Request for comments

Some time ago our group provided excellent feedback to Dr. Crane on a paper of his that he was working on. Once again he has a draft paper he is working on and he would appreciate comments and suggestions. He reports that he enjoyed our last discussion and wants to once more engage us in a discussion.

It is a paper on the perils we humans face and in it Lex tries to analyze why we humans are so violent and what we might do to save our species.

I hope you have time to read and respond!

Humanity at Hazard

 

When I was visiting Lex he and I argued about the contribution that religion makes to war. I began with the claim that “all wars are religious wars” but had to amend that to “some wars are religious wars”! Lex sees religion in a more positive light than I do. I must say though that it was stimulating to argue with the Reverend Doctor Crane!

40 thoughts on “Request for comments

  1. Crane writes: “Though we have been striving in religion for at least 2500 years to get the compassionate side to emerge into dominance, even so, the 20th century proved to be a Dark Age, marked by increasingly deadly and frequent warfare.”

    Questions: who is the “we” who have been striving for compassion?
    Also, most religions seem to be more bellicose than compassionate. Many even advocate killing apostates and heretics. I am not so sure religion is a positive force.
    As Camus asked “What would the human face look like if we had not been told for 2000 years that we are evil?”

    It would be nice if we could have a harmonious society world wide, but the proposal offered here seems like a wish.

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  2. Mr. Crane writes:
    “Human nature gives clear evidence of containing a destructive component that is driving humanity toward extinction; and this drive is powered largely by the animal instincts that are still at work in us at an unconscious level.”
    I’m not clear on the meaning of ‘animal instincts’. Is he referring to actual animals that have a drive towards extinction? I thought animals and humans were driven by the opposite instinct; to survive and their deaths are part of the process of natural selection.

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  3. Thanks, Lex, for another good read… and cause for a good mull.

    I think the notion that violence comes from our ‘animal’ side is problematic. Granted, the ability to do violence is a part of our make-up regardless of gender and no matter where the source may eventually be shown to reside – in our reasoning or biology or some combination of the two, as the case may eventually prove to be. And your point about alpha males and dominant leadership carrying the responsibility of instigating today’s wars is also true… in part. After all, it’s hard to organize a nation state to engage in a complex military operation without any leadership or recognized authority. But I think you are missing some key considerations.

    The very notion of eliminating violence is commendable. But eliminating conflict and tension and anger and frustration cannot happen between humans. At least, I don’t think this can be accomplished any time soon. Consideration should therefore be directed towards allowing conflict, tension, anger, and frustration to have a voice while, at the same time, reducing the need to express these elements through violence. Violence, however, will always be an option, and we forget this option at our peril. So how can we develop personal and social mechanisms to address conflicts, tensions, angers, and frustrations without allowing any justification for violence?

    I don’t think we have been very well served by a very Western philosophy that upholds altering the status of the opposition as the favoured resolution method we should follow… binary methods like winning and losing, establishing right and wrong, judging moral and immoral, measuring success and failure, and so on. We need a better philosophical model, a model of relationships that allow for various conflicts, tensions, angers, and frustrations that are also balanced, inclusive, reciprocal… relationships that contain these elements but that do not need to be fixed or resolved or won. But this is hardly the American way. It’s a philosophy almost antithetical to how most Americans think problems are to be resolved. This more than anything else I think is a major problem that needs addressing.

    I think the first step is to allow these four horsemen – conflict, tension, anger, and frustration – to have a never-ending place at the human table – whether that is between individuals, organized groups, or different governments. Have you ever considered that maybe certain conflicts are fine because they are inevitable? By ‘fine’ I mean that a certain level of conflict is to be expected rather than resolved, that tension will always be present on issues important to both or many partners, that anger and frustration over how others perceive you and your world will always be part of any relationship. In other words, maybe it’s okay to recognize that conflicts and these other elements will be a necessary condition of life… but in a way that does not need to resort to being expressed through violence that seeks a binary solution. There must be other ways.

    One of the ways I think the path can be found to reduce violence not only between people but by those who lead nation states is by the quality of the relationships with others. When one partner – one side faced by one or more of these elements – announces that the relationship has imbalances, the other(s) must recognize that inclusive truth of the other perspective without resorting to the binary thinking that fault must be assigned, blame must be placed, justification must be presented, one solution must be endorsed, and so on. It is the imbalance not of the specifics that must be addressed but the imbalance of the relationship if nothing meaningful and worthwhile is pursued. It is this action of pursuing alternatives by the non-aggrieved party that reaffirms the importance of the relationship. And as long as the quality of the relationship is held to be of importance to both, violence is subdued and progress is made. Neither party loses face and the bonds of the relationship are strengthened by the very elements that seem to lead to violence and ugly confrontations, namely, conflict, tension, anger, and frustration, even if what appear to be insurmountable problems continue to exist.

    At least, that’s what I’m mulling today.

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  4. We put the ‘alpha males’ in a place of power. What does this say about us? They do not need to be particularly exceptional; not even wise.

    On the other hand, we require great things from men like Gandhi & Jesus Christ: miracles & such.

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  5. I read the paper again. What audience is it directed at? Or, where is the paper going to be published? It seems it’s a combination of a sermon (to be read) and a paper to be published. I’m thinking of the comments about Pinker and Wilson for example where one might say “they are brilliant…..” in a speech, but not I think in a paper.

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  6. Thanks for the interesting read, Dr. Crane.

    Though I appreciate the clear and unambiguous argument presented in your paper, a few things struck me as potential problems.

    First, I think it could be argued that by heaving such heavy blame upon the shoulders of the alpha male is, by singling him out, typical behaviour of the very mindset you seek to criticize–or at least as counterproductive as you claim it to be.

    Also, though I wouldn’t agree with pointing out any one cause, I was uncomfortable with your reluctance to mention religion as a contributing factor throughout the paper and especially in the second paragraph on page 13. In fact, I don’t mind telling you that I found the following statement particularly difficult to stomach:

    “Though we have been striving in religion for at least 2500 years to get the compassionate side to emerge into dominance, even so, the 20th century proved to be a Dark Age, marked by increasingly deadly and frequent warfare.”

    If the above claim is true then we, through religion over the past 2500 years, sure have had a funny way of showing it.

    This leads me to my biggest concern, which is your use of the pronoun, we, with regard to the human race and its approaches to the prevention of war. In particular, the paragraph that begins at the end of page 18 and continues on to 19 I think implies that we as an entire race have been struggling to end war but nothing has worked. As you well know, this simply isn’t the case. Not only have many people been entirely indifferent to such efforts, there have been people working in the opposite direction (Lex Luthor for one). Also, what about the motives of those who do struggle against war? Who knows what they are? Perhaps they do so simply because they feel it’s the civilized thing to do. Whatever the case, we don’t all want war to end and those of us who don’t are by no means all alpha males.

    Thanks again.

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  7. Compassion and religion: Karen Armstrong has a piece here.

    The practice of compassion is central to every one of the major world religions – but sometimes you would never know it. Instead, religion is associated with violence, intolerance and seems more preoccupied by dogmatic or sexual orthodoxy.

    People don’t even seem to know what compassion is; they imagine that it means to feel pity for somebody, whereas the root meaning of this Greco-Latin world is “to feel with” the other, realising at a profound level that we share the same human predicament. This is crucial at a time when we are bound together – politically, economically, and electronically – as never before but have rarely been more perilously divided. ….[more at the link above]

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  8. I believe I have achieved an accurate understanding of compassion without ever having equated the word with pity. I also realize that at the core of at least all the major religions is, among other decent and life-affirming tenets, the value of compassion. But what is religion without the people who practice it?

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  9. When I use the term “alpha males” I have in mind individuals like Hitler in Germany and Hideki Tojo in Japan. These men together were the primary cause of the strikingly destructive World War II. Religion did not figure as a cause in that war, nor did it in World War I.

    I should add that all alpha males are not destructive like Tojo and Hitler. Franklin Roosevelt and Winsto Churchill were also an alpha males, but they cared about the well-being of the people they led. Alpha males make things happen in the world. We need them; but we must not lose sight of the fact that many of them are a menace to the species, while others are strikingly creative.
    •••••••••••••••••••••••••••
    Most of you seem to think that religion is a primary cause of war, and it certainly looks that way when you take a glance at history. However, you seem to be overlooking the fact that it is alpha male religious leaders like Muhammad who have the drive and leadership skills to take believers into battle. Religion is merely a concept. Concepts don’t make war – people do. And without aggressive alpha leadership they are like sheep without a shepherd.
    •••••••••••••••••••••••••••••
    Dark Fabric pointed out that I claimed we had been trying for centuries to put a stop to the incessant warfare between humans. We have tried arms control many times and world government twice in the 20th century, I said, and nothing has worked. Well, Dark protested, a lot of people are struggling to end war. A lot more don’t want to give up warfare, Dark added. I reply that though lots of people want to end war and are actively working to stop it, the fact is wars continue to occur unceasingly. And now that nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons are available, and they are profiferating around the world, another worldwide war poses the problem of human extinction. This grave circumstance is exacerbated by the fact that a lot of other people don’t want to give up war. It’s an exciting outdoor sport that generates national unity, offers meaning and purpose and relief from the boredom of everyday life.
    •••••••••••••••••••••••••
    Andrew tree had an interesting comment. He was puzzled by my argument that humans have animal instincts that are driving them toward extinction. Andrew was under the timpression, he said, that animals had a powerful instinct for survival, not for extinction. And this is certainly true. But animals do not possess nuclear weapons nor large industrial societies with a huge stockpile of food and weapons. Humans do.

    We too have a string drive to survive, but driven by the animal instinct to claim a territory and defend it with our lives, this defense being led by the alpha males who rise to leadership positions in most of the world’s nations (it is only the alphas who have the drive to get to the top) humans then bomb not only enemy troops but whole cities, men, women, and children alike. Our survival instint is compromised by the massive violence of our weaponry. Our brilliant science and technology has made us a candidate for extinction.

    That this problem requires urgent attention was the point of my paper.

    I hope you all will find my response helpful. Enough for now.
    Lex

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  10. Good discussion, I think. Why do some of us have such a different take on religion than Crane and Armstrong? Could it be that they have made their careers in the religion business? As a result they know more than a skeptic (like me) does but they also may be apologists for a life view that defines them as thinkers and writers. I don’t know: I look at the world and see millions of people believing in mysterious entities for which we have no evidence at all; not only believing in these things but willing to die and destroy for them. Defenders of religion look at the world and see only the good things that some religious people are committed to in this life (compassion, charity, and the like). Here’s the question: How would things be different if we humans had never invented religion?

    I too find Crane’s paper interesting and thought provoking. And it takes courage to post it to a place where a nest of skeptics hang out! But here’s the problem I see:

    Some alpha males are good and some alpha males are evil. OK. But how do we identify them before we allow them to rule over our minds and bodies?
    If we cannot, then we are just where we were before: Some people are good and some are evil; and ye shall know them by their works.

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  11. I think you have pointed to a real problem, Bob. We need a system that allows us to get rid of the evil power hungry alphas. The answer is in the system we use to select our leaders. Look after the system!

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  12. We have had the capability for at least two full generations to extinguish human life on the planet through warfare. This capability has been in the hands of certain alpha males, including some from brutal suppressive systems that contain little or no accountability to the populations they supposedly serve. If it were merely a question of releasing the ‘animal’ within, surely we would not be having this conversation now. The opportunities to wage such a war have come and gone many times over and still we talk. That is not to say that such a war could not happen but it appears unlikely to be profitable or worthwhile for the instigator.

    The severity of the threat today, I think, does not come from these leaders but from a certain class of followers, namely those who:

    1) are able to accept the notion of certainty of their personal beliefs,
    2) believe that some other existence is preferable to this one,
    3) are able to justify decisions not for the welfare of those in temporal existence today but for respect of forces beyond this place and time,
    4) are able to believe him- or herself anointed by god to act as a surrogate judge and jury,
    5) believe that humanity is guilty of crimes against god’s wishes punishable by death,
    6) are able to gain access to those weapons or,
    7) are capable of manufacturing those weapons,
    8) are able to deliver and release those weapons.

    The next catastrophic war will not come from those who deal with systems of political and economic power here on this earth but from those who believe themselves as righteous agents of some vengeful god.

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  13. 14: You have presented an impressive list here; a list that gets at the central problem of religious activity. (I expect you can also see how the list cuts against Platonic Forms.)

    In an earlier post I recommended reading a paper from Naturalism on epistemology. In it: Being epistemically responsible – not taking appearances at face value and seeking external confirmation for belief – inevitably pushes us toward intersubjectivity and science. This in turn increases the plausibility of the claim that there’s nothing over and above the natural world, what science shows to exist. And, What science-promoting organizations should do is claim the epistemic pre-eminence of science, kept honest by philosophy: that its empirical, intersubjective way of knowing is unrivalled in giving us a reliable model of reality, period, with no exception for the supernatural. They should say, openly and justly, that if you want your beliefs to track the world you should take all feasible steps to insulate them from sources of bias, and you should seek publicly observable evidence for them. Only this sort of intersubjective empiricism prevents subjectivity, wishful thinking, tradition, and arbitrary authority from mistaking itself for what’s real. Note well: there is nothing about worldview naturalism in any of this, only a quintessentially rational desire for trustworthy grounds for belief. Non-empirical ways of knowing fail to meet worldview neutral standards of epistemic adequacy, which is how we judge between competing ways of knowing. Were they to champion empiricism as the most reliable route to objectivity, science-friendly organizations wouldn’t thereby be promoting naturalism. [Here]

    Now one of the many things I have always respected about Lex Crane is his curious mind and his interest in science. His sermons at the Unitarian Church in Santa Barbara back in the 1960s were always current and non-other worldly. His audience largely university types. You will have noticed that his current paper also makes claims that are testable. It was good to visit him recently and to argue with him.

    I am sure that Lex appreciates the excellent comments you folks have contributed. With his permission, I hope to publish the final draft of his paper here on Perlocutionary II.

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  14. Even as a child I did not believe in traditional religion. I am not now and never was a Christian. I am an atheist with respect to that strange god of the Western world. However, I do not, as most of the folks posting comments on this site appear to, have an obsessive hostility toward those who believe in traditional Christianity. I have never believed in it, never will. It appears to me to be primarily a denial of death, and this does no interest me.

    However, the manifest fact is that, all over the world, millions of people still believe in the Christian religion. Fundamentalists believe in it with passionate and exclusive conviction. Why on earth do they do this? They believe because they need to believe in order to deal with the pressures of human existence. It is not for them a rational matter. It is a matter of need. Furthermore, try using rational argument with them to get them to see the light that you see. You will get nowhere.

    To be sure, many fervent believers are a menace to the social order. They are convinced they have a duty to persuade us to see the light they see, and in recent years they have, by diligent scheming, gained considerable political power, alas. We, on our side, must resist their attempts to control us. But we can’t convince them with reason that they are mistaken. They are impervious to reason. We must fight them in the political arena, must ourselves be as politically active as they are in order to keep them in check.

    We can’t convince them of the error of their ways, and we can’t kill them. We have to accept the fact that they exist, and that they are not going to go away. Understanding them is far more effective than hating and fearing them, if we are to halt their political progress. Lex Crane

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  15. I, for one, am not hostile to religion, Lex. Faith in anything by itself is relatively harmless. Certainty, however, is intellectually, morally, and ethically bankrupt. Certainty in faith is a corruption and damnation of the human soul because its sole purpose is to eliminate doubt and kill critical inquiry.

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  16. Crane writes, “They are impervious to reason. We must fight them in the political arena, must ourselves be as politically active as they are in order to keep them in check.” I agree, in fact that’s just what I meant in #13 when I wrote that we must look after the system. That means we must defend the right to criticize religion and get over the attitude, prevalent in North America, that religion is out of bounds for criticism. Those with certainty always try to curtail any criticism of their beliefs, for then it is easier to maintain the certainty of those beliefs. Freedom of speech is our only hope against tyranny!

    BTW, thanks for the picture! You must be in California.

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  17. It has been a gift to be able to view these submissions. I have been worn out railing against religion as the election progressed, and wonder how one can be politically active and influential in a society that requires a public confession of the right kind of faith to be elected or even listened to? Even in Canada, you say! Freedom of speech is our hope, as well as freedom in education. In my trade we call it professional autonomy, in short, the ability to teach many sides and ask questions, (and not get canned for doing so).

    At the risk of dredging up ‘the conspiracy theory’, as Bob used to refer to so many years ago, there seems to be an agenda that is working very hard to stifle free speech and thought. It is out there and it is frightening.

    Having said all this, is there a current Martin Luther King out there stirring the troops, or was new version just seen in Sarah Palin? Surely, the spiritual dedication and strength of King did much good in the world. Obama reminded me of him with his ‘yes we can’speech. There are people out there with a simple kind faith, and even if we don’t share their beliefs, the strength of their convictions and the example they set makes the world a better place.

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  18. Many of the contributors to this site complain about the certainty exhibited by believers in traditional religion. And it’s true, most of them of them do indeed hold their religious convictions with absolute certainty. Why is this? Because they need to be certain if they are to feel safe, feel secure in life. The fact is human nature is such that most humans have a need for certainty. Only a minority is able to live in peace with ambiguity and uncertainty.

    Now, what other group do we know that holds its convictions with certainty? How about those who are utterly certain that reason and science are the answer to all our problems? You may have noticed that the contributors to this site exhibit a solid, consensual certainty that reason and science are the pathway to human liberation.

    In this regard, you may be interested in knowing that Einstein, a scientist of considerable note, once observed that “By painful experience we have learned that rational thinking does not suffice to solve the problems of our social life.” The fact is, he went on, ” penetrating research, and keen scientific work have often had tragic implications for mankind… making him a slave to his technological environment, and – most catastrophic of all – creating the means for his own mass destruction…. A tragedy of overwhelming poignancy!….”

    Humanity “has not succeeded in building the kind of system which would eliminate the possibility of war and banish forever the murderous instruments of mass destruction.” Again, “rational thinking does not suffice to solve the problems of our social life.” Einstein, you see, was not, like yourselves, certain of the validity of science and reason as the sole source of human liberation.

    Reason and science are of vital importance to humanity. They represent one of our highest achievements. But they are not the answer to all our problems, as Einstein observed. They have a heavy downside as well as a bright side.

    To be sure, they are definitely superior to religion as a source of knowledge; but the fact is millions of people around the world think of their beliefs as knowledge. They confuse the two. They won’t go away. And I have not myself ever been able to talk any of them out of this confusion.
    Lex Crane

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  19. There is a rational, reasoned based approach to religion. Take another look at the video in the side bar: “Obama on point with Religion” in which he defends state church separation. Quite refreshing! Take a look…

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  20. Paulsayward wrote: “It has been a gift to be able to view these submissions.”

    I agree entirely. The discussion has been rich and I want to thank Lex for letting us read his paper and Bob for posting a link to it. And thanks to everyone for the ongoing discussion. Tildeb, for example, took a hard “mull” before responding with excellent points. I am going to use chunks of this paper/response in my class next week if that’s OK.

    Lex, will you let us know when the paper is published?

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  21. The good news, PS, is that the ranks of self-proclaimed non-believers is growing and they seem more willing these days to publicly admit belonging to such. The very public successes of the New Atheist authors have done much to help prepare the ground for this to happen. There are some very good reasons not to believe in the supernatural. Go figure.

    The bad news is that there remains a very popular but silly notion that by and large religious faith alone is the doorway to morality and that those who do not enter it willingly by their own refusal must be immoral. Hence, non-believers remain the most distrusted group in America according to PEW. I think it’s a bit too optimistic for my blood to think that a great new leader with strong support from the religious will somehow convince the majority to remove that unsubstantiated link between the two. I suspect that this will have to happen by changing minds one bigot at a time (“I’m not a bigot; some of my best friends are immoral, selfish, immature non-believing god-hating commie-pinko atheists…”).

    Lex, isn’t it a bit dishonest to suggest that the irrational is as good a way to solve problems as the rational and abuse Einsteinian quotes to make it seem that even he hints as much?

    Sure, all of us fall into irrationality at times but the actions that follow are usually seen to be foolish if well intentioned and therefore excusable – not because of the irrational state but because of the good intentions. Just think of those who fall in love. Sure, we excuse religious folk of their irrationality of faith as long as the following actions they undertake on its behalf are likewise well intentioned. But this is often not the case and great harm can and does ensue as you freely admit. The same is true in scientific applications – that the intentions of the applications do matter – in that they must be open to ethical and moral considerations. But note that Einstein says that rationality (alone) does not suffice, which does not mean that irrationality does.

    But here’s the catch: there isn’t a theocracy in the world that doesn’t assume the suppression of individual rights as a necessary condition of its survival through laws that must be enforced to some degree in favour of and benefit to the faithful directly at the expense of the unfaithful. This intention is not benign. It is self-indulgent. To disenfranchise someone from their egalitarian rights because it helps to make some people more comfortable dealing with the world in their false certainty is no excuse. When politicians use an exchange of support with the religious for advancing their own cause, they introduce exactly this expected indulgence into public policy, which always comes at the expense of someone else. Good public policy for all is poorly served by introducing the notion that the religious affiliation of politicians seamlessly translates into good intentions for the public. It doesn’t. It creates unnecessary political divisions, unnecessary lopsided public policies, and unnecessary religious intrusions into the public domain by government, all unnecessary problems. These unnecessary problems cannot be solved as long as a significant number of people assume that because they and their politicians share a religious base that the effects of their actions on behalf of that base must be necessarily well intentioned for all others. It is that dishonest link – directly between religion and assumed morality – that lies at the very heart of so many problems and it is hard work to show people why this is so without being accused (again) of the usual charges, namely, of some perverse hostility to god and/or religion, being as fanatical in unbelief as any religious fundamentalist in belief, being a worshipper of science and a blind follower of some particular scientist, and so on. The confusion is that all of us as good citizens should be hostile to the negative effects of supporting religion’s intrusion into the public domain if we wish to do our part in reducing, rather than maintaining or adding to, the unnecessary problems that come with linking religion with morality. It is because of the necessary negative public effects of religion that we need to be critical of its intrusion into the public sphere. And just because many people will continue do it does not mean that we should therefore accept it as inevitable. People will always fear and be mistrustful of differences of others and these will fuel bigotry and intolerance but that doesn’t mean that we should accept bigotry and intolerance because there will always be differences. There is a middle way that accepts differences as long as these differences do not curry public favouritism and policy indulgences at the expense of the egalitarian rights of others. Religion is perfectly acceptable as long as it remains in the private domain and all of us – religious and non-religious – play whack-a-mole when it pops its head up in the public domain.

    When you paint those who see the unnecessary problems that religion introduces into the public domain as worshippers of science because they uphold rationality over irrationality in the same way that the faithful uphold their own particular and peculiar religious beliefs, you are not being honest. You purposefully confuse probability with certainty. Just because I base a decision on the very high probability that the sun shall rise tomorrow in the East – so high, in fact, that I take it for granted – does not mean that I do so out of some sense of certainty of faith in science. I do so because the sun – as far as I know – has always risen in the East and I have every reason to think it shall continue to do so in the foreseeable future. You are being dishonest to describe those who appreciate rationality through probability (reasonable assumptions) as just as caught up in religious fervour as the next person. That’s bunk. Appreciation of rational scientific inquiry is not the same thing as appreciation for faith-based irrationality, nor are the ‘followers’ of each sharing the same kind of certainty. Doubt may be all but eliminated through scientific inquiry… but it’s ALWAYS present no matter how small. Doubt means uncertainty, so to be falsely accused of the same kind and degree of certainty in scientific inquiry as those who assume as much because of the strength of their heartfelt religious convictions is a gross misrepresentation of what certainty means: for the rational it means a high probability, for the irrational it means assumption-as-truth.

    It seems rather obvious to me that problems in this world at this time require solutions from this world at this time. I can’t help but think that those who have faith that a really good place to look for solutions is beyond this world outside of time seems to me to be a bit misguided. It’s like facing the problem of losing my keys at home and seeking solutions from channelling the sprites of Neptune for their secret location. I think there might be a better and more practical solution somewhere nearer to home. I’m just saying…

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  22. Uh-oh. The results don’t look good for religion.

    In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.

    The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so.

    Some of the problems that the religious most strenuously deplore are ones that are exacerbated by the beliefs they advocate.

    The study concluded that the US was the world’s only prosperous democracy where murder rates were still high, and that the least devout nations were the least dysfunctional. Mr Paul said that rates of gonorrhoea in adolescents in the US were up to 300 times higher than in less devout democratic countries. The US also suffered from “uniquely high” adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, and adolescent abortion rates, the study suggested.

    Mr Paul said: “The study shows that England, despite the social ills it has, is actually performing a good deal better than the USA in most indicators, even though it is now a much less religious nation than America.”

    He said that the disparity was even greater when the US was compared with other countries, including France, Japan and the Scandinavian countries. These nations had been the most successful in reducing murder rates, early mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion, he added.

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  23. RE 30: Yes. As Lex writes, “I should add that all alpha males are not destructive like Tojo and Hitler. Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill were also alpha males, but they cared about the well-being of the people they led. Alpha males make things happen in the world. We need them; but we must not lose sight of the fact that many of them are a menace to the species, while others are strikingly creative.”

    I had the same thing in mind, df, when I commented: “Some alpha males are good and some alpha males are evil. OK. But how do we identify them before we allow them to rule over our minds and bodies?
    If we cannot, then we are just where we were before: Some people are good and some are evil; and ye shall know them by their works.”

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  24. Bob wrote, The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developing democracies, sometimes spectacularly so. I agree. However, I don’t think it is because of the intensity of their reliegious beliefs, even though the Country was certainly founded on religious freedom. I feel that so many have simply lost their way in the race for more more more. Folks who might have been able to add a discerning voice are caught up in the race, and go home to watch tv with a drink in one hand and the remote in the other. By the way, the kids are in football and pick up ____at the mall, and on and on and on. Everyone knows the drill.

    There are some very smart folks out there in the advertising business helping the process along.

    We are left with fringe wackos front and center, because they would have always been there. Their voices are loud….drowning out quiet convictions. Furthermore, materialism is the most hollow of beliefs, thus adding fuel to the fires. Canada had Stockwell Day, the States had Caribou Barbie.

    I now teach elemmentary school. I am working my way down to Kindergarten. What I have noticed over the last few years is that as the toys become more complicated (electronics), the kids get dumber. A colleague told me that the average vocab of a high school student is down thousands of words in the last 20 years. I forget the number, but as one at the white board marking the assignments I am worried. My mother, now 87 and virtually blind and with Alzheimers, can put together a more coherent thought than my high school students. Her elementary experience was one of extreme poverty in New Brunswick. She was taught Latin all through school. She had ‘stick-to-it-tiveness’, maybe at the hand of a cane wielding nun, but she studied hard. I now break my lessons into 20 minute chunks because my kids cannot concentrate very well.

    Will the economic upheaval be the catalyst for a new way to believe? When Florida sands start to wash away will people stop and think that maybe there is a better way to behave on earth? Will the desert born beliefs finally be looked at as, “maybe this stuff just doesn’t apply anymore”. Surely, the next flood parable won’t be Noah’s Ark? Sooner or later, climate change induced upheaval will overwhelm the gated communities. Or, some wacko will set off a nuke and all hell will break out.

    Or, we will simply become poorer and forced to live a simpler life.

    Like may of us, there is a part of me that would like to believe in something that works. It just isn’t there. I was brought up in a Lutheran family and one day I did the Huck Finn thing, “I guess I’ll just go to hell”. (He prayed for fish hooks and didn’t get them, and had the courage to help Jim run away.) Clemens was so profound. It would be very enjoyable to share a belief set with a community, and partake of the fellowship and potlucks. Instead, I live on the river and watch the flow change. I check my tide charts. On clear evenings I watch the shadow move up on Mt. H’Kusam. We garden, and care about famly and friends.

    It’s enough. The fundamentalists are looking for rapture….a second coming. Some are ready to strap on a bomb. I would be happy to have a good neighbour.

    It is my hope that when change is forced upon us, (and it always comes), our simpler lives will require something less than rapture to work towards and dream about.

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  25. PaulSayward wrote: It’s enough. The fundamentalists are looking for rapture….a second coming. Some are ready to strap on a bomb. I would be happy to have a good neighbour.

    Well said! [Clemens should go over well with your students.]

    I think all gardeners, fishers, and farmers are, by definition, optimists.

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  26. RE: #35 – Well written, paulsayward! I agree with you that we need to pay attention to the moment and not worry about the rapture. I think your students are lucky.

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  27. Lex writes: “…though lots of people want to end war and are actively working to stop it, the fact is wars continue to occur unceasingly. And now that nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons are available, and they are proliferating around the world, another worldwide war poses the problem of human extinction. This grave circumstance is exacerbated by the fact that a lot of other people don’t want to give up war. It’s an exciting outdoor sport that generates national unity, offers meaning and purpose and relief from the boredom of everyday life.”

    I respond: Whatever their reasons may be a lot of people, as you say, don’t want to give up war. So my point was that, regardless of all the alpha males involved, is this not the very reason “…wars continue to occur unceasingly[?]”

    For example, imagine 100 people are in a swimming pool and learn that the water is over chlorinated and could potentially poison everyone. 60 of those people get out of the water and demand it be closed because of the danger. However, the other 40 people refuse to leave the pool for a myriad of reasons that range from complete indifference to control of the pool to profiteering (i.e. among the 40, poor swimmers who are eager to learn are numerous and instructors are in short supply). I think, regardless of the alpha males involved, unless everyone wants to get out of the pool then it just won’t happen.

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