What is religious education for?

It’s not the state’s job to encourage critical scrutiny of religion, argues Melissa Lane

What should religious education (RE) aim to do? Consider the following proposition: that the RE syllabus should “focus … on learning how to make informed, rational judgements on the truth or falsity of religious propositions.” I will argue that such an approach to RE is anachronistic, parochial, and dangerous. It misconceives both religion and its place in the state.

The proposal – from a 2004 report by the ippr (Institute for Public Policy Research), What is Religious Education For? – is anachronistic in embodying Enlightenment polemic against early modern states in which religious tests were required and religious power of various kinds enforced. In that past world, in which public power and coercion were used to penalise nonconformity, philosophers and polemicists who challenged people to question the grounds for the orthodoxies which had been intrusively imposed upon them played an important role. They made the culture safe for religious criticism.

Today, however, despite the continued establishment of the Anglican Church, public power in the UK is not used coercively to enforce either orthodoxy or orthopraxy. No religion here enjoys anything like the sweeping civic influence and control of, say, the eighteenth century Scottish Presbyterians, which Hume sought to counter by his skeptical arguments, or of the eighteenth century French Catholic Church which Voltaire sought to undermine by his. Indeed, not even Voltaire and Hume proposed to use state power to impose that sort of challenge on the religious. Their contention was not that the state should teach the questioning of religious beliefs, but rather that state power should be used neither to promote them nor to suppress their being questioned. A proposal of the kind quoted above would distort the Enlightenment heritage in the very act of appropriating it: turning the demand for freedom of religious criticism into a demand for the imposition of religious criticism.

It might be objected that although there is no public religious coercion, private religious coercion remains: children are born into families in which they are indoctrinated into religious beliefs, and so someone has to free them from such indoctrination by teaching them critical assessment of religious claims. Perhaps one should go further, in viewing such freeing as essential if they are to become mature and responsible citizens.

This raises two questions. First, what the nature of religious identification among children (and indeed adults) actually is; second, whether it is the state’s role to challenge such identification. The answers to these two questions constitute also my next two overall points: to suggest that the understanding of religion as belief-indoctrination is parochial; and to argue that the claim that the state should challenge such religious identification among children (however understood) is, in a liberal society, dangerous.

The view of religion as resting on belief in “the truth or falsity of religious propositions”, and on rationally assessable evidence justifying such belief, is indeed parochial, deriving from a narrow self-misunderstanding of the very religion (paradigmatically Protestant Christianity) which it would criticise. It is a misunderstanding, because religion is not belief alone but the complex of belief, practice, and community. These together constitute religious identity in a way which is holistic and constitutive rather than dependent on single pieces of evidence assessable in isolation. To imagine that religious identity rests on isolable pieces of evidence that can be judged true or false is to be blind to the phenomenon of religious belonging.

Admittedly, the primacy of belief and evidence may be not only a misunderstanding of the nature of religion, but also one which is shared by certain forms of religions themselves. A rough generalisation would be that Christianity and Islam are more likely to treat belief as the fundamental basis of religious identity, whereas progressive and even orthodox forms of Judaism, alongside Hinduism, are more likely to treat belonging and observance as primary.

Yet in all these religions, religious identity and identification go in practice beyond and sometimes apart from belief. There are Catholics who reject the belief in the sacredness of all life so as to support abortion, and those who reject the belief in the supremacy and infallibility of the Pope. Conversely, those who abandon orthodoxy or religion altogether will as often do so for moral reasons – they simply cannot accept what they take to be the implications of the religion any longer – as for reasons of a change in their assessment of “evidence” for the truth of the religion itself. The lively debates in religious journals and synods (or their equivalent) demonstrate the recognition that evidence and belief do not exhaust – and may not underpin – the varying and specific forms of religious identity which people choose to espouse.

Even the most self-proclaimed orthodox of any faith divide among themselves as to what that faith requires them to believe and to do: they make some holidays more important than others; they worry about translating certain requirements of their text into practice but not others. And there are also many belongers who are not believers, or are not sure whether or not they are believers, or are selective believers, or selective practitioners, but whose affiliation nevertheless outstrips and outlasts these facts.

Crucially, the religions have always been broad churches in this respect, arenas in which some advocate the primacy of belief while others (perhaps the majority) get on with a wide range of believing, not-believing, practising and not-practising. Contra Karen Armstrong’s recent argument in The Case for God – that the elevation of belief in religion (paradigmatically in Christianity) was due not to the religions themselves but to the fatal effects of the scientific revolution in setting new standards for belief — I would suggest that the tension between elevating belief and elevating practice is intrinsic to the life of religions. This complex relationship is traduced by reducing it to a single univocal test of the rationality of belief.

Even if religions are considered in light of belief alone, the idea that there is a single rational test of that belief based on a simple scrutiny of evidence is mistaken. In light of what the American political philosopher John Rawls called the “burdens of judgment”, we should think it unreasonable to expect that any particular piece of evidence would tip believers or unbelievers out of their established religious (non-)identification and into another.

Rawls asked in Political Liberalism: “Why should free institutions lead to reasonable pluralism? Why does not our conscientious attempt to reason with one another lead to reasonable agreement? It seems to do so in natural science, at least in the long run.” His answer is that in the case of religion and philosophical debates about the ultimate good, our judgment is burdened by a number of factors, which he went on to describe as follows (this is a close paraphrase): The evidence is conflicting and complex, and we may disagree about how to weight it; We must rely on judgements and interpretations about all concepts; Experience matters for the assessment of such claims; It is hard to assess varying kinds of normative associations; Any system of social institutions is a limited social and value space – it is hard to set priorities and make decisions.

Because of these burdens, it is unreasonable to expect that pluralism will end – or that there could be any killer argument to end it. Instead the task of the liberal society is to respect pluralism in these matters consistent with reaching a common core of principles of justice.

This brings me to my third point: that the proposition with which we began would endanger the ideal of citizenship in conditions of pluralism. Consider a further recommendation in the ippr report: “Pupils would be actively encouraged to question the religious beliefs they bring with them into the classroom, not so that they are better able to defend or rationalise them, but so that they are genuinely free to adopt whatever position on religious matters they judge to be best supported by the evidence.”

This suggests that the state’s goal is freedom from religion. Yet is the goal of the state in a multifaith classroom and society, not rather freedom of religion? Freedom of religion certainly includes the freedom to have no religion. And the general critical thinking skills taught in schools may well be used by pupils to this effect as an inevitable outcome of their general education. Yet this is quite different from the state itself actively and directly seeking to train pupils to question their religious beliefs. This is at once misguided, since as argued above such beliefs may not be best conceived as grounded in rational evidence in any case, and an inappropriate role even for an impeccably liberal state.

Even if some children are born into religiously dogmatic families and communities, so that one might argue that they need to be released from the prison of such dogma in order to become intellectually mature citizens, this does not justify the state’s directly and deliberately undertaking such a role. RE is only one part of the curriculum: children will receive a full training in critical thinking skills elsewhere in the curriculum, and nothing will stop them from applying them on their own to religious matters. Likewise, school is part of a generally open public culture, in which children will also inevitably be exposed to challenges to their religious identities and other ways of life.

What is beyond the pale of a pluralist society, however, is a state-directed frontal attack on the evidence for religious beliefs considered as such (as grounds for religious identity, rather than considered as grounds for scientific argument, for example). Religious commitment is not something which pupils should be expected to defend in terms of generally acceptable reasons for belief. Indeed, the whole point of the burdens of judgment is that it is unreasonable to expect convergence or common assessment of such issues, in addition to the fact that much religious commitment is not based primarily on belief at all. To demand such reasons and such evidence is to embarrass religious pupils with a demand which they cannot reasonably be expected to meet. Insofar as the state respects the existence of diverse religious communities, therefore, it should also respect children’s identities as members of them.

What is the alternative? In the light of a pluralistic culture in which we celebrate freedom of religion as including the freedom to have no religion, an education in religion cannot be the education in a prescribed religion which it once was. But neither should it be an education out of religion, or in whether or not to be religious. Rather it must be reconceived as an education about religion. This would involve studying the varying histories of religious groups, paying attention not only to their beliefs, but to how their doctrines evolve and change in relation to practice and to the broader culture. The notion of variability and sensitivity of belief to a wide range of circumstances, including social, scientific, and intra- and inter-communal political relations, will inevitably emerge from such an historical approach. Such an approach will also explain the way in which debates about the interpretation of principles and practices are understood within various religions themselves.

This study of the history of religion will necessarily take a sociological or anthropological perspective, but this need not be an alienating one from the perspective of faith, and it should certainly not be deliberately alienating. It will enable pupils to put questions of belief into living contexts, that is, the contexts where they in fact live. Its effects on religious identification are unpredictable, as they should be: education should be an immersion leading to independent ideas, not a tract directing one to a set of binary choices.

There are two other aspects to the RE which I would advocate examining. The first is the question of its relation to moral education (and of course RE is now part of a broader course in RMPE – religious, moral and philosophical education). The second is the question of the relation between religion and the state.

On moral education, we can again begin by criticizing the ippr position. Objecting to the “moral justification” for teaching religion, its report observed, “One only has reason to submit to the moral teachings of a religion if one holds that religion to be true … in the absence of such a belief, there is no reason at all to regard religious texts or institutions as morally authoritative. On the contrary, one has good reason to regard their moral teachings with suspicion, since they are predicated on beliefs one does not share.”

Is this the appropriate attitude even of a humanist non-believer to the great repositories of moral experience and inquiry that are found in the world religious traditions? The evolution of morality even considered as a secular subject cannot be divorced from its roots in religion. But neither are those roots determinative of whether or not moral values arising in religion can be accepted more widely. If we have any confidence in canons of moral argument, those canons can be applied to moral claims rooted in the world’s religions, and that application will be the more sensitive the more it is informed by a full appreciation of the religion’s history. Moral education would appear to be a prime case of the potential value of religious education which is not seeking religious inculcation, yet one which an overly intellectualised idea of religion mistakenly disparages.

Finally, let us consider the question of the relation between religion and the state. To what sort of political theory does the view I have advanced of RE belong? Although I have drawn on the Rawlsian idea of the burdens of judgment, my overall view diverges from Rawls in considering religions not on the belief model but rather on the model of an identity resting on a complex of belief, practice and community. It seems to me that such a re-envisioning of the nature of religion can help with a problem in the Rawlsian theory of political liberalism, namely, its unwillingness to require religions to make any change in their own outlook in order to accommodate a shared political conception of justice.

Rawls’ political liberalism is held hostage to the circumstance of whether or not religions happen to have the ability to endorse political liberalism or not, taking them just as they are, and failing to justify any requirement on them to change. In my view, in contrast, religions can be expected to change to accommodate the publicly shared principles of justice. This will happen in diverse ways among the whole spectrum of believers and belongers, each finding a new way of understanding and living the religion’s demands and ideals in light of its place in a changing public sphere. Such religious adaptation would only be impeded by instructing teachers to challenge the religious beliefs of pupils. If the state were to get religion so wrong, the religions would be less, not more, likely to learn to accommodate themselves to the liberal principles of the state.

Melissa Lane is professor of politics at Princeton University

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51 Comments.

  1. Since religions are still present, and since so many children are being indoctrinated all the time, RE is healthy. Schools teach children what we think we know about the world, so they can make informed choices. Religion is a big problem there. Many never question their own beliefs, and dismiss anyone who does. And then it skews their views when they make decisions. Like when people vote against same sex marriage.
    But ideally, RE would be a chapter in history class.

  2. How exactly do we draw the line between indoctrination, and parents trying to teach their children about the world, in whichever way they happen to think correct? Is it just because the “indoctrination” involves a world-view that we think is false? Would Mr. Dawkins’ letter to his ten-year old daughter fall foul of this ant-indoctrination stance!

    If not, where is the line to be drawn? Between us and them, atheist and theist, rational and irrational, educator and indoctrinator!

    Perhaps there should be calls for the prevention of children in other countries from being indoctrinated into their patently ridiculous cultures! Maybe somebody should denounce Harry Potter…. Oh wait, forget that one! Should I discourage parents from teaching their children direct-realist theories of perception, constructive empiricism or Austrian School economics? I think they are all nonsense, but does the fact that I have very strong opinions about it being false mean that anybody who believes it, and brings up their children to do the same, is an indoctrinator? I am inclined to say no!

  3. “Indoctrination” tends to be word one uses to describe education which promotes values that one disagrees strongly with.

  4. @ AMOS W

    Are you saying that is the correct use of the word? Is it entirely subjective?

    Personally, I would have thought that the methods rather than the ideas taught are what distinguishes education from indoctrination.

  5. Since there is no evidence for any religion (if there was a religion with a scientific theory backing it up, I would accept it), indoctrination and fraud is the only way to propagate its memes. If we want to correct that, we either treat the cause or the symptom. Since treating the cause – the parents’ religiosity, or their ability/right to indoctrinate their children is considered unethical – we should treat the symptom – the child’s religiosity. And since schools already have the tools and opportunity to do so, why not? The benefit is that people can make informed choices that are better for the society and themselves than the ill-informed choices people make under the influence of religion.
    Just because you believe you are right, doesn’t make it OK to be arrogant about it. Indoctrination is arrogant, showing the evidence and explaining the theories is not. I suspect the schools often fail to explain scientific methods and other important background info about the subjects they teach, but that is a completely different story.

  6. Adam: I spoke of how people, including myself, tend to use the words, not whether there is a correct use. The communists “indoctrinate” students, while the “free world” educates them. Religions “indoctrinate” their disciples, while we atheists and free-spirits “educate” them. However, if you read communist literature, you’ll find that they consider that capitalist societies indoctrinate students and that they educate them in correct socialist values. I understand your point that it is a question of methods, not ideas. For example, it would not make sense to talk about Socratic indoctrination, would it? Generally, in real life what are called “educational” institutions combine a bit of education and a bit of indoctrination. I’ve had the fortune to have had a few teachers who are educators, but most teachers combine education and indoctrination. In fact, many teachers are so unaware of their own core values that they don’t know when they are educating and when they are indoctrinating.

  7. In the case of religion, it’s a matter of fact or fiction, not idealism or opinions. And teachers’ methods are not part of this discussion.

  8. andrew (a different one)

    the point of religion tends to be (rather pointedly infact) that it is not about fact or fiction (notably, given your previous posts, scientific/inductive models of fact or fiction) hitblade.

    and when one discusses what one should teach, it is inevitable and required that one should discuss how to teach it. attempting to narrow the discussion down with brute statements does not help the discussion at all.

    as an aside, i would like to note that any person considering themselves (to use the article’s example) catholic, without agreeing in the primacy of the pope is literally making a contradiction in terms. catholic dogma states with utter clarity (and has done since the late dark ages iirc) that the pope is “the” patriarch.

    anyway; ive honestly got to say im not sure religious education is worth the effort; children will learn such things far more readily from their parents than from teachers. the mission statement, to;
    “focus … on learning how to make informed, rational judgements on the truth or falsity of religious propositions”

    should, imo, be changed, along with r.e itself, into a lesson that furnishes students with the capacity for critical thought in general. teaching people to criticise religion or to make value judgements regarding religion is not the same as giving them the capacity to judge rationally. the capacity to make informed rational judgements should be the more important part here, with the religious “truths” at most an example.

    we could call it critical thinking or something to that effect.

  9. It’s not primarily about critical thinking. It’s about showing how vacuous religion is, so that they CAN think critically about it. We could teach more philosophy perhaps! If nobody shows them the smoke and mirrors, it’s gonna be “A said there is a god, B said there is no god, but since A is my father, I’ll trust him.” Without a teacher telling the kids what religion really is, they have no chance to find that out. That is what I have observed. Parents obviously don’t teach them this, since a majority of Americans for example, admit they subscribe to some faith. I do think we should teach them about religions in general as a part of some other subject rather than giving it it’s own subject. But it is necessary, especially in countries with religious people.

  10. As far as I can see there is very little in the statements of the IPPR that is seeking to instill freedom ‘from’ religion, as Melissa Lane claims. They are merely seeking to instill a culture of questioning into young people. Her assertion that this may be harmful because religious beliefs are not based on evidence so will not stand up to this scrutiny is nonsense. She herself proposes some such evidence – intimating that there are many benefits to be achieved from “the complex of belief, practice, and community”. If children can be made to consider whether this ‘complex’ is truly a positive influence on our world, or to consider if such benefits could not be achieved through other means, then i cannot possibly see how such a move could be considered a bad thing.

  11. andrew (a different one)

    @ hitblade.

    to my understanding religion is primarily a coping mechanism that imparts a sense of solidarity amongst disparate populations, and a sense of place and purpose at the individual level.

    with certain obvious exceptions i see no problem in this; it is no more dangerous in real terms than identifying with ones local football (soccer) or rugby team in england, or ones baseball or football team in the USA. it is in certain ways actually more wholesome; no matter how much a secularist argues we have yet to formulate a viable ethical code that isnt grounded in the religions of our forfathers, for example.

    personally, i agree; it would be better to teach philosophy than R.S, but to assume religion is inherently bad because it is a lie is an error. almost all quantative truth’s (eg. boiling temp. for water), even scientific ones, are at best “rounded up/down” untill you reach a certain depth into the subject

  12. @A different Andrew
    So you are against “breaking the spell”? People don’t need religion, look at Denmark, the least religious country in the world! Or Sweden, where I live, we are not very religious here either. I don’t know ONE person who goes to church or prays to any god(s)! The only religious people I see are immigrants and a few JW. People aren’t more miserable here than in the very christian US.

    We derive our moral code from our instinct to cooperate, which is a very successful strategy of survival that necessitates good behavior towards others. The good moral codes in religions also come from the same source, it’s man made after all. The religious also use this moral code when discriminating the good parts from the bad in their holy texts.

    Fanaticism is rarely a good thing of course, and should be discouraged in schools. Since all religions are systems of lies, fables and wishful thinking, schools should be challenging them. Schools are not about making kids happy, it’s about teaching kids how the world works so that they can make informed decisions that will make them and others happy.

    Accommodationalism and belief in belief is a stance for lazy cowards. If people need comfort and guidance, let’s help them out, but we shouldn’t accept anyone lying to them. There are many ways to help people without fairy tales. Can we please teach the kids that they are not living in bronze age Israel? Or is that too arrogant?

  13. andrew (a different one)

    hehe…i think you misunderstand my argument that religion is not necessarily a bad thing for accomodationalism. personally i disagree that moral codes are the exclusive result of collectivist tendencies, for the simple fact that there are different moral codes in different places.

    i would also assert that “lies, fables and wishful thinking” are useful in the acquisition and transmission of values, and that religion has utility due to this. the call to a higher power whilst, as you (dont exactly) say, is an error in our process of justification, is nontheless a useful error.

    one should also be careful to imply that what is taught in schools (that isnt religion) is truth; in my high school geography classes i was taught things that my a-level geology refuted. arguing from a position of truth at the level of standard education is difficult, and probably folly, which is part of my original implication.

    and ultimately when it comes to it, i would assert that the fact that the various religions are still so powerful would put lie to the idea that we have developed better ways of justifying our values. if we had natural selection wouldve put payed to christianity et. al., or at least it wouldve started.

    i would also assert that though nice places for us atheists, denmark and sweden probably still have social problems; and that these, like the problems of england (where i live if you havent guessed), have little to do with the % of religious people.

    btw; sorry if this comments a bit disjointed, im on my way out the door :)

  14. Yes, there are different moral codes in different cultures, but all the basic stuff is there. The moral code can change as long as it doesn’t make cooperation too difficult. If people can cooperate even though they are all raping eachother, then rape could possibly become morally “ok” in that culture. As long as the culture can exist, moral codes can change arbitrarily within the limits of cooperation. North Korea works because the moral code of the government makes cooperation possible, even if it’s extremely unfair and twisted by our code. The fact that there are many different moral codes all over the planet speaks against religious teachings that teach absolute moral codes. And by modern standards, those codes are quite immoral, unless we discriminate within them. If we do that, then why do we need such a religious moral code in the first place?
    Accomodationalism is intellectual laziness and cowardice.

    Fables are useful for illustrating morality. Lies can certainly transmit a moral code, but won’t it be a skewed code if you have to lie about it? Isn’t it better for the receiver to receive those codes from reality instead of a lie? Wishful thinking may have a placebo effect on people, but it’s not reality, and certainly not exclusively found in religions. It’s not a useful error if we can find something that is not erroneous that can provide the same utility value. Which the Danes obviously can.

    Like I said before, the quality of teaching in individual schools is a completely different matter. What should be taught is what is interesting here. I argue that we should teach about science more than what findings have resulted from the scientific method. Both are valuable to the kids of course, but I had no idea about scientific methods after 12 years in school! But schools should also show kids what pseudoscience is, and frauds and other dishonest things that they might encounter. Organized religion is just such a fraud, useful or not.

    Lowering the bar of epistemic justification for some people is not acceptable. Why is gravity “just a theory” and heaven and hell a “fact”? Why are we teaching children about physics, biology and other sciences, but when it comes to pseudosciences and religions, we say “whatever floats your boat”? Schools should speak up for what experts have found out to cohere with reality, and against what doesn’t cohere with that. It’s not fact, but theories. Teaching that something is true is arrogant, allowing people to teach others such things shouldn’t be allowed. If you sell toothpaste that doesn’t live up to it’s promises of perfect white teeth within 1 week, you could be punished. But systematically lying to people about afterlife and demons for money is apparently perfectly fine! This is bullshit, and we don’t need it.

    Yea, religiosity doesn’t make people happy or moral.

    this is tl;dr, so sorry for mistakes :D

  15. andrew (a different one)

    again you mistake my argument that religion has utility for accomodationalism :P

    take note that im not actually disagreeing with your statements about why religion is bad per se, just your conclusion that it is as a result useless. as far as im concerned, untill we come up with a better way of doing what religion does for people then religion is justified (within limits certainly) no matter how much we atheists dislike the fact.

  16. Aha, I mean accomodationalism is bad.
    I’m not saying that religion is useless because it’s bad, I’m saying it’s bad because it’s useless.
    Religion doesn’t do anything for people.

  17. andrew (a different one)

    the evidence of the utility of religion goes against your assertion hitblade. if religion was useless it would be dead as the dodo. the fact that it is both going strong and getting stronger indicates it still has something to it that makes it useful to people.

  18. Not really, the lack of utility in religion can be seen when comparing non-religious cultures, such as Denmark, with religious cultures, such as that of the US. Danes don’t need religion any more than Americans do, and they are just fine. The side effects of religion is too obvious though. American politics is severely infected with religion while Swedish politics isn’t. Swedish politicians aren’t much better than American politicians in most cases, but at least they don’t base their decisions on fiction.

    When it comes to the survival of religion, I’d say religious memes survive like any other meme, because it can. Because humans aren’t thinking critically, and in my experience they simply don’t care most of times. But last I heard religiosity was in decline.
    It would be interesting to compare the black death with Christianity. They are both replicators that thrived in humans. The plague got so bad it wiped out brazillions, and Christianity stopped all human progress in it’s tracks for like 500 years. But when a parasite like these two become too big, (in the case of Christianity it would be the civilization that was the host), it will either destroy all hosts or decline as the host builds up a stronger defense against it. If the parasite survives it does so in a much less potent form.
    I don’t think the analogy is perfect, but it shows the parasitic relationship i see between humans and religion. We help religious memes replicate, and we get nothing but delusions in return.
    And this is the reason why we should inform children about religion. The same reason we vaccinate them.

  19. andrew (a different one)

    “Not really, the lack of utility in religion can be seen when comparing non-religious cultures, such as Denmark, with religious cultures, such as that of the US. Danes don’t need religion any more than Americans do, and they are just fine. The side effects of religion is too obvious though. American politics is severely infected with religion while Swedish politics isn’t. Swedish politicians aren’t much better than American politicians in most cases, but at least they don’t base their decisions on fiction.Not really, the lack of utility in religion can be seen when comparing non-religious cultures, such as Denmark, with religious cultures, such as that of the US. Danes don’t need religion any more than Americans do, and they are just fine. The side effects of religion is too obvious though. American politics is severely infected with religion while Swedish politics isn’t. Swedish politicians aren’t much better than American politicians in most cases, but at least they don’t base their decisions on fiction.”

    this paragraph, if anything, falls in my corner more than yours, as you are effectively admitting that religiosity and religious memes being used in a political context have not resulted in america being substantially or manifestly worse than sweden, especially here;

    “Swedish politicians aren’t much better than American politicians in most cases, but at least they don’t base their decisions on fiction.”

    and given the manifest cultural differences between the scandinavian countries you cite and america i dont think its entirely logical to assume that the latter doesnt in actual fact “need” religion, the US motto is afterall “in god we trust” (at least its on their money lol)

    the assertion that religion=disease is…distasteful. it smacks of chronoligical bias and to a degree biggotry. would you similarly say that scientific theories that have been disproved but still hold sway are diseases too? no, they are merely the result of an older iteration of the current scientific paradigm.

    in addition to this, you assert that we should teach religion to vaccinate against it…by which i can very easily infer that you do not wish to teach children about religion, but rather you wish to indoctrinate them against it. i would much rather we didnt make the mistakes of the past when we dont have to.

  20. Oh, I meant that politics that are influenced by religion are a lot worse than politics that are not. Even if the politicians themselves are equally good or bad at their jobs.

    Humans don’t need religion. Many people feel that religion is an important part of their lives, but that doesn’t mean they need it. If they like it, they don’t want to lose it. If they don’t have it, they don’t want it.
    And tell me one thing that any religion offers that non-religious sources can’t provide. Just one. You believe religion is necessary because it provides something that people need, but can’t be found elsewhere, right?

    I never said that religion is a disease, I said that memes are analogous to a virus. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it shows how information spreads and what it does to it’s host. When malign memes take over a host, abortion clinics get bombed. Or worse. Even more benign forms of religious memes cause bad outcomes, like when people want to “protect marriage” from homosexuals and divorces. These are the kinds of memes that we don’t want in our society, and those are the ones we want our children to resist.
    And I’m not a bigot, I made an observation, not an opinion. Pseudoscience is another malign family of memes, this one should be exterminated.

    No, if you teach children what religion actually is, they can see for themselves that it’s nonsense. Indoctrination is one of the things we want to get rid of.

    “i would much rather we didnt make the mistakes of the past when we dont have to.”
    What mistakes? Did some mentally ill man take over a country and made life miserable for people of some religion(s)?

  21. andrew (a different one)

    saying that religion is analogous to a disease is saying it has all the hallmarks of a disease, and therefor that it is in effect a disease.

    i am not saying that religion “does” something special, what im saying that the fact that it does anything at all for people is sufficient reason for its existence. an example would be that it imparts upon people a sense of self worth they might not have if they were irreligious or atheistic; having a creator thing that cares for you (whether its there or not) is an effective counter to the danger’s of nihilism and solipsism.

    what religion actually is, is a socially and historically constructed and defined institution which, like every other example of a human institution has good and bad sides to it, that both limits the capabilities of humans as well as affirming and justifying others.

    an example of atheist/anti-theist indoctrination with markedly bad results would be stalinist russia and communist china; or rather the lamentable things done by either state.

    would you assert that a political movement that desires increased humanitarian efforts for the poor that is influenced by christian dogma is worse than an atheist movement to do the same?
    would you deny that, given my example, even the atheist movement is at the least heavily reliant on christian dogma, given that the whole conept of humanitarianism as being positive is a result of certain christian belief structures that emphasise empathy for the weak?

  22. This article focusses far too much on political theory and, to really engage with the question, needs to examine specifically what is taught (what syllabus are we talking here) and systematically go through each section (i.e. each GCSE paper) and look at what each section is ‘for’. ‘For’ in terms of what? -history, economy, aesthetics, stability of the country/state?

    Aside from the fact that learning (any subject) need to be ‘for’ anything? Whatever happened to philo-sophia, love of knowledge? (in-itself) This is a philosophy blog is it not?

    This idea that learning should be ‘for’ anything smacks of the economic attitude in the UK at the moment demanding arts justify themselves to be ‘for’ business in some way.

  23. Viruses and bacteria can be more or less benign, they don’t always cause deceases in their hosts. I compared it to a virus, not a decease. I also said that the analogy wasn’t perfect. It’s not even my analogy, but I see the analogousness of it, so I use it.

    Yes, it does something to it’s host, it causes delusions, it makes people believe that death is not “the end” for example. That belief is benign in itself, but religions can also allow some really nasty behavior that would otherwise be unthinkable. I’m thinking planes and tall buildings. Should everyone take their bible seriously, it’s back to the bronze age for the US. Whatever placebo effects religions have on people, it’s too costly when it can be done without the fairy tales. There are lots of ways to impart a sense of self worth upon people that doesn’t involve lying to them, or any risk of them becoming a negative influence on the society.

    Yes, religious humanitarianism is worse than secular humanitarianism. Religions are a bit unpredictable, there are many of them out there, and many religions have different denominations. “Christian dogma” can apparently involve anti-abortion, anti-homosexuality, anti-condom, anti-divorce, spreading dogma, pseudoscience (creationism), pseudomedicine etc. A person who derives these things from the bible, could also believe that forcing these values upon others is a very humane thing to do. So who knows where “increasing humanitarian efforts for the poor, influenced by christian dogma” leads? Check out what the Catholics are doing in Africa, see how well that went? Religious charity people do good things too, but there is always the chance that they are gonna screw up big time.

    Nobody derives morals from the bible. Not any good morals anyway. People who do get their morals from the bible joins Westboro baptist church. Unless you actually believe in a magical “lawgiver”, you can’t say we get humanitarianism from religion. Since it’s man made. Which means that humans invented all those ideas, along with some horrible ones. We discarded the horrible ones because we thought they were horrible, and kept the good ones, because we thought they were good. Not because our forefathers were religious.

    Stalin and Mao? First of all, borderline personality disorder. Second, taking away peoples freedoms is far worse than indoctrination. What we should do is revealing the smoke and mirrors of religion in our schools. Like we do in Sweden. But as with most education, it’s done rather boringly, when it could be so interesting.

    There is no atheist movement. Atheism can not be written any longer than “belief that there is no god, because absence of evidence is evidence of absence.” There is however a movement trying to stop religion from influencing politics and deluding people.

    Should we: not criticize religions at all in schools and let kids grow up with whatever delusions their parents are afflicted with (but we keep science for some reason), or should we discriminate and only discourage some religions, or expose all of them?

    And, what makes religion so important? I have never seen one good reason to keep superstition in general and organized religion in particular. If people feel good imagining an afterlife, go ahead, but there should be rules for what an organization can advertise or tell people, like “don’t make claims you can’t back up”. That’s reasonable, isn’t it?

    DAmn I’m tired now, I hope I got this right now, cus I can’t read it lol. See ya tomorrow or something :D

  24. andrew (a different one)

    im all for teaching people to be critical of religion and think for themselves on the matter, so long as they learn to think for themselves in general; education as i know it does neither, so we may well be arguing cross-purposes here lol.

    you claim that mao and stalin had psychological problems; is it not possible that the terrorists who caused 9/11 might have similar problems that are merely actualised through religion? it is easy to use religion as a scapegoat because the fools who do stupid things claim it is for their god(s), but here’s the thing; when it comes down to it i personally know more screwed up and problematic atheists or anti-theists than i know theists. does this mean atheism is somehow more psychologically dangerous than theism? no it doesnt. if i knew more screwed up theists than atheists would it mean theism the more psychologically dangerous of the two? no. the correlation is, both in my personal experience and (im betting) in general, incidental; at least untill we get to the point that psychopaths appopriate religion as an excuse to do bad things.

    i know full well no one derives moral’s from the bible; i dont see people sacrificing their only children on mountain tops very often lol…

    basically im what im asserting here is that the religious are for the most part benign, with obvious exceptions, and that provides evidence for the assertion that religion itself is (whilst not benign) not actively malign.

    and im afraid my previous example (the humanitarian thing) didnt work out too well lol; i was coming from a strictly acta-non-verba perspective…as long as one is doing a good deed for a good reason i dont care about the misconceptions that cause either :)

  25. Yes, but since religion is a big part of many peoples lives, it only makes sense to show it to students, and compare it and break it down, just like we do with politics and biology and everything else in schools.

    Serious terrorists apparently have screenings. It makes sense, would you send a mentally disturbed man on a secret, holy, heroic mission? It’s quite possible that the martyr’s leaders are mentally disturbed. And good people sometimes do heroic things.

    Since religion is not based on reality, it’s practice consumes a huge chunk of resources and time that could be better spent on something else, it can easily mutate into really nasty mind viruses, and it provides no real benefit to it’s hosts, it’s all bad.

  26. andrew (a different one)

    that bad things “can” happen as a result of religious teachings does not make religion bad; otherwise no human belief or act can be good because bad things “can” always happen as a result. supposedly sensible agnostics and atheists end up killing people for notions of patriotism or promoting rediculous idea’s like the shop-floor version of libertarianism; doesnt that make agnosticism and atheism bad? no.

    nor does the fact that it is a lie does not make it bad, afterall would you tell a gifted yet suicidal person that whatever it is thats keeping them alive is a lie when they are on the brink of curing aids or cancer??

    the only way i could agree that religion is inherently bad is if it completely lacked use or the ability to be used in positive ways; only then does it become useless and needy of destruction imo. religion isnt there yet, it still serves a purpose, and serves it better than the alternatives for many simply because it is what they have chosen or it is what their sense of cultural-self is predicated by.

    again i say im not disagreeing with you on the way i would prefer things to be, im disagreeing that we have reached the stage where removing religion completely is viable or even good.

  27. “… time that could be better spent on something else …”

    Who decides, what time is *better* spent and what is not? The same people who can infallibly differentiate between what is based on relity and what is not? How do they differ from 15th century’s religious authorities?

  28. If religion can promote really nasty behavior, but no really good behavior, then it’s a negative force.

    Do you mean “does that make notions of patriotism and shop-floor versions of libertarianism bad?”? I don’t see the connection with disbelief in gods?

    Bad timing is bad timing, but generally, the truth is what we should try to find and spread, and non-truths should be exposed and criticized.
    And any christian who claim they care about the truth, why not tell them that their belief is based on childish stories?

    What are these purposes of religion you talk about?

    I think the only thing keeping religion alive, is people’s lack of an open mind, critical thinking, and stupidity. Too many don’t seem to care what is real and what is not.

    It’s when they try to push their crap on others, and when they want to mess with others’ freedoms, even their own children. then I think they should be stopped. Otherwise, let them play their fantasy games, if they want to seek the truth, they are welcome to join us.

    Maximus, I meant that religion is too costly. We can use our resources better, and still give people what they need and want. But without the lies.
    Reality? Well, it’s easy to test a hypotheses and see if it coheres with reality. Gods don’t, souls don’t, afterlives don’t. They haven’t been proven in any reliable way, thus we can ignore it until someone finds some results.
    It’s not a coincidence that there are biology professors at universities, but no astrology professors. And if the scientific method isn’t good enough, then how would anyone ever dare to step into an airplane?

  29. andrew (a different one)

    hitblade your the one asserting that religions are incapable for inspiring laudable behaviour; you need to provide the proof for your claim. i can provide instances of religious organisations or organisations inspired by religion that act for the good. the salvation army, the red cross and red crescent, the current iteration of the hospitaller knights (of crusading fame).

    the reason i mention patriotism etc… is because, simply put, by your method of judgement they are universally “bad” because bad things can and have resulted from them. the fact that good is equally possible to stem from such motivations seems to elude you.

    in my question im not talking about bad timing. what im saying is that would you tell a person about to cure aids or cancer a truth that would drive them to suicide, just because the truth is “good”? the truth is only as good as the manner in which it is used, just as lying is. if this hypothetical man needs the lie of god to make his life worth living i would let him have the lie, and celebrate the cure of aids or cancer along with the rest of the world when he cured it.

    i would assert that before you accuse the religious et. al. of being close minded you should think on the good that can and has been realised as a result of the religious, lest people read a certain amount of hypocrisy into your statement; to loudly assert something is irredeemable because some people that ascribe to it actively do bad things and you disagree with it in principle is, afterall, what many religious demagogues have done in the past.

  30. I am not able to recall *any* contemporary civilisation without religious roots. Religiosity is foundation of very human culture and it doesn’t matter whether we like it or not, so we need to admit this fact.

    For that matter, Nietzche was terrified when he had realised that people had “killed” God before they have built another stable foundation for their society.

  31. Proof, well Sweden is a lot less religious than the US, still US recently invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. Sweden accepted almost 20,000 refugees from Iraq, while the US accepted like 1,000. Americans aren’t doing more good than Scandinavians, and religious people aren’t doing more good than the non-religious. It appears to me that religion (and patriotism for that matter) do more damage to societies than they do good. Good people do good, religious or not, and some people will do less good, some will do evil. Religion can however make good people do evil. If religions are good for anything, the evils that come from religions are far more common. That’s why religion is a negative force (not to mention it’s based on bronze age myths and lies). Do you have any evidence suggesting religious people do more good?

    It could be possible, but I don’t see how good could come out of patriotism or religion. At least no good that would make them necessary to keep.

    It’s still a question of timing. The truth about religions is not as important as a cure for AIDS. So can we perhaps cure him after he cures AIDS?
    And in practice, there is no way of knowing such a person would fail his mission to find a cure if he lost his religion, and there could be an alternative treatment, i dunno… medicine?

    Of course, I’m arguing from my idea of a good society, (one where progress, knowledge, peace and happiness are important). I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but I think most decent humans do, to some degree. And I’m not saying that there is no way religion can be worth keeping. I’m just saying I have never seen any indication of that, and I have never read or heard anyone with a reasonable argument for that. I have never seen any attempt to actually prove it either. Not even the “belief in belief” crowd. Perhaps you know someone who can do better?

  32. andrew (a different one)

    …so when religious people do bad things it is because of religion, but when they do good things its because they are good people inherently? it is logicaly inconsistent to propose this, and implies religion is being used as a straw man or scapegoat.

    similarly, to claim that just because americans are on average more religious than swedes is at best an accidental relation to the fact of the war in iraq. the US govt. claims it was about nukes, the way it looks is that its about crude oil. in neither of these possible reasons does religion factor, though it is ofcourse being used as a justification post-fact by some americans.

    if i were to accept the notion that religion is bad because the products of “bad” religiosity do bad things, it would not be much of a stretch for me to assert that science is, by an order of magnitude worse, given that most scientific progress has been the result of warmaking and with the intent to make war more completely.

  33. No it’s not inconsistent. The thing is that when religious people try to do good things, they sometimes end up doing bad things (like faith healing their kids instead of taking them to a hospital). Sane humans don’t seem to be capable of “heh-heh-kind-of-evils”, but when their worldview is twisted by delusions, they sometimes make things worse for others. Like when they vote against same sex marriage. You see, they do good, but it’s a delusion. If they didn’t have such delusions, they might have done some real good.

    I didn’t mean it was a war started on religious grounds, I meant that religious people started a war for non-religious reasons, but they started a war nonetheless. Sweden is neutral and only do some peacekeeping missions here and there. I’m just saying that religion doesn’t make people good…er. But comparing US with Scandinavia shows that religion is not making people happy and good, since Scandinavians aren’t worse off than anyone in a more religious country. If religion made people good and happy or whatever, you would expect religious cultures to be happier and better than non-religious cultures. There are other factors too of course, but I can’t see any positive impact on any culture from religion.

    Science is a method. And necessity is the mother of all inventions. Not all, some are accidental of course. But take the dynamite for example, it was invented for mining, not war, and many inventions for warfare have been very useful in peacetime. There is science, and there is weapon industry. Everybody use the same scientific method every day. It’s the way human minds try to make sense of the world around them, we make observations, hypotheses, test hypotheses, peer reviews, theories etc. Religions are created by humans as primitive theories about the world. Today they don’t stand a chance against modern scientific scrutiny though. Things like science and religion are good or bad forces in societies depending on how much good and evil they bring. Science brings lots of good stuff, some people use it for bad stuff, but without it we won’t get anywhere. Religion makes good people do bad things and fails to make people better, and only gives people comfort in the same way you comfort a child by saying that the dog had to move to a farm somewhere far away. Also, science is amoral. It has no inherent moral code, and can’t be a reason for good or evil. Religion has moral codes, and a religion is only as moral as it’s teachings. The bible is not a book I would recommend to my children.
    Perhaps it’s time for the religious to grow up and grow a pair? Or are they so weak that they can’t live without comforting lies?

  34. First: Religion is not about morality. It is just a prejudice. At least, religiosity is human attempt to find answers to the existential questions.

    Second: Religion doesn’t turn people to evil. It is a prejudice, too. Was well-educated Mengele a scientist or not? Were his researches good, amoral or bad?

    Last: Even well-shaved William of Ockham was a friar

  35. andrew (a different one)

    i dont get your point hitblade. “religious people try to do good things, they sometimes end up doing bad things”?

    incontinuity between the moral content of intent and the moral content of result is not the sole remit of the religious. i think you would find it all to common amongst humans if you thought about it.

    comparing the US with scandinavia does not show anything in any meaningful sense. it does not show americans are “unhappy” compared to swedes or danes or norwegians, because happiness is an intangible quality. if you mean quality of life in general then that is for the most part nothing to do with the religiosity of either nation, but rather the political priorities of said nations. the US didnt get to be an imperial mega-power (in all but name) without massive military spending afterall.

    also, science, like religion, is only as moral, amoral or immoral as the way it is used. to claim science is outside the remit of morality is dangerous, and brings the insane scientific experiments of nazi germany to mind that they perpetrated “in the name of science unfettered” against such “undesiriables” as homosexuals, jews, russians, the disabled, and the gypsies amongst others.

    you have yet to explain why the organisations i cited earlier are somehow “bad” because of their religiosity, nor have you provided actual examples which support the assertion that religion is inherently bad.

    again i say that just because something is a lie, it is not the same as it being bad, or it being worthless.

  36. Hey Maximus.
    first: Most religions I know of has rules with punishment and rewards, and in holy texts there are lots of stories that believers use as moral guidelines. Religion is rarely amoral.

    Second: Religion doesn’t turn people to evil, it twists their worldview. And when they act, sometimes they act immorally from a non-believer point of view. But no delusion gives anyone the right to take away others’ freedoms.
    Mengele was a scientist, insane and a catholic (at least when he was young). Science is amoral, what is moral in science is up to the scientist. Mengele was a psychopath or something, which allows him to do his job without remorse or drinking, which is not true of his colleagues. His research was amoral, his methods were evil.

    Last: And your point is?

  37. Humans don’t do evil things on purpose, unless it serves some greater good. Like those brave men who heroically gave their lives to protect their families and destroy an evil enemy, so they hijacked a couple of planes and crashed them into the enemy. To them it was a good cause! These were educated upper middle class family men, who fought for a good cause. It would have been a good cause if the Qur’an was true. What I mean is that people do good things, but if their worldview is warped, they may think they are doing something good, when in fact they are not, and that is a problem that comes directly from religion. Religion is the biggest cause of this problem, since it’s so widespread and warps reality more than anything else.

    “comparing the US with scandinavia does not show anything in any meaningful sense.” Exactly, religion has no positive effect on the American population. There are negative effects however, and the religious minority in Scandinavia show those too.

    American quality of life is lower than that of Scandinavia, from what I heard from the UN. But like you said, religion doesn’t improve quality of life. So we agree now? can we start exposing religions in schools now? (they do it here, but I think they do it a bit wrong.)

    Religions that have a set of core rules is not amoral, it makes a claim to absolute morality. The bible explicitly states that worshiping other gods is wrong, death-penalty-wrong. There is no such rules in the scientific method. Now, scientific communities is a different matter. Because they are humans, who are beings with moral codes. Humans need laws and rules, because we are not perfectly moral yet. Science (the process) doesn’t provide any guidance whatsoever, while religion does. A primitive one. Nazi Germany’s scientific communities were of course moral in Nazi Germany. But immoral to everyone else. To them these “undesirables” were vermin, just like any lab rat. But their worldview was also warped. They were also mostly catholic, supported by the Vatican. :o Gott mit uns indeed.

    I have provided lot’s of “religion is bad because…”, you have provided no “religion is good because…”. I second the motion, teach kids what religion really is. I thought you were opposing it, did I miss your arguments somewhere?

  38. andrew (a different one)

    “But like you said, religion doesn’t improve quality of life.”

    i said no such thing. i said “quality of life in general then that is for the most part nothing to do with the religiosity of either nation”.

    economic development ratings and the resultant quality of life has little to do with religion is what i am saying, because it has rather more to do with political aims and priorities, which are also precious little to do with what % of a population believes in a god. the US long standing goal of being the premier military power is in now way predicated or justified by religion, to assert it is simply because there are more religious people in america than in sweden is bad logic.

    and forgive me, but you contradict yourself in continually stating that religion is a defunct and incorrect (and ergo scientifically worthless) idea that should be got rid of, then saying “There is no such rules in the scientific method”. the discrediting of theories is effectively an “non-moral” or in a more literal sense an “ideological” version of “you will have no other god before me” in that in both the result is a single codified framework which is used to make sense of the world around us.

    and again, with reference to the nazi scientists, you mistake the coincidental fact of possesion of religious belief with the reasons for their actions. it is quite possible that when they went to bed at night they used their belief to try and justify the evils they committed, but that does not make religion evil, it makes it mis-used.

    it is also logically inconsistent to make a claim to cultural relativism and then claim your own cultural viewpoint is the correct one, which is an objectivist statement.

  39. “the US long standing goal of being the premier military power is in now way predicated or justified by religion, to assert it is simply because there are more religious people in america than in sweden is bad logic.” That’s not what I said, I said that US are warmongering despite being more religious. Religion doesn’t make nations more peaceful, it doesn’t improve quality of life, and is based on myths. It’s useless. It does however shift moral standards in a way that is immoral to people who don’t share their warped worldview. Now it’s downright bad.

    “in both the result is a single codified framework which is used to make sense of the world around us.” I think you mixed 2 questions (religions try to explain both, while science is for explaining the first only. Modern humans have philosophy for the second.) The questions are: “How does the universe work?” and “How should we live in it?”. How things work what the scientific method is for, religions try to explain things with creators and other myths, while scientists do experiments and things. How we should live is explained by religions with absolute laws that allegedly comes from this law giver. While in philosophy, everything is debatable. There are debates within religions too, I’m sure, but that’s an argument against the holiness of holy texts.

    No, I said the nazis were religious yet immoral, which means religion doesn’t make people good. It was a bit sarcastic with a :o. But I never said that it was because of religion.

    I never said my viewpoint is absolute, I just try to keep my moral code down to the most universally acceptable. Good things include charity, improving life quality, happiness, truth etc. Bad things include unnecessary suffering, unnecessary lies, war, theft etc. Religion is not a source of these moral codes, and often disagree with these.

  40. andrew (a different one)

    but what about how your moral code came about? im pretty certain almost everything we europeans consider good or bad in moral terms is the result of religious moral concepts; killing needlessly is bad. in a literal sense why is this? because secular humanists cooked up the maxim out of nowhere, or because needless murder has been bad for thousands of years and is the result of some god or other saying “thou shalt not…”?

    to assert religion is useless because it is a lie undermines the value of any system based upon it, like the way in which a house with bad construction is devalued.

    good things and bad things are *now* good or bad and indepently so, yes, but religion, specifically in our case christianity and christian philosophy are infact the source of these codes, to deny the effect that religions had on philosophers such as aquinas and kant (most prominently, though there are ofcourse others) has had on how moral thought is actualised is to effectively ignore the reasons and the causes for modern morality being as it is. ultimately, by terms of sheer numbers alone, moderate christian/”humanist” ethics are the most universally acceptable.

    finally, in response to your first sentence; if religion isnt even a contributing factor to the manner in which a state acts at an international level why even bring it up? you are arguing that religion is useless to people by arguing in political terms; im sorry for misunderstanding you before but this confuses me just as much. religion is a personal thing moreso than it is societal, and definitly moreso than it is a tool or form of government. if you want to argue that religion is defunct surely it would be better to argue against it at a personal level than at the political one? seperation of powers has, afterall, been common amongst states for at least 100 years, and has been around for over 100 more.

  41. But where did the religious moral concepts come from originally then? Mars? Unless there is a non-human source of these moral codes, these codes are all human. When humans create religions for example, they make religions that make sense to them. If you are a conqueror, you would want a god of war, if you are greedy for power, you make a god that punishes worship of other gods, if you hate homosexuals, you make a god that punishes homosexuals. It’s all too human. Humans are born with certain instincts that makes certain behavior necessary, and that’s where we get our morality from, that’s where religions get their morality from, and that’s where religious believers get their morality from when they pick and chose what parts of the holy scriptures they chose to follow. Cus I don’t see many homosexuals being stoned to death these days.

    Yes. If someone is doing something good, just because they go to heaven, they do it for themselves, if they do it because they don’t want to go to hell, they do it out of fear, if they do it because they want to help people in need, they don’t need religion.

    As I said, moral codes had to come from humans unless there is some form of non-human moral law giver. Christianity didn’t make any great philosophers. They would probably have been great philosophers even without religion.

    “moderate christian/”humanist” ethics are the most universally acceptable.”
    But it doesn’t come from christianity. Do you really think that humans would be less moral today if we never had any religions ever? Does it matter if a(n imaginary) god or a regular guy says “war is immoral”?

    My point was that on no level is religion necessary. Not on a large scale cultural level, political level, on the level of the congregation or even the person. Why defend it? Can you show me examples of good that has come from religion that other wise don’t happen?

  42. andrew (a different one)

    nowhere have i said religion is necessary, i have said it is useful. i have provided examples of religious groups/charities/orders, which you have evidently ignored since your still asking. one cannot say “if kant was not religious he wouldve created his moral theorems and other philosophies the same way” because he would be a different person without his religion; religion is retrospectively necessary to the understanding of religious people, kant without religion is not kant at all.

    without religions humans would have different moral’s, but that does not in any way mean that our current moral code is not influenced by religions; hypotheticals aside the moral codes that define european moral thought are historically dependent on religion and predicated by religious concepts regarding sanctity of life.

    and the cause of religion is irrelevant to the fact that religion influences, inspires or outright creates our modern understanding of morality. it could be a god, or a host of gods, or a flying spaghetti monster or whatever, the historically verifiable fact of european moral thought remains the same.

    you are also confusing christian ethics with biblical ethics; they are not nor to my knowledge have they ever been the same.

  43. Ok, useful then. In what way is it useful, how does it work? Can you explain HOW it is useful? Listing charities is not enough since there are many secular charities. And I simply said that Kant would be a great philosopher even if he wasn’t religious. I don’t think religion inspired Kant to become a great philosopher, I think he was interested in philosophy, so he became a philosopher. Kant might have come up with other ideas, but he would still be as good at it. And we don’t need Kant’s philosophy today. His ideas are interesting, but they could come from anyone, or everyone.
    Kant without religion would still be Kant. Same shit, different memes.

    No, without religions, humans would have modern morals. Morality is not learned, humans are born with it. You can change their worldview, and change the way they make moral decisions, but it’s the same morality. Children can be taught what is wright and wrong the same way. If they don’t understand why they can’t hit other kids, you teach them. If they don’t have the moral hard wiring for not physically abuse their peers, they are gonna keep doing it until they get caught. Determinism makes it all make sense. Our morality evolved, just like speech and everything else.
    And nobody needs to practice religion, just so we can understand why religious people acted the way they did.

    It’s not a fact at all. It’s not proven at all. If you have anything scientific to back that up, please give me a link. I’d love to read that. Europeans agree with some of the moral code of christianity because they are humans, and Christianity was created by humans, for humans. This explanation fits perfectly. How come cultures uninfluenced by christianity, even unrelated religions, have similar moral code? Isn’t it interesting that unrelated religions are so similar? It’s almost as if… it was a (bi)product of human evolution… hmmm.

    Well.. isn’t the bible the foundation of christianity? And according to you, modern moral codes? How come nobody agrees with it then? It’s impossible to discuss what a religion is about without putting it’s holy texts in the center. Especially christianity, because nobody follows the bible these days, because it’s mostly considered immoral. Human morals have evolved out of the kind of moral codes that we can see in the bible, which apparently was totally acceptable a millennium or two ago.
    My point was that modern ethics, christian or otherwise, are not based on christian teachings, christian teachings were based on bronze age morality. Human morality has since then evolved away from the teachings of the bible, and today we read the bible in disgust. Even Jesus acknowledged the old testament, After all, he inspired it, assuming he is god that is.

    At least I provided some explanations to how religion causes evil, and provided examples. And also how it fails to cause good. You listed some religious charities. Please explain how religion is useful. In detail. There are secular charities everywhere, even the red cross was never officially affiliated with any religion. Modern morality is explained by evolution. What else is there?

  44. andrew (a different one)

    ugh…ok. logically speaking, is it fair to say that a result necessarily depends on all the causes that lead to it to happen? for instance, my cup of tea is the result of a teabag, some water boiled in a kettle and a cup. these in turn are caused by other things, such as ready availability of electricity to power the kettle, the company that made my teacup not going bankrupt etc…

    now, lets remove a cause; i dont have a teabag. how can the result, a cup of tea, be that result without tea leaves to steep in the boiled water? it cant, simple as.
    “sensitive dependence on initial conditions” means that if any slight change in parameters occurs the end result is different and often unpredictable. it also means that if the end result is known all initial conditions are necessary for said result.
    therefor, in a historical sense, christianity is necesssary for modern european morality.

    to assert that because other area’s of the world possess similar moral’s is specious because most other area’s of the world have been affected massively by europe in a historical and cultural sense, britain, spain, france, holland, greece, portugal, rome…all of them and more besides have had vast and disproportionate affects in terms of global development throughout history. it is no more feasable to assert christianity is irrelevant to the development of morality than it is to assert that greek architecture and literature is irrelevant to the neo-classical movement. furthermore, it is equally infeasable to assert that kant wouldve turned out the same way were he not a christian, for the same reasons stated above.

    listing charities is enough to show religion is capable of expressing good ideals, because that is what you asked and that is what i provided. that and the historical fact that the moral codes upon which charities act (help the poor and sick, innate worth to human life) are historically predicated by religion in general.

    throwing assertions regarding the supposed evolution of thought and morality does nothing to detract from the actual truth of my argument. citing evolution, if anything, supports my argument for the simple fact that religion hasnt gone extinct supports the notion that humanity as a species still requires it in some sense. if religion wasnt a beneficial mutation it wouldnt exist in the first place, and if it had truly become malign it would have died out already. it is the same with the determinism that make it all make sense. determinism is the idea that any effect is determined by its causes, and since i assume your talking about hard determinism here, not only are effeccts determined by their causes but they are necessarily the result of their causes. this works the other way too. any cause must necessarily happen for its result. ergo modern european moral thought, which is manifestly influence by europes christian history, necessarily required that christianity exist and that it exist in the fashion it did and does for that moral concensus to occur. without just one of the conditions for modern christianity being met (no primacy of the papacy over the pentarchy, or no lutherian “heresy” for example) then any effect after that change would become different.

    as an aside, memes grow out of cultural paradigms at a given point in time. an example would be the “anonymous” meme that was brought to being within the internet and then actualised in rally’s against scientology. without all the social and technological causes of that meme coming to being, the meme wouldnt exist because the necessary conditions for its birth wouldnt have happened, again, this is “sensitive dependence on intial conditions”.

  45. “therefor, in a historical sense, christianity is necesssary for modern european morality.”
    That’s quite a leap. In what way is it a necessary condition? And how can you be so sure religion caused morality? Why can’t the religious moral codes have been caused by contemporary morality? If not, then who created religious moral codes, like the 10 commandments of the bible? Also, how did we come to disagree with the morality in the bible?

    Yea, Europeans changed the world a bit. But I’m talking about before the first empires, before organized religion. And Kant would have had different ideas, but he would still be Kant, fundamentally. He would still have much the same potentials and predispositions. I like determinism.

    No, it’s not enough. Please show me how religion caused these people to help others. There are plenty of secular charities around, which means that religion is not necessary for charity. Even if religion gave us the morality we have today, we don’t need it any longer.

    “citing evolution, if anything, supports my argument for the simple fact that religion hasnt gone extinct supports the notion that humanity as a species still requires it in some sense.” Birds have genes for teeth. It follows that birds need tooth genes? There are plenty of biproducts, design flaws and compromises in our genes. The same goes for our memes. Religion is a biproduct with design flaws, and we can dump it now. Perhaps you should read up on evolution by natural selection. Not all evolved features are beneficial. Don’t forget that memes are viruses that, much like AIDS, doesn’t have to be benign to survive generation after generation of hosts.

    2 things determine personalities and the choices one makes; nature and nurture. Nature is our genes, and the way our bodies and brains grow and work on a fundamental level, the hardware and the clean operating system. Nurture are the programs installed in the operating system. When these programs (the memes) change, the computer will act differently. But it will still act on the same rules. So if Kant is irreligious, the results of his thinking will be different from the ones we know, but they will be just as Kantian as any thought the religious Kant thought. Learned skills and beliefs aren’t heritable, they have to be spread like any virus or bacteria, that’s why religion can’t change the morality of humans. Changing the laws doesn’t change the morality of those who live under those laws. Laws are not always moral.

    But you have yet to prove this necessity of religion as a cause of modern morality. I can’t see that it is even a contributing cause at all since we largely disagree with the bible these days. I see what you mean when you say religion is a cause for modern morality (not that it makes any sense to me, but I see what you’re getting at). But why is it a NECESSARY cause?

  46. andrew (a different one)

    it isnt “quite a leap” at all. hard determinism states that a certain cause will necessarily have a certain effect. conversely a certain effect must by necessity have a certain cause. the effect we are arguing about is modern european morality. every cause, every contributing factor to this effect is necessary for the effect to result as it has.

    morality is a learned behaviour, the result of “nurture” and of thousands of years of development and change; children, for instance, need to learn that “lying is bad” as they do not comprehend the difference between lies and truth in any extant way before they learn what a lie is, and why the truth is evidently preferable.

    i am not arguing over whether we have a morality at all. it is not the point here…nor am i saying religion invented morality, i am saying that our modern moral code wouldnt be what it is without religion. our moral thought literally stinks of christianity, and the evolution of christian moral thought was the evolution of moral thought in europe and america untill at least the early 20th century. the entire notion that truth is morally good (a platonic notion) would not have become so pervasive without the christian neoplatonists incorporating it into their body of canon.

    i have not at any point cited the bible, so i dont see why i should have to argue biblical ethics, furthermore, since a large part of the bible is a history of judaism i dont think i need to, as it shows change and development in its own right.

    kant would be kant in name only without all the prerequisites in place that would ensure his decision to engage in philosophy and other areas as succesfully as he did. again it is simple determinism. the effect is the necessary result of the cause, and the cause is the necessary prerequisite of the effect. if you like determinism you should understand that a specific effect needs a specific cause for it to occur. the tea cannot boil without water, a kettle, a fire or something to heat the water, and a tea bag or tea leaves to steep in said water. remove any of these and the result cannot be a cup of tea because the effect is necessarily predicated by the combination of its causes.

    perhaps you should tone back the anthropic bias in your argument, as your making a mistake in referencing viruses by asserting that they survive despite being malign, the mistake being that you are saying “malignant” as if we are the only judge of whether a thing is malign. viruses survive because their nature is benign to themselves, in that it promotes the population growth of that virus. less succesful viruses are less succesful because they have become malignant in an internal sense, such as killing the host body off to quickly, and thus require some evolutionary response or they die off (the various versions of bubonic plague throughout history for example).

    you also make the assertion that possesion of something implies use. it does not. birds having genes is not the same as birds using genes. religion is used, therefor it has utility. birds teeth genes are not, therefor they dont.

    comparing human cognizance to computer programming is also problematic, but ill direct you to the chinese room problem there rather than going through the whole rigmarole myself, as it diverges from my point too much. in any case our “nature” is more analogous to the hardware upon which the OS and software and related design architecture is built. it is a matter of capacities rather than inbuilt possesion of things. are have the capacity to gain moral knowledge from birth, not the possession of it. learned beliefs arent genetically inheritable, but thats what memes are, they are socialised inheritance. again, without the correct prerequisites kantian ethics, kantian works such as the “groundwork for the metaphysics of morals”, would not exist, and there is no garauntee at all that kant would become an intellectual at all, so there is every chance there would be no kantian philosophy at all. again i cite sensitive dependence on initial conditions and determinism in general here. the existence of a thing means the cause (or causes) of it must have happened, if they must have happened then they are necessary, it is a metaphysical certitude that the causes happen if the effect is visible to us. again, you cant make tea without the water, kettle, fire/electricity or teabag/leaves. the existence of the former (the cuppa tea) means the latter (the assorted meterial and efficient causes) are necessary.

    on the charity thing, it is not my job to say that religion is necessary for charity (though, again, there is a strong historical argument to support this, along with the whole concept of charity as a good thing being defined through religious memes)
    and again, the fact that humanity as a whole still posseses and utilises religion means it is needed by humanity. just because there are a few hundred atheist knocking around, and then a few million dawkinsians tagging on their coat tails does not make them right in this case.

  47. Yes, but I mean, how can you be so certain that religion shaped morality, and not the other way around? Even if you are right, how do you know it’s not just a minor influence on morality? Assuming it did influence morality, without it, morality would be different, but how different? How can you know it was that important for the development you think it was important for?

    Children know what is true and what is not. You just have to show them why lying is bad, so they can see that they benefit more from being honest. Everybody lies. Lying is only bad if you lie about important things, and to your peers, to doctors and clients and so on. Lying can also be useful, as a short term fix of a problem. Not as a worldview. Priests lie when they say they KNOW god exists.

    But how could the jews invent a moral code in the bronze age, that changed morality of humans over 2000 years later in Europe? It just sounds odd, especially since not many humans in the “west” (if there is such a thing on a globe) actually agree with it? Do you, for example, think homosexuality is wrong? It is the religious lobbies that still want that in place. Read the bible and tell me that is where our morality comes from. If that’s the case, then go have yourself executed for heresy. Because that is the morality of the bible. You see that even the christian morality evolved into a less malign mind virus. Christianity evolved because humanity, and it’s morality, evolved.

    But the bible is the core of the biggest religion in the world. The bible is the true christianity. We can’t discuss modern religion if you want to discuss the cause of modern morality.

    First of all, you don’t know what Kant would have thought, said and written if he didn’t have religion. Second, religion doesn’t produce more philosophers than the lack thereof. Certainly not better ones. We did get things like the notion that sex and nudity is a sin, and something shameful. Nonsense. We kept the good parts because they are good, and we are still working on discarding the bad parts that have led to these social conventions. We see more sex on TV and porn all over the internet. Isn’t it wonderful? We constantly drift away from religion. That is why religion had to evolve to survive. not the other way around.

    Yes, but you said that religion was beneficial to us, hence it’s survival. But that is wrong, because religion is a virus, like biology, and survives because it can survive. Like syphilis. Memes are replicators themselves and don’t need to benefit us to survive in us. You said religion had to benefit us to survive.
    When we talk about memes, that lack consciousness, there is only one relationship that counts, and that is towards its host. And therefore we are the only judges of their benignity.

    Ok, good point, they don’t use their genes. But take wisdom teeth then. We have them, don’t need them, they cause pain. We did use them before, but then again, the only point I was making is that evolution is a blind process and doesn’t necessarily result in perfect machinery. Religiosity could be a byproduct of our curiosity or our hyper sensitive agent detector, or power thirst. Many organs have drawbacks, like our eyes with it’s wiring in between the lens and the film causing blind spots. A fix is almost constant eye movement. The evolution of memes is not directly part of our own evolution however. We are the nature that selects them, not only by usefulness, but also by mistaking them for useful memes. Lots of people believe that vaccines are a conspiracy of big pharma. Obviously it must be useful to believe that, or it would have died out. Or simply mistaken for useful?

    I wasn’t making a thought experiment, I was just illustrating, in computer terms, how to cut up morality into input, process and output. I’ll try again, this time as a thought experiment, because it shows that no knowledge can change the morality.
    The brain is to a human what the processors, RAM etc are to computers. It processes input and produces output. They have the same role, but our computer has a factory that makes computer babies, that inherit most features of its parent, but with slight variations in the hardware and OS. The mind is the operating system. But we have to imagine a futuristic operating system that is self conscious and is unique to the processor and terribly lo-fi. This is just an analogy, not really a theory of mind and AI, mind you. Knowledge, like who is friend and who is enemy, is programs in the operating system. Like a virus program, an anti virus program or a spell check. The output is how the person acts in a LAN, speaker or a laser cannon!
    Our moral predispositions are part of our processor that built the OS upon birth. Certain programs don’t work on this OS, some don’t work as intended. Some programs work only if you reprogram the OS itself, which is hard because it has to be compatible with the processor. Some are harder to uninstall than others. Some are created by the OS itself. The programs the OS builds can be reverse engineered codecs to play certain media files, viruses to manipulate other computers or games. Our basic morality is like that. We don’t kill our children even if they turn evil and we normally kill evil people, because we are hardwired to protect our offspring. Moral knowledge, who is it ok to kill, when can we lie, who is part of the tribe, who is a rival, is there an afterlife, is there a god, all of these are programs. They can make a difference in the output.
    For example, if another computer – A – is part of the tribe, we might play some music for her through our speakers. If A is a rival, perhaps we gun her down with our laser cannon! But that difference rests on our OS and processor not being hardwired against killing a rival and playing music to our pals within the tribe. Religion is a pack of programs which we can install in a compatible OS. We might have to discard some due to incompatibility though.
    The computer is going to do what it thinks is good for it’s children to survive, even if it’s not conscious of this. So if it’s hardwired to protect it’s tribe (which will help its offspring in need – yet another program), and has a program that says rival tribes are dangerous. Our computer might turn that laser cannon against A if A has an OS that is too different, or if our computer has a program that lists A as a member of a rival tribe. The computer will do what it think is best for it’s offspring, itself and those it believe are going to do the same. In that order.
    If it then turns out that A was not a threat at all to our computer’s offspring, our computer has done something it would consider evil if it didn’t have the programs that made it destroy A. Because our computer’s basic morality is hardwired, it will never feel remorse after killing a rival. Unless it’s hardwired to not kill at all also. Then it will suffer from internal conflict, and at that level, it’s not possible. It will realize it’s mistake if it uninstalls the programs that led it to destroy A.
    If our computer is hardwired to destroy rivals, and we can give it a program that says it’s bad to destroy rivals, it’s going to suffer from an internal conflict, but between the higher, processor/OS level, and the lower, program level. If this program is supported by enough other programs, it could override the OS. But this is not something we should use the religion bundle for, because it doesn’t change the morality of the computer. Instead, we could simply change the program that lists the rivals, to list no rivals. If there are no rivals, there is no one to destroy.
    This is what I mean when I say religion leads people to do evils, but never good things. Programs can only change the worldview on which the computer then applies it’s hardwired moral code. You can install a program that says it’s bad to kill other computers, but it will be in conflict with the computer’s own hardwiring in the example I made. When the computer builds it’s offspring, the parent will install some of it’s programs on the offspring. During it’s infancy, it’s more open to new programs, and it’s OS is reprogrammable. Even it’s processor is still elastic and can be molded somewhat if needed. But it’s blueprints are still the same, and will be the ground when building it’s offspring. Religion doesn’t change morality, only culture, and rarely in a good way.
    I can even provide with a personal experience here. I’m a vegetarian, because it’s unnecessary to produce meat for eating if we can get the nutrition we need from plants (or artificially). Producing meat is a waste of resources, and requires us to kill a lot of animals. Now, I don’t really care about cows, better them than us. But if it’s not necessary to eat meat, we don’t have to kill animals, and therefore we should simply let them die out naturally. I’m a vegetarian for utilitarian reasons. I can’t claim any moral high ground for my vegetarianism, because it’s not out of morality. (I’ll have to concede that people can be influenced into doing good even though they don’t really care, but it’s not because it’s religion, it’s because someone convinced them it’s good. Religion can easily be replaced for this purpose.) But my choice contradicts my carnivorous instincts. Humans can’t change their own morality, they can do good, even if they don’t really care. But what if religion changes peoples perspectives, so that they will help people they don’t really care about? Isn’t that good? It’s not morally good, you have to lie to people, in order to make them do something they don’t feel any moral obligation to do.
    As for the question of keeping or leaving religion behind; religion is very costly, just to make some people do some more good, which most of them already do anyway, or never will. Also you have to spread falsities and risk having them do lots of bad stuff, for moral reasons, you need books with myths, priests, churches and so on. All just for a marginal increase in good stuff, and a huge increase in bad stuff. It’s not worth it. Why can’t we have a church like place without the lies? People can go there for the community, the activities, learning something about something. There could be lectures on philosophy, astrology, whatever. That’s a cause I would support. One that didn’t try to convince it’s congregation for any reason. Just putting thoughts out there so that those who find them helpful or useful or just awesome can adopt them, and helping those in need. Religion should be explained in schools – in history class, where it belongs.

    Long enough? :D

  48. andrew (a different one)

    Firstly, I am not saying the relationship between religion and morality is unilateral. It might’ve been implied (I don’t think so myself) but I never actually stated anything to that effect. Causation outside the realm of simple hypothetical’s is far too complex to give a full account of any single event, but it is enough that we can observe known relationships between known causes and effects.

    I do not need to postulate on how different morality would be without certain causes involved. It is not my aim, it is not the point I am trying to make and it is damn near impossible to justify any statement I could make to that effect, and I can know that religion has been a necessary influence on moral thought for the simple fact that moral thought has been effected by it, which makes religion a cause.

    The assertion that truth=good and lies=bad is overly simplistic and ultimately wrong. At the time children learn the supposed good of one versus the other they tend to develop the ability to lie believably, which does nothing to stunt their growth as people in a social sense unless lying becomes pathological (at which point I would agree it has gone bad, but that is more because my personal ethical inclinations lean towards Aristotelian virtue theory than anything else). The moral code espoused by the Bronze Age Jews’ didn’t “change” anything, it caused things. These are not the same thing. Again, reading the bible is irrelevant, as Christian morality is almost totally divergent from it, and has more to do with Plato and Aristotle than Abraham and David. Christian morality=/=biblical morality. Heresy does not exist in the bible, it is never commented upon nor named. Heresy is a development in Christian theological and philosophical thought resulting from the ecumenical councils which decide upon canon and canon law within Christianity.

    I am not sure if you have noticed, but my arguments tend towards the historical and social in nature. You say “We can’t discuss modern religion if you want to discuss the cause of modern morality” which is not what I am doing at all. I am (at the moment) providing a historically themed argument supporting the notion that Christianity in particular and religion in general has had a considerable effect on morality as we understand it, this argument being in response to your assertions to the contrary.

    Regarding Kant. That is exactly the point I am making. Sensitive dependence on initial conditions means that any assertion as to what he would’ve done without a prerequisite initial condition becomes difficult, but it is nonetheless reasonable to posit that without all the necessary initial conditions that resulted in Kant the enlightenment philosopher that Kant the enlightenment philosopher wouldn’t exist. I am not asserting that “religion produces philosophy” as if its some causal relationship at all and if you think that’s what I am saying then you have misunderstood me. Again, what I am actually saying is that a given person at a given time must mean all events that affected them up until that point were necessary. Dawkins could not be a… “philosopher” without being an atheist because the initial conditions for his development along this route do not exist. I cannot be an atheist post-grad without all previous events in my life occurring the way they did by necessity. In this case I think you are reading too much into my assertion regarding religion here; the argument is technically about ALL causes, religion is just the one we are arguing about and as such is the focus of my argument.

    You say religion is a meme-virus, roughly equivalent to syphilis. So is humanity. All “living” things spread in a fashion that is internally beneficial. Religion as a human meme cannot exist without humans, this is true. It is sustained and propagated by humans. This is also true. But you mistake symbiotic relationship with viral infestation. Religion allows hundreds of millions of people to act in affirmative fashions as it imparts to them a sense of meaning. Just because you and I disagree with the epistemology of religion (please do keep in mind I am actually an atheist) does not change the fact that it allows for affirmative actions and fills needs in the lives of people “not us”. Going back to an earlier assertion that holy men lie when they say they know god exists; if they are true believers then they are not lying. The mode of understanding used by the religious is different to my historically and socially predicated atheism and your scientifically predicated atheism. And since this mode of understanding enables these religious people to act in affirmative ways, with empathy and care towards others then this mode of understanding is beneficial. That some of the religious are quite frankly insane or genocidal does not in anyway change the fact that this mode of understanding is capable of inducing good in people.

    The notion that “there is only one relationship that counts” on your part is completely arbitrary and unsupported by argumentation or evidence. Memes do not need consciousness to possess internal frictions and tensions that result in their death, nor is consciousness needed to impart positive internal relationships to them. These internal relationships are important in explaining the effect of memes upon the “host” as you describe it.

    Note that I have repeatedly stated religion to be capable of inducing positive affects in humans. Therefore, assuming my argumentation to that effect is sound (I believe that for the most part that it is, though we could probably do with a third party to decide on that) it does not fall under the arena of “mistaken usefulness” amongst memes like the conspiracy theorists do.

    The problem with your OS analogy here (sorry for mistaking your earlier attempt for a full thought experiment) is that morality is not built into our hardware. Certain physical and emotional drives are, as are certain dispositions. These are not moral until morality is imposed on them. As such morality is more akin to software than it is to hardware, it forms part of the “installed” architecture and programming which governs how the hardware (the brain and body) are used in real terms. Humans are not “hardwired” against killing at all, at least beyond the biological imperative to insure the continuance of ones own bloodline. Without the moral design architecture there is literally nothing to stop humans running around killing each other for whatever reason they desire and the fact that running around killing each other is pretty much the only thing humans are genuinely good at and efficient in the prosecution of indicates morality to be learnt more than anything.

    With reference to the computer that protects its children, this is a hardcoded imperative, technological in this case, biological in ours, which has since become subsumed under morality so that one cannot entirely be blamed for mistaking the two. The notion that the “higher/hardware” level causes conflicts with the “lower/software” level is…weird. Software is built up on top of hardware, not the other way round; which means that software supersedes hardware for as long as the hardware is capable of acting to the demands of the software. In human terms our brain-processes (mind) acts (thinks, cognizes, decides etc…) in terms of the software built upon it (memory, learned knowledge, emotional history, social and technological environment, and imo morality)

    And on your final point…I see it as a matter of diminishing returns in part. Why do athletes like Eusain Bolt continue to train to get that extra 1/100th of a second out of their bodies, when the concomitant risk of damage increases in tandem? Because that extra little bit of good is worth it. I tend towards the view that so long as a thing causes good it has value. You see the religious inclination as wasteful, but I am rather fond of the art and architecture it inspires, and historically speaking we in western and northern Europe only bothered to (re)learn the construction of monolithic buildings so we could build nice cathedrals to pray in (well….war too, but that’s neither here nor there).

    Personally, I would prefer that philosophy were taught in preference to RE, though I think religion important enough that it should have a part in the philosophy taught. In any case, expecting religion specifically to not be prescriptive is…slightly hypocritical. Any lecture, lesson or argument is prescriptive in nature; you are trying to convince me of your viewpoint even as I am doing the same to you. Science is prescriptive; it tries to convince people with inductive reasoning and so on. Political parties and movements are incredibly powerful and high profile examples of this. To descry religion for doing the same whilst attempting to proselytise in the name of irreligion is ironic.

    And finally; this argument isn’t long enough till my laptop crashes through the attempt to fast-scroll to the bottom :P

  49. These posts are only going to grow in length huh :D
    -
    -
    My point was exactly that christian morality =! biblical morality. The bible is the ultimate authority in christianity, it’s the inspired word of their god. People used to follow it, but don’t anymore because we have a morality that does not come from religion in any way.
    Heretics were burned at the stakes, or put to the sword in a crusade. As for heresy in the bible:
    You shall have no other gods before me
    You shall not make for yourself an idol
    You shall not make wrongful use of the name of your God
    The first three commandments clearly shows what kind of god inspired the bible. In the bible, people are executed for breaking these rules. Even working on the sabbath was a capital offense. It’s all in there. You really can’t ignore the bible if you want to argue that we have christian morality. We don’t have the moral code that is in the bible obviously, we have homosexual priests in Sweden. But that clearly shows that our morality developed naturally, and the bible is a shard of bronze age morality frozen in time (more or less).
    And because humans dictate what christianity is about, they put their morality in their religion, not the other way around.
    If we got our morality from christianity, then tell me where christianity came from. Was it some radical moral philosopher who came up with the whole thing? Or a false prophet (all prophets are false after all), like every other religion?

    What I meant was that you talk about christianity as if it was loosely based on the bible, which is true of modern christianity, but false of iron age christianity. It evolved away from the bible, and still is. It did show us what can go wrong when people have twisted worldviews, we know more about morality because of the horrible examples we have seen in religion.
    Oh, and where is this evidence of religious influence on morality? Why don’t you think it makes sense that morality influenced religions?

    Yes, I get what you mean about causal relationships. But I don’t get where you see the religion as the cause, and modern morality as the effect, rather than the other way around. And are you really saying that Kant being religious, is an argument for keeping religion alive? Because that’s what I thought, and that’s what I was aiming my arguments at. Because that is a weak argument.

    Again, there are benign symbiotic bacteria and virus. Why I pick AIDS and such as examples is because I don’t know the names of any benign ones.

    A sense of meaning. Isn’t it kinda condescending to let the religious have their delusions? But I’m not arguing that we should stop religion, merely show people what religion is, so they can make informed choices. I have a hard time believing humans have a problem finding meaning in their lives. Even if someone needs meaning, there is plenty of ways to find meaning without myths.
    Insane people are not the dangerous ones. It’s the masses of normal people who want to save others from damnation by banning immoral things like same sex marriage. These people can’t be stopped because they aren’t doing anything illegal. These people are the problem that religion causes. Not the crazy ones. The crazy ones creates religion, or just use them as a means to an end. Why can’t we just replace religion with something that is more than an opium for the masses?

    Memes compete of course, but memeplexes can be internally inconsistent, like christianity, without dying. As long as the host accepts it. The only relationship we need to consider in this discussion is the meme-human one. At least at that point. And we are the only ones who can say what is benign and what is not. but of course it’s very relative. But for this discussion we don’t have to go any further than that.

    Yes, I conceded that point, that it can have some positive effect in humans, but it’s small compared to the damage it enables and causes, and small compared to the number of people unaffected, and small compared to the resources and energy it takes to maintain it. It would be better to just replace it. Don’t you agree on that point at least? That it could be replaced?

    Hmm, not like a conspiracy theory? Well, pretty close then. The usefulness of religion is very small, compared to alternatives. I don’t think it’s usefulness is the quality that keeps it afloat, I think it’s the dumb masses that don’t question authority. (When I say humans are stupid, I mean mankind as a whole. You and me included. Not stupid would be humanity in a billion years perhaps.)

    Yea, I should have put a disclaimer on the first attempt at the computer analogy. But thanks for misunderstanding it so I had to write a more detailed one :D

    I think hardwiring fits better. I may have to do some hard thinking on this matter. I mean the fundamental stuff, unnecessary suffering is bad etc. I think it’s confirmed by the principle of least effort. That is why we have punishment and reward.
    But come on, humans suck at war! Other than survival, I think humans are best at engineering. Moon landings and LHC are greater engineering achievements than any war is a killing achievement. Back to the topic!

    Well, in the case of the brain, the mind, or OS, is what the brain does. But the “levels” are simply levels of difficulty in reprogramming. The predispositions one is born with shouldn’t be in conflict in a healthy person. They can conflict with ones beliefs, like in my case, where I don’t mind eating meat, but I believe it’s not possible to defend meat eating any longer. Does it seem less weird now?
    I think the human computer creates the OS, and it is therefor unique. That’s why some programs aren’t compatible, and some are harder than others to uninstall. The programs are then built upon the OS. But morality is part of the hardwiring as a filter between thought process and action to eliminate different available courses of action that are undesirable. Why it has to be hardwired is because I think it’s the same kind of process that decides if you should jump over the water or go around, or what to cook for dinner. You evaluate different courses of action, and chose the one that is most beneficial to your agenda, be it a quick and easy meal or a fancy dinner for a date. Morality is just a certain kind of decisions where at least one available course of action involves other creatures. Or even yourself in most religions. Principle of least effort is the key.

    Ah, well, it didn’t really inspire the art. I mean painters have to paint something. But yes, it’s all nice. No reason to destroy it, no reason not to encourage it, even though it’s a wasteful biproduct of evolution. Some art is actually a healthy part of society, as it can provoke new thinking and question old thinking. But can’t we use the nice churches for something else than dungeons and dragons?

    Yes, philosophy is more useful than knowledge of religions and religiosity. But it’s weird that it’s not treated the same as other parts of society, like sexuality, politics etc. It seems more obvious to include religion in our schools. Both would be great. There is so much I would like to change in the school system here in Sweden. One good thing though is that private schools can’t teach whatever they want, creationism is banned in Swedish schools. You can discuss it if it comes up, but never teach it.

    Science itself is not prescriptive, scientific communities could be. But most don’t try to tell us how to live our lives. Except perhaps medical science. Scientists don’t proselytize, other than to test their theory against other theories, or to get a bigger budget. Science is for finding out how stuff work, and then put the theories out there for everyone to see. It’s like a candy machine, it doesn’t tell you that you need it, it just sits there. The difference is that religion is not based on reality. It’s not another explanation, it’s a myth. Everything deduced from it is flawed. And it does want you to join them (some are more passive than others of course), but they all teach how we should live our lives. Even if not all priests do, their religions have the directions in a book. Science provides no directions on how to live your life.
    Politics shark infested waters, can you really trust any politician? At least religions are somewhat predictable. I would trust a priest before I trust a politician. But that is because I don’t think priests mean to lie, and they are not businessmen. Although I think claiming to know something that is not proven in any way qualifies as a lie.

    What I would like to see is for religions to die out and be replaced by non-religious groups that invite clever people to talk or perform, with activities and support and things like that. Basically the things people have relied on the church for, but without the myths. There you have all the good parts of religion, only more of it, because you can broaden the spectrum of content from history to philosophy to the future to space travel, to engineering, to medicine. In churches they can discuss these topics, but never with any kind of expertise AND without the myths. The bad side effects of religion are also eliminated since you don’t have any dogma or myths that is the problem with religion. There you could find your own sense of meaning, true meaning rather than an imaginary one, awe and beauty. You also have a freedom that you don’t have in churches in that you can invite one speaker who talks about what it is to be human from a biological point of view, and one from a philosophical pov, and so on. There can be debates and what not. This will not make a huge change in the way people behave or feel about themselves, but it will solve many of the needs humans have, such as a community, understanding, awe, beauty, knowledge, support, comfort. Religion has been the traditional provider of the solution to all these, but failed due to it’s narrow view and mythical foundation. People seem to want religion, but I don’t think it’s the myths they want, it’s the other stuff.

  50. andrew (a different one)

    Actually, all the popular strands of Christianity (orthodox, catholic, and Anglican and german Protestantism) recognise the bible as a history (OT) and an account of the life of jesus (NT)…im not sure where revelations stands, but then again im not sure any Christian organisation does either, so I cant really comment on it. The NT, which is the more important part for Christianity, was created canon as it was believed to be the most accurate body of accounts afaik.

    It is only the more alarming and outright ignorant strands (i.e. the ones that get the news time for all the whacky stuff they pull) that outright make the mistake of thinking the bible in any way is the word of god…

    Christian morals =/= biblical morals because the part that outright states a moral code is not christian. In orthodoxy (greek, Russian, syriac etc..) things are decided by a council of bishops and patriarchs. In Catholicism it’s a committee of cardinals and the pope. The major strands of Protestantism are basically watered down versions of Catholicism and as such (for the most part, exceptions of course exist) they tend to have parallel moral codes with weaker punishments for transgressions. Do note though that these assertions are *really* pushing the extent of my knowledge of Christianity here, so I could well be wrong, and I don’t have any material to research it other than Wikipedia, which….well yeah.

    As to the influence working both ways, I have already said that I haven’t at any point said the influence is unilateral. Im just not arguing about the bilateral aspect because that is not the point I am trying to make. There is no such thing as a truly unilateral relationship between things that exist in contact with each other over history. But again im not talking about the bi-lateral relationship because that is nothing to do with the point im trying to make, though despite this I will throw this comment out; for there to be a bilateral relationship there is by definition influence going both ways. To assert the relationship between Christianity and morality is bilateral is tacit acceptance of my points :P

    Christianity as a whole is a truly megalithic structure and is the result of something approaching 1800 years of continual change, expansion, contraction and redefinition. In this it is just like morality, though morality of course has the longer history. The influence of Christianity can be seen in that the previous moral framework of Europe (at this time synonymous with the roman empire) is that it is not predicated by heroic virtue. Modern ethic place care for fellow man amongst the “high” goods, which is why so very many people donate to or work for charities (or rather, they do so to salve their sense of guilt, which is also an indicator of the influence of Christianity; for the argument on this I point you to Nietzsche, because he gave it so much more verve than I ever could). Nowadays (as another example) war is evil, by default, though it is often rationalised as the lesser evil (occasionally it really is, though by accident rather than intent) but prior to Christian moral’s becoming prevalent, this was not really the case. War was just something people did, no more morally relevant than baking a cake (until it caught you up in it personally at least). Virtue, at this pre-christian time, was about a heroic ideal, about being, if you will forgive my bluntness, “manly” (which is not to say women couldn’t be virtuous in this sense too, quite the opposite in fact, as examples such as Boudicca most certainly qualify).

    Now I ask you; where is the pre-christian heroic ethic gone? How many greeks and Italians and gaul and Britons and Swedes and danes follow this ideal now? Apart from a few folk and power metal bands that wish they had the courage to, and a few black metal bands that are literally insane there are none. This old morals are demoted to the history books and to Japanese cartoons and to (admittedly awesome) music about the old gods and about Sparta and so forth, where the blood burns in the veins of men and gods battle wyrms and so on…(nailing my preferences in terms of media to the flag-pole here lol).

    Anyway, back to topic (lol).

    Im not saying Kant’s religiosity is a reason for why religion should exist now at all. kant was an example of my arguments regarding causality which got a little out of hand and became an argument in its own right. I see my argument about kant as a microcosm of my argument in general regarding causality and sensitive dependence…

    Personally, I find it more condescending that one would try to divest someone of their sense of meaning because they think theirs is better and/or right, but such an argument is literally a matter of personal preference and can get us nowhere. I do not derive any meaning from atheism or science (I dislike science in actual fact, and it holds little to no interest for me). My personal sense of meaning is more or less derived from a mixture of Christian memes I cant escape (find a person in Europe who genuinely has and you have found someone to be truly afraid of imo, as you’ve just found someone that approximates the Nietzschian over-man), and a hotchpotch of philosophical idea’s gathered from practically every philosopher I have studied from Plato to Foucault.

    Regards internal consistency…I see no reason why that should matter. The only modes of human understanding that even approach true internal consistency are maths and tautologies, both of which are abstract (to an extent unworldly in their nature) and the latter is utter irrelevance for the most part.

    As to the possibility of replacing religion as the dominant mode of human relationship to the world, of course I think it possible that religion will be supplanted in future and that it will finally wear out what utility remains to it. I don’t see it happening in my lifetime however. In any case, my view on such things is (you’ll probably think) disgustingly optimistic in nature. I can only really consider something needy of destruction once it has utterly expended its capacity for good effects. so long as religion has any power to positively affect the lives of people (religious people or otherwise) I could only see it end with a heavy heart. Sentimental I know, but that does not make my argumentation as a whole any less valid, though the causes for my argumentation might now be suspect from your point of view!

    As regards the OS thing; my main point is that I think you are mistaking biological imperatives for moral imperatives. The latter (nominally at least) entails the concept of choice, the former does not in a strict sense. This is where I see the conflict you talk of arising. The latter (moral imperatives) theoretically force compliance with externally formulated imperatives that are at odds with more personal and immediate biological imperatives. An example would be that you have just done me some petty wrong, theft for example. My biological imperative calls for a disproportionate response-cutting off your hands. My moral imperative, assuming it is strong enough, deems that I should call the police and have you stand trial in a court of law (which technically is =/= morality itself). In this instance my moral imperative is the best one of the two, because I avoid jail time for GBH and assault, and get compensated, whilst you get porridge. So far this example is substantially the same as yours, but for the fact that the moral imperative is external to, and therefore built on top of and overriding, the biological imperative.

    As regards the art comment and D&D (lol btw), churches in England are used as more than RP guildhalls. They are focal points of community (to a certain extent), tranquil places that allow introspection, and places where charitable events occur with some regularity. The nearest church to me for instance assists in funding a primary level school, and no obligation is placed on the school to proselytise; they stand firmly by the govt. curriculum. The school in question also uses church grounds rent free (it is built partly on these grounds, as memory serves the church granted the school rights to borrow the ground in perpetuity without recompense).

    The problem with philosophy is the way it is perceived (in Britain at any rate). Firstly that it is the realm of boring old men, and secondly that it is considered pretty much a waste of time by those who haven’t already begun it. Added to this the disgustingly prevalent anti-intellectualist tendencies of the population at large in tandem with the hilariously misplaced notion that because we are all allowed to vote what we have to say actually means something it results in subjects such as philosophy falling rather far down the list of priorities regarding teaching material. As far as im aware it isn’t as bad in France (for example)…hell they even made Sartre a national hero (would that i lived in such a country!)…

    Anyway, moving on again. Religion is in actual fact about understanding the world. The fact that it uses myth and parable doesn’t change that. Admittedly it is outmoded, ill not deny that for one moment. But then I wasn’t asserting the religion is right in the first place, just that it yet retains some usefulness. The very fact that there is an ideological battle going on to decide who wins between science and religion in the “figuring out the world” business shows that science is actualised in a prescriptive fashion. There is nothing wrong with this, apart from the fact that to differentiate between science and the way it is actualised and not do the same with religion is biased and unworthy argumentation.

    And no I don’t trust politicians, they are as bad as solicitors and should all be put to the sword if we could live without them :D
    At any rate, you are cross purposes regarding how a priest claims knowledge without proof. He has proof. Just not the kind of proof you would find acceptable. This is because of the different and insoluble ways in which you and he understand the world. You evidently rely almost solely on scientific justification for your world view, which is totally at odds with the religious mindset. The priest knows his world as utterly and with as much certitude as you know yours, but neither of you can convince the other because your viewpoints are opposite and intractable. I am willing to bet you would have a lot of trouble even understanding each other at the personal level, such is the difference in your modes of understanding. (don’t take offence, I am not casting aspersions, im just pushing a point to its ultimate conclusion).

    On your last point…I am uncertain meritocracy such as you posit could ever work. individuals after all tend to think themselves right in all things (the most beautiful of all fallacies imho) and such an organisation would not escape dogma. Dogma and humans go hand in hand. The new atheism is hardly a decade old in the popular sense, and already it has its acolytes and its dogma. Hitchens and Dawkins are the prophets of new atheism, Dennett and the other guy not so much…but whatever. You would not believe how hard it is to find a philosophy or religion class in colleges and university’s in Britain where you can avoid people parroting “the god delusion” as mindlessly as a Christian reciting the Nicene creed or the Lords prayer…

    As an endnote, you seem to be derisive of myths. Why? I think they are quite wonderful, and add flavour to an otherwise dreary march through history. I most certainly wouldn’t be having this argument with you without them, as they are the reason Christianity holds any interest for me. they also tend to find a true understanding of the evolution of human society far easier than clay tablets outlining trade lists.

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