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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Location: Surreality, Have Fun Will Travel, Past Midnight before a Workday

Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.



Friday, March 30, 2007

Did Religiosity Evolve? And Why?

This is an excellent article that I read on the plane to Portland, Oregon, in December 2005 just days before the Dover decision (Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District) came down.

(I'll never forget John's mother saying, "I thought you saw a spider!" because I screamed and jumped up and down at the headline in the paper about the decision. Then I tried to e-mail this article to PZ in a garbled communication using her e-mail in my latte-besotted joy.)

UPDATED: Believe it or not, I was too young to know about Morton Smith's elaborate hoax The Secret Gospel when it came out in 1973 (I was only 8!), but it's making headlines again, along with this item, a librarian's near-nightmare, about another rare Bible tossed into the dump. (Scroll down to see the insert on this.) I tell you, people just throw Bibles out no matter how old they are. I must have 10 of them by now, rescued from the "grab-box" at estate sales. Don't get it, I don't get it...

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16 Comments:

Blogger Crandaddy said...

Bloom approvingly provides as part of a definition of "religion" belief in the supernatural. What could the category of "supernatural" include except for items which are not "natural". This, of course, begs the following question: What items are "natural"?

March 31, 2007 3:50 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Well, here's Webster's New World Dictionary, 2nd College Edition (yeah, time for me to get a new one): 1. of or arising from nature; in accordance with what is found or expected in nature. 2. produced or existing in nature; not artificial or manufactured... 5. of the real or physical world as distinguished from a spiritual, intellectual, or imaginary world.

March 31, 2007 6:32 PM  
Blogger Kevin Scott said...

A couple things...

If God exists why do religious folks teach he operates outside of the natural world? At one time we didn't understand lightning. "It must be the gods."

When we read ancient scriptures we do the same thing when we don't understand. Elijah was taken up in a "supernatural" chariot of fire. Which means what?

Second: Why would religion pop up? My guess is we have the cognative ability to "imagine" what might be over the next hill. And we want to solve the mystery of what's over the next hill. As such we hate NOT having answers to our questions. If we create a religion to explain things we don't understand it gives us mental peace.

My two cents.

March 31, 2007 6:37 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

I had the weirdest thought just yesterday: we assume, in our culture which places so much emphasis upon the self and individuality, that our first coherent concept of self is of "myself," but I don't think that's true. I wonder if, in fact, we perceive others more easily than our own selves, and construct our identity in terms of being able to see others.

We experience ourselves first; we feel hunger and cry, etc., but we have no concept, as an infant, of ourselves. The concepts that we form are of others, first - people and things. So what I'm wondering is, instead of us forming a concept of ourselves from our experience of ourselves, we actually form a concept of ourselves from our perceptions of others.

I don't think I'm saying anything new; now that I think about it it's pretty close to the objections that Antonin Artaud had with Western concept of self and with language.

But anyway, where I was going with this was that perhaps our perception of (or, in my case, no perception of) deities is related to our construction of self.

I don't want to pick on believers and be mean, but this "it's so obvious it's God!" argument gets my chimp. I don't think I've ever felt this presence that people speak of. I have never needed "someone to talk to." I remember being a little girl and praying, and not ever really feeling anyone there - I went to Quaker meeting about 10 years ago and someone said, "The Spirit really moved," and I didn't feel anything! So maybe we're wrong to say the word "consciousness" as if it's the same for all human beings. Maybe what we call "consciousness" is really an aggregate of many, loosely integrated perceptions, and that some of us don't have a few of these whatevers that others do.

(Boy, I guess I do like to quibble after all.)

March 31, 2007 7:13 PM  
Blogger Crandaddy said...

The reason I asked is that the terms "natural" and "supernatural" can be terribly vague and question-begging. In its general usage, "natural" often tends to denote that which is material or physical. But are all things really physical? Take, for example, the subjective mental phemomenon of belief. It is extrordinarily difficult to see how the existence of beliefs can be denied and, if they do exist, how they could possibly be physical.

March 31, 2007 8:05 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Well, the Tinman aside, can you really believe anything without a brain, Crandaddy?

If so, what's the brain doing here, then? Why need one, if thinking and believing isn't an action of the brain?

What about all the studies done of people using MRIs that show how emotions affect the thought process? (This is something I must know about to be a librarian.)

If the brain fills with plaque, as it does when a person has Alzheimer's, doesn't that affect the personality, memory, and beliefs?

If you get knocked unconscious in the midst of saying, "I believe that that man is a jerk," and suffer memory loss of what happened just before your injury, doesn't that affect your memory of the jerk and what you believed about him at that moment?

Have you ever known anyone who underwent a cognitive and personality change (like no longer recognizing you) due to brain injury or disease? I have. How do you explain that then?

Have you ever met someone who had progressive schizophrenia, and as the illness got worse became convinced that you were going to harm him?

Come on. Saying that the mind is not an action of our physical brain is like saying that running is not an action of our physical legs and that we could still run without them.

March 31, 2007 8:36 PM  
Blogger Crandaddy said...

Kristine,

No dualist worth her salt would contest that there are neurophysiologicl corrolates of conscious experience so that when some part of the brain is damaged or destroyed some part of conscious experience is altered or deleted. However, the contingent dependence of subjective conscious experience on the physical brain does not entail the necessity that it be identified with physical brain properties. What is proposed to be nonphysical in contemporary philosophy of mind is what David Chalmers calls the "hard problem".

To further describe the problem the physicalist (materialist) faces with respect to belief, consider that in order for there to be a belief there must be a proposition into the content of which the belief of truth or falsity must be invested. The propositional content must be intrinsic to the substance of the belief itself; it is an intentional state which must be intrinsically (as opposed to derivatively) about or directed toward its object. The genuineness of the belief is at stake in this regard. But how can propositional content and its attending properties of truth and falsity be intrinsic to any physical substance?

I naively bought into all of the "dualism is falsified superstition" dross up until only about a year ago. Even as a Christian theist (yes, there are actually Christian theists who are materialists about mind.) I thought that even if mind is somehow of a separate substance, there is no way we can reason to that conclusion. Reading the works of Franz Brentano, C.S. Lewis, Victor Reppert, and William Vallicella ultimately changed my bias away from a physicalist view of mind. Actually, Bill Vallicella has had a greater influence in shaping my views than Bill Dembski (with all respect to Billy D. of course!). The "Maverick Philosopher" even has his own blog. Go here and here to read a couple of his posts which are relevant to dualism.

March 31, 2007 10:06 PM  
Blogger Crandaddy said...

Sorry, go here for the last link.

March 31, 2007 10:18 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Okay, I'll work through the links. Actually I am reading something by Bill D. right now, too.

According to physicalism, the language of physics is the universal language of science and, consequently, any knowledge can be brought back to the statements on the physical objects.

Stupid question: Is this the "language" of quantum physics? Because I'm not sure if the term "physical objects" includes objects such as the electron (which has a charge and spin but cannot be absolutely pinned down as to position versus momentum).

This reminds me of a question posed to Dawkins recently by an ID advocate, about at what point the "language of physics" could no longer describe his book without invoking his intentionality.

March 31, 2007 11:00 PM  
Blogger Crandaddy said...

Stupid question: Is this the "language" of quantum physics? Because I'm not sure if the term "physical objects" includes objects such as the electron (which has a charge and spin but cannot be absolutely pinned down as to position versus momentum).

It's been said that there is no such thing as a stupid question. I'm not so sure about that, but rest assured that your question isn't stupid.

Physicalism simpliciter is the metaphysical position that all of existence is composed of matter and energy and that mindless, rote mechanistic laws dictate their movements and interactions. Most philosophers in my experience (including myself) use materialism and physicalism interchangeably.

Electrons are physical entities, and quantum mechanics is the study of physical events at the quantum level, so it would seem that the answer to your question is yes.

April 01, 2007 12:58 AM  
Blogger Kristine said...

I haven't made it to the Maverick Philosopher's blog yet but I'm not sure what you're saying. The mind proposes, and mind is an action of the brain. Likewise, there would be no such thing as "spin" or "position" or "momentum" of a particle without the particle. Things need a medium to communicate themselves, but communication itself is not a "substance."

This reminds me of something that Peter Robinson asks Eugenie Scott during his interview with her and Dembski: he says something about, "And yet logic is out there, isn't it?" Well, no - not in a Platonic sense. We humans see relationships in the world, and interaction in the world, and derive logical statements from it, but what's "out there" are the relationships and the interactions.

April 01, 2007 1:17 PM  
Blogger Crandaddy said...

The mind proposes, and mind is an action of the brain. Likewise, there would be no such thing as "spin" or "position" or "momentum" of a particle without the particle. Things need a medium to communicate themselves, but communication itself is not a "substance."

For there to be 'spinning', there must be something which spins. For there to be a 'position', there must be an occupant. For there to be 'momentum', there must be something which moves. And for there to be 'thinking' there must be something which thinks. Now, how is the last of these different from the other three? Well, the first three are descriptions of physical states of affairs. Indeed, it's hardly imaginable how there could be spinning, position, and momentum without physical objects to describe. Thinking, on the other hand, is not recognizably physical in this way. Thinking is intentional in character. One cannot just think; one must think about something.

Suppose I'm thinking about pineapples, and suppose there are time traveling scientists from the future who have mastered a completed neuroscience and are doing a complete analysis of everything going on inside my brain. They know exactly which neurons are firing in exactly what patterns, the precise chemical composition of all areas of my brain, etc. The scientists could possibly see my neurophysiology assume a state which it should if one were thinking about pineapples and be able to 'read' the neurophysiological patterns as one would a book. But how could they get any further than this? Is there something more? As a matter of fact, there is. My thought about pineapples has a content; it has an aboutness. It is about pineapples, and this aboutness is available only to myself in the first person. A third person observer can possibly see physical corrolates of my thought, but he can never see the thought itself because the thought itself has an essential first person ontology which cannot be accessed from a third person perspective. Does this make sense?

[Dembski] says something about, "And yet logic is out there, isn't it?" Well, no - not in a Platonic sense. We humans see relationships in the world, and interaction in the world, and derive logical statements from it, but what's "out there" are the relationships and the interactions.

The laws of logic are the laws of rationality. They hold normative governance over rational thought. In order to be prescriptive rather than merely descriptive of thought they must be absolute, immutable, and Platonic, and in order for our thought to be truly rational, we must have some connection to them. The non-normativity and nonrationality of contingent natural mechanism cannot provide any basis for the rationality of thought.

April 01, 2007 4:42 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

No, no, no. You're getting "law" mixed up.

This happens all the time.

In society, laws "govern," but in science and in logic, laws describe. They do not prescribe, or "lay down the law," for the universe. They are descriptions that we deduce from what we see in nature, not something that exists "out there somewhere."

Robinson asks the question because he is thinking, "There are laws of logic out there - where did they come from?" Laws in the way that you mean require a Lawgiver. But the laws aren't out there. The physical world is out there, and we observe its behavior, and we describe it.

Pure logic is not something that I engage in; for me, there is a fact of the matter. (Catch that? Matter.)

I'm not sure where you're going with the statement "Thinking, on the other hand, is not recognizably physical in this way." It is recognizably physical. We have located the process of thinking in the brain. As a matter of fact, much of our "seeing" is actually in the brain, because our eyes are (I'm sorry) rather poorly designed and it is the brain that assembles the bits of visual information and fills in our blind spots.

Thought also creates a form for itself before it can "contain" itself. Antonin Artaud explored this. He (not a scientist, a poet) asked why qualia exist and why they were differentiated (why is something blue instead of red, why is something visual instead of a feeling, what is pain? etc.). He tried to destroy all forms of art and theatre and poetry and get at the essence of "pure communication," and found that he could not, for what he had to say then, without a form for itself, disintegrated within himself. First he attributed this to a malady that he personally had, then extended it to all of western society.

April 02, 2007 9:26 AM  
Blogger Crandaddy said...

If thought is to be rational, logical laws must govern; they must tell us how we should think if we are to be rational creatures.

When you hold a rational belief, you must have reasons sufficient to justify your holding of that belief so that the content of the belief follows logically from the content of the reasons. And, likewise, the reasons may themselves be seen as beliefs which also require reasons sufficient to justify their rational holding. The chain continues back until we arrive at what are known as first principles, or properly basic beliefs.

Now, if naturalism is true, then it cannot be the case on the final analysis that any belief follows from any other belief on the basis of rational connection or that any properly basic belief is held because of its connection to absolute and immutable truths. Natural laws are contingent. They can only describe what is; they cannot prescribe what ought to be. Hence, if naturalism is true, it is not the case that you should believe anything but merely the case that you do. Our minds only think the way they do because they evolved by way of blind mechanism to do so.

Therefore, if naturalism is true, then 2+2=4 is not an absolute immutable truth. It is merely the case that our minds happened to evolve so that we believe that it is true. Our minds could have evolved to think that 2+2=3 or 2+2=5 and there would be no reason for us to think that this should not be the case. The same would go for any belief you could hold which is based on laws of logic or mathematics.

But this is absurd. We know that 2+2=4 not because it just happens to be the case that our minds evolved that way but because it must be absolutely true so that whoever believes that 2+2=5 does so on irrational grounds and ought to think otherwise.

In summary, naturalism may be true, but one would be irrational to believe it because it undercuts the rationality of its own belief.

Concerning dualism...

I'm not quite sure what you're getting at with your reference to Antonin Artaud but it seems that you're still confusing neurophysiological correlates and mechanisms which can be observed and understood in the third-person with direct experience which has an essential first-person ontology only available to the person who experiences it. The phenomena of qualia and intentionality, I can confidently say, will never be discovered anywhere in the brain simply because they have an essential ontology which is only available to a first-person observer. Have you read the links I provided to Vallicella's blog yet?

April 02, 2007 4:37 PM  
Blogger Crandaddy said...

I hate to overwhelm you with Vallicella links, but you can go here and here for a couple more posts of relevance.

April 02, 2007 5:02 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Have you read the links I provided to Vallicella's blog yet?

No. ;-) I'm still at work. I'll get there. (Maybe I can incorporate this into my homework too.)

I referenced Antonin Artaud because I've read so much of him. In fact, he talked about "direct experience which has an essential first-person ontology only available to the person who experiences it," but as I said he was a poet, not a scientist or neurologist. He said, "I am the sole witness of myself."

Our minds could have evolved to think that 2+2=3 or 2+2=5 and there would be no reason for us to think that this should not be the case.

I'll say this though: If your genetics acts as if 2+2=3 (two chromosomes fuse) or 2+2=5 (erratic gene duplication), you could very well have a genetic disorder that could affect your ability to think at all. There's a reality out there, aside from what we think or if we think. A cell splits into two cells, even if you strongly believe 1+1=1000. Our brains didn't evolve to think 2+2=4. We observe this in the world and derive logic from it.

April 02, 2007 5:38 PM  

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