The Magic Darwin Fairies

Regarding the theory that religion is an inherited characteristic, shaped by Darwinian natural selection, a reader writes in with this just-so story:

“Let us consider a paleolithic woman, who is part of a band of people who are hunter/gatherers. Over the years, you recognize that sometimes, it seems as though plants themselves grow so they are easy to harvest, and other times, they do not. The men talk about how sometimes, the game seems to fall right into their laps, almost as though it were led by an external force; other times, nothing is to be found. They begin to discuss ‘the spirit of the hunt’. You are thankful when it rains; it is not a large step to move from being thankful to thanking whatever spirits seems to give to you or to take away from you. You may think those spirits to be angry with you; no rain has fallen, so you burn some of your food, in the hope that you may appease that which you have angered. The rains then fall. You imagine these spirits to be like people, much as people today discuss machines and weather like people. (Cynics would say it was invented for the purpose of power: “the rain god is angry, and says you must give me food, or there will be no rain”)

If you are asking what biological development is necessary in the brain, evolutionarily speaking, to move to the point where one can invent an external personality–wherein one can anthropomorphize the natural world…I am not enough of a biologist to say. I know that recently, they discovered a part of the brain that when stimulated with electromagnetic fields induced feelings of being connected with the “divine”.

My comment:

If I understand your point, I am not sure we disagree.

You are giving an account of how a reasoning creature, such as a woman of the paleolithic, would come to make a false-to-facts account of the plentiful food some seasons and the scarcity in others, and she would come to believe an intelligent agency was behind the appearances of things — and the nature of such a belief is that is it not easy to disprove, and so it would tend to be taught and passed along the generations. Do I understand your idea?

My only comment is to say that, from a Darwinian point of view, this belief is not an inheritable characteristic. The only inheritable characteristic we are dealing with is reason, the human capacity for abstract thought, which is the ability to form beliefs.

What you are describing is a commonplace error in reasoning, post hoc ergo propter hoc, which is what gives rise to superstition.

From this, it is illegitimate to conclude that some of us (the theists) have a superstition gene that makes us superstitious, whereas others of us (the Brights) lack that gene. People who convert from atheism to theism do not gain a gene; people who convert from theism to atheism do not lose a gene, and if they did, then their atheism would be a matter of programming, not belief, a chemical thing that happens to their brains like being drug-intoxicated, not a conviction of their judgment nor a conclusion of their reasoning.

I suppose one could say that the theism gene imparts a tendency, in the same way the sexual impulse imparts a tendency, against which we can struggle with our willpower and character, in the same way a chaste character can oppose the sexual impulse. However, this does not change the three basic criticisms of the just-so story.

The first basic criticism is that any belief or conclusion of any kind whatsoever can be asserted to possibly be of some direct or indirect use to Darwinian survival of the fittest.

Being a Guelph could be due to a genetic inclination to support worldly authority figures like the Holy Roman Empire, because supporting authority figures like the tribal chief was a survival characteristic in the Paleolithic, since it helped group unity: and, of course, being a Ghibelline could be due to a genetic predisposition to suppose spiritual authority figures like the Pope, because supporting the tribal shaman was a survival characteristic the helped group unity in the Paleolithic too.

Likewise, being a Capitalist could be due to a genetic predisposition because selfishness is a survival characteristic; and being a Communist could be due to a genetic predisposition because unselfishness is also a survival characteristic.

Likewise, believing in the Steady State Theory could be due to a genetic predisposition of being able to imagine an infinite amount of time, and being able to contemplate eternity is a survival characteristic because hunter gatherers would get bored counting passing hours during long night watches in the Ice Age; and believing in the Big Bang theory could be due to a genetic predisposition to fear loud noises, a survival characteristic because loud noises often signal danger.

In other words, thanks to what I call “Magic Darwin Fairies” any characteristic of mind, body or soul can be said to be (1) an inheritable characteristic and (2) aid in the survival and reproduction of the species.

The second basic criticism is that the theory neither fits nor explains the facts. A man fighting his genetic predisposition to mate with young and nubile females, whether he decides to be as chaste as Galahad or as unchaste as Lancelot, is still aware of the allure of the female of the species. An atheist is not always trying and failing to pull his eyes away from the allure of Buddhist prayer wheels and Catholic rosaries. He does not hide a copy of the Bible in his sock drawer, sneaking it out when he parents are out of the house, yearning toward what his reason tells him is wrong, and ripping up the Bible in fury and self-disgust afterward. The atheists I know despise the things of religion, and are repelled by the mere mention. The impulse that drives men toward theism, at least at first glance, does not seem to be like the sexual impulse, or aggressive impulses, or selfish impulses, or anything else that arguably comes from a genetic predisposition. (Indeed, the religions of the world by and large are dead set against the natural impulses which might otherwise lead men to adultery and murder and theft, lust and wrath and covetousness.)

The third basic characteristic is that religion in and of itself is not a trait leading to the survival of the fittest and the spread of one’s genes through many offspring. Titus Livy speaks of a time in ancient Rome when the son of an aristocrat, in order to placate the gods of the underworld, in full armor and on horseback leaped into a pit of sulfur; Vestal Virgins were stoned to death if they had sex; the Carthaginians sacrificed their own children to the burning and brazen idols of Moloch — the argument that suicide, sexual abstinence, and the slaughter of offspring are characteristics tending to spread the selfish gene involved are, to say the least, counter-intuitive. If we admit that arguments about “unselfish Uncles” are valid, then any characteristic or habit, including things that directly end life, prevent reproduction, and destroy offspring can be said by such arguments to tend (somehow, thanks to Magic Darwin Fairies) to allow the group to out perform and out-breed any rival group that eschews these practices. Any argument that can just as easily prove itself as prove its opposite is not a valid argument: it is an arbitrary assertion.

The only conclusion legitimately reached giving the just-so story given above is that reason is an inheritable characteristic, and that there are uses and abuses of reason that are endemic to human nature.

The story assumes as one of its “facts”, of course, that prayer and supplication have no affect on hunt or harvest. I read this sentence in Chapter LVI of Machiavelli’s DISCOURSES, where he speaks of the omens that foretell the dooms of kings and the downfall of the great:

“It may be, however, as certain philosophers maintain, that the air is peopled with spirits who by their superior intelligence foresee future events and out of pity for mankind warn them by such signs so that they may prepare against the coming evils.”

If so pragmatic a man as Machiavelli allowed the possibility of supernatural intent behind natural appearances, the idea ought not be dismissed out of hand.

The idea of supernaturalism certainly cannot be used as the basis of a train of reasoning that says that since “x” is an inherited characteristic, therefore “x” is false, where “x” represents the supernatural.

It is a stronger argument to say that since, like the sexual impulse, the impulse to pray and supplicate the supernatural world is universal to human cultures, therefore the supernatural is real, as everyone knows aside from that small minority called atheists. The sexual impulse would be meaningless, would be something impossible to evolve, were we asexual beings like amoeba. The universality of supernaturalism needs some stronger argument, some argument that can be held up to proof and disproof, than the argument that all men aside from atheists are fools and dupes and troglodytes.

The other idea to be questioned is the alleged link between superstition and religion. While atheists make much of this link, and talk and pretend religion is superstition, the fact remains that major world religions inveigh against superstition and condemn it. Confucius, for example, condemned the consulting of oracles; the Magi of Zoroaster unambiguously condemned magicians; Buddha regarded inquiries into the spirit world as being contrary to the pursuit of right thinking and right action; the Biblical condemnation of witchcraft and of the peepings and mutterings of wizards is well known.

The superstitious link between prayer and ritual and favorable outcomes is indeed one that is explicitly condemned in the Book of Job, which some scholars opine to be the first book written in the Old Testament, which places it among the very oldest of surviving written works of mankind.

No matter what one’s opinion of religion, the link between religion and superstition is not a simple equivalence–which means that even if there were a gene or a genetic predisposition toward superstition or toward this particular informal logical error of post hoc ergo propter hoc on this one topic, or a genetic predisposition toward anthropomorphism, this would not allow us to conclude that that predisposition is the cause of religion.

I can also speak from personal experience. My faith in God is very much against my inclinations and predispositions. No one eschewed religion as entirely as did I before my conversion; and I can hardly be called superstitious. I am not one of those atheists who secretly carried around a rabbits foot. Nor was my conversion for the sake of obtaining some promised good, like a good harvest or a good hunt, nor health nor well-being.

Thus, even if we become convinced that evolution prompts certain paleolithic hunter gatherers to make post hoc ergo propter hoc errors that incline them (and therefore the human race) toward anthropomorphism, some other explanation is needed to explain religious experiences.

Myself, I have never heard the “religion is a mental error that (thanks to Magic Darwin Fairies) is (1) inheritable and (2) creates an advantage in survival and reproductive strategies” theory advanced for any other purpose than to hold faith up to scorn: it is a theory too simplistic to account for the thing being described, albeit, of course, not too simplistic to mock the thing being described.

I am reminded of a line from a book on archeology by L. Sprague de Camp. Even though it had nothing to do with the topic of the book, he paused to give what i thought was a potent argument touching the Problem of Pain (if a perfect and benevolent God designed Man, and man is evil, either this is what God intended, in which case He is not benevolent, or His design is imperfect, in which case He is not perfect). He then went on to speculate that the original of all religion was from certain paleolithic men, unable to tell the difference between dreams and reality, had dreams of dead loved ones, and therefore falsely concluded that the dead are still alive in a spirit world. The contrast between the sharp logic in the first case, and the naivety in the second cannot be over-emphasized. L. Sprague de Camp is a perfectly intelligent and rational man, yet somehow he ascribes the entire religious life and tradition of all mankind to dream misinterpretation, and the assumption that primitive men are remarkably stupider than L. Sprague de Camp.

Ascribing the entire religious life and man to an inherited evolutionary weakness for logical errors in one area of life (but, not, apparently in others) strikes as being similarly weak. The explanation is not robust enough to explain all the phenomena involved. Why have prophecies and oracles? Why have rites and rituals? Why sacrifice cattle?

If we were the race that had sprung from the “just-so” story described above, we would all be immensely superstitious, all carry a rabbit’s foot, be afraid of black cats, and avoid the 13th floor of hotels, but none of us would put up Christmas trees nor give money to the poor, nor read Isaiah, nor go to Mass, nor mediate, nor practice Yoga, because all the “just-so” story above explains is the origin of anthropomorphism, ascribing human powers and motives to nonhuman things. It does not explain the other aspects and elements of human religious life and experience. We have to assume many more errors in logic than just anthropomorphism, and many more weaknesses in the human character, if all religious life is all false, and all forms of religious expression and activity come from genetic defects.

(I am not saying this more complex argument cannot be made, I am only saying that the argument “Magic Darwin Fairies make inheritable religious traits somehow more advantageous, even though false, than irreligious traits” is too simple to explain what it purports to explain, which is the origins of religion.)

One last note: The discovery that there is an evolved segment of the brain which, when stimulated, creates a sensation of divinity is evidence in favor of rather than against theism. Surely nature would not evolve the structures of an eyeball if we lived in a universe with no light? Likewise, if the brain structures mentioned above actually create a feeling of divine imminence rather than merely a genetic euphoric pleasure-sensation, the parsimony of nature should incline us to assume this brain structure serves some real purpose, and does not only serve an hallucinatory purpose.

About John C Wright

John C. Wright is a practicing philosopher, a retired attorney, newspaperman, and newspaper editor, and a published author of science fiction. Once a Houyhnhnm, he was expelled from the august ranks of purely rational beings when he fell in love; but retains an honorary title.
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136 Responses to The Magic Darwin Fairies

  1. You are correct to call this a just-so story, and belief non-inheritable. I suggest a different take on the same point. I suggest (without, of course, claiming originality in so doing) that the inheritable characteristic is the ability or tendency to attribute purpose to events.

    By the time humans (or pre-humans) had invented fire, the main danger and competition they faced was other humans, other members of the tribe. Anything that gave an advantage in intratribe competition would have a selective pressure in its favour, even if it also had a small disadvantage in dealing with dangers outside the tribe. To attribute tribal events to someone’s purpose is very often true, and when true, almost always an advantage. To reuse my story from a week back, the tribesman who thought “Why is Ug being so nice, is he hiding something?” had a better chance of surviving Ug’s machinations than the one who said “Mmm, liver! Ug is a good person.” We can see a faint shadow of this effect in chimpanzees; they have a tiny theory of mind, sufficient that they hide a cluster of bananas only if they think themselves unobserved; otherwise they share them out. Note that this is more sophisticated than the behaviour of very young human children, who cannot separate what they themselves know from what others know. If they are shown a cookie being hidden in a box, and someone is brought into the room who did not see the cookie being hidden, and the toddler is asked where the new person thinks the cookie is, they will point to the box. Around three or four years of age, humans develop a more sophisticated theory of mind, and are able to understand that what they know is not the same as what others know.

    Returning to the evolution of religion, to attribute complex schemes of deception and purpose to other humans is a survival trait; to attribute such schemes and purposes to trees, animals, and rivers is relatively neutral. Evolution always takes the fastest path; if “attribute purpose to all events” could evolve without loss of fitness, there is no reason for “attribute purpose to events involving humans” to evolve, even though this would be closer to truth. Evolution creates good-enough heuristics, not designs for finding actual truth. Hence, spirits in trees, rivers, clouds, and animals. (And if it comes to that, animals do in some sense act with purpose, although without the many layers of deception that a human can create.)

    Another point is that a tendency could evolve to believe what parents say. Very useful for learning what is edible and what isn’t, not actively harmful when it comes to superstition – since they are all equally false, one is as bad as another; it doesn’t matter which one you believe. There can be no advantage to truth-seeking in a domain where there is no truth to be found.

    • Neo-Scotist says:

      1-Firs you say belief is non-inheritable and then you say “the inheritable characteristic is the ability or tendency to attribute purpose to events.” isn’t attributing purposefulness to something a belief? it is. you’re contradicting yourself.

      2-Sorry,you’re wrong. causal determinism (or in your words “the ability or tendency to attribute purpose to events”) is based on *experience*. it is not inheritable; you kick a ball and you learn that it causes the ball to move. I shoot someone, and you learn that guns can wound or kill.

      There’s no such a thing as an ‘induction gene’.

      saying that attributing purposefulness to the universe is an inheritable evolutionary trait is another just so story.

      3- but, let us concede that you’re right and say that a belief in causality is inheritable and furthermore that religion is an spandrel (malfunction?) of evolution…why stop there? then any contingent, non-necessary belief can be attributed to evolutionary biology, including the belief that evolution shapes our beliefs.
      The idea is self-defeating.

    • Emily says:

      “since they are all equally false, one is as bad as another; it doesn’t matter which one you believe. There can be no advantage to truth-seeking in a domain where there is no truth to be found.”

      But we humans generally act upon our beliefs.

      The culture which teaches that the gods want and can use the sacrifice of human life will have certain important differences from the culture that says that God hates human sacrifices (at least from the point of view of the victims).

      Believing that the dead are given whatever we bury with them definitely had large effects on the economics of Egypt.

      To say that these beliefs were all false so that it doesn’t matter which one you believe doesn’t make sense.

    • “You are correct to call this a just-so story, and belief non-inheritable. I suggest a different take on the same point. I suggest (without, of course, claiming originality in so doing) that the inheritable characteristic is the ability or tendency to attribute purpose to events.”

      I am afraid I do not see the difference between saying “the ability to reason is inheritable” and saying “the inheritable characteristic is the ability or tendency to attribute purpose to events.”

      As I said above,

      1. even if the ability to reason is inheritable, that would not make the ability to make the informal logical error of post hoc ergo propter hoc inheritable;

      2. and if the ability to make the informal logical error of post hoc ergo propter hoc were inheritable, that would not make the ability to make this error in matters of religion inheritable;

      3. and if making this errors in matters of religion were inheritable, that would not make the inherited weakness toward this logical error have any survival value;

      4. and since religions also fuel wars as well as inspire peace makers, since there are war gods as well as gods commanding peace, and since religions always demand sacrifices which always cost cattle or money or time or something, any “just-so” story that says religion creates a survival value is arbitrary.

      How is your argument different from the “just-so” story given above?

      • I’ve been away for a while, hence the lateness of this reply.

        There is a distinction between specific beliefs, and tendencies in the way we reason. The belief “The river god makes it rain” cannot be genetically inherited. An intuitive preference for the explanation “The tree god wanted the branch to fall on me” over “Bad things sometimes happen” can be. Observe that humans reason in this style more easily than chimpanzees, who nevertheless have a rudimentary form of such intuitions. But it is not the reasoning itself I suggest is inheritable, but the preference for a purposeful explanation. You’ve sometimes called this wisdom, or experience; I prefer the term intuition; it is the thing that makes Occam’s Razor useless for settling arguments between theists and atheists, because to the average theist, a universe with a purpose behind it seems simpler than one without. This is of course wrong, since you have to add the Kolmogorov complexity of the being with the purpose, but few people are willing to do the actual math on this thing.

        Are you willing to argue that a tendency to a particular form of intuition cannot be inherited?

        • John Hutchins says:

          Actually in a hunter gather society most of the people you interact with will be your family. If in the band you are keeping food from the rest of the family or not interacting well with the rest of the band then you will get thrown out of the band and be forced to fend for yourself. Thus it is in your interest to not think of conspiracies when your brother or uncle Ug offers you liver or whatever, that is just part of the gift giving that builds solidarity within a family clan. Of course, if you are meeting with another tribe and Ug is from the other tribe and offers you liver then you should be watching your daughters very carefully.

        • ” But it is not the reasoning itself I suggest is inheritable, but the preference for a purposeful explanation. You’ve sometimes called this wisdom, or experience; I prefer the term intuition…
          Are you willing to argue that a tendency to a particular form of intuition cannot be inherited?”

          What you are talking about is a type of reasoning. A creature that can reason can inherit the ability to reason: how and where and in what way he will use his reason is not an inheritable characteristic, or else we would see races and bloodlines reasoning in ways unique to them. To say that “a preference for purposeful explanation” can be inherited is like saying “a preference for simple as opposed to complex explanations” can be inherited or like saying “a preference for explanations that flatter you” are inheritable, or “a preference for explanations that make you feel like you can do to something to influence that problem” or “a preference for explanations that blame the victim” or “a preference for explanations that maintain group morale”

          The list is endless.

          The assertion that humans have a genetic and only a genetic preference for seeking meaningful patterns in events is an arbitrary assertion.

          Can you think of any experiment, even a thought experiment, which would present to our sense any evidence of any kind whatsoever to show that this preference, when it appears in human psychology, is prompted by genetics as opposed to prompted by the very nature of the reasoning process?

          Allow me to suggest what you are talking about is something innate to the reasoning process itself, not something whose outcome is formed by genetically imposed defects in reasoning.

          I suggest that any rational creature of any kind on any world would of necessity, no matter its physical composition, have to examine the environment for patterns of cause and effect,including those events that fit the pattern of deliberate action as opposed to coincidence.

          Any rational being on any world whatsoever must of necessity have a category of cause and effect into which it sorts its sense impressions, because without a category of cause and effect there is no reasoning. There are therefore two possible errors: (1) mistaking a coincidence for a deliberate action and (2) mistaking a deliberate action for a coincidence.

          There are theists and atheists among the Martians and Vulcans.

          The atheist theology says that anything that looks like a deliberate action on the part of nature has to be coincidence by definition, no matter what the evidence says. This cannot be a genetically inherited characteristic because it is a deduction from first principles. Likewise for the theistic theology that sees as answered prayers what the atheist sees as coincidences.

          • The OFloinn says:

            The assertion that humans have a genetic and only a genetic preference for seeking meaningful patterns in events is an arbitrary assertion.

            Indeed. A necessary but not a sufficient condition, just as the amorphous structure of glass is not the reason the window shatters, but rather the reason it is shatterable.

          • The assertion that humans have a genetic and only a genetic preference for seeking meaningful patterns in events is an arbitrary assertion.

            I did not make that assertion; specifically, I did not say that only genetics was involved. I don’t know why you added this clause to what I actually did say.

            To say that “a preference for purposeful explanation” can be inherited is like saying “a preference for simple as opposed to complex explanations” can be inherited or like saying “a preference for explanations that flatter you” are inheritable, or “a preference for explanations that make you feel like you can do to something to influence that problem” or “a preference for explanations that blame the victim” or “a preference for explanations that maintain group morale”

            Agreed; what of it?

            Can you think of any experiment, even a thought experiment, which would present to our sense any evidence of any kind whatsoever to show that this preference, when it appears in human psychology, is prompted by genetics as opposed to prompted by the very nature of the reasoning process?

            It is the same procedure I would use to show that intelligence, height, eye colour, or any other measurable characteristic is (or isn’t) inheritable: Look for correlations in the strength of the characteristic between relatives. If sons follow their fathers, or half-siblings have one-half the correlation coefficient of full siblings, or twins raised apart follow each other as strongly as twins raised together do, then that is strong evidence that the trait is partly genetic. And the trait of attributing purpose looks relatively easy to measure; a survey with such questions as “Do you think most things happen for a reason?” should do.

            Are you sure we’re talking about the same thing, here? This experiment is so obvious that it seems strange to me that you would even ask the question. Two minutes’ thought should have suggested it to you.

            • “I did not make that assertion; specifically, I did not say that only genetics was involved. I don’t know why you added this clause to what I actually did say. ”

              Because if this is not what you meant, I don’t understand what your contention is. Are you claiming that there is something, of which part may or may not be genetic, that inclines some people somewhat to seeing patterns in events and ascribing deliberate or divine action to them?

              You then agreed that you claim was not different in nature from certain other claims. I listed things as vague as I could think of, whose only thing they had in common was that they were a use or an abuse of reason.

              Your claim is so vague as to be not only untestable, but almost indecipherable. You are talking about a particular use of the reason as if it were something that could be measured or categorized like eye color. You are trying to measure something too vague to be defined, much less measured: a tendency to come to certain types of conclusions or judgments using the reason.

              Your assertions here go against the basics of scientific reasoning.

              • The OFloinn says:

                And what are laws of nature but patterns we think we see in the world around us. If this is merely a genetic tendency with no assurance that the perceived patterns are real, then likewise there is no assurance that patterns like natural selection are real – or for that matter the perception that the tendency to see patterns is something formed by natural selection.

              • In my post above, I defined how I would measure “the tendency to attribute events to purpose”. Did you find my definition unclear? If so I can attempt to clarify. Do you disagree that it usefully measures what I say it measures? In that case I would suggest that you come up with your own measurement, or assert that it is not measureable at all.

                If neither of those is the case, what is your objection to my experiment, which you asked for, I gave, and you completely ignored?

                Are you claiming that there is something, of which part may or may not be genetic, that inclines some people somewhat to seeing patterns in events and ascribing deliberate or divine action to them?

                I claim that people’s mental characteristics are partly inheritable: A melancholy father is more likely to have a melancholy son; an intelligent father is more likely to have an intelligent son; and so forth through a long list of traits. (I note that I don’t think this is a question of nurture; the child with the melancholy father will be melancholy even if raised by adoptive parents.) I further claim that “the tendency to attribute events to purpose” is such a trait, and that it is measureable by the method I outlined above. None of this requires me to assert that any mental trait is solely genetic; nor does an evolutionary argument require any such thing.

        • Neo-Scotist says:

          “An intuitive preference for the explanation “The tree god wanted the branch to fall on me” over “Bad things sometimes happen can be (inheritable).”

          I won’t dispute that some animals can be predisposed to make certain inductive connection over others or that an ability to connect events is inheritable. But the ability to make associations is useful in animals; it allows them to survive (say, by associating bright colored animals as poisonous) or allows them to mate successfully (by associating robustness with health).

          But the examples you give above do not benefit us in any way. How do you benefit from knowing that the tree god wanted the branch fall on you? Or that “bad things sometimes happen?” or that sacrificing your daughter will appease the gods? Or that eating your enemy will give you his strength (and risking getting Kuru in the process)? Sorry, but the whole idea sounds ridiculous.

          But, suppose that all the gods are by-products of assigning purposiveness to the world due evolution. Wouldn’t that imply that the theist is more fit and successful than the atheist? Or that the atheist is somehow handicapped (doomed?) in the evolutionary race?

          “… A universe with a purpose behind it seems simpler than one without. This is of course wrong, since you have to add the Kolmogorov complexity of the being with the purpose.”

          By kolmorov complexity, do you mean that god ought to be at least as complex as the universe it creates? Is that it?

          No reason to assume this is applicable to god. If simple things can create complex things, why couldn’t be god be simple? If god is immaterial then he creates things by thinking them. Thought is simple, immaterial, but it can create complex things. Take the idea of a skyscraper and construct the building. Which one was more complex: the idea of the building or the actual building?

          If thought can create complex things, then it is possible for god to do the same.

          • The OFloinn says:

            A portion of the Mandelbrot set pictured in Wikipedia consists of 1.62 million bits, but can be described by a fairly simple generator. It is not at all unusual to find that even things in the world have low Kolmogorov complexity. The frequency of references to information theory are becoming more common these days, because every enthusiast for a new technology starts to see that technology everywhere he looks. In the 19th century, people saw mechanical explanations everywhere. Now they see I/T explanations everywhere.

          • But the examples you give above do not benefit us in any way. How do you benefit from knowing that the tree god wanted the branch fall on you? Or that “bad things sometimes happen?” or that sacrificing your daughter will appease the gods? Or that eating your enemy will give you his strength (and risking getting Kuru in the process)? Sorry, but the whole idea sounds ridiculous.

            You did not read, or did not understand, my entire argument. I shall repeat it. The tendency to attribute events to purpose (I wish English had a single word for this) is useful within the context of a tribe of humans, where it is quite likely that most events genuinely do happen for some rational purpose or other. For our ancestors, the environment, the thing that selected for traits, mostly consisted of other humans. A trait that was useful in interactions with other humans would be selected for even if it was neutral or negative in other contexts; the other contexts were less important for survival. Believing in a tree god didn’t matter, or was slightly negative; believing that Ug might have an ulterior motive for giving you the liver was life and death.

            Your examples of negative consequences of purpose-beliefs are insufficient; you must also show that these consequences outweighed the positive consequences of purpose-beliefs in tribal politics.

            • John Hutchins says:

              As a note, the focus on tribes is misplaces, human evolution did not stop with hunter gather society and continues to this day. Traits that may have been applicable to tribal society may be selected against in civilization. As farming civilizations vastly out breed tribal bands we should expect that traits that are beneficial to living in complex cities would be more common then traits that are only beneficial to living in hunter gather bands. This in no way hurts your analogy, I posted a response to that under the wrong post of yours. However, my response doesn’t work when taken to the level of farming communities and more complex societies so it might be helpful for your analogy. Just thought I should point this out.

            • Joshua_D says:

              I find it humorous that you can make this statement about the Bible, “Too bad all the alleged facts (in the Bible) are wrong,” and then go on to explain the how the ‘Adventures of Ug’ maybe could explain how pantheistic belief might possibly develop in humans in certain environments, which consists of humans who self-select according to who they happen to get along with that day.

          • No reason to assume this is applicable to god. If simple things can create complex things, why couldn’t be god be simple? If god is immaterial then he creates things by thinking them. Thought is simple, immaterial, but it can create complex things. Take the idea of a skyscraper and construct the building. Which one was more complex: the idea of the building or the actual building?

            They are equally complicated as measured by Kolmogorov; I wish you’d Wiki elementary concepts before trying to use them in argument. But in any case you misunderstood the thrust of my argument. I am not saying that complex things cannot arise from simple things. I am saying that a cosmology consisting of a universe plus a creator is strictly more complex than one consisting only of the universe, because you must specify the creator in addition. The simplicity or complexity of the creator is not relevant.

            • John Hutchins says:

              A universe with only electrons and only the electro-magnetic force is simpler then the current models of the universe.

              Put another way the macro-economic models that get used are fairly simple and quite easy to understand. That doesn’t change the fact that they are pretty much useless in modelling the real economy.

              It shouldn’t matter how simple or complex the model of the universe is or is not but how well it matches with observable reality.

              • You miss the point. Any discussion about Occam’s Razor requires that the parties already agree that two hypotheses cover the observed facts. If we’re to have a simplicity discussion at all, both parties must accept that the universe is equally well explained with and without a god, and the only question is which of those two is simpler. If you think that the universe cannot be explained without a god, then Occam’s Razor is moot, and the discussion must shift elsewhere.

                I was making a quick point about human intuitions of simplicity; I was not in fact making an argument using the Razor, and thus did not go into these subtleties.

                • John Hutchins says:

                  Yeah, I thought of that after I posted, the missing the point and that you were using the Razor. I did miss the point, sorry.

                  Of course, though, one could look at having a creator be a simpler explanation because otherwise one must assume that all spiritual experiences are the product of lies or deranged minds, as well as coming up with stories like “the adventures of Ug” (sounds like the title of a novel to me, hopefully the working title of something Mr. Wright is writing?) to explain the near universal belief in God/gods.

                  If you discount all the evidence that doesn’t fit your theory then of course your theory makes more sense and is simpler, this is universally true and a very common failure.

                  Also, isn’t simpler a subjective term in most cases? Wouldn’t the preference for simplicity be subject to the unknown of the subconscious mind and should be taken as suspect? It is a heuristic after all.

                  • Simplicity is not subjective; simplicity consists in having a smaller Kolmogorov complexity, which is a very well-defined mathematical construct. But what feels simple is subjective, and in most cases wrong. Indeed, the story-of-Ug theory can be rephrased thusly: To a human, any explanation that involves “someone was angry” or “someone was hungry” or some other emotion feels simple, but that feeling is wrong. “Angry” feels like a simple, singular concept to a human, because we have direct experience of it. But to have anger, you must first have a being capable of feeling anger, and this requires a lot of complexity; possibly as much complexity as a human brain, the most complicated objects in the universe. But when you’re angry, you don’t have introspective access to all the myriad things that are going on! Hormones are released, neurons fire frantically, blood rushes about the brain – but all you feel is “Grr! Human smash!” If we were constructed so we could inspect the workings of our brains by direct sensory perception, as we can (crudely, at least) with our hearts, we would be a lot more impressed by the complexity of anger.

                    An explanation involving electrons moving about and the varying attraction of hot and cold clouds for them, on the other hand, feels very complicated indeed, because for us it is a highly abstract thought involving much symbol-manipulation. But it is objectively much simpler than anything involving an angry thunder-god, because it doesn’t have all the complexity involved in a being capable of anger. It just has Maxwell’s equations and some information about the chemical makeup of the clouds. Trivial by comparison! But it feels much more difficult, and in most discussions people allow their intuitions about what is complicated free reign, instead of doing the dang math.

                    Of course, though, one could look at having a creator be a simpler explanation because otherwise one must assume that all spiritual experiences are the product of lies or deranged minds, as well as coming up with stories like “the adventures of Ug” (sounds like the title of a novel to me, hopefully the working title of something Mr. Wright is writing?) to explain the near universal belief in God/gods.

                    That is not how simplicity works. The complexity of a hypothesis is equal to the number of bits required for the smallest possible description of the hypothesis. Now, if you take it that there are no gods, you end up with some sort of physics equation that describes all the motion of the particles, and the story of Ug is implicit in those equations (plus initial conditions). That I need to describe Ug to you does not make the hypothesis more complicated; this is merely an artifact of our brains being too limited to see the implication. If we were sufficiently more intelligent than we are, I could give you the physics equation and initial condition, and you’d be able to derive Ug’s adventures as a byproduct. Thus, the human-level explanations do not add any complexity to a hypothesis.

                    If you assume there are gods, you still need the physics equations; those are observed facts. You cannot make the observed universe any simpler; its complexity is known. (Or rather, will be known when we have the GUT-level description of physics.) But you need some extra information to describe the gods. (It does not matter if the physics is implicit in the gods; that just lengthens the minimum description of the gods.) Whatever you do, you cannot get around the requirement of describing the universe; there is a minimum length of that description. Then, if you want any gods that are not implicit in the physics, in the same sense that Ug is implicit, you must specify the additional parts. This is more complicated than a god-less formulation for the good and simple reason that A+B>A whenever B>0, and B (the god-description) cannot be negative or zero.

                    In this matter it is necessary to completely disregard one’s intuition, because it is seriously misleading, and do arithmetic.

                    A theist who agrees that the universe can be explained with or without gods, but feels that the with-gods explanation is simpler, is just objectively wrong. A theist who feels that gods are required to explain the observed facts is still wrong, but not about plain math.

                    • Gigalith says:

                      Your conception of God is one being among others, another item in the set called Existance. For this conception, your argument may be valid, but it is not the God of classical theism.

                      The Eternal is not some mere fortunate object specified as all-powerful by some over-law of metaphysics, a being with the property “infinite”, or a word scrawled into the foundation of reality. The Eternal IS Being, IS Law, IS Reality’s Foundation.

                      There is no separate “universe” floating out there. There is only the Creation held in the hands of the Creator. The world is not but an Act of the Eternal Action.

                      And as it is the Will of Will’s desire that this world be, it couldn’t not be as the Eternal is. As Omniscience cannot err, nor need Omnipotence choose between equals. This world, with these specific rules, had to happen if there is an Almighty*.

                      I have not studied this specific definition of complexity, but if it is to be any use at all it must not count the consequences of theory in question as well as its premises. The Big Bang is not more complex because it implies galaxies, or vacuum fluctuations for the number of particles that flash in and out of existence every Planck Moment. Therefore, the Eternal is not more complex because of Creation. You are free to disagree that there is a God, but you are objectively wrong yourself in calling it objectively more complex than believing in only a universe.

                      * I’m not getting into Free Will, here. However it works, it wouldn’t work otherwise than the will of the Eternal.

            • Neo-Scotist says:

              “You did not read, or did not understand, my entire argument. I shall repeat it. The tendency to attribute events to purpose (I wish English had a single word for this) is useful within the context of a tribe of humans.”

              Well, in your previous post you said that some ‘intuitive’ preferences are inheritable. Now, you add the clause (not seen before, I may add) that such ‘intuitions’ are useful within a tribe…so, what did I fail to read?

              “A trait that was useful in interactions with other humans would be selected for even if it was neutral or negative in other contexts”

              Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? How is religious belief related to any of this? Why is religion a ‘necessary evil’ in the face of evolution? How is it spandrel? I’m sorry, but all these vague generalizations are getting tiresome.

              “Your examples of negative consequences of purpose-beliefs are insufficient; *you must also show that these consequences outweighed the positive consequences of purpose-beliefs in tribal politics.”*

              The assumption marked with aesteriks is false. There’s no reason to assume that evolution would foster false and harmful beliefs. It is simpler and more advantegeous if our beliefs corresponded accurately with our surroundings. It falls on you to prove why evolution would necessitate harmful beliefs at all.

              “They are equally complicated as measured by Kolmogorov”

              How can my *idea* of a building or my *idea* of the milky way be as complex as the real thing?

              “I am saying that a cosmology consisting of a universe plus a creator is strictly more complex than one consisting only of the universe…”

              Careful, you got your razor backwards. Take your pick:

              1-A fnite universe created by a single, simple, immaterial being?
              2-An infinite multiverse caused by an infinite ammount of individual beings?

              Can you tell wich ‘hipothesis’ is more parsimonious and posits less entitities?

              • Well, in your previous post you said that some ‘intuitive’ preferences are inheritable. Now, you add the clause (not seen before, I may add) that such ‘intuitions’ are useful within a tribe…so, what did I fail to read?

                This paragraph was in my first comment on the subject: “By the time humans (or pre-humans) had invented fire, the main danger and competition they faced was other humans, other members of the tribe. Anything that gave an advantage in intratribe competition would have a selective pressure in its favour, even if it also had a small disadvantage in dealing with dangers outside the tribe. To attribute tribal events to someone’s purpose is very often true, and when true, almost always an advantage.”

                Perhaps it wasn’t quite clear that I was referring to intuitions of purpose, but I do think all the information was there.

                Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? How is religious belief related to any of this? Why is religion a ‘necessary evil’ in the face of evolution? How is it spandrel? I’m sorry, but all these vague generalizations are getting tiresome.

                I am speaking here of the precursors of religion. The sort of superstition that hunter-gatherer tribes invent mainly involve spirits; spirits in trees, animals, rivers, and clouds, plus ancestral spirits. Anything that can’t be immediately explained is instead referred to the spirits. What causes thunder? The rain spirits are angry. Now, this explanation does not really satisfy a modern literate, because it does not enable you to do anything useful; if you could predict when the spirits would be angry, then you could get the laundry in when before it began to rain, which would be useful, but the mere statement that angry spirits cause thunder does not help you do this. Nonetheless, such an explanation feels intuitively reasonable unless you’ve been very carefully trained not to find it so, because it is the sort of thing for which we have built-in understanding. The obvious parallel is “Why is the chief shouting? Because he’s angry that his spear was stolen.” In this case the explanation is both satisfying and useful; you can use it to extract the recommendations “don’t steal”, “don’t get caught”, and “put the blame on someone else”.

                The evolution of such intuitions into monotheistic religions is a different question; but I suggest that in all cases the underlying intuitionistic urge is the same: We want an explanation that involves a purposeful actor somewhere. At some level, creationists are not looking at evidence; they simply feel that they cannot possibly be the result of a random process. It even surfaces in their actual arguments on occasion; I am thinking of such statements as “I’m not descended from any damn monkey” and, more plaintively, “But wouldn’t you rather be created by a god that cares about you?”

                The assumption marked with aesteriks is false. There’s no reason to assume that evolution would foster false and harmful beliefs. It is simpler and more advantegeous if our beliefs corresponded accurately with our surroundings. It falls on you to prove why evolution would necessitate harmful beliefs at all.

                I have already given an argument for this: It is strictly simpler to attribute all events to purpose, than to do so only for some events, and evolution always takes the simplest path.

                How can my *idea* of a building or my *idea* of the milky way be as complex as the real thing?

                You are being fooled by a false simplicity here, in ignoring the requirement to describe the being that has the idea. You cannot describe the idea without having something that understands the idea; therefore the full Kolmogorov description includes a human brain, which is possibly the most complicated object in the universe.

                In addition, you are again demonstrating that you don’t really understand Kolmogorov complexity: All descriptions of anything, providing they have equal accuracy, are equally complex. Therefore the blueprints are as complex as the building, and conversely the Milky Way is as complicated as the smallest algorithm that accurately describes it.

                Careful, you got your razor backwards. Take your pick:

                1-A finite universe created by a single, simple, immaterial being?
                2-An infinite multiverse caused by an infinite ammount of individual beings?

                Can you tell wich ‘hypothesis’ is more parsimonious and posits less entitities?

                The cases are not parallel. The correct comparison is this:

                1-A finite universe created by a single, simple, immaterial being.
                2-A finite universe.

                This is not difficult; I am simply saying that if A+B>A whenever B>0. It does not matter how simple your creator is, its complexity cannot be zero or negative. Add a positive number to anything, and you get back something larger.

                • Neo-Scotist says:

                  Look, no one is arguing that people do not assign purpose to the world or that people often resort to superstitious beliefs to make sense of the world. That is why I asked you to go to the crux of the matter and tell us why religion today is an evolutionary spandrel, an evolutionary malfunction, a necessary evil. And why the false belief of religion was chosen over the supposedly true belief of materialism.

                  The only sort of answer that I can make sense from your text runs along these lines ‘before a mysterious event people will resort to superstitious explanations because it is “intuitive” or (I take it) give us an ad-hoc explanation to satisfy our puzzlement”

                  Let us stop right there, that we have a need to assign purposiveness to many thing is true. How does it follow that this is an evolutionary trait? Why would evolution allow false and often harmful beliefs flourish rather than limiting our faculties or instilling in us true beliefs? And how would you be in a position to distinguish true belief from false beliefs? After all, you might be as Daniel Dennett put it, “under the spell” as well.

                  “I have already given an argument for this: It is strictly simpler to attribute all events to purpose, than to do so only for some events, and evolution always takes the simplest path.”
                  1- You might say that assigning purposiveness to everything is the evolutionary path of least resistance, but, it does not follow that evolution will necessitate false and often harmful beliefs. The fact that evolution can limit or foster true and non-harmful beliefs is more in tune with natural selection (of course I’m assuming, for the sake of the argument, that our ability to reason is due evolutionarily).
                  2-It is false that we assign purposiveness to everything. We always terminate explanations at some point, if we bother to inquire for an explanation at all (how many times have you ever wondered why a triangle has to have three sides? Thought so). An atheist will stop with the universe as brute fact, and the theist will end with god as a brute fact. That we assign purpose to everything is false.

                  “You are being fooled by a false simplicity here, in ignoring the requirement to describe the being that has the idea. You cannot describe the idea without having something that understands the idea; therefore the full Kolmogorov description includes a human brain, which is possibly the most complicated object in the universe.”

                  I do admit that I’m no expert on the subject Kolmogorov complexity, but, the claim that the brain has to be complex to accurately describe the universe strikes as me false. Take the terms “possible existence,” it accurately describes anything that can possibly exists, no? does it follow I need a complex brain to understand all existence? No, because the idea of existence and the property of existence are irreducibly simple. You cannot make them any less complex, and so with other properties like, one, good and true and so on.
                  “The cases are not parallel. The correct comparison is this:

                  1-A finite universe created by a single, simple, immaterial being.
                  2-A finite universe.”
                  A sage once said, (actually you above) “You are being fooled by a false simplicity here.” Do remember most theists believe that this universe is the only universe that has ever existed and god. Multiverse theorists, on the other hand, add many, many extra entities. Far more entities than the god hypothesis. Does the god hypothesis meet the criteria of Ockham’s razor (or as it was called in the past: “Scotus’ rule”)better than the multiverse theory or not?

                  • Let us stop right there, that we have a need to assign purposiveness to many thing is true. How does it follow that this is an evolutionary trait? Why would evolution allow false and often harmful beliefs flourish rather than limiting our faculties or instilling in us true beliefs?

                    I already explained this. Twice. You are missing the fundamental point that, for most events that matter in a human’s life, there genuinely is a purpose behind them: Some human did it. Thus, a cheap heuristic “that event was purposeful” will work 95% of the time, and the remaining 5% don’t matter. In principle, an algorithm that assigned purpose and randomness correctly would work even better; but firstly it would take more resources to run, and secondly it might not have time to evolve. Who knows what mutations might be required? Evolution will always favour a rough-and-ready approach that works right away, over a perfect approach sometime in the next million years.

                    And how would you be in a position to distinguish true belief from false beliefs? After all, you might be as Daniel Dennett put it, “under the spell” as well.

                    I observe that you and I do not in fact disagree that early religions were false. Neither of us actually believes in spirits of river, tree, and sky, or that thunder is the roar of an angry god.

                    It is false that we assign purposiveness to everything. We always terminate explanations at some point, if we bother to inquire for an explanation at all (how many times have you ever wondered why a triangle has to have three sides? Thought so). An atheist will stop with the universe as brute fact, and the theist will end with god as a brute fact. That we assign purpose to everything is false.

                    Again I point you to the origins of religion, not monotheism as currently practised. Modern religions are a vastly-developed outgrowth of the original spiritual practices of humanity.

                    I do admit that I’m no expert on the subject Kolmogorov complexity, but, the claim that the brain has to be complex to accurately describe the universe strikes as me false. Take the terms “possible existence,” it accurately describes anything that can possibly exists, no? does it follow I need a complex brain to understand all existence? No, because the idea of existence and the property of existence are irreducibly simple. You cannot make them any less complex, and so with other properties like, one, good and true and so on.

                    You need a complex brain to be able to articulate these ideas; when you hold in your head the concept of existence, the Kolmogorov complexity of the idea is equal to the complexity of your brain, neither more or less.

                    You are being misled by what feels simple to you. The term ‘irreducibly simple’ is meaningless.

                    “The cases are not parallel. The correct comparison is this:

                    1-A finite universe created by a single, simple, immaterial being.
                    2-A finite universe.”
                    A sage once said, (actually you above) “You are being fooled by a false simplicity here.” Do remember most theists believe that this universe is the only universe that has ever existed and god. Multiverse theorists, on the other hand, add many, many extra entities. Far more entities than the god hypothesis. Does the god hypothesis meet the criteria of Ockham’s razor (or as it was called in the past: “Scotus’ rule”)better than the multiverse theory or not?

                    If you’re talking about the Many Worlds interpretation of QM, you’re actually mistaken. The many worlds fall out of the equations without any human intervention; it is the single world that requires additional information, because you have to specify which alternative is real. So, in fact, the MW hypothesis is strictly simpler than the Copenhagen interpretation, with or without a god.

                    That said, you are still missing the point. For any given description of the universe, the same universe with an additional god is more complex. Since very few theists have the balls to just straightforwardly disagree with physicists about how the physical universe is properly described, the physics model can be taken as given and the question is whether a god should be added or not.

                    • Neo-Scotist says:

                      I explained this. Twice. You are missing the point that, for most events that matter in a human’s life, there is a purpose behind them: Some human did it.
                      Thus, a cheap heuristic “that event has a cause” will work 95% of the time, and the remaining 5% don’t matter.
                      In principle, an algorithm that assigned purpose and randomness correctly would work even better; but firstly it would take more resources to run, and secondly it might not have time to evolve.
                      Who knows what mutations might be required? Evolution will always favour a rough-and-ready approach that works right away, over a perfect approach sometime in the next million years.”

                      First, excuse me if I dismiss your hypothetical, arbitrary heuristics and algorithms as irrelevant. I explained this there’s no reason suppose that assigning purposefulness to the world is an evolutionary trait. It is obvious that it is not an evolutionary trait, why? Because animals (at least the smart ones) would have some ability to give explanations to the events around them.
                      How many animals do you know go around assigning explanations to events in Leibnitzian fashion? I’ll take a stab at the answer and optimistically suggest that the number hovers around zero.

                      And if evolution takes “a rough-and-ready approach that works right away,” You would find some vestiges of superstition in animals as well. To put it colorfully, how many monkeys pray to ST. Goku, patron of all monkey kings to defend them in battle? How many wolves pray to Amaterasu, conceived without sin, to grant them success in the hunt? How many foxes pray to the fox spirits of the past to grant them wisdom to mislead, deceive and mystify anyone it encounters?

                      How about a mundane superstition? Ever heard of a rooster that thought its crowing made the sun rise every morning?

                      Also, I gave a reason why your claim that evolution gave us the ability to give purpose to everything in one fell swoop is false: evolution happens in increment and small steps, and it would limit our ability to reason or give us true belief that would not harms us.

                      “I observe that you and I do not in fact disagree that early religions were false. Neither of us actually believes in spirits of river, tree, and sky, or that thunder is the roar of an angry god.”

                      You missed my point. If evolution shapes belief, how would you be able to distinguish true belief from false beliefs?

                      “ Again I point you to the origins of religion, not monotheism as currently practised. Modern religions are a vastly-developed outgrowth of the original spiritual practices of humanity.”

                      The above gives me flashbacks of people telling me, without a hint of irony, how primitive men lived a hobbesian life-style, you know, waging a war of all against all. And that somehow and in some way, they made a social contract (!) that led to our civilized, improved world.
                      You’re telling me, without a hint of irony, that primitive men assigned purpose to everything and that somehow and in some way we kicked the habit (or part of it)that led our civilized, improved world.
                      Seriously, there’s no reason to suppose that primitive men gave purpose to everything and anything. Second, there’s no reason to suppose giving explanation to everything is the simplest evolutionary path. and third, If attributing purposiveness to the world is an evolutionary trait, the simplest explanation is that it developed in small steps.

                      “You need a complex brain to be able to articulate these ideas; when you hold in your head the concept of existence, the Kolmogorov complexity of the idea is equal to the complexity of your brain, neither more or less.

                      Unless,You are being misled by what feels simple to you. The term ‘irreducibly simple’ is meaningless.”

                      Mental ideas are not computer programs. It is false that to understand and to imagine something you need a complex mechanism. You might create a monkey brain a billion times bigger and more complex than usual and that brain will be unable to understand that it exists or imagine ST. Goku is watching over him. Consciousness is not a property of the brain nor is the brain. Mental processes are not material processes.

                      By existence being irreducibly simple I mean that existence cannot be reduced to simpler or more basic concepts or properties.

                      “That said, you are still missing the point. For any given description of the universe, the same universe with an additional god is more complex.”

                      Actually, you’re missing my point. Any materialist model of the universe makes its many individual parts necessary, unexplained, brute facts. (I thought I had been clear about that). Do remember that god is not just an entity among many, it is an entity that explains other facts. My point is simple, It is more parsimonious to say there is one necessary fact rather than many.

                    • SFAN says:

                      I think he was referring to the cosmological rather than Everett* universes that seem to be required for the weak anthropic principle (the puddle argument), which as you probably know
                      are a bit different – although that that model is more complex than one universe with a god
                      is still debatable.

                      * which, I think, can’t have different constants or even laws.

        • “There is a distinction between specific beliefs, and tendencies in the way we reason.”

          But no one made the claim that the specific beliefs were inheritable. The argument given by the reader above is that tendency to ascribe fortune or misfortune in hunting and gathering to supernatural agencies is inheritable, not that the belief in Donner the Thunder God is inheritable.

          I don’t see a difference between the argument the reader gave above, which I tried bravely to answer and criticize, and your version of the argument, to which the same answers and criticisms apply.

          • Your argument is that anything can be explained with a just-so story, which is true. Still, there are stories and stories. Evaluating the plausibility of a particular evolutionary explanation is a matter of judgement and experience.

            That is, indeed, why I proposed an experiment to determine the inheritability, or otherwise, of belief in purposefulness. I propose a method by which such intuitions can be measured, and then we can just grind the crank on the usual tests of correlation from relatedness. Will you agree that this procedure makes it, at least, a scientific question, in the same sense that “intelligence is inheritable” is a scientific question? Or if you prefer a less contentious variable, “height is inheritable”.

  2. deiseach says:

    I’d disagree with you on two counts: firstly, if Ug is not engaging in machinations but is genuinely being nice, then the paranoid interpretation leaves our caveman at a disadvantage (as he is turning down free liver, and will probably be of such a griping, carping, suspicious nature that his fellows will not at all be inclined to give him any aid should he fall off a cliff or into a river).

    Secondly, that puts atheists (not even agnostics) into the position of being the only grown-ups in the world: they are old enough and smart enough not to believe in the Tooth Fairy any more, whereas the rest of us are still stuck at the six year old stage.

    Well, if there is no more a creating deity than there is a tooth fairy, that’s good for them. But while we can show that the person putting the shilling under the pillow is mummy or daddy rather than a fairy, but how do we do likewise when it comes to the gods? All we can do there is say “There isn’t a fairy”, but we can’t show someone else doing it as evidence for the non-fairiness of their being (like the unmasking at the end of the Scooby Doo cartoons).

    All of which is just to say, if the brain experiments do indeed induce a state of feeling union with a greater whole (and I’m not exactly clear what they are evoking or inducing, since naturally the media leap to ‘this is the god-centre of the brain!’ when the scientists are only just getting started with the ‘hmm, interesting reactions to stimuli but too early to put a name to it yet’ stage), then if this is an equivalent to ‘the part of the brain that makes you see pink elephants when drunk’, okay, it doesn’t prove anything one way or the other (except that if you mess around with the brain, you can get funny results).

    On the other hand, if this part of the brain is an equivalent to ‘the part of the brain where your memory of oranges is stored’, then it’s more like ‘part dealing with an exterior reality’ than ‘part dealing with dreams and hallucinations’.

    Myself, I think it’s intriguing, but nothing that can be used to either prove or disprove the reality of spirits, ghosts, or deities one way or the other.

    • I’m not the correspondent Mr Wright was quoting in his post, and say nothing about the god-helmet machinery; in fact, it was pointed out to me some time ago that the experiment has been discredited. I will say, however, that if a sense of the nearness of a god could reliably be turned on and off, like a switch, then that looks to me like an excellent demonstration of “someone else doing it”; in particular, it’s being done by a concentration of chemicals in the brain, or magnetic fields, or whatever it is.

      As for Ug, you underestimate the straitness of the circumstances in which our ancestors lived. If Ug was being genuinely nice, he was exceedingly unusual. The paranoid would still do better, on average, than the naif. Additionally, of course, I did not suggest that he should spurn the gift, or let on to Ug that he suspected anything. Surely I do not have to teach you Conspiracy 101 to make you agree that it’s better to be able to see the hidden motivations of men, than not to be so able.

  3. Malcolm says:

    Getting back to the “just so” story – particularly the sentence: “They begin to discuss ‘the spirit of the hunt’.” This is such a common human response, we tend to forget just how counter-intuitive it is. There is a vast leap between observing that sometimes the prey just falls into your hands, and hypothesizing the existence of invisible spirits. For people like us – and every other member of the human race today – who are used to the idea of invisible spirits, the idea seems normal, but why should a paleolithic hunter-gather who had never heard of such a thing ever get the idea that such things exist? It is not as if they have regular experience with invisible spirits.
    Or, to get back to deiseach’s comment: the reason we believed in the Tooth Fairy when we were little is because we were told about it. We would never have come to that conclusion by ourselves, no matter how often a tooth disappeared.

    • Lewis brought this up in a section under the Problem with Pain. Summed up along the lines of: “inventing gods from scratch would be like inventing a new primary color”.

      • Nonsense. There is an excellent template to work from, namely humans. Inventing a new god is just like inventing another human, only with moar awsum. A human cannot clap his hands and cause lightning to strike (well – not without gunpowder) but it would certainly be nice if he could. Lewis was dishonestly ignoring the long history of gods that were not considered the creators of the universe and First Cause of everything; making the leap directly to such a being would indeed be impressive, but it wasn’t done.

        • You might want to go and read up on the primary source and the full context before making a further fool of yourself.

          • Actually, I am not sure if the quote here is from the primary source. CS Lewis does say in CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS that “The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of planting a new sun in the sky or a new primary colour in the spectrum” but I do not recall what he says about inventing gods in PROBLEM OF PAIN.

            Perhaps someone who has read the book more recently than I, or whose recollection is keener, can clarify this.

            • Yes, you’re quite right. That’s why I said in my original post:
              “Summed up along the lines of”

              I do know the idea is expressed in PoP, but I didn’t have the source at hand then (or now) and was pulling it from memory.

              I’ll grab it and look it up tonight before I head home for the holidays. Would you like it posted here, John or emailed to you?

              • There is no hurry. That is one of the graces of the Internet. Take your time.

                • Ok, I got my copy of Problem of Pain (sorry for the delay). Here’s some passages from the intro:

                  Men are fools, perhaps; but hardly so foolish as that. The direct inference from black to white, from evil flower to virtuous root, from senseless work to a work-man infinitely wise, staggers belief. The spectacle of the universe as revealed by experience can never have been the ground of religion: it must always have been something in spite of which religion, acquired from a different source, was held.

                  What follows is a long talk on this and more. The actual quote I was thinking of (and had apparently got mixed up here.

                  “The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of planting a new sun in the sky or a new primary colour in the spectrum…”

                  –Christian Reflections

                  Lewis’ intro into Problem of Pain is pretty much an essay expounding upon and proving this point.

        • Mary says:

          Inventing a new god is just like inventing another human, only with moar awsum.

          No wonder you’re having such difficulty with philosophical discussion!

  4. Tinkerwrks says:

    After I moved out and my mother left for a month to train for a job, my father declared the magic cleaning fairies had left.

  5. Maureen says:

    It’s very likely that back in the first cave, there was a lot of sitting around the fire in the winter discussing deep philosophical matters. Particularly if Paleolithic Woman had been chewing the roots and spitting them into the bark box of juice to make it ferment.

    So there was probably a lot of, “Well, obviously everybody is originally descended from a single man and woman, but where did they come from?” and “How do you know that a single Unmoved Mover started everything? Maybe it just came out of nowhere! Maybe it all wrapped around from the end of time!” and “What is good? How can you tell?”

    Little kids ask all the great philosophical questions, so I’m sure that early humans did, too.

  6. The OFloinn says:

    I always find it stimulating when those who complain that we are prone to make up unsupported stories to explain things make up an unsupported story to explain it.

    No need to identify an actual “gene.” (Let alone shuck the old 19th paradigm of what genes are.)
    No need to demonstrate that events actually did transpire the way the story claims.

  7. Stephen J. (Genesiscount) says:

    “I am only saying that the argument ‘Magic Darwin Fairies make inheritable religious traits somehow more advantageous, even though false, than irreligious traits’ is too simple to explain what it purports to explain….”

    It’s not even particularly valid in a Darwinian sense, since as I understand it the entirety of evolutionary biology is based around the idea that changes to genetic characteristics arise from mutations in individuals and are (if they improve the survival odds of the possessor) passed on through descent, said changes accumulating to eventually produce a wholly distinct species.

    The thing about religion — or any organized pattern of social-interactive behaviour — is that it is only a survival advantage if others in your group share the same pattern. Darwinian natural selection has enough problems with improbability as it is; to add the requirement that an entire group evolve the same predisposition simultaneously within only a generation or two, and manifest it in such a way that it improves the survival of the entire group (even while it makes individuals more likely to sacrifice themselves for the group’s welfare), seems to demand more good luck of random mutation than one can reasonably assume.

  8. Tom in Arizona says:

    Whenever I read these grandiose theories about the anthropology of religion—every one as complex and improbable as the most convoluted 9/11 Truther theories—I have one simple answer. Namely, “You’ve obviously never met a traditional Hopi (whose Snake Clan do rain dances to this day) or a traditional Navajo (whose mythology includes an account of where they got their gods), yet you feel free to offer assertions about the genesis and psychology of that form of religion. Therefore, cease to speak.”

    I’ve just decided to assert (with just as much evidence) that all atheists are atheists because they hate their fathers and/or want to get laid without feeling guilty. Actually, amusingly, that theory is a hell of a lot less blatantly counter-factual; it can account for at least one sample, which is not the case for the other one.

  9. Joshua_D says:

    One thing that impresses me more and more about Christianity – although, I didn’t have this in mind when I accepted Jesus Christ as Lord – is how specific Christianity is; how it’s grounded in our world, our time. When you read the Bible, the writers speak of specific people, specific events, specific consequences, specific victories, specific defeats, etc. In addition, we have writings of others who reference and confirm the people and events in the Bible.

    While evolutionists speak of billions of years and random mutations and social pressures and genetics, God gives specifics. In the beginning … 2,000 years ago God sent his Son Jesus to Earth. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. He lived for 33 years. His mother was a woman named Mary. His father was a man named Joseph. After preaching for three years, Jesus gave himself up for us because it was the of His Father that He do so. Jesus was killed by the Romans, specifically sentenced to death by a Roman named Pilot. And so the story of truth goes.

    Some people want to believe and rest their lives on something that ‘could’ happen. How thankful I am to be able to believe in what did happen.

    • While I place no value on the neo-Darwinians and their crackpot theories that are just inventions to adhere to their determinism, are you saying that you reject the entirety of evolution?

      Evolutionists speak of billion of years and millions of years because the evidence speaks in billions and millions of years.

      The evidence, however, does not speak of genetic religious traits, or any other form of what amounts to innate ideas.

      The strict evidence of the actual science (and not the invalid speculations of some of their scientists) is not a “could” but a did, in fact.

      I admit it is regrettable that we have to sort through what is the actual evidence and what is improper, and unqualified, speculation by some representatives of that science.

      Or do you, like my sister, believe the Earth to be around 6,000 years old and the fossil remains to be a foil sent by Satan?

      • John Hutchins says:

        Although, I think that such a belief (fossils being put there by Satan) is completely inconsistent with the scriptures (as, either Satan had a part in the creation or God is trying to deceive us, in which case, how does one trust anything that he says?), I can accept that someone holds such a belief.

        While knowing the details of the creation is interesting, for everyday practice and belief it is no more important that the earth was created six (isn’t it closer to 7?) thousand years ago, or 4-5 billion years ago, or one second ago then it is to know the precise speed of light for everyday life. The important point of knowledge for most people in their belief is that God created the heavens and the earth, that is, that he is all powerful and in control.

        • Why couldn’t Satan have put them there in 1289? Why, if they don’t correlate with any facts, but are merely inventions of THE DARK ONE, would he have to put them there at creation?

          >> “The important point of knowledge for most people in their belief is that God created the heavens and the earth, that is, that he is all powerful and in control.”

          That doesn’t address the point at all. Facts are facts. He doesn’t get to choose which ones are ok with him and which ones are not. It is nothing new to me that some people incorporate evolution into their theology – evolution being the how, God being the why sort of thing. But to brush off evolution because it is somehow “vague” because it deals in large timeframes and God deals in “33 years” is complete nonsense.

          As if God is in competition with evolution. If there be a God, then we arrived by some process of evolution that HE started, and it is up to the believer to reconcile this if it needs to be.

          But it is not to be blown off. [Speaking strictly of the evolution, not the crackpot stuff that I already addressed.]

          • John Hutchins says:

            Why would God let Satan create the fossils in whenever he created them? Doesn’t that go back to God trying to deceive us so how could we trust anything that he says? Otherwise, if Satan can just create things like that then how is God all-powerful? Wouldn’t believing Satan did it be an extra-biblical belief, or where does the justification for that belief come from in the bible? I assume your sister is a biblical literalistic.

            There are much better explanations for seven days of creation and the existence of fossils then saying Satan did it.

            I am not sure why we are arguing this point as we both believe in evolution and an older universe.

            Regardless, most people have believed for most of human history that creation took place in a short time frame. This did not prevent them from living full and productive lives or from finding new mathematical theorems, or new scientific discoveries. Today there are some professions where not having a good understanding of evolution or of evolutionary biology would be a serious detriment but for most people in most professions knowing creation took one second or any other amount of time is not terribly useful information. The same is true for most peoples beliefs. Given that science has in the past been wrong in their theories it is easy to see how just because the leading scientific theory says otherwise one should not change ones beliefs. This is especially true if one does not understand the theory, the evidence for the theory, and there are others around that also reject the theory. If one understands the evidence then more mental gymnastics need to be performed, like Satan did it, nuclear decay is different now then it was before the flood, days are different now then before the flood (although if you believe that then I don’t see how it becomes different then saying they weren’t really days), or if you don’t believe in ex nihilo but do believe in seven days of creation that they are leftovers from previous earths. Regardless of how you maintain the belief in seven literal days it isn’t going to change your everyday actions from those of anyone else so isn’t that important in the long run. Although, it might mean that you don’t let your kids play with dinosaurs, which is sad because dinosaurs are pretty cool.

      • Joshua_D says:

        “robertjwizard says: are you saying that you reject the entirety of evolution?

        … Or do you, like my sister, believe the Earth to be around 6,000 years old and the fossil remains to be a foil sent by Satan?”

        I’d have to say, I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter much either way. I don’t see a whole lot of point in ‘arguing’ over ‘how’ God created the Earth, or ‘how’ He chose to create Man. It’s as if we would try to argue exactly ‘how’ God spoke the the universe into existence.

        It doesn’t really matter to me if God created Adam in one hour of one 24-hour day as we know it, or if God created Adam through an evolutionary process that took billions of years. With God, a day is like a thousand years, a thousands years like a day.

        I do believe God created the universe, the earth, man, woman, the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the beasts and things that crawl on the ground, the plants we eat, the mountains we climb, our mind, our reason, our ability to love, etc.

        • Joshua_D says:

          Of course, I’m speaking from the point of view of a Believer.

          • >> “Of course, I’m speaking from the point of view of a Believer.”

            In a sense I agree with your response. Modern evolutionists seem to think it has all sorts of applications to us as a means of dispensing with things such as psychology and philosophy and a host of other things mainly our reason. And usually with logic that a five year old Believer could sidestep.

            Ultimately, some theory of evolution will be proved to be the actual case. I just don’t think it will have any bearing on the theism vs. atheism issue. They think it is a mighty sword, but it is actually a rubber chicken. Metaphysical issues do not work this way.

            And if you follow the history of the arguments on both sides, from Paley to Dawkins, their arguments (strictly on the creation vs. selective mutation issue) are each other’s arguments. For instance, the complexity argument works equally well from both sides.

            • Joshua_D says:

              “They think it is a mighty sword, but it is actually a rubber chicken. Metaphysical issues do not work this way.”

              Exactly. I do have concern for my fellow Believers who get sidetracked and shaken by such weak assaults on their faith. But, I was once a young and immature Christian as well! God gives wisdom to those who seek it, freely and without rebuke.

              Whenever I feel that I disagree with someone, especially a fellow Believer, I try* to ask myself, “In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter one way or the other?”

              * Of course, I often fail at this and get drawn in to arguments that waste our time! But hey … baby steps.

    • Too bad all the alleged facts are wrong.

  10. It seems to me that the recent flurry of theorizing about the origins of religion neglect something that an earlier theorist pegged exactly — religious emotion. Just as art is what we do about feelings and perceptions of beauty, and laws and ethical philosophy are what we do about our moral intuitions, religion is what we do about religious emotion, specifically _awe_ or the feeling of the _numinous_.

    The term “numinous” was coined by the German scholar Rudolf Otto in his book “The Idea of the Holy.” If you don’t feel like reading the whole book (though it is not long), you can find a much shorter, good explanation in “The Problem of Pain” by C. S. Lewis, citing Otto (and “Wind in the Willows,” incidentally). If you DO want to read the whole thing, it’s on Project Gutenberg, here:

    http://www.archive.org/stream/theideaoftheholy00ottouoft/theideaoftheholy00ottouoft_djvu.txt

    If we did not have the feeling of awe, of the specific kind of awe Otto calls “numinous,” we might have superstitions and mythology, but we would have little or no emotional attachment to them. The numinous is the engine behind religion, even if at many removes, but no one seems to be talking about it nowadays.

    • Tom in Arizona says:

      Well, really, the term was just adapted to the purpose; “numen” is the Latin word for spirit-power-type-thing, sorta like the “mana” in a lot of modern fantasy.

      And religion is not what one does about the feeling of awe, anymore than eating is what one does about the emotion of hunger, or sex is what one does about the emotion of lust. It’s exactly backwards. Those emotions are designed to serve those acts, not the other way around (no, really, what we call “emotions” can be thought of as macros designed to spare us the time needed to come up with the appropriate action).

      • Maureen says:

        Nonsense. Plenty of people feel awe or the presence of God/gods at random moments, and indeed, when they least expect it. Much like other emotions, in fact. Any emotion that doesn’t have the capacity to sock you right out of nowhere, for no apparent reason, is a pretty colorless emotion.

        (Okay, so I live a dramatic emotional life. But I’m nothing compared to a great many people.)

        However, I have noticed that many people one encounters in this sort of Internet discussion never seem to have felt strong religious emotion or perception. This isn’t necessarily disabling in the religious arena (Dorothy L. Sayers’ experience of God was wholly intellectual, according to her, and she’s in good company there). But it does render one prone to saying things about religious emotion and perception which make no sense to those who have experienced them, much as someone who’s never been in love is at something of a disadvantage in discussing romantic feelings.

        The idea that emotions are macros that tell you what to do is also pretty stupid, unless “they tell your brain to send emotion hormones coursing through your blood” is your idea of telling you what to do. If emotions told you what to do, you would react the same way to every emotion every time, automatically, like a reflex. Instead, each individual reacts quite creatively, over the course of life or within a single day, to even a simple emotion like anger. Given the extremely broad number of different human religious practices, I think your answer is simplistic in the extreme.

        • Tom in Arizona says:

          Emotions are macros, but not completely autopilot; more specifically, they key up a preset configuration for one’s situational responses. Fear? The macro for getting ready to avoid danger. Desire? Collecting resources. Lust? Mating. Anger? Removing a threat. The appropriate program (“flight or fight”, for instance) is keyed up, and then all you do is run it, or cancel it (i.e. control your emotions) if the preprogrammed response is sub-optimal. I would characterize “awe” as being a mix of submission emotion (humans being naturally gregarious, therefore hierarchical, apex predators), possibly fear, possibly the filial-bond emotion that attaches you to your parents, and something akin to an error message, as your mind discovers it can’t comprehend something. Now of course, that’s merely analysis; saying what something is composed of does not actually tell you what it is. And yet I’m sure that you’re about to accuse me of saying precisely that.

          “Stupid”? Not to be juvenile or anything but “the one who calls someone else stupid is stupid, stupid.”

          I shall not even dignify your remarks about “colorless emotions” with a response, except to remark that those without clinical anxiety disorders don’t know the meaning of “a dramatic emotional life”.

          And incidentally, no, I have had many, and moving, religious emotions (I appear to have what Ignatius of Loyola called the Gift of Tears, though not as strong as him, since it seems unlikely to make me blind as it did him)—but they are not the point of religion. It seems to me that you have simply not bothered to understand my point. Emotions—the passions—are ordered toward a purpose, religious emotions being no exception. What Earl Wajenberg and his source appear to be saying is that religion is ordered to the emotion of awe, which is like saying that food is ordered toward hunger, i.e. patent nonsense. Hunger is ordered toward food; if we didn’t need to eat we wouldn’t get hungry.

          • “Emotions are macros, but not completely autopilot; more specifically, they key up a preset configuration for one’s situational responses.”

            You are drawing a metaphor here between something a living mind does, an emotion or passion, and something an unliving line of computer codes has done to it, run a macro. The metaphor is misleading if taken too literally.

            To wonder at the beauty of the stars, for example, and to experience awe is about as unalike an “error message” as can be imagined. A person who ascribes filial piety, fear, or other human emotions to the distant stars would seem, then, to be making a mistake, attaching the wrong emotion to the wrong thing, akin to being sexually attracted to beings with whom one cannot have sex, or desiring to eat something that is not food. It would merely be an error, not something that served any use.

            You are attempting to ascribe a mechanical purpose to awe aside from what seem (to me, at least) the obvious non-mechanical purpose: awe draws a man’s thoughts away from things of earth and toward things of heaven. I don’t see what advantage to survival mechanisms or reproduction mechanisms such an emotion would serve. And if we ascribed some mechanical purpose to it, how would we know the idea was not mere ad hoc, a “just so” story?

            • Tom in Arizona says:

              Well, yes, terribly misleading if taken too literally, but I really only meant it as an analogy—the emotions are designed to serve a purpose, they are not a purpose. And I never said it had an evolutionary or reproductive purpose; do not assume I’m a materialist (I’m a Thomist Catholic). Its purpose may be spiritual, but its operation is animal—just as simple, animal lust for one’s wife, chemically and anatomically little different from the mating drive of any other hominid, serves the Sacrament of Matrimony and creates a microcosm of Christ and His Church. The emotional (and therefore animal) component of “awe” in the religious sense is definitely related to your instincts for submission to higher-ranked group members; it’s just activated in a rather more subtle and edifying manner by the Holy One of Israel. After all, the Jews themselves called him Lord of Lords—isn’t that an analogy to their own group-feelings? If gorillas and not humans were the image of God, he’d be known as Silverback of Silverbacks, and the analogy would contain the same idea.

              And yes, awe really is related to an error message—that’s why “awesome” is a synonym for “ineffable”, which has, as a major component, “incomprehensible.” It’s your mind saying, e.g., “Those little lights in the dark sky are outside the range this unit is equipped to measure, and don’t match any of its cataloged sources of light,” or “That bush is burning but it’s not being consumed, the cause-and-effect assessment program just crashed.” That’s not all there is—there’s also appreciation of beauty, for instance, with the stars—but it is a component.

              But I was mainly concerned to point out that over-emotionalizing religion is incredibly dangerous. It has, after all, completely ruined Christendom twice in the last four hundred years—once under Luther (who, remember, decided Confession must be false because he didn’t feel forgiven), and once in the “Modernist” heresy of the 20th century.

              • If I misunderstood the thrust of your point, please forgive me.

                I agree about the dangers of emotionalizing the faith. I have some interest in the heresies of the Early Church, and I am unimpressed to find close parallels between the ancient heresies wisely rejected by the orthodox, and the many divergent opinions and new denominations of the modern era.

                Arianism, Mohammedanism and Puritanism all seem to spring from a desire to simplify and make more rigorous the beliefs and practices of the Church, which, if the Church were a human institution or had been (as the heretics claim) corrupted from its original purity by a human institution, would be reasonable. But my delving into history leads me to conclude that if you teleported a Catholic and a Greek Orthodox back through time to the First Century, they would be perfectly at home with the nascent Church, but a Protestant would find very little resembling the beliefs of Luther and Calvin.

                • John Hutchins says:

                  How do you know that what is considered orthodox was wise in rejecting what are considered to be heresies? If the orthodox is according to the will of God then it was extremely wise to reject the heresies. However, if instead the orthodox had been corrupted and moved contrary to what is the truth then how was it wise?

                  Many of the Epistles that we have are from the early Apostles calling the early church back to what they had been taught, or of warning that the church would fall away from sound doctrine. In them we have that some areas of the church already refused to listen to the authority of the Apostles and the ravening wolves were already among the flock.

                  I believe in a restoration, not a reformation. The authority was quickly lost from the early church and no amount of debate then or now will change the truth of God. Debate over the philosophy and doctrine is not the way to arrive at the truth but revelation from God on the subject is what is needed. Authority that is lost can not be gotten again from reading the scriptures or from belief alone, it must come from God. One of the most often repeated ideas of the scriptures is to “ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find”, it is only by asking the source of all knowledge that we may know the truth.

                  • “How do you know that what is considered orthodox was wise in rejecting what are considered to be heresies?”

                    We would have to discuss the specific heresy for me to tell you why in each case I thought the decision of the early theologians to be wise. Since heresies seem often to travel is pairs of opposites, where two extreme views both oppose a moderate view, usually the reason for my assessment in one case is the opposite as in another case: and, again, usually the reason for my agreement is based on my opinion about human nature, and my belief that a church embracing one particular heresy or another would tend to encourage some bad belief or bad behavior.

                    If you are actually curious about my opinion of each particular heresy I have an opinion about, I would be happy to answer, time permitting, and keeping in mind that I am hardly qualified, being (1) not a theologian (2) not trained in theology (3) not an historian of religion and (4) a recent convert to Christianity and (5) the chief of sinners.

                    I do not place great weight on my own judgment in the matter, so I imagine most readers would not hang with bated breath on what I have to say on the issue, especially since there are more learned opinions with more scholarly credentials readily available, not to mention saints and doctors of the Church and men whose knowledge of Divine Things is considerably more than my own.

                    Just to take an example of the oldest and most persistent of heresies, I think Gnosticism is in conflict with the core message of Christ, because Christ spoke of perfect submission to the Father, and the Gnostic speak not of a father but of a Demiurge who created a universe, not as something said to be “very good” at each stage or day of creation, but as a trap. The Jews were (as far as I know) unique in the ancient world in regarding life on Earth, despite all the appearances of pain and suffering, as something good and made by a good God for a good purpose. The Jewish (and later, Christian) judgment that the world is good and life is worth living is in marked contrast with the opinion, for example, of Socrates, who regarded the end of his life as something to be thankful for, and worth offering a thank-offering to Aescalepius the healing god — as if the mortal and material body were a thing to be despised like we despise disease. The Buddhists have a similar distaste for the physical body and the deceptions of the senses. The Pharisees and the Christians preach the resurrection of the body in a glorified state on Judgment Day, whereas the Gnostics regard the body and its pleasures as radically evil, and they seek only to shed the body, and return, like a Buddhist returning to nirvana, to the Pleorma. The Gnostic doctrine that we are all secretly gods being kept imprisoned by a devil who created the material world seems more akin to the falsehood of the serpent in Genesis, or the Doctrine of Mike the Martians “Church of All Worlds” in STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND –thou are god, and will be like gods. Gnosticism promises salvation through secret formula unknown to the masses, the mobs, and lesser men. This seems sharply at odds with Christly commands to preach the gospel to all creatures, and very much at odds with Christly emphasis on humility. This hatred of matter and disgust with the physical body crops up again and again in history, as in the Cathars, the Manicheans, the Puritans, and other rigorist groups.

                    There is, as one might expect, an opposite heresy preaching that the indulgence of all the sensual pleasures is in keeping with God’s wishes, and this includes groups called the Adamites, and one version of Gnositicism, and so on. My reasons for calling this not in keeping with Christian doctrine is basically the opposite as the reasons for my calling Gnosticism not in keeping.

                    So you see, no easily said blanket state or simple reason will allow me to defend my comment that it was wise of the orthodox to reject the early heresies. Heresies that exaggerations of opposite faulty dogmas are unwise for opposite reasons, much as cowardice is as great a flaw as blind recklessness, or stinginess as profligacy.

                    My conclusion calling orthodoxy wise is a matter of judgment, not a matter of deduction from first principles, and it applies each to its particular case. Of course I realize that reasonable men can differ in matters of judgment.

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      It is just interesting to me because most of the heresies that I am familiar with cover part of my churches doctrine. Of course, it is quite possible that I am familiar with the heresy because the heresy contains part of my churches doctrine.

                      For instance, Gnosticism contains the idea as sacred knowledge that is kept from the general public. Likewise I believe that there is sacred knowledge that is kept from the general public. Not that it is a secret that we are trying to keep it from people, I wish that everyone were living worthily to enter our temples and receive the endowment and spent two years of my life dedicated solely towards preaching to all that would listen.

                      Of course, the idea that matter or the body is something evil and to be rid of is contrary to my beliefs. We believe that spirit is matter, but a different type of matter, and that the creation of man (and/really women) was the greatest of God’s creations.

                      However, still in your Gnostic section, we do believe that everyone is a son or daughter of God in spirit while Christ was the firstborn in spirit of the Father and from the beginning but also the literal son of God in the flesh. From this, we take as literal the joint-heirs with Christ as being that we may become gods. There is much more to it then that but that isn’t the point here.

                      The point was, that I don’t see how debating the validity of doctrines is a way at arriving at truth especially when truth is determined by God

                      Not that those are the only heresies that cover the LDS faith according to the Catholics there is also Anthromorphiteism, Protestantism, probably Donatism, and probably other ones, those are just the ones that I know of. There is a reason the Catholics don’t think we are Christian and don’t accept our baptism (besides the fact that we don’t accept anyone but our owns). While many of the basic ideas of are the same they are understood, oftentimes, completely differently.

                    • “The point was, that I don’t see how debating the validity of doctrines is a way at arriving at truth especially when truth is determined by God.”

                      I suppose that depends on what the debate is about. If we are debating whether or not the truth as determined by God, as revealed in the deposit of the faith and the Holy Scripture, as inspired by the Holy Spirit, as taught by the Apostles and Church Fathers agrees or disagrees with a particular proposition, then the debate must take place.

                      Even if we restrict the debate only to those things which are arguably direct revelations, such as the revelation shown to Mohammad by Gabriel, or the revelation shown to Joseph Smith by Moroni, the magisterium of the Church would still have to debate whether the prophet was a true prophet and a true teacher or a false one.

                      The position that anything alleged to be revelation is revelation is debatable, to say the least. The position that private revelation can contradict public revelation is a heresy called Montanism, which dates back to the Second Century.

                      What other option do we have, aside from debating the issue?

                      If Christianity were not a religion that persistently warns her sons to be wary of false prophets, and which did not impose a positive duty to preach the Gospel to all creatures, we might be able to tolerate false teachings without demur, discrimination or debate: but it is not such a religion.

                    • Mary says:

                      “Never was there a heretic that spoke all false.” Saint Thomas More

                    • John Hutchins says:

                      For the debate, I was referring to the way that the early councils were conducted. Also, some of the earliest heresies split the church and required quite a long time before they were even declared as heresy. Other heresies caused the church to eventually reform itself to the point that it now accepts all sacraments of some of the previous heretical sects as well as priesthood ordinations.

                      The LDS church does not believe in the heresy of Montanism, the only accusation of such would be that Joesph Smith was not a prophet so his private revelations would then contradict the Catholic churches authority, and all subsequent revelations by our prophets would then also fall under said heresy.

                      Let’s see ways to know the truth: “By their works ye shall know them”, “ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you”, “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken”

                • Neo-Scotist says:

                  specifically, catholic copts (coptics?) would fit in the early church more easily than modern, greek orthodox or tridentine catholics.

            • Tom in Arizona says:

              It occurs to me that what I said above could be taken as reductive, which is not my intent (I incline to think reductive people should be reduced, as in like sauce). With humans, because they are rational animals, one can never tell what’s animal, what’s natural-but-rational, and what’s supernatural. For instance, in my above example of marriage, how much of what a man feels for his wife is sexual desire, or more general affection, or rational sense of duty, or divine grace bestowed through sacramental marriage? It’s not like you can make a pie chart; I defy anyone to clearly delineate where any one component ends and another begins.

              • Tom in Arizona says:

                Um, there should be another comment from me above the one about things being reductive; it appear to be held up in moderation. So if it doesn’t make sense, that’s why.

          • The OFloinn says:

            Emotions are dispositions toward or away from a product of sensation, and are sometimes called the sensible appetites. Among animals these are the estimative powers: the sheep esteems the wolf an enemy and is disposed to flee. They are distinct from volition, which is a disposition toward or away from a product of the intellect, and is sometimes called the intellective appetite. In a rational being, these are political powers: the man judges the wolf an enemy and may flee or stand his ground as his judgment warrants. Since higher powers govern lower powers, the will governs the emotions.

            Thus, if a dog is hungry (an emotion), he will eat (motion). (Though this is not so mechanical a thing as Descartes and the other revolutionaries supposed when they demoted animals to meat puppets.) However, if a man is hungry, he will eat or fast, depending on how his will values the intellective concepts of dieting for weight loss or fasting to humble the body before God. (Or because he has not the coin to purchase the food, or….)

            The genuine “macros” are the autonomous nervous system. When the knee is struck with a mallet, the leg will jerk without either emotion or will being involved.

            Hope this helps.

            • What account do you make for passions as distinct from appetites? By passions I mean those desires for imponderables like honor or dignity, which often stir men and nations to great activity, but which are not a hunger for any physical thing. It seems to me calling these things a macro is even more strained of an analogy. We can have an appetite for food and drink, sex or shelter, but it is passion that stirs our to right an injustice or to give to the poor (if our passions are well directed) or a passion that stirs us to seek vain glory or conform to peer pressure (if our passions are ill directed).

              • Sam Urfer says:

                In the Scholastic system, “passion” signifies the sensitive emotions which rational animals share with other animals. What you term “passion” is the object of the will, intellectual desire. Dogs do not seek honor. Sensitive desires and intellectual desires are related by way of analogy. We hunger and thirst for righteousness.

                • If we do not like the term “passion” we can use a different one: the Greeks called it “Thymos” which has no satisfactory translation in English. But there are emotions, not matters of the intellect and will, that are learned in youth, not innate, and that drive men to do things that animals are not driven to do, and it might be misleading to call the hunger for honor that drives some soldiers to suicidal fury an intellectual desire. It does not seem to be an object of the will in the normal sense of the word, especially since a man driven one way by a passion and another way by his reason would describe his will as opposing the rage of his passions.

                  • The OFloinn says:

                    A desire for a product of the intellect is still a desire, and not the least bit itself “intellectual.” “Honor” is a product of the intellect. “Honey” is a product of the senses. We can desire either one with a passionate intensity. Cf. Winnie the Pooh.

                    Don’t forget that the loop from Perception (of the senses) to Conception (of the intellect) to Volition (of the will) then links back to the Emotions, leading to Motions.

                    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11534a.htm

                  • Tom in AZ says:

                    The emotional component is still, in my opinion, not too different from a silverback beating his chest to frighten off a leopard. I don’t mean that as disrespect to soldiers; the band must be protected, after all, and leopards would be insulted by the comparison to the kind of people our soldiers fight.

                    Obviously the interface between our primate emotions and our rational minds is complex, making our every emotion almost unrecognizable as its animal analog, but the animal analog is there. There are many examples of animals dying to protect their young or their group—indeed “mama grizzly” is a common expression for that set of human emotions (not that mama grizzlies usually die doing it, but that’s mostly because few things can kill them).

  11. The superstitious link between prayer and ritual and favorable outcomes is indeed one that is explicitly condemned in the Book of Job, which some scholars opine to be the first book written in the Old Testament, which places it among the very oldest of surviving written works of mankind.

    I was made to understand the Book of Job most probably dates to the Persian period. The only reason for calling it one of the oldest books in the Bible is, as far as I know, the Fundamentalist belief that Job himself wrote it.

    • “The only reason for calling it one of the oldest books in the Bible is, as far as I know, the Fundamentalist belief that Job himself wrote it.”

      Really? All I can report is that I heard that the age of the book of Job was thought by honest scholarly opinion to be one of the oldest, based on the idea that it did not make reference to the Covenant with Abraham, and so must have been written before Genesis and Exodus, perhaps by non-Jews — a tissue of speculations, of course, but that is what scholar opinion usually is.

      • Ah, well, the scholarly opinion I have is that the book makes no references to such things because it’s chosen a non-Jewish character from the patriarchal age–an odd choice, perhaps, admittedly.

        Other matters of dating involve Persian loanwords, mentions of caravan routes implying a later date, and the development of the concept of Satan.

      • Lewis once theorized that the book of Job might be unhistorical – or at least, it doesn’t share the style of the books written by Jews to be histories.

        It’s status as historical or allegorical doesn’t affect my faith one way or the other (as it contains fine lessons regardless) but I do sometimes wonder if Job was to the early Jews what we might consider King Arthur to the British. An interesting thought exercise…

        • I’m partial to the hypothesis that it was a popular folk tale that the poet split in half, inserting his lengthy poetic material in between. The point of the poems seems to be different from the point of the folk tale; in the tale, Job is an example of heroic endurance who receives temporal rewards for bearing his test, but in the poems he complains and wonders why God is afflicting him, and finally encounters God, who nonetheless remains mysterious.

          • I think it’s a testament to the book that there’s a lot of richness to be mined from it, and a lot of ideas that are not mutually exclusive.

            I think it was… George MacDonald who said that, upon seeing God, Job forgets his pain and questions and doesn’t need an answer any more (paraphrasing because I could NEVER hope to equal the lyrical majesty of MacDonald).

  12. >> “My only comment is to say that, from a Darwinian point of view, this belief is not an inheritable characteristic. The only inheritable characteristic we are dealing with is reason, the human capacity for abstract thought, which is the ability to form beliefs.”

    Dead on here, Mr. Wright, I could not agree more. And I think sums up the entire thing succinctly. They want to use the theory of innate ideas via bastardized “Darwinism” to support their basic, unacknowledged, deterministic materialism. When you unsheathe the layers of obfuscation you find a robot with no will and no ability to form ideas or take self-initiated action, or to think nor to abstract.

    What they are talking about is not even man. It is not even dog.

    I pity Darwin the man that such Neanderthals speak in his name. They do not deserve to.

  13. SFAN says:

    “The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.” Albert Einstein

    • ““The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible.” Albert Einstein”

      Of course, this is not incomprehensible if, as some philosophers maintain, the universe is a created artifact, designed to be vulnerable to reason by the same Designer who designed the faculty of reason in men’s soul. We do not think it incomprehensible if a lock and key fit each other: we assume a locksmith knew what he was doing.

      This, indeed, is one of the main arguments in favor of philosophical Deism. The Deist model of the universe explains something the atheist or materialist model does not explain, which is, namely how it just so happens that we are model making creatures and our models work and are true.

      • SFAN says:

        I thought it could be relevant to this discussion (and the one about the mind/brain problem, since one of the points seems to be that languages,including the brain’s ‘code’,are arbitrary) ^^

        • SFAN says:

          By the way, I’m also reminded of Dick’s ‘The Golden Man’…

          • SFAN says:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Golden_Man
            As usual, the movie adaptation (“Next”) misses the point, which is that the mutant is presented as feral, non-sapient etc. Granted, giving him “way cool mindpowers”* is arguably cheating, but I don’t think it’s inconceivable from a darwinist point of view to assume that some sort of super-instinct or super-senses, or at least some sort of ruthless animal cunning, might outperform our homo sapiens reason in a survival environment (that is, by the way, probably part of the fascination of the Alien xenomorph – and perhaps even Lovecraft).

            * a form of precognition, which is kind of ironic if we’re talking about evolution not being teleological. The Petri dishes in Lem’s Imaginary Magnitude are a funny take on that.

      • Ridiculous. If you once accept a materialist explanation of reasoning, then the correct working of models is obvious: Any creature that reasoned in such a way that its models did not work at all, did not breed. I observe that, even in modern times, one of the best ways to ensure your genes are not passed on is to become an inmate of an asylum. Object to a materialist foundation of reasoning, if you must; but do not argue that it cannot explain why it works.

        • Tom in AZ says:

          No? Well, you better tell that to Mahayana Buddhism; their split from Theravada (whose interpretation of the teaching of anatman is essentially materialism) consists, almost entirely, of the objection that it cannot explain why it works.

          The Buddhist teaching of anatman, which literally means “no soul”, is actually the denial of all essences, what Aristotelians would call formal parts. Its Theravada form is what we’d call atomism, in a sense—they don’t assert the unreality of parts, but claim that wholes are only a construct of the mind. The classical image is a cart—the axles, wheels, boards, nails are real, but “cart” is just a word.

          But, say the Mahayana Buddhists, you’re just asserting that parts have essences and wholes don’t. You can divide a board into grains and grains into atoms; at some point you’d have to say those have “essences”, it-ness, since you’re talking about them as if they’re “real”. Instead, say the Mahayana school, nothing is truly real except Being, the Dharmakaya—since to assert the non-existence of existence is a self-contradiction. Everything else has only “provisional” reality, and is ultimately an illusion.

          Not believing in anatman, of course (I’m an Aristotelian and I believe in formal parts), I am free also to reject advaita, the assertion that only Existence is real. But you, being a materialist, are incapable of escaping the infinite regress before which your metaphysics collapses. Ironically, of course, the Dharmakaya (the only real thing left if you deny formal parts) is identical with what Christians call “God”, so if you were intellectually consistent you wouldn’t deny God, you’d deny yourself.

        • craig says:

          All manner of beasts manage to breed without reason. Given that, why should anyone hold that evolution selects for reasoning ability?

        • But what you offer is (1) not an explanation of why the universe is reasonable and why truth can be found using the tools of reasoning found in the human brain and (2) contradicts the argument you give above, saying that the logical error of anthropomorphism has Darwinian survival value.

          Under the materialistic model, there is no necessary reason to assume the universe is something human beings can understand. It may be the case that it is, but it may not be.

          If the assumption that the universe is understandable in principle by human beings just so happens to be true, under the materialistic model, there is no necessary reason to assume that the process of human reasoning can find it.

          All you are doing here is invoking the Magic Darwin Fairies again: you assert that finding a correct model of the universe has some survival value. This is an arbitrary assertion. If the members of an illiterate biker gang and the members of the faculty at Oxford were both teleported back into the Stone Ages, there is nothing about the Oxfordian’s ability to calculate the rise and fall of the stars or to deduce the periodic table which favors them in the struggle to survival above the courage and ferocity of the biker gang. While it may be that the reasoning abilities touching abstract matters might, in some circumstances, cause the Oxfordians to outbreed the biker gang, there is no reason to assume the courage and ferocity of the bikers will not prevail some or most of the time in the struggle to survive and breed.

          Finally, even if abstract reasoning on abstract matters did have survival value in the long run, there is no reason to assume that any model which does not land one in the asylum is a true one. The only thing we can logically say about the model that does not land one in the asylum is that it is minimally useful enough not to land one in the asylum.

          Any noble lie, legal fiction, or useful fiction fills this bill as easily as the truth does, and, indeed, if the truth is complex, subtle, unpleasing or mysterious, a noble lie or useful fiction fits the bill better than the truth.

          The original post starts with a just so story about how the noble lie or useful fiction of believing the gods of hunt and harvest develop to explain the uncertainties of the world and to give people something apparently useful to do to control those uncertainties, but the just so story both says that these beliefs are false, and the appearance of control is illusion. So here is one example, if we believe it (I do not), of how a false belief can both not land you in the asylum and be useful for the struggle to survive and reproduce.

          The explanation you offer does not seem to explain what is intended to be explained: if the brain is just a machine produced by the trial and error of unintentional mechanical processes, and if the rule for a successful trial is survival of the fittest and the reproduction of the species, there is no reason to believe than any model or belief we have, including the belief that A is A, has any truth value or reflects or corresponds to anything behind the material appearances of the cosmos. All we can say is that in this go round of trial and error, the random mix of brain chemicals has proved useful, not for any human use, but for the use of surviving and reproducing. ‘A is A’ might fail the next round of trials.

          In order to make the argument we would have to say that ‘A is A’ is the only possible belief that can pass the trials, and that it is not produced by a unintentional process of brain chemicals, but produced deliberately because it is true: but deliberation, the hand of the Creator, is the one thing the materialist model eschews in the accounts of the origin of man.

      • SFAN says:

        (oops, sorry for the possible repetition – It seems I got something on the moderation queue)

      • SFAN says:

        “We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality.” – Albert Einstein

        The funny thing is that all this guessing at what the primitive human condition was so we can dismiss some thought processes as mere survival traits that evolved and so are only useful in a limited context could arguably also be applied to ‘reason’ and its most pragmatic application (of course, this is sort of a circular argument).

        I am not necessarily dismissing ‘reason’ per se here*, I’m merely noting that other explanations of how we are able to think may not have that problem, and I’d rather not go down the post-modern route.
        * although that dovertails with the question of “Has consciousness got any evolutionary advantage”?

        • SFAN says:

          And now I think of it, it has been done, indeed. As an example, allow me to quote at length from Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities:
          “The point is, before intellectual man discovered his delight in facts, the only people who had such a delight were warriors, hunters and merchants, that is to say, the people whose nature it was to be cunning and violent. In the struggle for existence there are no philosophical sentimentalities, but only the wish to kill off one’s opponent by the shortest and most practical method. There everyone is a positivist. Nor would it be a virtue, in commerce, to let oneself be taken in instead of putting one’s trust in solid facts, profit being in the last resort a psychological vanquishing of one’s opponent, arising out of the particular circumstances. However, if one investigates what qualities it is that lead to discoveries, what one finds is freedom from traditional scruples and inhibitions, courage, as much initiative as destructive spirit, the exclusion of moral considerations, patient bargaining for the smallest advantage, dogged endurance on the way to the goal, if necessary, and a veneration for measure and number amounting to the most acute mistrust of all uncertainty; in other words, one sees nothing but the old hunter’s, soldier’s and merchant’s vices, simply transposed into intellectual terms and re-interpreted as virtues. And though by this means they are raised above the urge for personal and comparatively vulgar advantage, yet the element of primal Evil, as it might be called, is something they do not lose even in undergoing this transformation. It is apparently indestructible and eternal, or at least as eternal as everything humanly sublime, since it consists in nothing less, nothing other, than the pleasure of tripping that sublimity up and watching it fall flat on its face. Who does not know the malicious temptation-when contemplating a beautiful glazed vase, all voluptuous curves- that lies in the thought that one could smash it to smithereens with a single blow of one’s stick? Intensified into the heroically bitter realization that one cannot rely on anything in life except what is clinched and riveted, it is a basic emotion enclosed within the soberness of science, and even if, for reasons of respect, one does not want to call it the Devil, the fact remains that it brings with it a faint whiff of brimstone.” (Chap 72)

  14. The OFloinn says:

    Macros.

    The macros of human behavior are two-fold.

    1. Autonomous Nervous System. The knee-jerk, the eye-blink, the operation of the lungs.

    2. The Habits. This is more interesting. Habits (whether personal, cultural, or genetic) “fast-track” our undetermined concepts to one determinate thing. A soldier, astronaut, or athlete drills and trains to instill a physical habit precisely so that when the rubber meets the road he doesn’t have to think about it.

    In the same manner, we drill and train our nature as rational animal precisely to build a second nature, so that we can pursue our passion for the good. Just as physical exercise builds bodily strengths, spiritual exercise builds moral strengths. The Latin for “strength” is virtuus. The strengths of the intellect are: understanding, knowledge, and wisdom. Those of the will are justice, temperance, and courage. The seventh strength is prudence, which is the link between the intellect and the will. If we exercise these diligently, they become the “macros” by which we pursue the good more or less automatically, to the extent that the good is known.

    St. Thomas explains the freedom of the will though the indetermination of the intellect: we choose in virtue of some concept or idea, but our idea is not determined to some one particular, so neither is our choice. Whenever I read debates about “libertarian free will”- or scientific trials that hook up electrodes to a guy’s head to anticipate what he will decide when we tell him to make some random choice- I get the sense that the debaters have a much more elaborate notion of “free will” than St. Thomas had. Who can object to the idea that we act in virtue of concepts that are not sufficiently determined to one result, and so far as this is true, our action is not determined to a result? Do we really need to argue about this? There is a mountain of after-market qualifications we can add to this rather weak account of free will. Habits (which for St. Thomas are any determination of a power, whether this arose from personal, cultural, or genetic origins) certainly play a role in fast-tracking our undetermined concepts to one determinate thing. A good deal of life needs to be simply executed automatically, and so much of our action- probably much more than is worth thinking about- is almost certainly “determined” in the sense of foreseeable by another. Do we really need a brain scan to tell us this? Can’t we figure this out by living with someone for a week?
    “Ramble on free will”

    This is why, as Chastek puts it, when an experimenter tells his subject to “choose one” of several objects or symbols, the presumption of free will is built in: not by use of the word “choose,” but by use of the word “one.” To which particular symbol does “one” refer?

  15. /Standing Ovation

    The discovery that there is an evolved segment of the brain which, when stimulated, creates a sensation of divinity is evidence in favor of rather than against theism. Surely nature would not evolve the structures of an eyeball if we lived in a universe with no light? Likewise, if the brain structures you mention here actually create a feeling of divine imminence rather than merely a genetic euphoric pleasure-sensation, the parsimony of nature should incline us to assume this brain structure serves some real purpose, and does not only serve an hallucinatory purpose.

    Yes, quite true. Sometimes this whole debate sounds to me like this:

    There seems to be a gene in mankind that allows humanity to see the color red.
    A minority of people are born not able to see the color red.
    We cannot prove, scientifically, the color red.
    Therefore, ‘red’ does not exist.

    Somehow, I’ve never been able to follow that logic.

    Oh, speaking of which, I thought you’d laugh at 6 scientific reasons your girlfriend’s father hates you. Mostly because the article falls under either “how is this scientific” and “everybody knew this already”.

  16. There is no separate “universe” floating out there. There is only the Creation held in the hands of the Creator. The world is not but an Act of the Eternal Action.

    Verbiage, prolixity! You are merely playing around with words, which cannot change the math. A “creation held in the hands of a creator” has the same Kolmogorov complexity as a universe with a separate creator; in either case, you need to specify the initial conditions and the laws of the universe, plus an additional term for the creator. If the creator is to be taken as synonymous with the universe itself, then it is no god in any sense I recognise the term; if removing the creator makes no difference, then you’re just playing around with language. And if the creator is not synonymous with the universe, then it has additional complexity.

    • Gigalith says:

      I ask again: How does the consequent add to the complexity? How does a theories implications make the theory more complicated?

      You did not understand my post. The initial terms and conditions of the universe, and even that there is a universe at all, are implied by the Eternal. As Perfect Reason will always choose the same thing, the specifics, such as the speed of light, are implications of Perfect Reason. There is no need to specify the strength of gravity, as Perfect Reason will choose the perfect setting for gravity, or create multiple universes each with their own setting of gravity, or whatever is the perfect conclusion. Do you now understand?

      Also, I don’t think you get what the base of reality being God rather than the universe entails. God is not omnipotent because some physical law says so, physical laws work because God says so. Conceive of the Almighty not as some Being, but a Force from which all others forces come. You will come closer to what I am trying to communicate.

      • Gigalith says:

        On further thought, even my suggested conceptual aid is insufficient.

        Imagine an author reading his book out loud. All the words that are in the book are only there because the author wrote them, they are only resounded in the air because the author says them, and they will only remain in the book at the author’s pleasure.

        The author is in a book relative to us, that of our imaginations, and we are in a book ourselves, that of the universe. If there are metaphysical beings above us, or this is the Matrix, we are in yet another book.

        In the secular world-view, every book is written in a higher book, until at some point we hit a final book, which is the ground floor of Reality.

        In the classical theist world-view, every book is written in a higher book, until at some point we hit a final author, which is the ground floor of Reality.

        The secularist may say: “Well, if that were the case, then the final book is really the book the ‘final’ author lives in, a final universe containing only one denizen. The ultimate law of the ultimate universe is ‘whatever the ultimate author says, goes’ and the set Existance is {G} instead of {Our Universe}.”

        I say: “But if there is a final book, who reads it? Who enforces the ultimate law, such that all lesser ones are bound? What ensures that no usurper assaults our ultimate denizen? What contains the set Existance, or tells that it alone is the true set, and no other has power over us?”

        Or in other words, it’s not that a being exists, it’s that Existance is a Being. You are free to say this makes to sense, for I cannot honestly conceive of it the other way around.

      • You are speaking nonsense dressed up in formality and high language; your description is literally meaningless. Nothing you have said relates to the Kolmogorov complexity of the universe.

        • Gigalith says:

          This is my natural writing style. In that I believe that the world is a work of the Artist, how is it inappropriate for me to talk of it in artistic terms? I do not phrase words as you do, but I do not decry your words because of that.

          I ask yet again: How does, when the theory turns a previous specification into a mere consequent, the complexity of the theory increase?

          If it was discovered that the equations of Quantum Mechanics could be derived from a single, smaller equation, is the new theory more complex than the old? If it is complexer, why should I care about this definition of complexity? If it simpler, then how is a single constant, God, more complex than than C, Omega, the Planck Constant, and all their merry friends?

    • John Hutchins says:

      So if the universe, as a whole, were a self-aware Turing machine you wouldn’t consider it to be a god of sorts? Also, doesn’t your creator being synonymous with the universe itself rule out some of the major world religions? Just exploring your line of reasoning a little.

      Unlike pretty much every other religion on the planet my faith believes that spirit is matter just a very different kind of matter, instead of something immaterial. So going back to your GUT’s I am going to posit that we are nowhere near having a GUT’s that accurately describes the universe and that there are quite likely multiple forces and elementary particles not yet discovered. From descriptions of spirit and my scripture I would venture further that there are particles that interact extremely weakly with normal matter in most circumstances. Not entirely sure how one would go about detecting it though, the scriptural evidence is Doctrine and Covenants 97:16, written May 17, 1843. Also see D&C 93:29-31,33-35 (May 6, 1833) where it says that matter and spirit is eternal and can only be changed in form. If I am understanding everything correctly then this is the only universe that there is and some part of it at least has always existed, in some form and God is part of the equations. You can read those scriptures and tell me if you understand them differently, you are the physicist.

      I will let you deal with the meta-physics and meta-meta-physics of the more orthodox as best you can.

      • John Hutchins says:

        not 97:16, not sure where that came from, 131:7-8 are the correct ones for the first scripture, the date is right though.

      • Gigalith says:

        It would be fair to call an all powerful Turing machine a god. I don’t think it is the optimal God to worship.

        My previous attempts to explain this may appear to espouse some form of Pantheism. They were written late at night, and that is not what I meant.

        I am talking about the First Principle, the guiding rule of a worldview. There is no point in considering arguing against other views without considering their First Principle, first.

        Imagine that all the universe was, and all possible universes must be, a Turing machine, and that is all there was. Then the First Principle would be something like “There are Turing machines.” If the Ultimate Ensemble hypothesis is true, then the First Principle would be “Mathematical objects exist.” If Buddhism is true, then the First Principle is “All is illusory.” or there is no principle at all, depending on your version.

        On further thought, I am using the First Principle as a description, not a prescription. Saying that E=MC^2 because mass and energy work that way is descriptive. Saying mass and energy work that way because of E=MC^2 is prescriptive. Descriptions answer what. Prescriptions answer how. Neither answers why.

        I hold God to be the descriptive, prescriptive, why-answering First Principle. The Great I AM is why the Great I AM is.

        On to the Hands of the Creator comment:

        Though Creation and Creator are distinct, Creation has no independent existence away from God. In that it pleases Him, it is, and were that did not please Him, it would never have been. Therefore, Creation is to be understood in terms of being Created by God, and God, rightly understood, implies Creation.

        • John Hutchins says:

          Most of my response was towards Dr. Andreassen, not you perhaps should have been clearer on that. He was the one that said that a universe as god is not god. I understand that you were not actually arguing for pantheism, the major world religion comment was more directed at certain understandings of Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as possibly Taoism and many new age pagan viewpoints.

      • When I said ‘synonymous’, I meant indistinguishable from the material parts. A self-aware, conscious universe is distinguishable from a non-conscious one. That said, it’s not of course clear that such a universe would necessarily be a god in any traditional sense of the word; the mere largeness of the material substrate ought not to impress. If it does not intervene in human affairs – even minimally, that is, to the extent of providing an afterlife – then it may be an interesting fact about the universe, but I would not call it a god. I note further that a conscious universe doesn’t have to be able to influence the movements of galaxies, any more than you can deliberately move the electrons in your brain around.

  17. Under the materialistic model, there is no necessary reason to assume the universe is something human beings can understand. It may be the case that it is, but it may not be.

    Point of order: Do humans in fact understand the universe? We have a bunch of useful tricks, certainly. But the Standard Model is, honestly, a mess; and there does not seem to be great progress on uniting it with general relativity. It may be that humans, in fact, can’t understand the universe, but can find some nice tricks that enable us to kill our enemies and get lots of bananas. Perhaps you ought to define what you mean by “understanding the universe” before building arguments on it?

    That said, you have the causality backwards. A materialistic universe will (if it supports intelligent life at all) give rise to creatures that can understand it – using ‘understand’ in the sense of ‘find useful tricks’. In this universe, that’s humans. In a universe incomprehensible to humans, it would be some other type of reasoner. To say “humans can understand the universe – such a coincidence” is the good old puddle argument in a new guise; “This bump in the road”, says the puddle of water, “is perfectly shaped to fit me, and no other puddle! A miracle – it must have been created especially for me!”

    All you are doing here is invoking the Magic Darwin Fairies again: you assert that finding a correct model of the universe has some survival value.

    Again, what do you mean by ‘understand’? Finding useful tricks is, by construction, useful! The part of the brain that does mathematical reasoning originally did kinematics for stone-throwing and tree-brachiating primates; that this is adaptable to arithmetic and math is perhaps a coincidence, but it doesn’t seem a very deep one. This universe is describable in a particular form of mathematics, consequently creatures that can do reasonable approximations to that math have an advantage. Your Oxfordian astronomer is a straw man; I’m speaking of the ability of a hunter-gatherer to feel where his spear will land.

    The explanation you offer does not seem to explain what is intended to be explained: if the brain is just a machine produced by the trial and error of unintentional mechanical processes, and if the rule for a successful trial is survival of the fittest and the reproduction of the species, there is no reason to believe than any model or belief we have, including the belief that A is A, has any truth value or reflects or corresponds to anything behind the material appearances of the cosmos. All we can say is that in this go round of trial and error, the random mix of brain chemicals has proved useful, not for any human use, but for the use of surviving and reproducing. ‘A is A’ might fail the next round of trials.

    Yes, if you deny that the universe contains objective truth! But material objects genuinely do behave with regularity; there is an objective truth about them to be discovered. Thus a model such as ‘A is A’ is useful because it is true.

    In order to make the argument we would have to say that ‘A is A’ is the only possible belief that can pass the trials, and that it is not produced by a unintentional process of brain chemicals, but produced deliberately because it is true: but deliberation, the hand of the Creator, is the one thing the materialist model eschews in the accounts of the origin of man.

    This is simply a misunderstanding, or mis-representation, of materialism. Materialism does not make a distinction between what you call random chemicals, and deliberation; the movement of the chemicals is the process that a conscious being feels as deliberation. Your distinction is a false one.

    Observe that your Platonic separation of matter and thought has a problem: It does not explain why the thoughts exactly match what the matter is doing, or vice-versa. That is, when I decide to throw a rock, my arm moves and the rock is thrown; but since thought cannot move matter, you require a miracle to explain the concordance. The materialist explanation has a similar problem. It does away with yours by saying that the movement is the thought, but then has the problem of explaining how consciousness arises from matter which, intuitively (and wrongly) seems very different.

    These problems are parallel but not identical. I suggest, however, that the materialist problem is much more amenable to investigation, since it asserts a strong connection between matter and thought, and we know how to affect matter. Thus, we may one day learn how consciousness arises from matter, in the sense of being able to explain that such-and-such a configuration of atoms has a consciousness of this kind, and if you move them like so it is angry, and if you twist that one it becomes a Ghibelline, and so on. Your insubstantial spirits offer no such possibility.

    • I said, “Under the materialistic model, there is no necessary reason to assume the universe is something human beings can understand. It may be the case that it is, but it may not be.”

      You said, “Do humans in fact understand the universe? We have a bunch of useful tricks, certainly. …It may be that humans, in fact, can’t understand the universe, but can find some nice tricks that enable us to kill our enemies and get lots of bananas.”

      Stripped of the condescending metaphor likening all human accomplishments to banana-getting, your statement in support of the materialistic model seems to confirm that what I said about the materialist model. The fact that the planets move according to a few, simple, elegant and beautiful laws is, for example, to the materialist, a lucky coincidence, or a mystery.

      I said, “All you are doing here is invoking the Magic Darwin Fairies again: you assert that finding a correct model of the universe has some survival value.”

      You said that by ‘understand’ you mean finding a useful trick. You then say “Finding useful tricks is, by construction, useful!”

      Deducing the motions of the stars and planets according to the Ptolemaic or Newtonian model is useful, but Newtonian’s PRINCIPIA is not an genetically inherited trait. There is no immediate practical application to the knowledge of the procession of Mercury brought about by Einstein’s relativity: nevertheless I understand it, hence the word understand means, in common parlance, something other than utility. Hence, your assertions fail on two counts: (1) Not everything understood is useful (2) not everything useful is a trait favored by natural selection.

      You say, “Yes, if you deny that the universe contains objective truth! But material objects genuinely do behave with regularity; there is an objective truth about them to be discovered. Thus a model such as ‘A is A’ is useful because it is true.”

      I deny that materialism can give a coherent account of where truth exists in the universe, or why men just so happen to know it, or even whether men can know it.

      My reasoning goes this way: 1. Materialism asserts that all things are matter; 2. matter is measurable magnitudes in extension, and can be expressed in terms of mass and length, duration, candlepower, temperature, etc.; 3. meaning has neither measurable magnitude nor extension, and cannot be expressed in terms of mass and length, duration, candlepower, temperature, etc.; 4. therefore if materialism is true, there is no meaning in reality. 5. “Meaning” includes signs, ideas, statements, representations, and everything that symbolizes a referent. 6. Only signs and ideas can have the following relation between symbol and referent: true or false, insightful or misleading, valid or invalid. 7. Therefore if materialism is true, there are no symbols and no ideas in the universe, and hence no truth. Materialism does not imply that all thoughts are false–materialism implies that thoughts do not exist at all, because no symbols of any kind exist. The theory of Materialism, if true, proves that all theories (including the theory of materialism) are meaningless, neither true nor false. Which is a self-contradiction.

      (And I think your example is misplaced. “A is A” is the principle is self-identity in formal logic, it is not the principle that material objects behave with “regularity”. Regularity in turn is a category of thought, that is, a symbolic relation, such as cause and effect, between discrete events. A is A is an abstract description of the process of logic, having no utility outside of philosophical discussions. It neither overcomes enemies nor gets bananas.)

      “Observe that your Platonic separation of matter and thought has a problem…That is, when I decide to throw a rock, my arm moves and the rock is thrown; but since thought cannot move matter, you require a miracle to explain the concordance.”

      Sorry, is this comment directed at me? I am not sure if I have a Platonic separation of thought and matter. I have been saying that thought and matter are two dimensions of one reality, related to each other as the meaning of a letter is related to the shape and color of the ink-shape that represents or stands for or manifests it.

      Or, if you like, the relation of mind to matter is the relation of form to matter. An “ice cube” both has the substance of frozen water and the shape of the cube, and this is neither a coincidence nor a miracle. To me, talking about discovering the content or meaning of thought “inside” the matter that represents thought is like talking about finding shape of the ice cube in the temperature and fluid properties of the water: it cannot be done.

      Your assertion that thoughts cannot move muscles seems to be an arbitrary assertion. I would say that this is a primary datum. It is also a something of a straw man, unless you want to define all life as a miracle.

      “I suggest, however, that the materialist problem is much more amenable to investigation, since it asserts a strong connection between matter and thought, and we know how to affect matter. Thus, we may one day learn how consciousness arises from matter, in the sense of being able to explain that such-and-such a configuration of atoms has a consciousness of this kind, and if you move them like so it is angry, and if you twist that one it becomes a Ghibelline, and so on. Your insubstantial spirits offer no such possibility.”

      Forgive me, but since there is nothing outside of love potions in fairy stories which allowed a person could be turned from a Guelph into a Ghibelline merely by twitching matter one way or the other, rather than by convincing a him to support the Emperor as opposed to the Pope, I would suggest that the fact that your model allows for the possibility is its most obvious drawback.

      I also suggest your chain of reasoning is backward. You reason that 1. The content and meaning of thoughts can be reduced to a material cause; 2. Therefore changing the matter can not only disarrange or damage thoughts, changing matter can alter the content or meaning of thoughts; 3. Therefore man can one day be reduced to subhuman robot slaves by the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments, and the humanity of man be abolished.

      Indeed, humanity is already abolished and just not aware of it yet, because humanity never existed, since we all already merely meat machines and always have been, robot slaves brain-programmed by blind nature rather than by the N.I.C.E.

      My reasoning is that 1. the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments are characters in a fairy tale; 2. Because changing matter cannot alter the content or meaning of thoughts, it can only (through intoxication) damage or disarrange them; 3. Because the content and meaning of thoughts cannot be reduced to material causes, even hypothetically.

      If we were a robot slave programmed by blind nature we could not become aware of that idea nor of any other ideas since neither ideas nor awareness would exist, nor, if they existed, would they have any meaning.

      • Crude says:

        “I suggest, however, that the materialist problem is much more amenable to investigation, since it asserts a strong connection between matter and thought, and we know how to affect matter. Thus, we may one day learn how consciousness arises from matter, in the sense of being able to explain that such-and-such a configuration of atoms has a consciousness of this kind, and if you move them like so it is angry, and if you twist that one it becomes a Ghibelline, and so on. Your insubstantial spirits offer no such possibility.”

        I’ve seen this sort of comment repeatedly on this site. I’ve quietly waited for someone – John C. Wright, The OFlinn, or anyone else – to ask what I’m about to ask, and I’m perplexed why (unless I missed something) no one has yet. Here goes.

        If “such and such a configuration of atoms” is “about” something, it’s either “about” in some intrinsic or extrinsic way. It’s either “original intentionality” (rock bottom, just-has-this-meaning/intentionality/aboutness), or it’s “derived” (subjective, applied by us, the way I can make the combination of letters yhtyanc ‘mean something’.)

        If it’s the latter – if the meaning, the aboutness, the intentionality is “derived” – then of course the explanation means diddly. It’s just a meaning you’re assigning, not discovering. You can do it right now if you want – “such and such brain pattern means angry, as far as I’m concerned”. Also, don’t step on the floor – the floor is lava.

        If it’s the former – matter of such-and-such configuration “really means” angry, or “really is” determinately a thought or belief about X or Y or Z – then, according to my meager knowledge, materialism this ain’t. It’s closer to thomism, or a broad Aristotileanism. John C. Wright has in the past mentioned how there is a divide between the physical and the mental – the ‘physical’ comprises charge and mass, etc, while mental comprises aboutness and thought and emotion, etc. I suppose someone could make the move of insisting that, no, aboutness and thought and emotions are rock-bottom constituents of the physical too (maybe ‘consciousness’ is too, as some panpsychists argue). But that seems far less like “arguing for materialism” as opposed to expanding “materialism” to mean ‘whatever is necessary to explain things’.

        As an aside, I’ll note that it’s been called into question whether we really do “understand the universe” – that we just have “useful tricks”. Fair enough – but in that case, it’s an open question whether we understand “matter” too. What is this ‘matter’ stuff I hear so much about? What is its nature? (Does it have any?) I’ve noted before with amusement that the meaning of “physical” has been cracked so wide open that now “panpsychism” qualifies as such, but there’s something downright odd about skepticism that humans really “understand the universe”, and then this seeming certainty that we damn well understand “matter”.

      • Joshua_D says:

        For some reason, I have this eerie feeling that writing poetry is going to brought up soon.

      • Tom in Arizona says:

        Really it was a tossup whether Robert J Wizard or I did it, but…sigh…let me explain the difference between the Aristotelian concept of forms, and the Platonic one. I seem to recall Mr. Wright said he’s a Thomist, so that’d be the idea he’s using. So, I know Andreasson must be having fun jeering at his straw dualist, but unfortunately, nobody here is one.

        Plato’s conception of forms is known as “hyper-realism”, because each individual thing is considered to be only an imperfect reflection of its form, and the form (or identity) is the only truly real thing. In the Neo-Platonists this idea is taken to its logical extreme, and becomes emanationist pantheism.

        Aristotle’s, on the other hand, is “mitigated realism”: though there is such a thing as a form (or, again, identity)—the sentence “A is A” is actually true—forms, or at least most forms, have no existence except when an individual thing is participating in them. That is, there is such a thing as “gray”, but it’s only real, only actual, when some particular object is gray. Now there may be exceptions; some things, like math, are true even if they cannot apply to any existent thing (one need not be a Platonist to assert that).

        The Thomist formula for that is, “The soul is the form [or identity] of the body.” Body self dualism? Nope. Ghost in the machine? Nope. The afterlife, as five minutes with the Summa would’ve shown, is regarded as miraculous (since, again, forms aren’t supposed to have any actual existence without the thing they’re the form of)—that’d be why Objectivists don’t believe in it. Ghost in the Shell? Overrated, and not as good as Appleseed, by the same author.

        I trust we’ll have no further spurious accusations of body-self dualism? Mr. Wright is a mitigated realist, also known as a hylomorphist; there are criticisms possible, but as long as Andreasson keeps jeering at this strawman of Platonic/Cartesian dualism, he’s going to keep missing the mark.

  18. golf says:

    A quibble:
    Capitalism is not “selfish”, nor is the practice of it “selfish”. It is simply private ownership of property and the means of economic production and distribution as opposed to the government class owning all. Nor is ownership of the means of all economic production and distribution by the political/government class “unselfish”. Capitalism is simply a mechanism by which economic production and distribution is most efficiently achieved. What is then DONE with their accumulated wealth becomes a “selfish” problem in the hearts of the owners. In a truly free market (not living by the sword of the state and trusting in the Lord), with no political-government gang to “regulate” competition with wealth holders by upstarts (as there currently is in banking, healthcare, education, the auto industry, etc.)there would be a far more equitable wealth distribution and economic opportunity for all. This classification of capitalism as “selfish” and communism (which must include the presence of that mythical more-equal state ruling class that never, EVER “withers away”) as “unselfish” is itself a popular myth.
    Otherwise, excellent points.

    • You miss my irony, dear sir or maam. What I was giving above was an example of an argument so lax and so lazy that no one can be convinced by it. Calling capitalism or a tendency toward capitalism a genetically inheritable trait on the grounds that capitalism is selfish and selfishness is blessed by magic Darwin Fairies to aid reproduction is just as simplistic, silly, arbitrary, tin-eared, slack-jawed, empty-headed, cross-eyed, nose-drooling of an argument as to say that religion or a tendency toward religion is a genetically inheritable trait on the grounds that religion is superstition and superstition is blessed by magic Darwin fairies to defeat sexual rivals, find food, and father many broods of children. It is foetid nonsense on stilts.

      So, yes, I agree, the nonsense on stilts I was using as an example of nonsense on stilts is indeed nonsensical.

    • The OFloinn says:

      Saving only that both capitalism (greed) and socialism (envy) imagine people as merely economic animals. In any case, capitalism meant the husbanding and use of capital. When it fell, it did not fall so socialism, but to consumerism (gluttony). None of these things, in moderation and informed by Christian charity, need be evil.

  19. wrf3 says:

    I’m very late to this party and, as I’m reading top down, I may make some comments that have already been made. If so, my apologies.

    John wrote: From this, it is illegitimate to conclude that some of us (the theists) have a superstition gene that makes us superstitious, whereas others of us (the Brights) lack that gene.

    This is back to the nature vs. nurture debate which I don’t have the intellect to solve. However, there is evidence that defects in brain structures can lead to non-teleological thinking; see here for a discussion of how people with Asperger’s are affected.

    John also wrote: The first basic criticism is that any belief or conclusion of any kind whatsoever can be asserted to possibly be of some direct or indirect use to Darwinian survival of the fittest.

    Robert Axelrod has a fascinating book, The Evolution of Cooperation, which I’ve just started reading, that claims to show otherwise. He promises to discuss the biological evolution of cooperation in a chapter that I haven’t yet gotten to.

    Again, John, The third basic characteristic is that religion in and of itself is not a trait leading to the survival of the fittest and the spread of one’s genes through many offspring.

    This depends on the religion, doesn’t it? Teleological thinking (the first link) combined with principles of cooperation (the second link), might very well lead to the survival of the fittest. To your point that “(Indeed, the religions of the world by and large are dead set against the natural impulses which might otherwise lead men to adultery and murder and theft, lust and wrath and covetousness.)“, what these strictures have in common is the denial of self-interest in order to promote altruistic behavior, i.e. cooperation with the many.

    Myself, I have never heard the “religion is a mental error that (thanks to Magic Darwin Fairies) is (1) inheritable and (2) creates an advantage in survival and reproductive strategies” theory advanced for any other purpose than to hold faith up to scorn: it is a theory too simplistic to account for the thing being described, albeit, of course, not too simplistic to mock the thing being described.

    Take out “mental error” and this might very well be a true statement. But, if so, I think the atheists will end up regretting it. Our morality is driven by the goal creation and goal seeking “circuitry” in our brains. We call something that leads to a goal state “good,” and something that leads away from a goal state “bad.” A goal state is itself good or bad only in relation to other goal states. Once a goal state is identified, then “ought” arises — it’s simply whatever gets to that goal state. A common goal state will result in common oughts. What’s interesting is that both Scripture and Nature share a common goal: “be fruitful and multiply” is the same as “reproduce.” Long story short, if there is a God (and there is), then what He revealed in Scripture will be consistent with what is revealed in Nature. If Christianity is true (and I think it is), then I think we can show much of it to be true through science. Sam Harris, for example, is trying to show how science can inform morality. He’s terribly wrong in practice even though I think he’s right in principle (although I’m not yet ready to completely reveal the ingredients to my “secret sauce”).

    I could deal with De Camp’s argument, as it’s hideously flawed, but I’ll save that for another time.

    RA wrote, The tendency to attribute events to purpose (I wish English had a single word for this)…
    It’s “teleology”.

    RA also wrote, 1-A finite universe created by a single, simple, immaterial being.
    2-A finite universe.

    I think you’re going about this the wrong way, because you are treating the “finite universe” and a “single [simple] immaterial being” as two distinct things. When John writes a story, which is more complex, his mind without the story or his mind with the story? The story is simply a part of the complexity existing in John’s mind. It isn’t an additive property.

    I see that I have a lot more comments to go through, and this has become long enough.

    • John Hutchins says:

      The Aspergers thing is interesting. This is by no means scientific but everyone I know with Aspergers is highly religious. The primary reason for not being scientific is that almost everyone I know with Aspergers went to BYU and the others I know through my church as well, so totally not representative of anything (self-selection bias). Although, it does indicate that having Aspergers and being religious are not mutually exclusive as the article seems to be trying to imply.

      • wrf3 says:

        Being “religious” and exhibiting “teleological thinking” aren’t necessarily the same thing. It may be that the Mormon’s you know who have Asperger’s are using church to add structure and community to their lives, without the accompanying mental process of seeing a “higher purpose” to things. But I don’t know. This would be fascinating follow up research. One of the things that terrifies me as a parent was having my kids grow up in church, since it’s so easy to wear a mask — to act religious without being religious.

    • wrf3 says:

      Regarding Axelrod’s book, on pgs. 22-23 he writes, Based upon the tournament results {of the iterated “Prisoner’s Dilemma” — wrf3} and the formal propositions, four simple suggestions are offered for individual choice: do not be envious of other player’s success; do not be the first to defect; reciprocate both cooperation and defection; and do not be too clever.”

      Am I the only one who hears echoes of “You shall not covet,” “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” “An eye for an eye…”? As to not being too clever, I think he just means “keep it simple, stupid”, which reminds me of Paul’s admonition of simplicity of devotion to Christ.

      Now, certainly, that’s a long way from naturalistic evolution to Christianity, but I also haven’t shown all my cards.

      Earlier, I said that the atheists may regret what naturalistic evolution may, in fact, very well show. By that, consider how we look to nature’s “designs” that often outperform even our best technology. My thesis is that Christianity is nature’s ultimate survival strategy. If so, then the militant atheists, in trying to eradicate Christianity, are actually working against the very survival of our species. The irony would be just too delicious.

      • “Am I the only one who hears echoes of “You shall not covet,” “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” “An eye for an eye…”? As to not being too clever, I think he just means “keep it simple, stupid”, which reminds me of Paul’s admonition of simplicity of devotion to Christ.

        Now, certainly, that’s a long way from naturalistic evolution to Christianity, but I also haven’t shown all my cards.”

        Odd that you mention game theory as a type of evolution of a moral code. I wrote a paper in college on the topic of how the game theory analysis of possible legal codes had to lead to certain basic moral or legal principles.

        It is a long way from naturalistic evolution, since game theory is a matter of logic. One could argue (as I did in that paper) that certain basic principles of law and morality were matters of pure reason, that any reasonable thinker no matter where situate would have to reach, if he were honest and objective.

        So the universality of certain moral principles throughout human history and across different cultures and cults could be due to the universality of logic rather than a similarity of genetic codes.

        • wrf3 says:

          Odd that you mention game theory as a type of evolution of a moral code. I wrote a paper in college on the topic of how the game theory analysis of possible legal codes had to lead to certain basic moral or legal principles.
          That might make an interesting read… Perhaps you’ll consider making it available?

          So the universality of certain moral principles throughout human history and across different cultures and cults could be due to the universality of logic rather than a similarity of genetic codes.
          I’m not ready to agree to this hypothesis, since logic just processes data — it doesn’t set the initial conditions. Morality is what we call goal creation and goal seeking behavior (we really need a discipline of cybertheology). What we call “good” are nodes in a graph that are on a path toward a goal state; what we call bad are nodes in a graph that lead toward a non-goal state. Moral principles, then, are those which lead to one or more goal states. Similar goal states will generally lead to similar moral principles. Christianity and evolutionary biology share a common goal state: “reproductive success” aka “be fruitful and multiply”.

          • “That might make an interesting read… Perhaps you’ll consider making it available?”

            Father Time has consumed it beyond recall. It was written by a juvenile on a juvenile level: the basic idea is that there is an economic efficiency involved in centralizing the retaliation of scattered homesteaders into one central prince or “leviathan.” Endless difficulties and feuds avoided by organizing retaliation for murder, theft, and fraud into a coherent, objective, and public system, rather than relying on personal vigilante work.

            I am afraid cannot agree with your characterization of morality as a goal seeking behavior best described as nodes leading toward goal states: indeed, I do not disagree with it either, I merely cannot follow your jargon. You seem to be describing the form of any human action whatsoever, and leaving out the matter or substance which distinguishes moral quandaries from mere calculation of how to achieve a sought good.

            If I prefer pie to cake, going to the pastry shop and ordering a pie is a node of goal seeking behavior, but there is no moral quandary involved. We could introduce a moral quandary, but only by changing the matter or substance of the contemplated action. Unless I ask whether my pie eating is an act of gluttony, or whether I should save my pie and give it to the poor, or whether it is right for me to steal as opposed to purchase the pie, the proper ordering of my pie eating desires, and so on and so forth, then no moral questions are present.

            • wrf3 says:

              … the basic idea is that there is an economic efficiency involved in centralizing the retaliation of scattered homesteaders into one central prince or “leviathan.”
              This is a bit different from the way it was originally presented. “Economic efficiency” was posited as a “good”, and then you used logic to show how to get to that good; instead of the other way around — using the laws of logic to derive a “good”.

              I am afraid cannot agree with your characterization of morality as a goal seeking behavior best described as nodes leading toward goal states: indeed, I do not disagree with it either, I merely cannot follow your jargon.
              Each profession has its jargon. I try to explain it in The Mechanics of Morality.

              You seem to be describing the form of any human action whatsoever, and leaving out the matter or substance which distinguishes moral quandaries from mere calculation of how to achieve a sought good.
              The moral quandary comes from having competing goals and trying to decide between them.

              If I prefer pie to cake, going to the pastry shop and ordering a pie is a node of goal seeking behavior, but there is no moral quandary involved. We could introduce a moral quandary, but only by changing the matter or substance of the contemplated action. Unless I ask whether my pie eating is an act of gluttony, or whether I should save my pie and give it to the poor, or whether it is right for me to steal as opposed to purchase the pie, the proper ordering of my pie eating desires, and so on and so forth, then no moral questions are present.
              In practice, that’s almost never true, since the steps to acquire the goal also invoke goal seeking behavior. Should I walk to the shop and get some exercise? Should I just call them, and save gasoline? And so on. In practice, we constantly deal with multiple competing goals.

  20. SFAN says:

    I am reminded of Julian Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind…

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