Questionable Motives

February 14, 2010

How might we determine if morality precedes religious belief?

Ilkka Pyysiäinen and Marc Hauser have co-written an interesting paper The Origins of Religion: Evolved adaptation or by-product? Jerry Coyne has a good commentary over at WEIT and raises an interesting objection by Phillip Ball that suggests a culture steeped in religious morality may present it even by people who do not subscribe to the religion itself. Jerry has posted a response to that objection from Ilkka:

As far as we are dealing with people’s intuitive judgments, it is impossible to attribute these to learned religious views. People just do not respond in accordance with religious doctrines when they have no clue about how learned religious doctrines should be applied. I think Marc’s research shows that religious doctrines can only have an effect on especially salient topics such as abortion. When religious commitments differ and people yet produce quite similar judgments, this shows that religious commitments do not have causal power with regard to moral judgment. If religious people make moral judgments similar to those of nonreligious people, then there is no reason to suppose that religion is the driving force. This means that *explicit* religious commitment is not relevant. But, as you suggest, it might still be that religion affects explicitly nonreligious people’s judgments in an implicit way. However, this, then, means that explicit religious commitment is not the crucial factor.

Try the Moral Sense Test for yourself. You won’t come across typical moral issues commonly attributed to religious teachings but it will get you wondering why you answer the way you do.

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34 Comments »

  1. I have seen these types of tests before – they are interesting. Making a choice between 1 life and 5 lives depending on the circumstances is a tuff call. Some people make decisions like this everyday, it must be hard to live with.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — February 14, 2010 @ 5:44 pm | Reply

  2. What I find of particular interest is on what basis do we make these calls? Why do we choose this response but not that, and why are these choices so overwhelmingly favoured by people regardless of culture and religious belief? I have my suspicions and it has everything to do with our neurology and nothing whatsoever to do with belief.

    Comment by tildeb — February 14, 2010 @ 5:57 pm | Reply

  3. Simple, it provides us with an evolutionary advantage for a number of reasons. Generally, the death of other members of our species reduces the gene pool of our species which is not good. Allowing harm to happen to others, means that we would be allowing harm to ourselves (because if everyone stopped helping others, no one would help us), leading to the consequential reduction in the gene pool. Thirdly, we have evolved brains, we understand the concept of trade, and also have empathy and language – in addition we have social memes that have evolved over the years.

    I also try to remember that not everyone has my moral standards, some people have no regard for human life what so ever, and would happily stand by and watch a train crash just for entertainment, they do not see their actions as making any difference at all to the outcome, or decide that the outcome has already been decided. e.g. ‘The man didn’t kill him – the bullet did’ (even if the bullet was fired from a gun that the man was holding).

    Other people do not see the depth of their consequences, for example most people do not see the harm in buying clothes from a shop – however, some people check where the clothes were made first, because they recognise that their purchase may be supporting illegal trade practices or horrible working conditions – some people just do not think that far.

    Morals are funny things, and people interpret them in different ways, they are not universal – and different people choose not to do harm to others for different reasons.

    I like to think of myself as having high moral standards, however, I have met and I know people who think my moral standards are low, because I drive a car, or eat meat, or get drunk.

    I tend to base my morals on a wide scope of standards: Do I intentionally mean to do harm? Have I explored the impact of my actions as far as I am able, given the time and resources that I have? What will other people think of me? How would other people feel if they did what I am doing to them to me? Did the ends justify the means?

    This means that I am capable of killing, stealing and using violence to preserve my survival, if I was hungry enough I would steal, I would even beat someone to get my food, and under very harsh conditions it is likely I would kill other humans, and probably eat them. I think most people would do the same, but I think the tipping points vary. Some people would strike early, recognising that the famine has only just started, and therefore the best action is to preserve one strength by feeding at the expense of others. Other people might take the decision to wait before taking hard action, because the famine has just started and therefore it might end soon.

    If I was on an Island with another family and my own, and only enough resources to feed one family, I am pretty certain I would calculate that murder of the other family would justify the means of my family’s survival – it is horrible to comprehend, but I can’t see any other way out of it. It is possible I would negotiate with the other leaders of the other family to save the youngest of both families, but there would be suspicion between the families as soon as the dilemma was realised and discussed – it would be a horrendously stressful situation to be in, and the natural instinct to preserve one’s own family (DNA investment) would probably outweigh any civilised decision making process.

    I am just thankful that I do not have to make this decisions like this, life is sweet – the ends are mostly easily achievable without costly means, allowing me to live in peace.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — February 14, 2010 @ 9:26 pm | Reply

    • Not so simple, I think. You introduce the harm principle and make a mistake assuming that they are not universal. Turns out, there are levels of acceptable harm based on proximity that seem universally acceptable… the more remote or removed the eventual harm, the higher the likelihood to participate, for example, and this too crosses cultural and religious barriers. But there are other principles at play than just the harm principle. Mitigating harm is benefit which one must also factor into it, but here, too, we have proximity. The more personal and direct the decision affects another, the more likely we are to use a case by case basis. Calling in the explanatory term ‘evolutionary benefit’ doesn’t fit very well offering us a predictive model.

      Comment by tildeb — February 14, 2010 @ 10:02 pm | Reply

  4. If Adam and Eve had not eaten from the tree of knowledge, we wouldn’t have to try to make all these decisions about good and evil. We would have trusted all moral judgements to God. Now we must even judge God. Is he real? Is that him on the cross, trying to reach our hearts? Did our moral codes evolve, or did they devolve from something God said that we should have believed? The moral dilemmas of our world and my own moral weaknesses caused me to take the Bible seriously.

    Comment by themysteryof — February 15, 2010 @ 3:35 am | Reply

    • The Garden of Eden story is much older than the bible. It is one of a thousand creation myths but it still offers us a clue about what it means to be fully human, a guide to help us learn how to live well. The best that can be said about the christian interpretation I think is that it is really misguided because it manages to turn this narrative into one of blame, guilt, sin, and abuse. That’s a clear signal that the myth’s interpretation is very badly skewed.

      There are clear signposts in the story that flag us to appreciate the story as a myth, which tells us that its symbols are profoundly meaningful to inform our interpretation. The christian interpretation fails to do this, and fails spectacularly. Why the tree? Why not a bush or plant? Why the snake? Why not some other critter? What do these things represent as cohesive symbols? Why fruit and particularly why the apple? Why is it that Eve eats and then passes it on to Adam? What is it that Eve already knows but that Adam needs to learn in order to grow up? The christian interpretation is childish and mean spirited and rather dull witted measured against the message that should be present in a myth. Why do Adam and Eve have to leave the Garden in a way that is profoundly meaningful to thee and me, a meaning that makes sense symbolically as much to any man and woman living at any time time? Why does god get angry and churlish? To grossly misinterpret god of the Garden to be an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent critter himself, is to assure us that the myth is meaningless, that there can be no free choice involved, which is senseless as an interpretation. But senseless interpreting never slowed a true believer down one iota. It’s not the truth a true believer gets between the teeth but the bit of self-certainty, which is never a good thing. God’s hissy fit is also intentionally important and symbolic and offers us a way to understand that god is not appropriate as an ongoing parental figure once we leave the Garden; he is more like a proud parent whose kids have had the gumption to leave home and experience life as independent adults rather than hide at home in the basement while life passes us by and, as long as we followed dad’s rules no matter how ridiculous and counter-intuitive they may be, we can stay safe and cuddly warm like we offer to any child. Under the typical christian interpretation, Dad would hardly be an exemplary parent if we measured success by how long we avoided real life and stayed deaf, dumb, and blind in our basement cave. In the same way, not eating the fruit from the tree of life and not learning about the difference between good and evil is not an argument in god’s favour nor one in ours. Life in the basement or garden might seem idyllic to those too scared of life and its uncertainties to tackle it head on, but it isn’t; it’s not really living at all. That idea might crank your belief juices, but I find it pretty trivial and perhaps demeaning to those who have the courage to experience life on its terms. We need to listen to the voice of the myth maker and make cohesive sense to help us learn how to leave home and embrace real life.

      As for taking the bible seriously because we face moral dilemmas, I don’t know what you mean. Are you really not sure whether or not it pleases god to own slaves? Does the bible as a moral guide help you in this case? I sincerely doubt it. You are using something else to inform your morality, which like any good christian you think must be weak within yourself. Bet you you’re not. And so this dishonest modesty you offer up fools no one. On the one hand you pretend to be modest with moral weakness because of an interpretation that assures you that you were born with the stain of original sin, while on the other hand you actually believe that Jesus as god died for you. Oh sure, you’ll include the rest of humanity to stand shoulder to shoulder with you on behalf of that supposed divine sacrifice but it still takes a lot of ego to believe that you had a god – THE god – die on your behalf. I mean, wow: how great is that? Too bad he didn’t ask for your permission first; now that answer would have been a prickly conundrum we could rightly call a moral dilemma, eh?

      Comment by tildeb — February 15, 2010 @ 5:19 am | Reply

  5. “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” – Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

    I fail to see how anyone can get moral judegment from the bible.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — February 15, 2010 @ 8:37 am | Reply

  6. “Turns out, there are levels of acceptable harm based on proximity that seem universally acceptable…”

    I agree – but they are levels, it is not universally acceptable not to kill children for example. Some people say it ‘depends’ – and the truth of the matter is it does depend. If the child is carrying an AK47 fully loaded and knows how to use it – then it may be perfectly acceptable to kill the child. However, this is too simplistic – the moral argument isn’t that the ak47 carrying child is a threat, it is why has the child got a automatic machine gun in the first place – when they should have a packet of crayons.

    Morals change depending on individual circumstances, I would say they are even a luxury. A world leader doesn’t have the luxury to think of all all the consequences of sanctions on another state – yet the application of such sanctions may cause famine, death and disease.

    May be they are not so simple after all, but I think the original mechanism from where morals come from is a simple one – it is just that our evolved brains have advanced the thinking. In the same way that language has evolved, from a functional practical survival technique to a fully fledged art form that is recognisable as poetry or opera. That is to say high morals relating to harm out side of immediate proximity are the poetry of morals that evolved from the prevention of harm within the proximity of others.

    Living in a group requires co-operation, it makes no sense to harm others within the group as to do so threatens our survival – the size of that group has increased as our society has evolved.

    As for the bible, I think it is nonsense, the human race’s moral standards have increased even in recent history – during the second world war it was acceptable for governments to send thousands to their deaths on the battle field – these days, it is head line news if just a few of our ‘braves’ are killed or injured. The moral stakes have increased, our social conscious has increased because we have photographs and media that reduce the proximity of our actions – we see the pain and emphasis with it.

    All this said – I think I need to give some more thought – interesting debate.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — February 15, 2010 @ 9:10 am | Reply

    • The meaning of our terms is very important here. In a nutshell, morality is what we call the principles upon which we determine right from wrong. Ethics is what we call the rules for specific behaviours and actions. When one uses specific actions as if it reveals morality, we’re veering between the two, and this is why Hauser has created ethical dilemmas to determine the principles upon which people base their decisions prior to action. What these experiments show is that on the one hand the principles are remarkably consistent. On the other hand, local ethics can be vastly swayed by cultural and religious influences. The point to be remembered here is that the claim that religion somehow provides us with the basis for our morality – the principles upon which we base our decisions – is clearly wrong. Morality precedes religious belief, meaning that we do not derive but apply our morality to our religious beliefs.

      Comment by tildeb — February 15, 2010 @ 3:11 pm | Reply

  7. True, the Garden of Eden story is older than the completed manuscripts of the Bible. Portions of the book of Genesis however, go back much farther. The ancient myths retain an element of truth but tend to get the facts confused. The Bible story explains why the world is the way it is. God allowed the Angels, that he created prior to man, freedom of thought and speech. Though he knew God, the angel that became Satan reached the point that he didn’t believe in God, in the sense that he rejected the moral authority of God. Satan cast this shadow of doubt into the minds of Adam and Eve. If freedom, or “free will” is to exist, then so must the Tree of Knowledge. Mankind fell by disbelieving God, and war, and slavery, all suffering, is the result of choosing to learn the hard way. All of us, as we go through our teenage years, repeat this same process. We don’t always believe what we should, we learn by experiment instead.
    I’m not at all against knowledge, but we must be aware of its limitations. We can’t know everything; so we will always end up believing something. The Bible doesn’t say that the fruit was an apple. The fruit of knowledge would be more knowledge.
    It would be impossible to write a complete book about the knowledge tree. The tree contains all the books that could ever be written. If not for intervention by God, the fruit would leave us, “Ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

    Comment by themysteryof — February 15, 2010 @ 2:55 pm | Reply

    • How does one get ‘facts’ from myth?

      Comment by tildeb — February 15, 2010 @ 3:14 pm | Reply

    • I disagree here – Satan clearly knows god and has spoken to god, in fact Satan (according to the story) wanted to run the heaven for himself.

      So if Satan thinks he can run heaven for himself, then he must equate his own capabilities to that of god – i.e. Satan must have god like powers and abilities – this in itself is curiously absurd.

      Since god is all powerful, and created everything, he must have created Satan – now I am very confused, because god must have known what he was creating, as god is supposed to know everything as well.

      Since god is all powerful, and Satan is clearly a threat to gods work, then why did god just uncreate Satan – and if he can not do this, then god by definition is constrained and is therefore not all powerful, something else must be binding god to keep Satan in existence. But instead god decided to put Satan in hell to burn for ever – seems a bit harsh if god created Satan… may be a little cruel and a tad immoral – far better to reverse time and uncreate Satan, put the Angle out of his misery and start again.

      Unless of course god really wants Satan as part of his plan – which always seems to be the same theme ‘to test our faith’ – this seems remarkably futile and pointless for a divine being to do. Is god really that bored, that he wants us all to have faith in him, all the time, even when we are being eaten alive by ants? In other words he sits back while people are suffering and checks whether they still believe in him? That’s sick!

      And even if it is in gods plan, is this plan just not a little be imperfect for an all knowing and powerful god. Surely at best, god would undo his own mistakes (mistakes like creating Satan) and start again.

      The creation of the god hypothesis to explain things – doesn’t logically work even by layman’s standards, especially when you involve Satan and trees of knowledge, it causes more problems.

      Science on the other hand can describe large parts of creation logically and in some cases demonstrably. And while I agree we may not find out everything, we can certainly find out enough information to understand the creation as a natural process. Nature is god, creation is everywhere, but it is not sentient, it just is.

      Comment by misunderstoodranter — February 15, 2010 @ 4:39 pm | Reply

  8. Everywhere that I look in this world, I see the consequences of not believing Jesus. I wouldn’t have known the potential for error in my own heart, if I hadn’t been allowed to make my own mistakes. I would never have believed man’s inhumanity to man could be so terrible if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. Jesus said, “…As you have done unto one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it unto me.” God’s love for us is so great that he feels our pain. How can he let this go on and not just undo the whole world? How can he just end it all, the joy that could be, the children, the Heaven that could be. He is on a cross betwen the two. “For the joy that was set before him, the Lord endured the cross.”

    Comment by themysteryof — February 16, 2010 @ 3:10 pm | Reply

    • Then why not create a world of joy rather than one that contains so much suffering? And don’t just think of people; think of the entire system of hunter and prey where each depends on the other for survival… a system that ensures constant and terrible suffering for both kinds of critters. Surely god could have devised an alternative system? How about a brain chemical that eliminated pain in prey? How does this terrible suffering by critters fit in to your notion of god’s master plan to seek ‘balance’ against joy?

      I don’t see it.

      I think you’ve got your Jesus blinders on and don’t see the evidence in the world around you that conflicts with your beliefs.

      Comment by tildeb — February 16, 2010 @ 3:49 pm | Reply

  9. Of course you agree with “…As you have done unto one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it unto me.” who wouldn’t? This is how horoscopes work, they provide statements that can be interpreted and are equally true to almost everyone – because they are ambiguous.

    Who do you think Jesus meant by ‘brothers’ – was he referring to his race (Jews), a different race (non-Jews) or everyone (including Jews)? Remember Jesus was a Jew and not a Christian.

    Do you agree with everything Jesus says, or do you just agree with the things you agree with?

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — February 17, 2010 @ 1:17 pm | Reply

  10. Isaiah 11:6-9, talks about a time to come when the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the lion will eat straw, like an ox. Animals will no longer prey upon one another, but will eat only plants, like Genesis 1:30 says it was in the beginning. I believe God unwillingly allowed genetic changes in his creation, because mankind chose to take the path of knowledge. “Daath,” is the Hebrew word for knowledge used in Gen. 3:17. According to the Bible, death did not exist before that.
    Yes, I believe everything Jesus says. I don’t understand everything but I trust him. I don’t exactly understand why he said that not one sparrow falls without the Father, and that not one of them is forgotten, but that seems to hint of a heaven for animals. Isaiah 52:14 is a prophecy about Jesus that says his visage wauld be marred more than any man. I don’t believe that’s only about the beating he took, but also the way the whole world makes him appear to be. I believe our quest for knowledge causes more misunderstanding and confusion than enlightenment.

    Comment by themysteryof — February 17, 2010 @ 3:54 pm | Reply

    • Yes, knowledge has a way of driving god out of places once attributed only to him, and he now resides only within our gaps of knowledge. Coincidence?

      Comment by tildeb — February 17, 2010 @ 4:27 pm | Reply

  11. “I believe our quest for knowledge causes more misunderstanding and confusion than enlightenment.”

    In other words you are ignorant – how enlightening.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — February 17, 2010 @ 11:14 pm | Reply

  12. We can exclude God from our knowledge at the present time. We wouldn’t feel free to do the things we do, if we saw God watching over us all the time. The thoughts of our hearts are revealed and become reality in this world ( at least some of them ). God has allowed this hoping that, by getting to know ourselves, and our potential for error, we might begin to trust him rather than our own limited knowledge. We all experience our share of misunderstanding, but none so much as the Lord.

    Comment by themysteryof — February 18, 2010 @ 4:04 pm | Reply

    • So are you suggesting that we place more trust in god – whatever that word might mean in the here and now – than in our knowledge? To what ends? Why, for example, should I trust more in god than, say, my knowledge of gravity?

      Comment by tildeb — February 19, 2010 @ 12:26 am | Reply

  13. We don’t see god watching over us all the time because he is not there – god is an imaginary social construct invented by the religious Churches to put the fear of god into people, to make them comply with ritual. The Churches and their religious books do not want you to have knowledge – not because god doesn’t, but because THEY do not want you to. The reason fro this is that knowledge is power, and it undermines their authority. I question the Churches claim to authority over my life and the societies that I live in because they claim that a supernatural being gave them that power.

    Imagine if I walked around telling people what to do and say, because batman told me to – I would expect to be ignored by many, and may try to force people to do ‘batman’s work’ and eventually get locked up for being mental.

    God is the same principle as far as I am concerned, he / it is no more real than batman, or the egyptian gods or any other god. All I have done which is what most atheists have done is extend their disbelief in Zeus (and any other gods) to the Christian god.

    You should remember that if you were born in India, it is likely you would not be Christian – and you would believe in possibly a Hinduism.

    There is no god, just delusion that you think you see god everywhere – when actually you see nature.

    There is a gap between 40 and 60 years between the bible being written and Jesus’s death – and much of the writing is pagan. The sun rising and setting is the equinox, it takes three days for it to rise and set – and in the Northern hemisphere this happens at Easter and Winter (between the 23rd and 26 December). You are actually worshiping a sun god. Christmas and Easter are pagan traditions – Yuletide.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — February 18, 2010 @ 6:49 pm | Reply

  14. God has said that his people are destroyed for lack of knowledge, so I’m not saying that we don’t need all we can get. Daniel 12:4, says of the time of the end, “…Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.” It’s increasing at such a rate that a specialist can’t keep up with all the advances even within his own field. We’ve learned to harness nuclear power, and how to unleash it. The quest for knowledge has become a race to gain more of it than your enemy. Knowledge is power but it isn’t safe.
    I’m saying the lure of the tree of knowledge is the greatest deception, because in this life, we don’t have forever to learn. There is always going to be a point where we have to believe something.

    Comment by themysteryof — February 19, 2010 @ 4:14 pm | Reply

    • There you go abusing the word ‘believe’ again. There is never any point where believing in oogity boogity furthers our knowledge about anything.

      Comment by tildeb — February 19, 2010 @ 10:48 pm | Reply

  15. Knowledge is power but it isn’t safe.

    And neither is ignorance.

    Your whole view is very negative with regard to the human race, this is because religion depresses you, it removes your hope in human nature and creates a void, and then fills that void with religious scripture – that is how the religion trap works.

    Nuclear power is not a bad thing, sure it can be used by bad people to do devastating damage – but its discovery is not evil. It’s discovery might just save the planet. So far nuclear weapons have saved conflict, we have not had world war three, because rational people who understand science have educated the world as to what would happen if there was a nuclear war – in this instance the knowledge of the technology has prevented conflict.

    Nuclear weapons are dangerous if they are in the hands of those who believe that they are good people for doing gods work, which is why the world gets a little anxious when certain countries who are run by religious fundamentalists start talking about developing nuclear weapons – because they might just use them anyway. This is because the secular world, which controls most of the west, understand religion to be irrational, and the people with strong beliefs to be delusional.

    For example – you do not normally fear a a police man carrying a gun, in his holster. But if a maniac was carrying a gun you would be terrified – this is the same principle – the only difference is that the maniacs are people who are deluded into believing in imaginary gods – just like you.

    Terrorists like Catholic inquisition, and the more modern Islamic terrorists are the same type of person – that is a person, like you who believes in god, in fact their faith is stronger than your faith, they believe in god so much, that they think they hear messages from god to tell them to do horrible things to non-believers – now that is faith.

    If you really believed in god and the bible, you would be stoning people, not shopping or buying anything on the Sabbath, you would not have medical treatment (instead you would just pray) – but you do not do these things because you know it is irrational to do them, but the bible tells you to do them – so why don’t you? Is it because they are immoral? Jesus clearly states that you should give up all your wealth and possessions to enter heaven – have you done that?

    It is not the technology or the knowledge you should be fearing, it is the irrationality of those that possess it – irrationality that makes them believe that the bible is correct, and that they are doing god’s bidding in order to please him.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — February 19, 2010 @ 7:56 pm | Reply

  16. Jesus was saying, don’t let wealth, or the pursuit of it, keep you from following him. The Bible teaches that our knowledge will be our undoing in the day of the Antichrist.
    Right now though, what about North Korea? They’re a secular nation that silences and persecutes not only Christians, but anyone who speaks against the government.
    I would beware of any group that tries to force you to believe anything, whether it’s evolution, or whatever. Jesus seeks to persuade, not conquer. “Wolves in sheep’s clothing,” however, have sometimes misled the church. People that want power, use whatever means available. Jesus warned us of them, because he didn’t want anyone to be decieved. He knows ignorance isn’t safe.
    I hope I’m not antagonizing anyone here by continuing to comment for a bit. That is not at all what I mean to do.

    Comment by themysteryof — February 20, 2010 @ 6:02 am | Reply

    • I hope I’m not antagonizing anyone here by continuing to comment for a bit. That is not at all what I mean to do.

      If your intention is only to antagonize people, then that’s one thing. If it’s to offer up your own opinions, which may antagonize people, then it’s fine. I think it is better to formulate your opinions into words to clarify at least in your own mind what you think, and if you’re smart allow the critical opinions of others to refine and inform your own. But that’s a two-way street and who knows; you may convince people or others might play some small part in changing your opinions.

      But it’s all good.

      Comment by tildeb — February 20, 2010 @ 1:11 pm | Reply

  17. North Korea is not secular, it pretends to be secular while at the same time promoting the personality cult of it’s leader. This isn’t the separation of state from religion, this is people worshiping the state – i.e. control via a belief system, turning the state into religion, which is exactly what the Christian Church used to do in Europe – and is the reason why the Catholics have the Pope and a big palace for him to live in – where else do you think the riches of the Catholic Church came from? It isn’t that there are wolves in sheep’s clothing, the whole system of religion right up to the top is corrupt, it always has been and it always will be.

    “I would beware of any group that tries to force you to believe anything, whether it’s evolution, or whatever.”

    You mean like the Catholic Church does by indoctrinating children by putting the fear of hell in to their lives?

    I don’t believe in evolution – I understand evolution, there is a massive difference here – you don’t believe in gravity you know gravity – same with evolution. It is not about belief, it is about evidence. Religion is a belief, because it is based on faith in a supernatural being that can not be proven to be true on any level – there is absolutely no evidence of the god of the bible anywhere – just a book with some stories in it about some malicious being that punished people for not believing in him – it is ridiculous, childish, absurd and far less interesting than Lord of the Rings (which is saying something).

    The Church wrote the bible, the bible is not the word of god, it is the word of man. It was written to control people from the outset, probably as a con to make a living via some sort of religious celebrity (for example St Paul), and then capitalised by an organisation – the Church is a business, it is in the business of making money by playing on peoples fundamental fears and ignorance about life, and making false promises of eternal life. Just like homeopathy and snake oil. The Church is rich fabulously rich, so rich in fact that people ave sued it when they have been sexually abused by priests.

    The bible has been manipulated, translated and edited hundreds of times through history, scriptures have been taken out of it, or not included – possibly because they contradict the main theme of it, or make out Jesus to be like Harry Potter, or a normal bloke with a wife. In other words the bible is hearsay, it is the creation of text by a list of authors many of whom are unknown and can not be accounted for – to test this further there is a significant lack of secular history to back it up – you would have thought a man like Jesus would be written about everywhere – but he isn’t, and other religions do not even recognise him as the son of god at all.

    The difference here is that Darwin’s work has stacks of evidence – tons of it, and it has been collected over the last 150 years or so – there have been countless attempts to disprove it out right, and non have succeed so far, yet his theory still provides us with insights into modern science and has improved the standard of life for everyone.

    “I hope I’m not antagonizing anyone here by continuing to comment for a bit. That is not at all what I mean to do.”

    Not at all, unlike religious people atheists do not hide behind offence, the things that offend us are the stupid actions of the Church – for example promoting fear of god to influence people against contraception, which helps AIDS to spread – the Church is out of touch with reality. Or inciting people to murder doctors for some deluded pro-life agenda, or holding back medical research such as stem cell research, which could cure cancer and many other disabilities and diseases, or stoning people or beating people because they choose not to live a life according to scripture, or even someone else’s interpretation of that scripture. I am not offended when a Christian says that Dawkins or Darwin are false, it is up to them if they want to believe in magic rather than observable truth, so long as they do not tamper with my way of life.

    In fact I feel sorry for Christians, because they are trapped in a belief system – afraid to challenge the church, because they have been brainwashed into thinking that they will go to hell – it must be awful to live in fear of death, to fear that something is watching over you all the time and judging you – what a horrible existence!

    I don’t believe in hell or heaven, I have nothing to fear from death, because death is natural – I didn’t remember being born and I will not remember my death, as such I embrace the life I have because the chances are it is the only one I will have. The same is true of morals, I am not nice to people because I think god wants me to be, I am nice to people because I genuinely like them, I mean no one any harm so long as they mean no harm to me, my morals come from my own human empathy and my desire to make a difference to the living.

    Religion promotes ignorance because it is afraid of what science can reveal about the true nature of the universe. Galileo is an example of this. If Galileo had supported the church that the earth was the centre of the universe they would not have persecuted him – this is a common theme throughout history. Darwin was persecuted for his findings by the religious and was bullied in his social circle – this is shocking behaviour by the religious, and it still goes on today. Modern scientists live in fear of fundamentalists because of their irrationality – and plain stupidity. This is a crime against humanity, sitting back and separating yourself from the fundamentalists is almost as bad as being the fundamentalist, because you provide them with moderate validation of their actions.

    Which is worse a racist who beats someone up for being a different colour, or a racist who prevents someone from earning a living just for being a different colour – they are both racists, and so it is true of religion. All religion is extreme by Atheist moral standards – you have to remember that the Church IS offensive to secular educated society.

    There is probably no god, the god of the bible is imaginary, Jesus probably never existed, and even if he did there was probably hundreds of people just like him pretending to be the son of god – just like today.

    If god did exist, you would expect priests to live longer and have healthier lives because they pray more – they do not. Similarly prayer does not help the sick – or solve any of the worlds problems – it never has and it never will, if it did there would not be any atheists we would all believe in god because pray would work and would be observable and demonstrable.

    There is no evidence – and this is the problem with belief.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — February 20, 2010 @ 10:45 am | Reply

  18. There are secular histories, and documents from around the time of Jesus, that make some mention of him, or his followers. The Jewish historian, Josephus, born in 37 A.D., mentions him. The Roman historian, Tacitus,(A.D.112) refers to Jesus, and the existence of Christians in Rome. Others were Pliny, (A.D.112) and Seutonius (A.D.120). Most secular references were written, to try to refute some Christian claim, much as we see today. There were debates over whether the darkness at the time of the crucifixion was a natural occurance of not and so on. There are also extra-Biblical writers, who raised some argument over some doctrine or something. You can’t explain historically, the birth of Christianity at that time, if Jesus wasn’t a real person.

    Comment by themysteryof — February 21, 2010 @ 2:22 am | Reply

  19. Yes, but the point is it is not everywhere in the history books is it?

    Josephus – is disputed.
    Tacitus – again is disputed.
    Pliny – again is disputed, as he was known to be a Christian – i.e. not secular, and therefore not impartial.

    However, all the references you mention are written after the fact – so in other words could have been polluted with religious propaganda.

    What I mean by secular historical documents, are documents that relate to the actual existence of Jesus and his crucifixion – from a non religious perspective. The Romans were pretty good at record keeping for tax purposes – so you would expect some sort of record somewhere.

    The historians you mention are well known, and most academics regard their works as an attempt by the Church to put Jesus in History from a secular perspective to make it more believable.

    You can’t blame the Church for doing this because the historical inaccuracies in the bible and other gospels not included in the bible are monumental – they must have spotted this problem, and tried to correct it, but I am afraid they made some pretty awful mistakes.

    The other issue is that we have plenty of history on other character of the time, people who were far less important – yet we do not have anything on Jesus – the man that brought people from the dead.

    If I went around the world healing people, and bringing them back from the dead at will – it wouldn’t take long for someone to be writing about this, and I would expect that lots of people would be studying it and writing about it, with a matter of days.

    So I am afraid a few references of people who wrote about something 100 many decades after the event doesn’t really cut it as evidence.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — February 21, 2010 @ 1:15 pm | Reply

  20. Everything is disputed, but these things are recorded in multiple manuscripts. Christians couldn’t have gone around everywhere, changing all the manuscripts. During his lifetime on earth Jesus didn’t travel outside of Palestine. His ministry only lasted around 3 years. You wouldn’t expect nearly so many records to exist as we have. In that short period of time however, he changed the world.

    Comment by themysteryof — February 22, 2010 @ 4:31 am | Reply

  21. I don’t believe that – I think some people got together and made it all up – and there is more evidence to support that theory than there is for a man who can walk on water and raise the dead.

    Jesus shares his birthday with about 25 other religions for example… coincidence or plagiarism?

    St Paul, never even mentioned anything about Jesus’ ministry… just the death, resurrection and ascension to heaven – which is in fact a pagan thing – and he is the missing link between the time Jesus died and the writing of the bible and establishment of the Church….

    Here is a trailer to a film that was created by a ex-Catholic – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73_IjNPmIEI

    It is pretty good.

    The issue here is that you have certainty that Jesus existed – even though there is very little real proof apart from a a story book that was translated and manipulated by countless people – this is not evidence by any standards, if anything it is hearsay – nothing more nothing less.

    If you want evidence of gods, then believe in egyptian gods – they have evidence written in stone and are older than the Jesus myth – ask yourself why you do not believe in the egyptian gods… All I have done is extended my disbelief of the gods to one more made up supernatural thing – and that thing is called Jesus and God – it is imaginary.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — February 23, 2010 @ 7:12 pm | Reply

  22. Most historians as of this date accept that Jesus was a living person. The followers of Jesus were convinced that he was the Messiah that had been promised from the dawn of time. There’s no other explanation for the way they all suffered martyrdom for their witness. They couldn’t shut up about him.
    Paul started out opposing Jesus as so many of us, including myself, have done. Don’t forget that in one way or another, every Christian has been persuaded of the truth of Jesus. There’s plenty of evidence, but Christians have done a poor job in presenting it, and again, I have to include myself. I’m trying to correct some of my own problems there.
    The Bible doesn’t tell us what day he was born on, (at least not in plain language). That isn’t the most important thing. The thing is that his birth, life, death, and resurrection, was foretold in the Old Testament. I have a copy of the Septuagint, which is a 277 B.C. translation of the Old Testament into the Greek language. The prophecies are there. All ancient nations had some knowledge of this, and that’s where the Egyptian stories come in.

    Comment by themysteryof — February 24, 2010 @ 3:54 pm | Reply

    • There’s no other explanation for the way they all suffered martyrdom for their witness.

      Really? No other explanation? Let’s look at a bit of christian history and see if we might find another explanation… for example, the reason for today’s Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

      From Wiki:

      Miller was a prosperous farmer, a Baptist layman and amateur student of the Bible, living in northern New York, in the region of that state which has come to be known as the Burned-over district. Through years of intensive study of prophetic symbolism of the prophecies of Daniel and using the year-day method of prophetic interpretation, Miller became convinced that Christ’s Second Coming was revealed in Bible prophecy. In September 1822, Miller formally stated his conclusions in a twenty-point document, including article 15, “I believe that the second coming of Jesus Christ is near, even at the door, even within twenty-one years,—on or before 1843.”[1]

      When the prediction fails its test, why didn’t the believers accept the truth that the prediction was wrong? Because once you invest yourself in a belief, it is easier to maintain that belief than it is to admit you were not only wrong, but gullible and foolish. Today, the Church has millions of members and continues to grow. Why? Because people continue to invest themselves in their beliefs and will not admit that they are gullible and foolish. Yet the facts speak louder than any priest’s false truth claims: there is not a shred of evidence that the Second Coming of Christ is true. It is merely a belief with a long history of predictions that were wrong. There is no reason to think that any other prediction for the second coming is any better informed, but we do know that people – lots and lots of people – are still willing to believe it to be true in the absence of any evidence. That says more about the critical faculties of the believers than it does about the veracity of the truth claim itself.

      It is no stretch of the imagination to think that by strength of belief alone, many people are willing to die… as if that proves their investment and commitment to their beliefs without ever answering the question, Are they true?

      So that means that, yes, there are other explanations other than the veracity of a truth claim.

      Comment by tildeb — February 24, 2010 @ 8:01 pm | Reply

  23. “Don’t forget that in one way or another, every Christian has been persuaded of the truth of Jesus.”

    Yup – by threats of going to hell and burning for ever – I can understand how that would be persuasive – but I am afraid I don’t buy into that – so that persuasion does not work – I need hard evidence that I can see and touch, just like ‘Thomas’ did when he had to touch Jesus wounds to believe that he was resurrected – I have to do the same – what was good enough for Thomas is good enough for me – so show me the evidence.

    “There’s no other explanation for the way they all suffered martyrdom for their witness.”

    The book was written after the fact – there were no witnesses, if there was Paul would have known about the ministry and miracles – he didn’t. All of that nonsense was made up later.

    I think there is a very large chance that someone lived, who claimed to be the son of god, I bet I could find plenty of people alive today who makes the same claim – do we believe them? – over all I think the character is folk law, like Robin Hood – who is likely to be many different people or a group of stories that sound similar and have similar theme.

    There isn’t any evidence at all for the existence of Jesus – there is some stuff written in a book – and some dodgy texts that try to place Jesus in history – if Jesus existed it would be so amazing, that everyone would believe, the Jews all of them, no one would have seen anything like this – it would have been staggering – just think of how westerners are greeted by native people who live on an Island – they go crazy when they see our technology and things they do not understand, they think we are gods, they worship us and write about us and they all believe, until we tell them ‘well actually we are not god’ – same here except for Jesus claimed to be god – so people would have said ‘prove it’ and he would have done – and then those people would have written about it – and before you know it, there would have been a massive following – instead what happened (even if you do believe the bible) is people said ‘yeah right’ and nailed him to a cross (which actually when you think about it is what we do today to people who make tall claims about being the son of god – we tend not to kill them, but do tend to give them treatments and lock them up for a while).

    The bible says that the messiah will be born – that messiah could be anyone – it doesn’t name ‘Jesus’. Someone looked at the bible and made up a story to fit it – this is no more a prophecy, than me saying ‘one day we will have a black prime-minister’ – it is so vague and ambiguous that it is likely to be self fulfilling.

    A prophecy is someone saying something specific will happen at a specific time in the future and it does happen – for example: The UK will sink to the bottom of the Ocean on the 01 April 2010 – and then it does.

    The Egyptian stories are just as old as the old testament, if not older – Hinduism and Judaism predate Christianity, so religion was not a new idea, the early church wanted a piece of the action’ just like any cult today.

    Then there is this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Disappointment

    (Notice how the Bahá’í Faith – claim the second coming to be theirs… and hold that thought).

    So the phropacies in the bible can not be relied upon anyway, because his second coming seems to be a little late. So is the bible correct or is it wrong, it appears to be wrong.

    The Bahá’í Faith is an example of how easy it is to establish a belief system – it has prophecies too and was established during the 19th Century, but it copies similar things from other religions, and makes claims that prophecies mentioned in other religions have been fulfilled by the Bahá’í Faith.

    So which is religion is the right religion – who is worshiping the correct god? And which evidence in the bible is the real evidence and which is the stuff that is just wrong? Where is the mountain of evidence of his existence? I could sort of understand it if I was the only person in the world not to believe – but I am not. I might even be able to believe it if Christianity was the only religion in the world. It would possibly be even more believable if Christianity was the only religion to have ever existed – but it is not, was not and will not be in future.

    Then there is the Gnostic gospels – that read like Harry Potter, and in parts describe Jesus as a little brat going around casting spells on his mates – these were probably not taken into the Canon, because they are just too ridiculous. All of which add further complexity and inconsistency to the supposed ‘word of god’… funny how no one can understand the word of god the all knowing powerful thing that lives in the sky – but he can not write a simple set of instructions for everyone to understand (don’t tell me he is testing my faith!).

    I think religion like the concept of an eternal life is born out of man’s greed, just like the Catholic faith. It is a con the whole thing is about making money, having a following of people, pushing control on to unthinking people, and the dreams of rich and powerful men who have everything except immortality.

    Comment by misunderstoodranter — February 24, 2010 @ 9:19 pm | Reply


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