From John Searle comes a TEDx Cern talk that is music to my ears:
From John Searle comes a TEDx Cern talk that is music to my ears:
An interesting video from the BBC. Tip to misunderstoodranter.
Granted, sometimes certain atheists speak and write in derogatory terms about the thinking ability of religious believers that may seem at first blush to have gone too far. But now I am thinking that atheists as a whole may not have gone far enough in their criticisms. To whit…
From the Sydney Morning Herald comes this article from which I have taken excerpts and added bold face:
Several church leaders have used their Easter sermons and messages to condemn the increase in atheism, with Sydney Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen on Friday describing non-belief as an “assault on God.”
The problem here is how can one assault something that does not exist? Dismissal does not have the same meaning as assault. Atheists dismiss notions of god as empty assertions. By twisting this dismissal by atheists of a central tenet of religious belief to mean the same thing as assault of that central tenet, Jensen has intentionally not only misrepresented atheism but applied a hostility to non belief as a necessary condition. The thinking here by Jensen is dishonest and dangerous and serves only to vilify atheists. As an atheist, I am having difficulty feeling the love.
“Atheism is every bit of a religious commitment as Christianity itself.
No. It is not. Atheism is non belief. Period. End of description. Different term altogether. The absence of belief is not another form of belief… hence the different words. It’s a give-away that we’re talking about two different things. But if non belief was, in fact, belief, then guanocephalic Jensen would be a believer in thousands of beliefs he does not hold. And because he doesn’t hold them, by his own admission he would be hostile to all of them and guilty of assaulting every central tenet of beliefs he does not share.
Maybe even he could appreciate why his assertion here is such sheer nonsense. But failing that – and I suspect he would fail to follow his own line of thinking – I suspect Jensen’s lobotomy must have gone too far into his cerebral cortex, and thus turned his ability to follow his own reasoning into a mushy goop that produces this kind of intolerant drivel. Because that describes what his line of thinking here is: drivel.
But wait: there’s more.
It (atheism) represents the latest version of the human assault on God, born out of resentment that we do not in fact rule the world and that God calls on us to submit our lives to him.”
And what might the ‘earlier’ version be? Giving women the vote? Freeing the slaves? Not stoning to death disobedient children? Oh, the humanity! Oh, the loss of virtuous morality sanctified by Jensen’s god!
Dr Jensen went on to say in his sermon that religion can be an “even more dangerous” form of idolatry than atheism if incorrectly interpreted.
And the correct interpretation is…?
Oh, that’s right: competing religious truth claims are simply a matter of establishing which interpretation is the correct one. But because truth does not matter to those who hold religious beliefs but only faith does, then figuring out whether the mystic elephant or Isis or Jesus is god incarnate really boils down to a matter of correct interpretation. We should have known!
What a load of lies Jensen is spewing. He has no more seriously interpreted Gilgamesh as a possible true god any more than he has seriously considered the theocratic truth available through the correct interpretation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Jensen rejects all these beliefs as false and did so long before he decided to spout his nonsense regarding correct interpretation. This makes Jensen a liar, but he has the temerity to accuse those who do not believe nor worship in any god at all as a terrible danger because non belief apparently promotes worship of something other than any god. Better to worship Muk Muk of the Volcano who feeds on virgins to stay dormant than dare not to believe in Muk Muk at all, according to Jensen; non belief is too idolatrous in comparison!
This assertion of idolatry against atheists is incoherent, to say the least, and is an assault against rationality.
What do you think? Was the lobotomy performed by a blender, a large bore drill bit, or perhaps a fence post digger? I’m leaning towards the blender.
“Here, too, religion can simply be the power game under a different guise … Atheist or religious person – we all need to be reconciled to God and give him our lives,” he added.
Even if one is an atheist, Jensen thinks that one must avoid the abuse of power that accompanies idolatry by giving our lives to something we honestly think does not exist… like Muk Muk and his unfailing appetite for human sacrifice. There’s a solid bit of convincing.
Is it just me, or has Jensen lost the ability to reason altogether? Can religious belief really screw this much with your mind or must there be some biologically explainable deficit? I think it’s brain damage, myself.
And as for the people who grant this man’s pronouncements with any serious respect at all? Maybe it’s time these folk decided to be re-baptized… along with their favorite plugged in electrical appliance in hand.
Sam Harris, second from the left, answers the question here.
According to Justin Barrett, under certain conditions, humans commonly interpret two-dimensional, moving
geometric shapes as having the properties of causality and animacy. In other words, our brains – and our neurological response to visual stimuli in particular – come wired to seek and assign agency. This is HADD… a description of a complex neurological preference to detect agency.
Neuroscientist Steve Novella explains:
Psychologists and neuroscientists in recent years have demonstrated that our brains are hardwired to distinguish things in our environment that are alive from those that are not alive. But “being alive” (from a psychological point of view) is not about biology, but agency – something that can act in the world, that has its own will and can cause things to happen. Sure, this is a property of living things, but that’s not how our brain sort things out. We can perceive agency in non-living things if they are acting as if they are agents.
Bruce Hood adds to our understanding:
We imbue agents with an essence – a unique living force, even while infants. Objects are just generic things, totally interchangeable. While agents have their own unique essence. Interestingly, children can come to view a favorite toy (a stuffed animal, for example) with the properties of an agent and will treat it like a living thing. This reinforces the notion that the distinction we make is not between living and non-living so much as agent vs object.
This biological tendency we have to assign agency where none may exist helps to explain why we seem so willing to believe in all kinds of supernatural agencies. Back to Doctor Steve:
HADD detects more than movement, it can detect a pattern in otherwise unrelated events, details that defy easy explanation, or consequences that seem out of proportion to the alleged causes. When HADD is triggered we tend to see a hidden agent working behind the scenes, making events unfold the way they do, and perhaps even deliberately hiding its own tracks.
So if we are aware that we are predisposed by our neurology to assign agency where none may exist, then what can we do to safeguard our perceptions from our imaginings? Novella is quite clear with advice on how we can accomplish this willful task:
Skepticism, in many ways, is a filter on HADD. First we have to recognize that our brains are not perfect perceivers and processors of information. There are specific and myriad ways in which the human brain is biased and flawed. Science and skepticism are methods for correcting or filtering out those biases. Skeptics asks themselves – is it really true. We see many patterns, but only some of those patterns represent underlying reality. We need a process to sort out which ones are real – that is science and skepticism.
A recent study looks at the effect of brain surgery to remove tumors on feelings of self-transcendence. The authors found, after looking at 88 patients, that those who had tumors removed from the inferior parietal lobe or the right angular gyrus, but not the frontal lobes, reported increases in thoughts and feelings that might be interpreted as signs of self-transcendence.
This of course raises the thorny issue of the relationship between religious belief and brain function – although the authors are careful to distinguish religion from spirituality. The study used questions to assess the subjects’ feelings of oneness with nature, ability to lose themselves in the moment (feel disconnected from time and space), and belief in a higher power. Those subjects with tumors removed in the areas mentioned experienced immediate increases in these phenomena, while those with tumors removed from other regions of the brain did not.
The piece that seems the least well understand at this time is the profound sense of spirituality that often accompanies these feelings of being outside one’s body or being one with everything. It is easy to understand why these would be extraordinary experiences that might compel someone to reconsider their views of reality (especially if they do not have a neurological explanation at hand). And it seems obvious that feeling one with god or the universe would lead to spiritual feelings about our place in the world.
One of the strongest proofs for the existence of realms of reality ‘beyond’ our own is the transcendental experience. People have long relied on this personal revelation of becoming aware of an expanded consciousness to be evidence for god. But what if it is strictly a biological event, a neurological process in our bicameral brain that reduces our sense of body boundary? Consider this evidence from Dr. Cosimo Urgesi from the University of Udine in Italy, posted on Physorg under the title Selective Brain Damage Modulates Human Sprituality:
“Neuroimaging studies have linked activity within a large network in the brain that connects the frontal, parietal, and temporal cortexes with spiritual experiences, but information on the causative link between such a network and spirituality is lacking,” explains lead study author, Dr. Cosimo Urgesi from the University of Udine in Italy.
Dr. Urgesi and colleagues were interested in making a direct link between brain activity and spirituality. They focused specifically on the personality trait called self-transcendence (ST), which is thought to be a measure of spiritual feeling, thinking, and behaviors in humans. ST reflects a decreased sense of self and an ability to identify one’s self as an integral part of the universe as a whole.
The researchers combined analysis of ST scores obtained from brain tumor patients before and after they had surgery to remove their tumor, with advanced techniques for mapping the exact location of the brain lesions after surgery. “This approach allowed us to explore the possible changes of ST induced by specific brain lesions and the causative role played by frontal, temporal, and parietal structures in supporting interindividual differences in ST,” says researcher Dr. Franco Fabbro from the University of Udine.
The group found that selective damage to the left and right posterior parietal regions induced a specific increase in ST. “Our symptom-lesion mapping study is the first demonstration of a causative link between brain functioning and ST,” offers Dr. Urgesi. “Damage to posterior parietal areas induced unusually fast changes of a stable personality dimension related to transcendental self-referential awareness. Thus, dysfunctional parietal neural activity may underpin altered spiritual and religious attitudes and behaviors.”
This experience of a loss of body boundary and a feeling of transcendentalism is also well documented by neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor who describes the effects of the stroke she suffered in her book My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey.