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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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Priddy’

On moving towards grasping the mystery of existence

Posted by robertpriddy on May 24, 2011

On paranormal phenomena and the explanations sought to explain them: That the brain is claimed to be merely a frequency receiver, which I once also tended to believe possible (also because it fitted with spiritual beliefs I held then) I now find to be almost wholly unsupported. Empirical studies show it has some subliminal precognitive features (seconds before an event, it can ‘react’). Yet to derive from this an entire ‘mentalist’ and ‘spirit’ philosophy is stretching credibility too far. Current such theories (like the ‘holographic universe’ speculation) seem to be based on the thinnest of empirical observations in nuclear science, most probably not correctly interpreted. Such ideas had the briefest life in European though, such as with Bishop Berkeley.  I am of course also well aware of the uncertainties of sense perception (it’s lesson one in philosophy) – and also the limits within which our senses operate, but that does not alter my views on the uncertainty of all spiritual ‘hypotheses’ about sense inputs having an extra-sensory – pre-sensual – input (‘hypotheses’ usually put forward as established doctrine). The truly astonishingly vast extent of phenomena to which technological instrumentation and computing has brought within our scope does exceed and so extend the human senses vastly, and the pace of development has been accelerating enormously along with the miniaturisation and multiplying computing power. The evolution of science and the direction the technologies it made possible took in the last decades was totally unimaginable in mid-C20 – and even in most science fiction then.

One small item comes to mind: it is now established in neuro-science that the human uses the entire brain all the time… and real-time magnetic imaging even illustrates this clearly. The once much bandied idea that we use 10% (or whatever) was a primitive judgement which first gained prominence back in the 1950s. One believed that there had to be a massive unused capacity because of the so-called ‘transcendental’ experiences, such as can be reproduced with certain psycho-mimetic substances and by diverse other means. The underlying reason for the myth of the 10% capacity was the belief in a God Creator who made human beings in his image, which is of course ‘creationism’. It is, however, most unreasonable to believe that the brain evolved with a large unused capacity, for nature soon abolishes ‘useless’ appendages and genetic developments. Just today research has shown that parts of the brain may temporarily react as if ‘asleep’ (see scan on right)  Evolutionism is not a doctine but a particularly well-established master theory the only creditable fact- and empiri-based explanation of life on earth and human origins that can already account for the larger part of all variations we find in living nature.

Personal development: My own case is the best know to myself, so I proceed from it. I have studied a wide range of books with embracing all manner of paranormal and/or spiritual phenomena and a range of suppositions about their origins and all-explanatory theories of many kinds. Some are based on holography, on transfigural mathematics, on solipsist assumptions, on quantum theory (usually by amateurs), on ancient Indian psychological speculations (not empirical), mysticism, even shamanism and more besides. Now, all these now appear to me to have a similar epistemological status as, say, the Continental rationalists and other metaphysical and pseudo-theological system-builders. Kant’s view of sense perception was, for its time, more advanced than that of Kapila, Triguna, Nagarjuna or other Indian thinkers reaching back apparently even to the Indus civilization. Most of what makes up so-called New Age theories came through the spiritualist movement and Madame Bravatsky from India, most of these ‘alternative’ traditions being prefigured in speculative Indian thought reaching back to former centuries where one knew almost nothing about the ‘secrets of nature’ compared to present day (developed on the basis of the Vedas – virtually a set of hymns, myths and some primitive natural philosophy)

Which ideology a person adopts – whether a political theory, a religion or a philosophy – is partly a matter of choice, partly chance, What one is brought up to believe, or else what one comes across firstly is seldom intelligently chosen. Everyone has to start somewhere and it takes a long time to investigate each ideology philosophy and evaluate it. Many will not even get so far as to think, question, analyze or put to the test the assumptions and beliefs in the culture in which they grow up and live. Many will be more or less unwittingly attached to the set of beliefs, doctrines or systems of thought they happen to be taught or come across early on.

I investigated many movements, political, scientific, social, humanist, and religious too, but always moved on, impelled forward by the need to break false boundaries and learn more, go beyond conventional limits in search of greater understanding.  I soon gave up writing philosophy papers and planning books (my professional status being already sufficiently secured) because publishing and conforming to peer standards slowed down progress in investigation and freedom to search.  After my interest in mysticism was awakened through a very powerful personal experience, several inspections of gurus and various ventures into that sphere ended up in each case with unsatisfactory results. In my mid’40s, unusual circumstances (recorded in my now out-dated and deficient book ‘Source of the Dream’) eventually caused me to threw myself wholeheartedly into a ‘spiritual quest’ in relation to the Indian self-proclaimed divinity Sathya Sai Baba. His claims were so special that I was drawn to visit and see him for myself.  For 18 years my definitive plunge with total commitment into what I would call ‘the spiritual world’ in practice. I did eventually obtain a great deal of new self-knowledge from it, because otherwise I would still be involved in it! Not of course what I expected and not what was supposed to result! On the contrary, I find myself more in tune with certain Zen ideas (except that they supposedly have none, as such). When I allowed myself to raise serious doubts and bring to bear all my former insights and knowledge on the whole thing, I progressively rediscovered the value of critical, analytical thinking (which had been my forte before I put it on ice for the purpose of spiritual endeavor). The advances made in world science even since I has ceased to pursue it thoroughly were so astonishing that, looked at with a clearer eye and on a much broader basis, it uncluttered and cleared my mind in many ways and also necessarily brought me more down to earth than ever (a liberating experience after decades of self-sacrificing idealism and largely wasted ‘spiritual efforts’). The result so far does not seem at all to have been a matter any single set of choices, but rather the sum benefit of my whole life so far. There is no philosophy I could choose today, none are adequate in enough respects… life has pushed me beyond any one set of assumptions on which any philosophy is necessarily constructed.

I no longer adhere to any particular philosophy – I have my own relation to all of them, and my own Weltanschauung is not a system – rather, it is more of a refined reflection of my entire mental and experiential life – the end product of all that went before gathered and sorted in an on-going process or dialectic. It is about extracting the truth content of each ideology – for few lack all truth – and carrying this over as one progresses ‘holistically’. My views today at age 74 are the result of a lifetime of intensive search after knowledge wherein I have plunged into one theory and practice after another, finding the inadequacies and unanswered questions in each new enthusiasm and – by and large – retaining the valid content on into the next venture. My Weltanschauung is therefore very intricate and embraces a great variety acquired knowledge of human experience.

On the meaning of being: The word ‘existence’ is perhaps the most ambiguous there is… so misunderstandings involving it are bound to be very considerable. It is extremely difficult to define existence, for a start. Perhaps the most precise definition is in terms of a protocol sentence (i.e. x is observed). No being can exist without there having been an evolution prior to it’s existence. No human can grown and develop without coming under the influence of doctrines of various kinds (some are not even formulated as doctrines) …  For whatever reasons or causes, most people (seems to me) do not seek the truth sufficiently to free themselves from the sway of doctrine, and thereby live in a relatively illusory world-view. Human being is so multi-perspectived that it would be virtually meaningless to speak of anyone having (or being) ‘pure being’. Only a highly abstracted generalised idea of existence can seem ‘pure’ .

I do not want to make ‘scientific’ sense out of existence, not unduly at any rate. That is the trap, to apply any doctrine to it, and especially primitive speculations by awestruck early humanity (i.e. dawning religious ideas). I find that there is a great deal of meaning in existence, though it is admittedly incomplete and often problematical to live out. I have not come to my own conclusion, but have rejected a great many unsatisfactory conclusions… which amount to knowing much more than before. Systems which are totalizations – especially spiritual theories, doctrines, religions, ‘ways to realization’ etc. – are largely predetermined not to discover the meaning, but sustain or invent further constructions, for it and give the illusion that one knows all the answers (more or less, or potentially – i.e. a subtle mental straightjacket). Looking back, faith of such kinds I now consider the very worst way to find meaning, nothing but a means to generate personal confusion and resignation to fate!


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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 »

Freedom and fate, cause and choice

Posted by robertpriddy on June 14, 2010

The key issue – do humans have any degree of free will – is a very involved one. To elucidate its many convolution one must deal with philosophical and scientific investigations (especially in physics, neurology and biology), but also with far-reaching cultural and religious beliefs and behaviour. To illustrate this with brief examples: the philosophical issue deals with the meaning of ‘freedom’, ‘willpower’, ‘causation’ and numerous related words and also with the scope and logical consistency of the conceptual frameworks of ideas involved. In physics there is the issue of whether experimental and theoretical physics allow of uncaused events – and if so, how and to what extent (i.e. the nature and consequences of ‘indeterminacy’). In neurology, the issue is influenced by the increasingly sophisticated study of neural connections and the neurological nature of consciousness and its inevitable role in any freedom of the human will. The cultural and religious roots of the question of free will are closely intertwined with belief in the supernatural – where various powers vie with one another over human fate and freedoms and/or a creator divinity who either omnipotently runs and rules everything or allows some measure of freedom to the subjects he has created. From such widespread and hugely varied beginnings, differing theologies have developed, each with their doctrine for or against human freedom.


Few words have been used for so many things as ‘freedom’ has. The term is imprecise and so can have many different meanings. As preliminaries for discussing the nature of freedom and trying to decide what is true or false about the subject, we may try to make it clearer by asking
1) freedom from what? and
2) freedom for what?
It may also be worth remembering that the interpretations and standpoints involved are important really only because of the various consequences they have for our lives, thought and activities, such as what kind of society and culture they are likely to support. The issue of whether the individual has any degree of free will is inseparable from the question of what kind of ‘freedom’ is intended.


In essence, the sphere of discussion covering the subject human freedom and causal determinism has two poles. At the one is the idea that our will is ‘completely free’ in essence, though it may be ‘conditioned’ by the various different circumstances surrounding each person. At the other pole are the extreme doctrines of total fatalism or unalterable causal determinism. Other relevant standpoints fall somewhere between these ‘polar extremes’. It is interesting to note that the fatalistic pole is occupied both by many religious fundamentalists and many natural or physical scientists. The other extreme is hardly populated, except for some philosophers of the existentialist variety, such as Jean-Paul Sartre. The ‘tropics and temperate zones’ represent the middle way theories, which admit in one way or another of the ‘necessity’ of there being some free will while recognising that the conditioners and limitations operating upon us are either more or less powerful. Most thinkers in the social, historical and political sciences are found well away from the poles, as are those who contribute to some form of ordinary common sense, especially in modern and more Westernised cultures.

The most serious challenge to the possibility of human free will comes from speculations around the philosophy of science. Since science aims to trace the cause of every possible event or phenomenon, it is always close to absolutising the assumption that there is no freedom in that everything that happens in any shape or form must inevitably be caused by directly preceding events. This leaves no room for human freedom whatever. Therefore this issue is dealt with first of all, before the many theological speculations that also would deny any kind of freedom. Since the theological speculations all depend ultimately on belief or non-belief in a God and a doctrine surrounding this (i.e.on some irrational assumption), it primarily in the sphere of philosophical analysis, logic and empirical science that the key issue is sought illumined through purely rational and empirical means. In short, no belief in any omnipotent creator is presumed here so that the issue can be examined better on its merits independently of doctrine.


The keystone of science is the principle, “everything has a cause”. Yet how can an act of genuinely free will be caused? Likewise, how can any chance event occur, i.e. one that is uncaused? When confronted with these dilemmas, natural scientists twist and turn with arguments that almost always amount to denial of the phenomena of free will and chance.

However, many sciences operate with a multiplicity of causes, due to the complex interactive and many-facetted structure of matter, mind and society. Werner Heisenberg’s famous intervention is the deterministic Einsteinian physics can be summed up simply in his own words: “With the mathematical formulation of quantum-theoretical laws pure determinism had to be abandoned.”(1)

Many supporters of scientism will still not fully accept the possibility of ‘uncaused’ phenomena, and it appears that none of them accept that both meaningless random coincidences and meaningful synchronous ‘coincidence’ of events can occur. Scientists also ignore how some people experience ‘extraordinary’ meaningful coincidences argue that synchronicity is nothing more than chance or random ‘coincidence’ without statistical significance, for all meaning or purpose in such ‘coincidences’ is rejected by scientism as a merely subjective interpretations of events. This standpoint is controversial, since many thinkers are convinced that ‘meaningful’ coincidences occur, perhaps best known of these being C.G. Jung with his empirical materials to support his theory of synchronicity. In many religious and ‘spiritual movements’ the meaningful nature of coincidences is recognised, such events being somehow controlled by a higher power or god. Be this as it may, the issue alone opens a major field of discussion about the interpretation of events and, where even what little serious empirical research available is inconclusive.

Great Western thinkers have almost always pursued the goal of discovering order in life and the cosmos, whether by religious, philosophical or scientific means. Early forms of civilisation already sought to account for the cause of events by what is now widely considered to be ‘mythology’, by explaining natural events as the result of actions of deities. Superstitious as they may seem to the casual observer, such systems of belief contributed to a kind of ordering of ideas and of social relations.

The science of nature developed by the early Greeks started from ideas of an underlying order in nature itself, a ‘logical cosmos’ (cosmos as logos). The nature of certain regular physical events were examined and described, which led to ideas about underlying structures or laws of nature that determined the ordering of events in time and space. With the human mind’s propensity to seek regularity, such as causes and effects, order became a guiding ideal of rational thinking, the basis of the development of discursive reason and logic and also of systematic scientific research.

The ultimate origin, meaning and purpose of the cosmos and all its events has been sought by metaphysicians and theologians, artists and mystics, of many cultures. The ideal is all-embracing explanation and is set against the apparent chance happenings of the world and the fearful notion of ultimate chaos. Seeking solutions and explanations of the conflicts of human life and society led thinkers to the conception of an ethical order. This had already arisen in India centuries before with the concept of karma or the universal law of action and reaction in all things, including human actions. The Jews and the Greeks both adopted such conceptions of an ethical order operating on human destiny, which became a cornerstone of Christian and European thought.


Political freedom is desired from suppression of individuals or groups and for individual justice, as appropriate in each instance. Nations or races seek freedom from external forces, whether military , economic or otherwise and they desire the freedom to exercise socio-economic and political justice. Democracy is based on the ‘freedom’ of the individual to vote on who should govern. (‘freedom’ thus interpreted as ‘choice’). That such freedoms can and do exist is a historical and social fact. But the particular extent or scope of such ‘social freedoms’ obviously varies with time and place. Social freedom is also for the good of all society, being the rights a person should have so as to be able do his duty as a member of society. It is not a right or an open license to do whatever one wants; that is anarchy. Our ‘human rights’ are whatever is necessary or reasonable to enable us to serve our fellowmen and thereby also God. Whatever denies human beings the minimum of means of doing those duties is a compulsion from which they must seek freedom. Some examples of compulsion are the suppression of the right of religious belief or worship and the denial of the general opportunity of caring for others through work (and of not being an undue burden oneself).

See a fuller exposition at

A.C. Grayling has written that we require a clearer conception of free will.
“Its formal identifier is the “genuinely could have done otherwise” requirement: but not only does that itself require unpacking, we also need to look for the fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) traces that suggest which structures in the brain import novelty into the world’s causal chains, making their possessor a true agent, and not merely a patient—a sufferer—of the universe’s history.”

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Humanism educates, dispels ignorance and reduces miseries

Posted by robertpriddy on May 27, 2010

Humanism as it appeals to me holds that, within the conditions set by the natural world, human beings are themselves – either individually or collectively – entirely the cause of all the ills of the world, as well as all the good. It is safest and most likely by far that there is no other agency influencing humanity or nature.

Human history and enterprise, however fruitful or destructive, remain human, none of it is divine (or demonic). Whether material and practical, our works are ruled by precise and unavoidable natural laws, and conditioned by the environment, including social conditions. That an infinite power (the ‘God’ of ancient and modern beliefs) intervenes to rescue us is a ‘delusion and a snare’. Sometimes, when life seems to us too hard and unfair, otherwise sensible people looking for help and hoping for some ‘miracle’ delude themselves into religious beliefs. When succour fails to occur, many pray for salvation or invoke divine justice. There is, however, no definitive proof of any reasonable kind too show that a single divine intervention has ever occurred or  succeeded in saving humanity from its miseries. For every instance where it seems to have happened, there are countless others where it has not… it is just the law of averages at work, not any benign invisible agency.

If humans were the creation (or manifestation) of God or a divine will (though extremely unlikely) then he (or she or it) would also be entirely responsible for all human faults and so-called ‘evils’ which would be a consequence of that creation, known in advance to any omniscient entity. If it were that such a being existed who could create humans and provide them with a measure of ‘free will’, they would still not be responsible for their condition and choices, for these are made within a framework which is limited by creation itself and which gives very little room for overall change.  If we observe divine intervention in human history as this belief has been handed down to us from the most ancient of times when we understood almost nothing of the workings of nature, it is seen to be a superstition, a faulty primitive conception derived from ignorance combined with fear, escapism, desire and hope.  There have been and still are many thousands of claimants to divine knowledge and power. The India gurus especially know how to take advantage of those who listen to them, having a long and highly sophisticated tradition of priestly doctrine and means of control and manipulation of people to draw upon. It is constantly handed down by word of mouth with the vast pseudo-spiritual community of swamis, mendicants, gurus and the common herd who have been totally indoctrinated to accept their ‘teachings’.

However, enough wonder and beauty is in nature and our human world to make supernatural wonders superfluous.  Both beauty, ugliness, pleasure and pain are almost perfectly explainable by natural laws, which are experienceable and understandable. Even our origins, and the origins of the stars and galaxies are now understood to a vast extent – a development which has taken place within 100 years or so… which is a tiny time span compared to the billions of years of our solar system. The secret of how human have developed and how DNA programmes this is cracked and science is on the threshold of the creation of the most elementary life form from which all else came. All that was a most securely ‘closed book’ to the writers or ‘channellers’ of scripture… their wisdom was in fact simply a speculative mask for their ignorance of natural law in its myriad detail.

Posted in Belief, Creationism, Environment, Evolution, Free will, Ideology, Religion, religious faith, Science, Understanding | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Religion and conspiracy theory

Posted by robertpriddy on February 26, 2010

The greatest and most accepted conspiracy theories are not just at the fringe of mainstream discussion. They are found in the religions of the world. That an invisible, insubstantial, incorporeal, unknowable, omnipotent, totally unaccountable person, with a vast hierarchy of disembodied helpers, is behind almost everything  otherwise unexplained that happens on earth, should surely qualify as the prototype of all conspiracy theory.

It is prototypical because of its very ancient roots in early prehistory. The idea of a monotheistic God – I submit – eventually developed from a host of attempts to explain the apparent contingency of events on earth… the weather, illnesses, accidents, illnesses, death, birth, the impenetrable sky and volcanic fires and so on ad. inf.
Dreams gave rise to the idea of spirit beings, from which arose worship of ancestors, animals, images, objects as idols… As these ideas clashed and were inadequate to explain or bring about desired results in the dawning light of wider understanding, they were superceded by more general deities – and out of the long historical clashes of warring sects then national beliefs, pantheistic and/or monotheistic Gods arose and the mainstream religions took them in hand, so to speak, and theologised them further… always more and more abstracted until nothing corporeal could be involved.

In essence, the idea that a clandestine intelligent power is conspiring to control us cannot be taken further to excess than is done by the mainstream religions – with the exception of some forms of Buddhism and other lesser known teaching.  While some conspiracy theories  have actually be proved to be substantially true, what we can tag as ‘the Divinity Conspiracy’ can – by its very nature – never be proved to be true. Nor can it be definitively proven to be untrue, though the likelihood of it being true can be shown to be minimal. This likelihood increases all the time as science advances, providing genuine and testable explanations for more and more of the phenomena originally considered to be mysterious, miraculous, impenetrable, and so wondrous as to be forever beyond human comprehension.

The theory of evolution, having expanded its database vastly in a matter of a mere 200 years, which is developing at an ever-increasing pace, gives answer to enigmas that were previously unsolvable throughout human history. Religions, appealing to ancient scriptures, (and largely distorted and often censored) have been bolstered up by flawed speculation of a theological and mystical kind  appealing to awe for the supposed ‘creation’ by an uncreated Creator – all at the expense of serious investigation.

The understanding of genetics which hardly got anywhere before the 1950s with Crick and Watson, is also racing ahead exponentially, confirming and deepening the understanding of the evolution of life. Neurological research is answering more and more of the enigmas about the human brain/mind and the subjective phenomena it can produce.  The religious belief in mystical revelation or ‘cosmic consciousness’ is itself increasingly being shown to consist in phenomena due to functions or dysfunctions of the brain alone.

See also: Some key distinctions for the science-religion debates: agnosticism vs. atheism and secularism

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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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Is religion necessary to humanity?

Posted by robertpriddy on November 23, 2009

“As my friend Matt Ridley has written, ‘Most scientists are bored by what they have already discovered. It is ignorance which drives them on’,
Mystics exalt in mystery and want it to stay mysterious.”
Richard Dawkins ‘The God Delusion’ (p. 151f, Black Swan 2007 edition)

The reasons for supposing the benevolent existence of a caring God are very many and powerful, not least the need of adults to assuage anxiety and fear about existence and death, of suffering and possible divine punishments over and above those exacted by our own kind (or for the weak-mind, that of an eternal hell run by demons or a devil). Whether faith in religion has an overall positive or negative function for humankind is inseparable from the ultimate question of the existence of a God, whether as a Supreme Intelligence, the Creator of the Cosmos, and Omniscient and Omnipotent consciousness – or the like expressed in other terms.

To place faith in a being that does not exist cannot be genuinely fruitful in the longer term.  It may certainly have a temporary or even quite extended   consoling or uplifting effect on people. Yet it is really an expression of ignorance which, obviously, cannot be fruitful for humankind and whatever future it may have.

As science continues, decade after decade, to fill more and more of the gaps in our knowledge, there is less and less space for the mystical explanation and the supposed ‘divine hand’. The process of cumulative human knowledge based on massive observation and experimentation – instead of superstition and speculative theology – has continued since earliest human history, when the actual causes of some natural phenomena began to be understood. In the last century it has been progressing geometrically and shows no sign of slowing down.

“If the history of science tells us anything, it is that we get nowhere by labelling our ignorance “God”.
Jerry Coyne, US geneticist, reviewing the legally discredited ‘creationist’ theory of Behe.

Creationism – the belief that the world was created by one or more intelligent beings (usually God, spirits or deities) – was almost (though not entirely) universally believed before European science and philosophy progressed. The creationist belief came under strong attack as the science of evolution  advanced to become accepted by most world scientists and intelligentsia. The body of knowledge explaining the development of all living beings has developed and grown by leaps and bounds at an ever-increasing rate. It is so many-sided, so empirically fact-based that religionists’ counter-arguments have fast narrowed down to a very limited scope.  The so-called ‘unknown’ causes – which were the main support of creationism and other forms of mysticism (including belief in evil deities like Satan) – have been largely explained in phenomenal detail and tested by observation and experiment. The once universal awe and fear of a Divine Creator whose planned and rules the natural order – red in tooth and claw – and the near endless series of calamitous hells that world history had recorded became less and less convincing and effective. 

Beliefs in supernatural phenomena and beings has most often been due to sheer ignorance of causes of what are natural phenomena and events. The sense of being looked after by an omnipotent protective parent is natural and all but unavoidable for children to survive until adulthood, but many cannot make the transition and find some other imaginary being as a substitute – angels, spiritual beings of all conceivable (but unobservable) description and not least the most often vague catch-all belief in ‘God’. Such conceptions formed and became ritualised and a part of a primitive developing culture, and remained in the long run (though constantly modified in the transition of cultures – even beyond recognition).

When science gave rise to the versatile alternative form of understanding of the universe and superstitions were shed on a huge scale, the keystone idea of all traditional religions – an all-powerful, all-knowing God creator (and destroyer) – appeared more and more superfluous, even ridiculous. The idea of such an insuperable (and often most fearful) being was used to control people, whether or not cynically was discredited. However, even today the priesthoods are powerful influences and even belief in a strong, determined and clever person as being holy, divine, or even God Himself in human form is most common in history. (Rama, Jehova, Jesus, Roman and Eastern emperors… and countless more since). Today there are plenty who profess to be holy, divine and even to be God Incarnate, and they often have very large followings (especially in the East) and countless charlatans proclaims they are God’s Messenger, God’s Mouthpiece, or God’s Representative on Earth (e.g. not forgetting the Catholic Pope as ‘Vicar of God’, meaning ‘deputy’).

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Critical reflections on Advaita Vedanta

Posted by robertpriddy on October 13, 2009

Advaita has many sub-variants, such as Nisagardatta’s unsystematic pontifications to much more strict presentations by theologically-minded advaitists in the tradition of Adi Shankara or even Ramana Maharshi. The best succinct explanation of how the abstract religious-theological ‘philosophy of Advaitism or Vedanta Advaita developed is surely that given by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstead in their seminal book ‘The Guru Papers, Masks of Authoritarian Powers’ (North Atlantic Books, Berkeley) . I quote briefly:

Oneness, the pinnacle of religious abstraction, is the aspect of Eastern thought the West is currently the most enamoured of. The early Vedism of the Ayran invaders that superimposed itself on indigenous forms was a combination of polytheism, ancestor worship, and ritual sacrifice similar to Greek and other Indo-European religions.

Then the authors point out how the more sophisticated non-duality of all being (advaitim) came to be, rising the level of abstraction (i.e. products of thought that may or may not refer to something other than thought) “The more abstract a symbol, the larger range of events it can include

There is power in being able to incorporate one symbol into another.  When the level of abstraction that people operate in is no longer satisfying or credible, for whatever reason (often because of advances in secular knowledge), the tendency is to look for a still higher level. The more abstract a symbol, the larger range of events it can include.” (p. 349)

It is easier to incorporate science into ideas of Oneness etc. and this appeals to both West and East.

The more abstract a concept is the more it generalizes; and at the same time, it leaves out particulars, sometimes even the particulars of life itself. By abstracting the sacred from nature, the different religions in their diverse ways made nature low on the hierarchy of importance.

Concepts of spirituality became more abstract, moving from individual “spirits” embedded in nature to abstract principles and powers beyond nature. Through manipulating belief in the sacred symbols that represented these new abstractions, greater control over larger areas of human behaviour was made possible. …. The hierarchies within the emerging systems of sacred symbols mirrored and justified the developing hierarchies of secular power

And so on, very illumining and showing that force in society which makes use of religion to control people. That what it’s all about and has always been about in most societies.

The above was written by me elsewhere, reproduced because it fits well into the series of blogs here. In conclusion, Advaita Vedanta is, at bottom, an empty ideology which entraps in a labyrinth of abstractions and confuses people about reality… like other forms of monotheism theology, it is a social power tool.

Vedanta is ultimately an empty ideology which entraps ‘aspirants’ in a labyrinth of abstractions and confuses people about reality… like other forms of monotheism theology, it is a social power tool. It is often extremely otherworldly in its orientation, due to its cardinal denial of the reality of matter, the self, the world and so on.
See also several of the preceding blogs her and also : Philosophical analysis of an eclectic collection of numinous Indian ‘spiritual’ ideas relating to Advaita Vedanta

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