Monday, April 17, 2006

Looking for God, without the ‘Know it all Nutters’ Bias

The scientific roots of religious belief and superstition – “Brunton” (excerpt edited and abridged)

‘When faced with imminent disaster, our first thought is "What was that?” It's called the cognitive imperative, the uniquely human, hardwired instinct to link cause with effect that gave us a vital evolutionary advantage over other animal species.’

’The cognitive imperative described in Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, British developmental biologist Lewis Wolpert's enquiry into the evolutionary origins of belief is another chapter in the search for scientific roots of religious faith, a heatedly debated, issue of the day. In his book The God Gene, U.S. molecular biologist Dean Hamer claimed to have located one of the genes he said was responsible for spirituality. Recently, the US philosopher and evolutionary theorist Daniel Dennett provoked more controversy by casting religion in terms of memes that are defined as cultural ideas that can spread, mutate and survive in our minds.’
According to Brunton, ’Wolpert in his book attempts to survey the science underpinning all intuitive beliefs humans stubbornly cling to, including religion. Our belief engine, Wolpert concludes, works on wholly unscientific principles: "It prefers quick decisions, it is bad with numbers, loves representativeness and sees patterns where there is only randomness. It is too often influenced by authority and it has a liking for mysticism." It is no coincidence that the stubbornest of our "irrational" beliefs correspond to our fears of the unknown, the unknowable and the unstoppable, of disease, death and natural disaster. Wolpert argues that the of language, enabled early humans to explain the technology arising from our use of tools and in the evolutionary twinkling of an eye we found ourselves genetically wired to seek a cause for every effect we see.’

Obviously if we cannot reconcile cause and effect in any situation what is occurring must be a god’s work.

A Current Example

Morality police back with a vengeance in Aceh – Jakarta Post - Sunday, April 16, 2006
(abridged and edited excerpts)

‘Many Acehnese are now demanding that the morality police redouble their efforts to ensure people's compliance with sharia. Anyone who gambles, commits adultery or steals must be punished without mercy. "We need strong action. God already punished us. We don't want another tsunami," are the comments frequently heard.’

The article later continues; “Sari a woman who lives in Banda Aceh, was not happy when her youngest daughter was forced to wear a jilbab (Muslim headscarf) by the morality police. "She is only 10, she hasn't even had her first period yet. Let her grow up and think for herself what's best," she said. Sari did not wish to reveal her identity since her thoughts on jilbab are considered heretic. "People will get angry with me," she said, "They will say, this is exactly the thing that invites a tsunami." "I do not like this situation," Sari said after a long pause. "If my daughter wants to wear the jilbab, it has to be her own decision. Besides, who are they to judge?”

‘Back in 1999, Jakarta the government officially declared the application of sharia in Aceh, names of stores, offices, streets and schools were all written in Arabic. Headscarf-mandatory areas were declared all over the province.’ The sharia implementation was supposedly to help quell the historic violence in the province.

“Then came the catastrophic tsunami in December 2004. For a year the morality officers had no energy to do their job.” The priority for all became humanitarian work. “For the moment, the headscarf issue appeared to have taken the back seat.”

‘More than one year after the giant tidal waves, however, the sharia officers are back with a vengeance. The "we-don't-want-another-tsunami" line is often used to justify harsh treatment against people allegedly violating sharia. And obviously, women are the most vulnerable group. Going by a local saying that the ups and downs of a country (province) depends on the "quality" of its women; some have openly accused women of ignoring Islamic law, a sin that triggered the killer tsunami.’

(The writer Mardiyah Chamim is a journalist and the author of the book, History Grows in Our Village - A Journal of Aceh-Tsunami Hot Zones)

Danah Zohar, physicist, philosopher and author of books on SQ of Intelligence

‘There is a region of the brain, in the temporal lobe, that some are labelling the "God spot" because it is where activity increases when we ponder ultimate questions. Epileptics routinely evidence heightened activity here during seizures and report it as spiritual thought and experience. Zohar does not identify this God spot as the source of SQ - but notes that it is fascinating that even experiences we have always classified as supernatural have a biological component.’ ‘Spiritual intelligence is not necessarily about being religious. It is about the human need and talent for finding meaning in experience. It is the force underlying religion, and much else besides.’

Why God Is or Isn’t – One Scientist’s Perspective

Excerpts from a 1996 Talk by Dr. Norman F. Hall - “HAS SCIENCE FOUND GOD? (edited and abridged)

Dr Hall’s remarks regarding the attempt by some scientists to reconcile religion and the miraculous with science are insightful and interesting.

“By pretending that unknown and hypothetical information that cannot be scientifically proven exists in the "absolute elsewhere,"’ and by claiming to posses a great and uncommon sensitivity (a claim which is all too common among the religious) and by professing an ability to intuit the truth, even when it is undecidable, ‘Christian believing scientists’ allow themselves to have a scientifically respectable justification for telling the rest of us (and particularly the science community) how to run our lives’.

“Why do they do it? Why do they try to pretend that science justifies a leap into the irrational? For a hoped-for cosmic meaning, for belonging, for a personal relationship with the infinite, to gain an imagined cosmic purpose, when they can see no point in building their own real local purpose. Most of all, it is because of the moral argument. Science must be kept in its place, and not allowed to subsume all of humanity into its explanatory web.”

Some argue, ‘If mankind is material, shaped by the forces of chance and necessity, what reason does he/she have not to lie, rob, rape, pillage and kill?’ “Because love is not the exclusive territory of believers in God” and ‘because bank robbery (as an example) may not be consistent with an individuals plans to become say, a leading biochemist.’

Science is rejected and dismissed, and falsely labelled as "value free," Far from being value free, science is a value system, based on a faith in the value of material understanding, and in a social commitment to telling the truth, a commitment more stringent and more self-policing than any commandment. In contrast we have a society that pretends to live by religious morality, based in miracle stories and a myth that holds that the human ideas recorded two and three thousand years ago were not really human, but were inspired by the maker of the very fabric of the universe.

As an aside and In Light of Recent Religious Events/Trends Dr. Hall’s following statement is of significant importance!

“Which one, I put it to you, is better qualified to shape the ethics of the 21st century: a system that calls for faith in the potential of human beings, as best we can come to understand what that is and a commitment to individuals telling the truth and taking responsibility for their own beliefs; or a system that takes human ideas, wraps them in a flimflam game as old as civilization and then pretends that modern humans can live morally by following a set of beliefs for which no human will take responsibility or admit authorship? For how many more millennia will we continue to claim to be moral animals, while pretending that we are merely responsible to, but not for, our morality?”

If the Muslim world took more responsibility for the rotten element in its own ranks maybe the so-called “Satan America” would be able to leave its troops at home. It’s about time the Arabs in particular cleaned up their own backyard. But then its not their fault, they are just following Gods/Allah’s wishes aren’t they.

Where scientists are looking for God Dr Raj Persaud (16/01/2002) (Excerpt)

A “recent study found that by brain scanning the ‘spiritual’ [read religious] while they were meditating, it was possible neurologically to account for the religious sense of transcendence, oneness with nature or unity with God. The brain scanner showed that during meditation the part of the brain responsible for orientation of the body in physical space, the parietal lobe, near the top of the brain, went to sleep. People who have suffered damage to this area have difficulty negotiating their way around their surroundings. The sense of a self as separate from your environment could reside in this part of the brain, so now scientists can explain why the sense of self disappears during religious states.”

What has Religion and God got to do with Spiritual Wellbeing?

Permanent Spiritual Growth, by Ian J. Thompson of Theistic Science (excerpt)

Spiritual Growth according to Swedenborg, comes from joint action of (good) love with (true) wisdom.

Spiritual Growth does NOT come from any one of the following [often indulged in activities by “the religious”] things by itself:

“Belief (faith), Personal acceptance of vicarious atonement, Obedience, Knowledge even of truths (wisdom), Good intentions or love, suffering, elevated expanded rotated vibrated or what ever forms of consciousness”

He’s right; it’s about intelligence and a willingness to accept responsibility for our own wellbeing and understanding that as social creatures we are responsible for the wellbeing of those around us as well. ‘Those around us’ used to be small local groups however because of a shrinking globe it now virtually means the entire population of the planet. Why the entire world population? Because missiles travel further than stones and they create larger levels of destruction when they arrive.

Another couple of pieces to the puzzle and some good reading at that...

I guess wether god exists or is imagined, it really doesn’t matter, what ever keeps you sane and contributes to an improved and peaceful civil society is a primary benefit. However whenever a god-bothering priest, mullah, rabbi or any other so called singular perspective expert, through coercion or force, claims a god’s right to enforce his or her (usually it appears his) power over another it should be considered a crime against humanity and be prosecuted as such.

Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, scientist Lewis Wolpert
The God Gene, molecular biologist Dean Hamer
Breaking the Spell, philosopher Daniel Dennett
Apr. 10, 2006 issue of TIME Europe magazine
The Evolution of Faith - Michael Brunton (Saturday, Apr. 01, 2006)


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