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Thread: My problems with religion

  1. #31
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    The Greeks may have raped regardless of sex, but I'm not sure they disregarded species (as is suggested by your argument).

    There are doubtless universal human urges (like nursing children). "Morals" might suggest (just by the mere word) something culturally constituted.

    Let's face it, if we are psychologically programmed not to murder, rob, or rape, we wouldn't need all those Commandments, laws, and punishments. Their very existence (and the suspicion that without the laws and punishments there would be even more murder and rape than there is now) casts doubt on the evolutionary psychology position. You don't need to outlaw things that nobody wants to do, or punish people for doing them. Jews and Muslims ban eating pork, not cow pies.

  2. #32
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    Haidt's moral foundations do not work as absolutes. They actually conflict with each other. Three of them, care, fairness and liberty, support individual freedom in opposition to group allegiance. The other three, loyalty, authority and sanctity, support group allegiance and expect the individual to serve the group. Haidt would think there is both selfishness and altruism. I think he needs only altruism. Selfishness could be explained as the perspective of one individual on some other individual's altruistic decision which that first individual does not agree with.

    Haidt also has a questionable evolutionary theory to justify the innateness. I would admit, if there is something innate, one should be able to see it in fMRI scans or in picking out specific genes. I think he has brain scan evidence justifying his innateness claim, but I don't have the book anymore. This doesn't mean culture has nothing to do with morals. Since his moral foundations contradict each other there is plenty of room for cultural diversity to refine how people live out their innate moral natures.

    The part of his theory that I don't agree with is that he seems to reject punctuated equilibria theory. By that theory our genes are more or less stable. They don't change unless a new speciation event occurs. He thinks the innateness (in our genes) changes more rapidly and these moral foundations have changed over the past 10,000 years. If that is the case, he should be able to find isolated populations today that do not have the same moral foundations. If he can find those populations it would challenge punctuated equilibria. Since I prefer punctuated equilibria to neo-darwinism, I don't think that would be possible.

    While thinking about this today, his view that we do not reason but rationalize is a very useful discovery. Rationalization is a way to arrive at the truth faster than we could arrive at it with reason alone. Rationalization assumes we are motivated and focused to find an explanation that justifies our actions or positions. The best rationalization is the truthful one. Hence the truth pops out very quickly. People who viewed reason as dominant might look at Spock on Star Trek as an ideal of rational behavior. Haidt mentioned, if I remember correctly, that people who use only their reason, like Spock, without empathy are usually described as psychopaths.
    Last edited by YesNo; 05-17-2017 at 09:56 PM.
    Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point. --Pascal

  3. #33
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    ...there is plenty of room for cultural diversity to refine how people live out their innate moral natures.
    This seems right to me. You like vanilla, I like chocolate, ecurb likes pistachio (!?), but we're all going to get ice cream.

    As for the ancient Greeks, I honestly I doubt they would have been too squeamish about a little inter-species raping. That's the whole point. But I am taking some liberties with the definition of species. I'm thinking of it in the way the ancient Greeks would've thought of it. Which is to say, they considered their enemies subhuman, hence open game.

    Of course I'm just shooting from the hip at this point, and really was just making a joke, sort-of. Because then again, the way I understand it, those of us of European descent have a fair amount of Neanderthal DNA. So, hey, open game. Our forebears must've been a horny bunch.

    At any rate it got me thinking about the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis. I'm not a religious person, and I'm certainly no biblical scholar, but that story always intrigued me. When Jacob popped out regular and Esau came out all red and hairy, it made me think the ancient Hebrews were acknowledging a prehistory when humans were more animalistic. Naturally Yahweh shunned Esau and went with Jacob as the progenitor for the chosen people. I probably ought to ask a Rabbi (and perhaps a professor of interpretive literature) for his take on the story.
    Some people call me Maurice
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  4. #34
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    I do like pistachio, but I don't know if you understand my point. Societies do not make rules enjoining us to perform those actions which we have innate urges to perform. There are no prisons for those who don't have sex (although sex is vital to the continuance of society). We don't jail people who refuse to eat.

    Instead, we make rules like "Thou shalt not commit adultery" because people have an innate urge TO commit adultery. Without our innate lustiness, there would be no need for the taboo.

    Of course evolutionary forces affect culturally constituted morals: that's why many such morals seem relatively universal. That society which allows incest, murder, theft, adultery and the worship of false idols may not support the well-being of its members as well as societies which outlaw such activities, and members may not breed as prolifically. Nonetheless, religion (and non-religious moral codes) serve to harness our (baser) innate urges -- not confirm and support them.

    When religions ban eating horse manure, I'll believe they are merely confirming our innate urges. Certainly nobody would object to such a ban, since it confirms our innate urge to avoid such a repast. Until then, I'll continue to believe that morals (and the laws based on them) serve to control our (anti-social) innate urges for the good of society.

    (By the way, many primitive tribes have, like the Greeks, one word for their own people which might be translated as "human" or "the people" and another word for other people, which would perhaps be better translated as "barbarian" than as "non-human". The Greeks were not idiots. They knew full well that non-Greek-speaking people were "human" in the species sense of the word, and that they could breed with them and produce fertile offspring. Just as Hitler knew the same about the Jews. Let's not go overboard on some silly lingusitic distinctions.)

  5. #35
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    One problem I have with "innate" is that I don't know how to tell if something is innate or not. Haidt quoted someone else (whom I forget) as defining "innate" to be "organized prior to experience". It is not socially constructed although culture adds to it. Here are some different innate features.

    1) Homosexuality is innate to those individuals who prefer the same sex. (See Young, Alexander, "The Chemistry Between Us" for a survey.) That does not mean it is innate for all humans. However, the brain is not "hardwired". It can change. To what extent can sexual preference be influenced by culture? I think very little, but people who believe in social construction of gender might disagree with that.

    2) We have two conflicting innate pleasure/pain responses which encourage pair bonding. There is pleasure to have sex and there is pain when we separate. This is innate to our species but each individual experiences this somewhat differently. Not all species have this but some like prairie voles do. Will our species ever grow (evolve?) out of pair bonding? I doubt it. That means we will enjoy rom-coms until our species goes extinct and have social codes dealing with adultery because it is not clear what to do with that conflicting innate pleasure/pain experience.

    3) Haidt's moral foundations are also conflicting. They need some social controls but politically they offer wide differences in behavior depending on how people balance them or go one-sided to either promote individual rights or communal allegiance. Haidt thinks these foundations are peculiar to humans. I think one can find them in other species but individuals within any species will vary. Helga commented earlier about this:

    Quote Originally Posted by Helga View Post
    I was once told that 'being an atheist, I act very Christian' I don't really know what that means but I think it has something to do with morality, and it is almost an insult, like I couldn't be a good and moral person and not have faith in some sort of deity.
    Haidt, who is also an atheist, would have an answer to what that means, if I understand him correctly: Helga's social behavior balances those six innate moral foundations the way that other person thinks a Christian would balance them.

    But all of these differences between individuals and species makes me think innateness is still very vague, but useful. When someone says something is innate are they referring to something innate to a particular individual, a particular species or a larger group of species? And how do we know it is innate? Brain scans, genes?
    Last edited by YesNo; 05-19-2017 at 10:08 AM.
    Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point. --Pascal

  6. #36
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    It's impossible to tell what is innate (genetically inherited) and what is acquired because everything about us has components of both. The gay community wanted to advocate that homosexuality was "innate" because they thought that if sexual proclivities were genetic (like "race"), the public would be more sympathetic to civil rights. In my opinion, this is ridiculous. Either homosexual behavior is a reasonable choice, or it is not. Why should whether it is genetic have any bearing on its acceptability? If inherited sexual proclivities are automatically acceptable, pedophiles could make that same argument. Bigotry against gays is unacceptable because there is nothing immoral about homosexuality -- not because gay proclivities are genetically inherited.

    Biological "explanations" for morality SEEM scientific, but they (like many reductionist theories) are actually either anti-intellectual or intellectually lazy. Moral codes are best studied by studying (surprise, surprise) the history of morality and legal codes, not by theorizing about biology or evolution. Once again (to compare this subject to the subject of interest on these boards), literature is best studied by studying literature -- the history of its development, the extent to which authors are reacting to other authors, the development of new styles and techniques. Were some Haidt to theorize about how literature is biologically determined, and our psychology has evolved to write in a particular way, such a theory might have passing interest, but it would (doubtless) fail to help us understand the complexities involved in the development of literature.

  7. #37
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    Ah-Ha! Pistachio! I knew it. Next time you make it up to Portland and find yourself browsing the stacks at Powell's on Burnside, there's a great little scoop shop about two blocks from the bookstore: Ruby Jewel's. Mmmm, Sancho's got a sweet tooth. (Probably it's genetic)

    Concerning homosexuality, yes the gay community had always maintained it wasn't a choice, and when the science caught up they would be proved right. Then, counterintuitively, when the science did catch up and showed that homosexuality wasn't a choice (primarily through DNA studies of identical twins) many of the gay organizations came out firmly against the study. You see, they reasoned that if homosexuality was something that could be tested for and then the label attached to individuals, the risk for discrimination by a prejudiced society was too great.

    At any rate, Ecurb, I get your argument, and I admit I've been talking past it (and mostly cracking wise). It's an open forum after all and we all end up talking about what we want to talk about. You are getting the jokes, aren't you? I'll take some responsibility there too - my jokes aren't very good. I'll also say I'm just not terribly invested in either theory, but I think you're mostly right about evolutionary psychology being junk science. And I'm willing to bet the scientific community has moved past it as well.

    But argumentatively I don't think you're proving your point. You go along just fine for a while and then, it seems to me, you jump the tracks and make a leap. I don't think you can compare an innate human revulsion towards murder with religious dietary principles. I wouldn't call it a moral to eat kosher, nor would I call it a moral to let the rabbi turn your anteater into a helmet. (Joke) I also think you're stretching the argument to compare the study of evolutionary psychology to that of interpretive literature - two totally different disciplines.

    You also seem to point to the exceptions to disprove the rule. The Nazis were the exception. Didn't the broader German population show revulsion when they figured out what had happened? What makes the genocide of the Jews by the Nazis more shocking than the genocide of the Native Americans by the US Army was the integration of the Jews within German society. It took a leap, or a disconnect somewhere, to dehumanize the Jewish population who were their friends and neighbors. Whereas with contact between Europeans and Native Americans it would've been much easier for each to look at the other as nonhuman. In the nazi case, the Versailles Treaty of course was the catalyst. The German people felt victimized. One of Hitler's slogans was : "Make Germany Great Again" (warning!)

    As for the Catholic Church using the promise of Paradise as a form of medieval crowd control, that's another exception. I doubt you'll find that program in Christian doctrine; that was powerful men (Popes and Kings) doing what powerful men do - taking care of number one.

    I know you didn't want to get into the weeds with a linguistic argument, but I think it's important to understand the the distinctions between morals, ethics, cultural norms, religious strictures, and, well, manners. And I think the distinction is this - there's not a good distinction between those words, they overlap. But eating pork and murdering someone aren't even in the same ballpark.

    Speaking of language, I couldn't help but to notice two cliches you used in an earlier post:

    I hope the evolutionary psychologists never get involved with literary criticism -- are all the great novels derived from the same evolutionary psychological "needs"? Are there no distinctions or nuances between what attracts readers to Shakespeare, Tolstoy, or Joyce? No doubt, there are some commonalities -- but in examining the forest, we must look at the individual trees or we miss something

    Evolutionary psychology is fundamentally anti-intellectual, reducing complicated cultural constructs to simplistic evolutionary principles, and ignoring nuance, history, and (most important) the details, in which the devil lies.
    I like those two sayings: "The Devil is in the details." And. "You can't see the forest for the trees." In fact I've always thought there's a sweet spot (if not on a sliding scale) somewhere between those two extremes, and that's where the truth lies. Finding it is the tricky part. You and I have chatted before. I've got a small sense of your personality, but I think it's a bit of a "tell" to use both sayings to define just the one extreme.

    Back to the Greeks. (More jokes) A better argument against me when I said the Greeks probably didn't consider their enemies to be human, would have been to bring up the Peloponnesian War. Clearly the Athenians would've considered the Spartans to be of the same species, but the barbarians...those guys were weird - they drank mead instead of wine, they wore animal skins instead of fine woven robes, and they used bear grease as a hair treatment. Besides, would a little inter-species rape-age really have seemed all that unusual to them? They had mules. They'd seen a Jack with a Mare. Herodotus wrote about it. But you're right, the ancient Greeks weren't idiots. Although I can't help but to point out that while I'm using "species" in a non scientific metaphorical way, you're doing the same with idiot. Did you really mean it as a designation of someone with an IQ from zero to 20?

    So I did a Dr Strangelove quote earlier. Here's one from Ed Abbey on the ancient Greeks:

    A desert tortoise. Tortoise, turtle, what's the difference? There is none. The ancient Greeks thought the tortoise a kind of demon. So much for the Greeks. An ignorant people.
    Some people call me Maurice
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  8. #38
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Well, since the ancient Greeks practiced gay sex regularly (as did British public school boys), it seems unlikely that homosexuality is entirely genetic. But that doesn't really matter.

    And you might object to comparing dietary restrictions to injunctions against murder -- but what about comparing Commandments to avoid murder, theft, adultery and bearing false witness to those against worshiping other Gods, making graven images, ignoring the Sabbath, and taking the Lord's name in vain? Although some might suggest that the first group is inherently abhorrent, and the second is not, they are all listed as commandments brought down from the Mountain by Moses. Surely it's reasonable to compare them. The gist of my argument, though, is that you don't need draconian prohibitions, taboos, laws and punishments to prevent people from doing things that are abhorrent to them. Such laws are needed to prevent people from doing what they want to do. (You and I aren't tempted, of course, but some people are. Or are those tempted somehow sub-human?)

    Speaking of "sub-human" -- and going on another (literary) tangent, I've always objected to describing evil people as "monsters" or "brutal". Such usage involves the dehumanization of evil; it seems to me that evil is a uniquely human attribute of which brutes, lacking the cultural constructs of morality, are incapable.

  9. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sancho View Post
    Concerning homosexuality, yes the gay community had always maintained it wasn't a choice, and when the science caught up they would be proved right. Then, counterintuitively, when the science did catch up and showed that homosexuality wasn't a choice (primarily through DNA studies of identical twins) many of the gay organizations came out firmly against the study. You see, they reasoned that if homosexuality was something that could be tested for and then the label attached to individuals, the risk for discrimination by a prejudiced society was too great.
    If there is a way through brain scans to identify homosexual tendencies then this information also applies to heterosexuals. The idea of "homophobia" or some fear that one will "turn" homosexual becomes nonsense.

    There are other things besides homosexuality that can be diagnosed from brain scans. I have an acquaintance who was diagnosed as disabled from ADHD, if I remember the acronym correctly, by referencing a brain scan. This helped him get social security benefits. I can see how it is best not to be so diagnosed, but if such diagnosis becomes useful I don't see how one is going to stop it.
    Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point. --Pascal

  10. #40
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    The study on homosexuality, if I'm remembering it correctly, dealt strictly with the DNA of identical twins. They tried to find as many adult men as they could who self identified as homosexual and who also had a twin from whom they'd been separated at birth. There was a statistically high number of these cases in which both identified themselves as homosexual. Once they'd identified enough of these cases they could start matching DNA sequences. Or something like that. Anyway the study only worked with men and acknowledged that at times through history homosexuality was fashionable and hence a choice for some. I doubt they went into federal prison system and studied who was pitching and who was catching. (Jesus! Another lousy joke)

    Ecurb, I get what you're saying about not needing a commandant or a law against something that is abhorrent to us. (although there is a sticker on the handle of a hammer I recently bought warning me not to smash myself in the head with it (whoops did it again)). At any rate, as you said, we don't need anybody to tell us not to eat a cow pie. I can't think of a single time I've thought, or anybody I know has thought: Awe shucks, nobody's looking. I'll just eat a little around the edge. They'll never know. Murder though, there's something that's a bit more complex than a food aversion. I don't think anybody needs to tell us murder is wrong, but we still do it from time to time - a fit of rage or passion, a selfish means to an end. And sometimes we murder someone who needs to be murdered, such as an axe murderer loose in an elementary school. In fact, back in Alabama, that's a viable defense in a murder trail - "he needed killin' yore honah" (there I go again)

    Bearing false witness, Kant's categorical imperative aside, also has caveats. For instance, when the Nazis are banging on your door asking you where you have the Jews hidden, it's a good time to lie. And speaking of which, if I had to chose a moral guide to live by, I'd chose the Golden Rule. In fact I do. It shows up in just about every religious book worldwide as well as secular texts. It ain't perfect, but it's close.
    Some people call me Maurice
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  11. #41
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    Having an innate tendency to homosexuality or not does not mean that one is without choices. Both homosexuals and heterosexuals can choose differently from this tendency. They can also choose not to have sex at all, but the preference is still there. I can see how twins might be useful, but what one really needs is the ability to scan a brain while the human being is still alive and that technology is only a few decades old.

    There is an issue of free will here as well. Given that we rationalize what we have already chosen, our free will is not dependent on that rationalization since the choice has already been made.
    Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point. --Pascal

  12. #42
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    Good point Y/N. If the entire universe follows strict laws, what are the odds a single species of 5-foot anthropoid creatures on a backwater planet in the western spiral of the Milky Way has freedom of choice? Donno. It certainly seems like I'm making my own decisions. And that might be good enough.
    Some people call me Maurice
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  13. #43
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    And you might object to comparing dietary restrictions to injunctions against murder -- but what about comparing Commandments to avoid murder, theft, adultery and bearing false witness to those against worshiping other Gods, making graven images, ignoring the Sabbath, and taking the Lord's name in vain? Although some might suggest that the first group is inherently abhorrent, and the second is not, they are all listed as commandments brought down from the Mountain by Moses. Surely it's reasonable to compare them. The gist of my argument, though, is that you don't need draconian prohibitions, taboos, laws and punishments to prevent people from doing things that are abhorrent to them. Such laws are needed to prevent people from doing what they want to do. (You and I aren't tempted, of course, but some people are. Or are those tempted somehow sub-human?)
    I think I just understood what you are saying.

    Haidt would put the dietary restrictions (perhaps even preference for "organic" food) under the sanctity/degradation foundation or some other communal foundation. These foundations include "worshiping other Gods, making graven images, ignoring the Sabbath, and taking the Lord's name in vain". Doing these things for some people is a form of defilement because it violates their various group allegiances, but if one isn't a member of the group they don't matter.

    However, "murder, theft, adultery and bearing false witness" would go under the more individualistic foundations such as care/harm, fairness/cheating and liberty/oppression which are associated with different groups (state, family, etc).

    Liberals find violations of individual rights more "abhorrent" to them than they do violations of the communal foundations. They don't understand what the big deal it is to take the Lord's name in vain because they are no longer members of groups that value such concepts. The response to murder involves a state law and the response to taking the Lord's name in vain involves criticism from a church one belongs to. They are different because the groups are different. We belong to multiple groups each protecting itself in different ways.
    Last edited by YesNo; 05-20-2017 at 10:44 AM.
    Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point. --Pascal

  14. #44
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sancho View Post
    Good point Y/N. If the entire universe follows strict laws, what are the odds a single species of 5-foot anthropoid creatures on a backwater planet in the western spiral of the Milky Way has freedom of choice? Donno. It certainly seems like I'm making my own decisions. And that might be good enough.
    Well, the universe doesn't follow strict laws. That would be one thing learnt from quantum physics.

    We fool ourselves into thinking we can't make any choices by creating simplified models that use deterministic mathematics to make specific predictions. When the models predict accurately some measurable subset of possible observations, we then generalize and say everything is deterministic just like our model. It is confusing the menu with the meal, or the Google GPS map for the road.
    Le cœur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point. --Pascal

  15. #45
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    Well that's a relief. But does a certain randomness at the quantum level actually provide for free will at our level, or does it just provide for an infinite number of situational possibilities given which we'd react to exactly the same every time.
    Some people call me Maurice
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