Monthly Archives: January 2008

Secular alternatives to religious communities

Ron Brown at The Frame Problem has an interesting post Doubt in and faking of faith, and the need for secular alternatives to religious communities.

He comments on the reasons for religious belief:

“People receive religious belief and ritual indoctrination from a very young age, years before their ability for effective critical thought comes in. Once this early framework is set in place and has served for years as a framework for forming beliefs and understanding the world (e.g., in terms of right and wrong, what is meaningful and important, social connections, justice), it could understandably be very difficult to question the validity of these beliefs. Then on top of this there is often a lot of social pressure—in many places one risks ostracism by their family and/or community for leaving the faith. The fear of losing one’s grip on reality, meaning, and purpose, losing one’s grip on right and wrong, of having to entertain the notion that justice in this world is by no means assured, and on top of this, the fear of ostracism from one’s family and community could form the most powerful set of reasons for dogmatism. The person risks abandoning much of their most important “knowledge” and social support.

I figure that there probably are a decent proportion of believers that do have some doubt. However, I don’t think that most believers are living a charade. I think that most believers are genuinely committed to their beliefs, even though they have some underlying doubt—however deep down it may be.”

But Ron goes further to suggest alternatives to religion for those who have doubts about their faith

“I think that an important step toward making people more willing to question their faith is the provision of other options for community and the pursuit of happiness and meaning. I would like to eventually help build a community which embraces many of the positive aspects of religion (e.g. supportive community, teaching love and kindness, providing a social forum for the development of wisdom and wellbeing) but which does away with the dogmatism and replaces it with open-minded skepticism and curiosity and intellectual honesty. I would like to see many of the wise developments in buddhist philosophy and practice (but without the faith components), such as mindfulness meditation, teachings such as the danger of investing oneself in externals (e.g., beliefs, possessions, status, others), and so forth. I would also bring in the philosophical and scientific curiosity of the ancient Greeks and modern academia. And of course, there would be community building activities such as social events, charity work, group projects, support groups and so on.”

Some food for thought here?

Moral authority

Many theists see moral positions as being defined by “God’s Law.” They argue for the objective existence of a morality revealed by ancient religious scriptures. However, they have the problem of how to select and interpret scriptures to find moral principles relevant to today’s world. Inevitably different interpretations abound

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New Secular Philosophy blog

This new weblog looks promising.

Secular Philosophy, announces itself as a “site dedicated to the exchange of ideas and debate relating to all things secular with an emphasis on philosophy. Here you will find exclusive films, books and blogs by Daniel Dennett, Colin McGinn and Massimo Pigliucci, as well as the Center for Inquiry’s Point of Inquiry podcast every Friday evening.”

“Hosted by D.J. Grothe, Point of Inquiry streams live interviews with Nobel Prize-winning scientists, social critics and theorists, as well as renowned artists and entertainers. Each conversation focuses on issues relevant to the secular cause: religion and society, humanist values, philosophy and scientific inquiry. On Secular Philosophy, you can listen to the interviews, subscribe to the podcast and download them as mp3s.”

“In addition, we have acquired the exclusive rights to release on DVD The Atheism Tapes, the source material companion series to Jonathan Miller’s ground breaking A Rough History of Disbelief, which aired on PBS. The Atheism Tapes, produced and hosted by Jonathan Miller with the BBC, compiles off -the-record interviews with six of today’s leading thinkers who reveal why they are atheists: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Colin McGinn, Arthur Miller, Denys Turner and Steven Weinberg discuss their personal intellectual journeys and defense of non theism from a wide range of perspectives.”

We will be releasing this series on our newly launched Alive Mind label on February 15th and taking pre-orders starting February 1. Subscribe to the Alive Mind newsletter and receive a 10% coupon.”

I enjoyed Jonathan Miller’s A Rough History of Disbelief and am certainly interested in getting hold of The Atheism Tapes.

Religion and the “New Atheists”

The New Republic recently interviewed Booker Prizewinning novelist Ian McEwan. Although the interview covered his books and the internet I found his comments on religion and atheism particularly interesting. So often we hear religious beliefs justified today with the claim that they have arisen naturally in all societies and this demonstrates they are an inherent part of human nature. As McEwan points out this claim is simply refuted by the evidence that so many people don’t have these beliefs.

I reproduce the relevant sections of the interview below:

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Gaza: Stop Blockade and War

This from AVAA.ORG:

The years-old blockade of Gaza is at crisis point: with the humanitarian crisis growing, the southern border has been breached and 350,000 Palestinians are pouring across. The situation is out of control — the world must step in.
To prevent catastrophe and protect civilians on all sides, your voice is needed urgently: we’re running an emergency global campaign to international, European and Arab leaders, calling on them to stop the siege, oversee open borders and help broker a ceasefire. We’ll deliver the petition when we reach 150,000 signatures – please add your name below, then spread the word:

To the United Nations, the European Union, the Quartet, the Arab League & Israel: We demand that you end the blockade and growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, ensure the free flow of supplies by land, sea or air, and help to broker the ceasefire which civilians on both sides desperately need.

To sign the petition on-line go to Gaza: Stop Blockade and War

Who are the “dissenters from Darwinism”?

One of the weapons used by the Wedge activists is the Scientific Dissent from Darwin list. They use this to promote the idea there is a controversy about evolutionary theory within the scientific community. The idea that a significant number of scientists actually oppose the modern understanding of evolution and support “intelligent design” (ID) theory as an alternative. They then go on to demand introduction of ID into science classrooms under the slogan “teach the controversy.”

Only a small number of professionals have been prepared to support the Discovery Institute’s statement (see Dissenters from Darwinism in context). However, the understanding and motives of those who have is interesting.

  • Are they genuinely concerned about modern evolutionary theory?
  • Do they support ID as an alternative?
  • Do they even understand modern evolutionary theory?
  • What is their areas of scientific expertise?
  • Is their motivation primarily religious?
  • Or have they been duped – signing up to support the relatively innocuous statement only to find out later the real way the list is being used?

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Changing your mind

John Brockman over at the Edge website periodically poses a stimulating question to a whole range of thinkers, some of the worlds finest minds. I’m currently reading the book compiled from responses to the 2006 question: “What is your dangerous idea?” Fascinating.

The 2008 question is; “What have you changed your mind about? Why?”

As the Edge site says:

When thinking changes your mind, that’s philosophy.
When God changes your mind, that’s faith.
When facts change your mind, that’s science.

Science is based on evidence. What happens when the data change? How have scientific findings or arguments changed your mind?”

One hundred and sixty three contributors answered this question with relatively brief statements. They are well worth reading. I have listed extracts from a few of the contributors below. Continue reading

Dissenters from Darwinism in context

While there is no real scientific support for intelligent design (ID) theory there is certainly a propaganda campaign to give that impression. The Wedge activists centered around the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture in Seattle, USA, are continually promoting campaigns with this purpose. One of these is the list of scientists, “dissenters from Darwinism,” who they claim support ID.

We could discuss the political tactics behind this list and the motivation of those professionals who have given their support to the statement of dissent. However, the undeniable purpose of the list has been to create the impression that there is a controversy among scientists about evolutionary theory. So let’s look at the “statement of dissent” and the number of signatures and compare this with the numbers who have signed statements supporting evolutionary theory.

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Heresy, or common sense?

The Last Western Heretic, a documentary about the life and ideas of Lloyd Geering, was shown on New Zealand TV last weekend. It was excellent – extremely well made and great intellectual content. Geering is considered a radical theologian and a NZ icon and was once described by the BBC as “the last living heretic.” He has fearlessly challenged Christian doctrine for the last 50 years. I have read several of his books and attended several of his seminars. His ideas are always stimulating and refreshing.

I admire people who are prepared to challenge outmoded ideas. Particularly when this could result in personal and financial recrimination. I suspect that there are many thoughtful ministers of religion who have come to the same conclusions as Geering. However, most of these appear unprepared to face the prospect of loss of income and pension rights, and a comfortable life style, which would result from public honesty on these questions. So they continue to hypocritically promote the same old tired myths to their parishioners.

The documentary is structured around the following nine statements:

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Religious opposition to “intelligent design”

In a previous post referring to the attack of intelligent design (ID) on society and religion (see Intelligent Design and the Threat to Christianity) I suggested that Christians “too often stand aside as if the conflict is not their problem.” This was a bit unfair. While there is a tendency to see ID as a problem for science rather than religion many Christians do fight back. A worthwhile example is the Clergy Letter Project. This is a open letter signed by American Christian clergy of different denominations rejecting creationism, with specific reference to points raised by intelligent design proponents. Begun in 2004 it currently has 11,130 signatories supporting this statement:

“We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rests. To reject this truth or to treat it as “one theory among others” is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God’s good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator. To argue that God’s loving plan of salvation for humanity precludes the full employment of the God-given faculty of reason is to attempt to limit God, an act of hubris. We urge school board members to preserve the integrity of the science curriculum by affirming the teaching of the theory of evolution as a core component of human knowledge. We ask that science remain science and that religion remain religion, two very different, but complementary, forms of truth.”

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