet specific influences which form his or her individuality. Even when the baby leaves the actual crib and walks into the world, the figurative crib of the home and its family (if any) continues its influence for a majority of youth until physical maturity is reached. Though the nurture which develops us physically can be determining for those whose lives become physically oriented – such as in bodily labour, sports, and other careers where bodily features are paramount – the most important life influences for the majority are of a mental nature. This includes the handed-down skills, knowledge, and beliefs imbibed in “the crib”, and these extend to education and personal adjustment to the society in which one finds oneself (often called ‘socialization’).

Each “crib” is obviously limited. The outlook of even the most brilliant child of the most well-informed and broadly-experienced parents is still limited when maturity is reached, compared to the outlook of the greatest men and women of history. Though age is not a guarantee of maturity of mind, it is a necessary condition of it. Despite that, age is not correlated with mental maturity. Intelligence as a potential, rather than an actuality, may be measured to some extent – if not in all respects, of course. Actual intelligence, however, is quite another quality to any IQ measurement, however sophisticated, because it embraces all aspects of human life and understanding. Understanding relies on experience, breadth and depth of experience, accuracy of information and scope of knowledge… little of which can be measured other than by limited sampling of a person’s awareness, memory and mental agility. In short, intelligent understanding of the whole of existence – as far as this is possible – is not attainable before a considerable level of experience – and thus also age – is reached, all other pre-conditions which limit scope of knowledge being present.

The individual’s personal, social and overall intellectual evolution is doubtless no straightforward or ‘linear’ development. Though knowledge can cumulate progressively (even when much information is necessarily forgotten or discarded) the underlying assumptions and conclusions which are inevitable in all understanding can change most radically throughout life. That is invariably more a sign of development than of changeability, more an indicator of learning through trial and error than simply a catalogue of mistakes. Those who pursue many different viewpoints, languages, theories, faiths in the course of a lifetime- and whose horizons are not bounded by one nation – are far more likely to reach a higher level of mental evolution and moral sophistication than those who remain strictly within a single profession, one language, one part of the world, within a single faith and so forth. It is not possible for those professional intellectuals who never plunge into life beyond their libraries, laboratories or universities to attain to the kind of evolution of the spirit open to others who do not. By ‘spirituality’ one should not understand any other worldliness such as in religious beliefs and practices, but the unfolding of the human spirit of investigation and enterprise in the world of the present. How fully this ‘unfolding’ can extend is dependent naturally on many circumstances and there are no limits in any direction of interest, making complete mastery of possible knowledge or understanding impossible to anyone.

Though the above views are not supported here by empirical evidence, the likelihood of their truth is probably quite evident to most mature persons who – to one or another extent – fit the requirements they describe.

What conditions make up the “crib”? Evolutionary science has already shown in amazing breadth of detail, considering the relative brevity of its existence since Darwin, how conditions right back to the emergence of life forms on earth have successively formed the basis for the succeeding steps. There are relatively few important gaps in the overall chain and none which any longer could challenge its overall validity. It is a leap in human intelligence compared with the total ignorance of this entire realm of scientific discovery only two hundred years ago and its denial by so-called ‘creationists’ (i.e. religious believers) since then. Other sciences received great impetus from evolutionary science, not least paleontology, anthropology, psychology, sociology and other human sciences in which the consequences of evolution have stimulated to both new basic assumptions and increased inter-disciplinary research. So much for the physical “crib” and natural selection regarding life apart from humans. The more intricate and wide-reaching questions of human evolution now relate to the nature of the human “crib” as sets of both a physical, social, cultural and intellectual conditioners and influences.

The evolution of human knowledge – as a product of human intelligence – is much illumined both by social anthropology and history. The history of cultures, especially those which have predominated in the impetus to civilised world order, is of great significance in evaluating knowledge, its roots, consequences, and not least its limitations and possibilities. Which forms of knowledge represent objective progress as determined by their consequences are contested on political, social and not least religious grounds. Certain advances in science and – to a lesser extent in social thought – are firmly established on a very wide basis and proven empirically through the efficacy of their consequences, whether or not these effects are desirable to all. Such advances represent a standard by which the historical progress of understanding in a culture, nation, population or other grouping of people can be estimated. There are no accurate overall measures of progress of understanding, though there are many reasonable measures of a wide variety of types of personal development of understanding and knowledge. Nonetheless, it is safe to say that sub-cultures where there is understanding and general acceptance of relativity and quantum physics, of evolutionary science and genetics are more advanced than those where this is not the case, or where these are contested on religious or similar grounds. The same applies, with lesser exactness and reduced reliability to many aspects of knowledge about ourselves as social and psychological beings.

The consciousness that prevails most in any social group or sub-culture – even sometimes in a whole population – can characterise it as belonging to a former era in human intellectual and social development as distinct from the prevailing consciousness among those who have surpassed that level in general or as a significant number of the issues which concern a society. An image may help here, it is as if different individuals, – and often also groups of people – exist within a “time-space capsule” which can be roughly dated in terms of the history of human thought and action.

See also The Nature of Human Understanding  and  Unique diversity in human brains (minds) and their cognitive modifiability

also On the validity of personal (i.e. ‘subjective’) experience

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