Rabid Atheists


Giulio from Turing Church

Hi Giulio,

I agree with much you have written, and not all.

I hold life and liberty as my highest values, in that order; and part of valuing life is questioning and testing everything.

In 1978, when I returned to university after a couple of years of running a business, I restarted the university branch of the humanist society. About a dozen people joined, and we used to often visit Christian groups for discussion. Most often I found myself siding with the Christians as they were being more humanist than many of my supposed humanist companions, who were, for the most part, more interested in ideological righteousness than in honouring individual humans and their liberty to think and to judge for themselves.

I usually mounted a strong argument for both freedom and active skepticism, and the diversity that must logically follow from that.

In my reading of the bible (and I have read it, cover to cover, and some bits many times) the story of Jesus goes something like this. A kid raised in his religious culture sees the hypocrisy of the established religious bureaucracy, goes out in the desert for a bit, contemplates things, decides that individual life and individual liberty are about the greatest things there are, and comes back and starts saying so (defying his religious culture in the process), and does so within the dominant explanatory framework of his time (god).

Now since then, the Roman empire picked up the story, modified it a bit here and there, over time, to deliver an effective tool for political control, and something of the original seems to remain.

For me, Dawkins is far more accurate than any theologian, and he is perhaps a bit too strident to communicate effectively to most. We disagree on style, but very little on content.

As to warfare etc, that seems a rather simple matter of games theory in action, as per Axlerod et al.

Human beings seem to be a highly evolved, highly cooperative species, and we all have two major strategy sets at the base of our genetic strategic toolkit.

If there is enough for all in our group, then we can be highly cooperative, and punishing of cheats, and our group does very well as a result.

If there is genuine scarcity (such as major famine due to volcanism or crop plague etc), then we can be highly competitive to ensure personal survival in those most difficult of circumstances. The more threat we perceive, the smaller the size of group we are likely to feel cooperative towards.

The probability functions around how we tend to act towards others are very much determined by our intuitive understanding of the degree of scarcity and risk present. The greater the risk, the greater the probability of competitive rather than cooperative behaviour. This is all fairly basic stuff from games theory.

Evolution seems to operate recursively.

On the genetic level it seems to operate at the molecular level, at the cellular level, at the organism level, at the population level, and at the ecosystem level, all simultaneous, and over deep time.

On the cultural level, again it seems to operate recursively at many levels, from the narrowest sense of the nuclear family to tribe, to local district, to wider region, to wider and wider groups. And within those it can operate at other levels, at the level of groups within groups, churches, sports clubs, schools, schools of thought, disciplines, trading groups, political groups, etc.

And in all of that complexity, there is this fundamental tension between the tendency of any individual brain to switch between fundamentally cooperative, to fundamentally competitive behaviour, and of course there is a full spectrum in between.

So yes, most people do respect most other people, if they are feeling reasonably secure.
And the more insecure people are, the more likely they are to adopt competitive (non-cooperative) strategies (at every level).

Then there is the whole dimension of the degree to which people are willing to question assumptions is strongly correlated to the degree to which they have the free time and social freedom to think about and speak about such questions. In that respect, I strongly align with Dawkins that the tendency of organised religions to prevent discussion of such questions (heresy) is a major factor against the continuance of any religion with such a notion.

It seems to me that the very notions of truth and causality are illusions in a very real sense. Truth may exist, and all the indications we have from both quantum mechanics and logic are that we can have no certainty that what we use as operant principles are accurate correlates to how reality is.
It seems clear that all knowledge is fundamentally heuristic knowledge at base – a sort of best guess at some level. In this sense, any sort of absolute certainty is an indicator of hubris.

And it seems clear to me that the concept of god is a reasonable heuristic for people who do not have either the time or interest for a deep investigation of the physics, chemistry, and patterns of life, or the deep study of mathematics and logic.

There is a certain comfort in the certainty of god that is not available from the eternal uncertainty of continual questioning, and evolution seems to have disposed us to prefer comfort over discomfort – which was certainly a useful trait over most of our history to date, and perhaps not so utilitarian in our exponentially changing present and near future.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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