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Posts Tagged ‘enlightenment’

This is a rewritten version of an earlier post –

These three phenomena cover a wide array of activities and beliefs but share the same broad sense that they break away from what could be considered to be ‘natural’ and move towards trying to produce or support events that cannot be explained unless there is an unsupported theory behind the curtain. They use a selection of common defences in order to make sure of their own continuation, these are claims that are often made outside of the sorts of other logic and reasoning that perhaps every other part of our lives are subjected to. If I were to claim that I was in fact the best stock broker in the world (I know that in these times of financial melt down that most likely is not a difficult claim to make) then you would expect me too to back it up with at least something. If however, I were to claim to have the ability to speak to a family member of yours who has died, if I were really good at reading you and had been through some sort of education which might include Barnum statements & showmanship, I could actually make you believe that I was doing it. Based not on my actual ability but because you are vulnerable (primed even) and you were brought up in a society where even the slight possibility of these things being real means something to you! These three things which I will refer to as general superstitions rely on at least these five common defences that have to be in place or they will simply fail. There are two wider questions; are such superstitions true (the answer is no) and why do they even exist at all, of course these have very complex answers. Part of the reason behind this post was a promotional video for the Centre of Inquiry which describes superstition as ‘uneducated answers’ and how science makes it possible to have educated ones. Still I think it should go further; superstitions are failures in reasoning, as René Descartes promoted – reason & rationality are the sources of truth and the guarantors of progress.

Read the rest of the post here: http://www.rationalunderstanding.co.uk/superstition/the-common-defences-used-by-superstitions-religion-and-sometimes-conspiracy-theories-rational-thinking-pushed-aside/

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There is an old Irish saying, religion is the superstition of fools and I cannot help but think that should be religion is the religion of fools! I will give religion one point though, not that I’m actually keeping a record of points awarded or anything, at least for the most part it is perhaps a clearer distinction to where certain thoughts or behaviour come from, this is certainly not as clear when you consider luck for example. That is to say if you hate gay people then it comes completely justifiable once the understanding of a religious belief becomes apparent, even though such a position is easy rejected under the broad label of a modern society. If you believe some things are lucky and others are not, then it’s a little more difficult to see the thought process that has gone on in order for that to be justifiable to anyone especially to those that believe it. I think that I will start off with Superstitions since under my own broad definition this includes Luck, horoscopes, homeopathic medicine, anyone that argues they can speak to the dead, faith healers, Reiki, card reading and anything that can come up along those lines. I want to argue that these things have never been proven to work, at all, from what I hear people argue it works as there is a kind of feeling that it does. Rather than simply putting my focus in to that, I want to answer the question of what harm these things can do and the investment which is placed within these superstitions. In general I am not celebrating despair, rather extreme levels of hope which can be achieved by removing these things from people’s minds. If anyone points the finger at me saying that I am trying to remove their hope I wish to comment that this is not the case, there are real benefits to abandonment and also real empowerment to be taken back from both superstitions & religion.
www.blacksunjournal.com

I like this analogy; if you go and get health care treatment in America and increasingly in Western European countries as well, once your condition is found out the burden of deciding on treatment is pushed back to the person who is ill, this is not the issue of consent which should always happen unless it is agree that you no longer can give it, it is a list of treatments that you can pick. This comes from the fear that doctors or hospitals might be sued if they get things wrong and you suffer in this event. This might sound really good, still consider who is more likely to make mistakes a doctor with at least 7 years of training who is at heart a professional or a sick person who knows next to nothing about medicine? It might seem an empowering notion to go through after all what is bad about choice, nothing and it does give the ill person a sense that they are in control of the situation. Even so you can see why this is illogical and perhaps wrong; a doctor who might make a mistake is always in a better position to make decisions than a sick person who is more than likely completely unaware of what is involved in the medical treatments offered. It is these supernatural things that create their own inbuilt despair as the same thing is happening, things like Reiki, faith healers and homeopathy give people who are ill or suffering the feeling of control over their own lives, still do we ever consider the possibility that an ill person is no good at deciding what one of these treatments will be best for them? Who is to say that Reiki will work and faith healing will not. This might seem like an overlaboured point to make but it is not as empowerment and control is so important to us. This leads me to the next objection; the level of hope that is given to people by these superstitious treatments often falls short of expectation, so they create despair often. Richard Dawkins puts this best by saying that people in India are choosing scientific medical treatment over useless superstitious treatments in overwhelming numbers, mean while in the west we are stuck in the reverse!

There is no evidence to suggest luck, horoscopes, homeopathy, Reiki or the other things ever work or are real reflections of the world. If these things are not based on truth, then it is perfectly possible to reduce them down to personal feelings and ‘I thinks’, this is a move towards the metaphysical. There is no evidence to suggest that someone’s metaphysical feelings are real, you might have really strong personal feelings that black people should not share the same space as you, that is just racist and if we end up deciding what is true based on our personal feelings then to me that is just a judgement call and ultimately dangerous to us all. The human brain is an amazing inability to decide what is true or not. Let’s take the case of 9/11 where almost 3000 Americans died, this is sad and deserves our action in every way. Only three days later, exactly to the minute after these attacks 3,300 Americans had died as a direct result of cigarettes, a further 1,100 would die every single day for the rest of the year (Chris Jordan). Since these terrorist attacks the American budget for health care has been reduced in real terms and homeland security has been increased by a significant amount, even though if a small percent of the homeland security budget was direct at healthcare prevention it could save more people. Of course we must stop terrorists, I am not suggesting we don’t, still is an example of how sometimes we can worry more about the things that are not really all that much of a threat to us. We think that smoking cigarettes is a choice, it might be in the start but often turns out to be an addiction, still we assume that it is controllable thus making it a safe known rather than perhaps an unsafe unknown. We have an error in our understanding when it comes to threats to safety of ourselves and the people we care about. In order to remove judgement from within our personal feelings we must check science and in order to remove errors in our understanding, even at national level, we must come to understand what logic is showing us – these create true things unlike personal feelings!

I use the word investment when we are talking about superstitions; this describes the situation the best since I don’t think that you walk into these superstitions not giving up things, this could be time, energy, money or your mental ability to cope in a rational way. Please keep in mind the idea of truth when I talk about these things here. When I talk about luck, I assume that most people do things that they hope will result in good things happening to them still when they don’t do these things it can often result in changes in thoughts, behaviour and a great deal of anxiety. The loss we make is great, we change our thoughts with the end result being irrational thinking, we change our behaviour as a result making us do things that are not justifiable and if we put our hope into something that is not true how can it be anything other than despair. Let’s go to Reiki for example, the process where someone puts their hands over your body and it heals you magically, people put time and often money, our hopes and often ill people go there in order to receive treatment. I think it is dishonest to say that you can treat someone when there is no evidence that you can, it scares me that someone can do Reiki who could possibly not be going through proven treatment or spending the time & money into going for a nice massage that would make their life better without the false hope. Of course both luck and Reiki can provide us with something but at what cost to ourselves. All these things chip away at the thing we call science and that will harm everyone in the end, you move the mind set away from the logic and towards the irrational. If you think that computers, vaccines, antibiotics, Cognitive behavioural treatments, MIR scans, X-ray scanners either at airports that keep you safe or at hospitals, possible fusion energy in the future, gene therapy, disease, chemical & infection control and much more are not only useful but saving people’s lives every single day, then how can you reject what all these things that are based on rational and reasoned thinking. To accept superstitious rubbish is the full face rejection of science, there is one proven thing that has improved & saved the lives of millions of people – science. There is nothing that as caused more suffering and death than superstition, and this brings me to the biggest one of all time, Religion!

www.issr.org.ukReligion is not based on the hope that there is a supernatural being rather extreme fear that there is not, with the wish that belief is not wasted. Religious people see the same evidence that God is not real as the rest of us; still it suits their needs to promote the irrational idea, it is indeed a real problem and why should anyone settle for this? Either you make the decision to give your life, mind or often death over to someone else or you do not. The debate should never be about morality or the evidence that a certain religion is either right or wrong, the evidence is clear for all to see. Focus should be on the implications of belief, we should not be scared into religion since it is our only hope in explaining things, I even reject this idea, it ends up explaining very little. If the result of belief is anything negative then it must answer for this, many people claim to be good Christians unless you are homophobic, racist and don’t agree with the idea of women’s rights then you are not a good Christian at all, this is God’s word and you cannot pick what you want from the bible. Religion can make people do the upmost stupid things, there justifications comes from faith even though morality tells us that these things are wrong and I am not talking about extremists that blow themselves up, I am talking about the everyday believers here. Bringing up your child in just one religion is child abuse, you have no evidence that you are picking the right religion so how can you justify placing rules & guide lines for a child without knowing whether it is right or not! Mutilation of children’s genitals is wrong no matter how many metaphysical feelings you, as a parent, might have. I object to religion on so many grounds, you can read some of it on my blog or go look on the internet for yourself. Now let us turn to science.

A lot of crap science is out there and this is not the result of science at all, rather people claiming that something is science when it is not. So I will give you a little rule to remember; if you come across something that is claiming to be science in order for you to check whether it is or not, ask yourself under what conditions could this be completely wrong! If you can’t work out how it could be wrong then it is not science, for example a new drug that helps people with depression this can be proven false if it is found not to work correctly. The creationist’s argument that dinosaurs were on Noah’s Ark umm… dinosaurs lived before humans and around 64 million years ago? Ok you know that or you think the earth is only 4000 years old. I think you get the picture there is no condition in the creationists approach that allows me to say that would be false thus it is not science. If you go up to anyone that claims to be a true scientist and ask them the most important factors are the fact it can be wrong is the most significant, followed by peer review, reason and reliability of both method & result. You might not understand it at all but if you wanted to then you could go out and repeat the experiments of science. The method is always published within the peer review in order so others are able to find the same findings. Other than that it is a rational & reasoned response, not always but the things that go to create general laws or known facts are checked and the feedback loop checks them well so you can take from it that they are true things. To me the wonders of science far surpass that of anything else, the beauty of the surface of Mars or viewing atoms through powerful electron microscopes, how can anything else challenge these things? The hope that science brings is also amazing, around the time of the Enlightenment was a period were humans took control of the world they found themselves in, no one should ever want to lose that power, it is so important to us. I have gone on about how useful it is, I will end with this; it is thanks to science that I am still alive and that most of us are, we don’t owe science anything but we do owe the method of thinking that allow humans to think, imagine and create the things that saved so many people and that will save many more in the future. You should feel optimistic about the future; with science and its reasoned thinking we can do almost anything we can dream.

I have written about science and religion so far, I hope to write more about the things I consider as Superstitions soon. I decided to write this post now since I felt ready and confident about these issues. I have really enjoyed the journey that has being going on with me in the last six months, I hope it will continue. It is a little sad though that my posts offering insults about religion seem to get more views than anything else, so if you are reading this and have not done so already, please go read a science post. Thank you for reading my blog!

A little more on this matter….


Michael Shermer – Why we should think before we believe things. I like this man, he also thinks that intelligent design is the end of the conversation and science is an attitude rather than anything else. He discusses UFO and other things along that nature. Humans tend to see patterns and use their cognitive abilities to make sense of unclear data, this does not, as he suggests, be the end of investigation or be used as evidence. Our brains change the things we perceive into a workable pattern and this is what is happening, the more difficult it is to hear or see something clearly the more likely it is we will start to see with our brains and not our eyes.

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I have said this before, it is actually pointless to argue with religious people about how their religion is wrong since this will never really convince them into change and you will put all that energy in only achieving a complete waste of your time. So this post is not addressed to those religious people rather those that are either non-believers or those that are not closely affiliated with what they are meant to believe as believers. In other words this is the guide to how atheists will take over the world; this is most likely how religion will be slowly removed from the societies that we live in. Using these points of reference might take a long time but I assure you that, although it might take as long as trying to convince religious people to give up, it will work (most likely) and you will end up making the world a better place in the process. Plus you won’t have to talk and argue until you get to the point that arguing with a whole new set of people without thinking about how your responding to them becomes normal because they are saying the same thing over and over and over again. At no point is violence used!

Should religion ultimately disappear? Yes! I read on the apostates of Islam, which is a group of ex-Muslim believers, that Muslims are the main victims of Islam. This is an interesting point and it also is true, it is Muslims that are dealt with unjustly within Islamic Law and it is them who suffer from the “false doctrine of hate and terror”. The terror is well known by the women of Islam! Christianity is based on an evil book, if you think that the bible is God’s word then you have to accept the bible as God’s word you can’t pick from it, even the bits where it says killing and raping are justifiable. In God’s word it is fine to kill those that deny god, are homosexual, talk back to their parents and pickup sticks on the Sabbath. They want to kill me for my lack of belief and all I want is them to listen to me for a change. Certainly the concept of hell and the guilt of Jesus has never anything to do with the divine. There are other religions and they each have their own reasons for logical objection, feel free to add them for me. Pascal’s Wager is the idea it’s better to believe in God even if reason can’t prove that God is real as you will in the end not lose anything. That is not true, you do lose out by belief and so do a lot of other people, this is not a new perspective on Pascal’s Wager I admit. Steven Pinker’s study on violent crime showed a massive drop at the time of Enlightenment, the period were religion suffered the most in Europe and it’s from this period of history we can learn how to remove religion across the world making it a safer place in the process.

 Image from www.martinfrost.ws

Step one – The tolerance for others opinions and belief structures! This might sound like a very stupid thing to say, especially when the idea of tolerance never really comes up in the new atheist movement, still remember that the more you allow for tolerance the more likely the atheist idea is allowed to grow. Without each of us having our own belief & respecting each other then it leads to the road of closing off all communication which is something that would harm science and atheism. During the Enlightenment once people had got fed up with conflict between different religions, people simply allowed others to believe what they wanted and this allowed for non-believers to have the breathing room that was necessary. In Julia Sweeney’s letting go of God, she makes a point by telling us of what her father said when she came out as a non-believer; her father said “why could you just not be gay!” It is funny how being an atheist or non-believer can be worse than being gay, still it shows us about the level of tolerance that is currently out there. This does provide a very big problem though, as atheists and non-believers we have to also show tolerance back, this does not mean acceptance at every level, we can question even though we cannot allow ourselves to become confrontational all the time. Confrontation only allows people to move away from us and what we want is people to come closer and ask us more questions so we can share the things that we have learnt. There is no chicken or egg question here, first tolerance and then atheism. This is a two way approach of course still at a practical level rather than simply attacking religious people demand tolerance and teach them about why we don’t believe. Demand respect for your non-belief and also respect other people’s views.

Step two – the idea of Social Justice! In America this idea is not very well used, it works in Europe and other English speaking countries like Canada for example, it might work well in other countries that I am not aware of. If we start taking care of each other, providing free health care, education and many other things then it is more likely that the need for religion is reduced. Sweden is a great example of this, it has a low crime rate and a healthy population, the level of non-belief is up to 85% depending upon the study used. I am not suggesting that there is a link between religion and crime (or anything else) religion does not create those things, it does tend to disappear when people’s lives are improved. Matthew Chapman describes the current situation as very bad in some societies, the church is the only place where people can go in order to experience community and it is also the only place where people can show care for others without being considered socialists or liberals. Just because it can only happen within the church never means that is a reason to why the church should never be challenged on other grounds. He does not say this is about America as a point of reference, I do rather consider his opinions about the land of the free, the richest nation on the planet, the one of only few that are so rich but consider each other’s needs so inadequately. So what can we learn from this? Taking care of each other is not only a worthy goal it also means a better, more rational society, this will push religion to the fringes as it will mean the need for it is reduced and only belief is left. When religious people only have belief left, let them decide for themselves and if Europe is any example the level of atheism will increase quickly.

Step three – empowering every person on the planet! I could simply state here that if you feel that you cannot achieve the first two steps then you have already given up, never give up and if you think that your efforts cannot make a difference ask yourself, did you try at all? Just because something appears too difficult it does not mean that it is impossible. Still this is not what I wanted to discuss in step three, I will leave it to Christopher Hitchens to make an interesting point. Hitchens said in one of his many attacks on mother Teresa that she was never a friend of the poor she was simply a friend of poverty. He of course means many things by this but one thing I noticed through his attack was that she after being given a lot of money never actually help the poor get out of poverty, rather the journey that was made was just dealing with the end result. She was given millions of dollars most of which was not spent on the poor at all; the point was that rather than empowering the poor she conceded to clear up the mess. Whether she even did that is debatable! We must empower women to make decisions about abortion for themselves, we must empower teachers to teach evolution, we must empower societies to allow them to determine their own laws, the more we empower people the better society will be. I have heard that empowering women is the most important step after all religion perhaps within every context treats women as the second class of humans. I don’t really know how to go about this, but start with your own life and then try to work outwards.

How do I know that this is true? Well it has already happen in some parts of the world and let’s be honest the difference between us are not really that great at all. Tolerance is an interesting thing, it something that has to be worked on and the next generation always seem to understand much more than their parents. Who does not want universal health care free to all? Other than those the benefit from such a system, since there are only few of them that makes the rest of us in a stronger position to change what is going on. There is no excuse for anyone to not demand universal health care free to all and not get it in America. I am not American and I do have universal health care free to all in my country, if it ever was removed I would burn down parliament. It’s a human right not a luxury. If you are against it then you cannot call yourself moral in any respect. I did not want to get political then but everything I say is political, so I can’t help it! Empowerment is difficult to achieve, maybe someone telling another they have a choice whether they can be a catholic or not, is enough to give them a chance to become an atheist. We can empower children by giving them a very useful skill, as well as a very easy one to teach – critical thinking! Religion one day will end and when that day comes I don’t think that it will be scary at all. I think there will be peaceful joy and the knowledge that the things we do while we are alive are so important we better do them right.

A little more on this matter…

 friendlyatheist.com

I have mentioned Pat Condell before and on his website it clearly states that he does not respect your beliefs! See earlier post: https://therationalunderstanding.wordpress.com/2008/05/16/pat-condell%e2%80%99s-christian-and-islamic-comments-and-the-feedback-he-gets/. Since atheism is not a belief system I don’t consider that Condell’s views as coming from a person within my group. I do understand why he is saying what he does but it is difficult to see why it is helpful to those that share his views on religion. In fact a lot of the websites about atheism that I have come across never practice what they hope to achieve, in order for people to understand why religion is at fault it needs to be explained in such a way that it does not form a personal attack from the start. Do people like Pat Condell think that their confrontational style really helps in their goals? It does not! We are just the same as those religious people if all we do is tell others they are wrong, we need to be better and explain why we think differently. I did find a blog called the friendly atheist, this is the best blog I have found so far and in particular the post titled “The Four Cs of Atheism”, it gives us a set of wonderful rules! http://friendlyatheist.com/2008/06/03/the-four-cs-of-atheism/ I will end on this note: we are all perhaps guilty of producing statements that we know will get attention, the point is once we get people’s attention we need to use it a lot better.

 

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Image taken from - www.d.umn.edu One thing that amazes me is that science tends to work quite often; I don’t need to tell you that you already know. The point here is that it tends to work, still there are places where the misunderstanding of science comes in, these are my thoughts on how science sometimes is not based upon real knowledge rather agenda based needs. The aim of the positivists who had its home in part in Vienna, one of the most liberal places in the world at the turn of the last century, was to create an independent body of knowledge that in affect was a real reflection of the world as it exists. In truth as the result of the Vienna circle and those the preceded & came after the circle created three types of worlds, the members are most likely known to you such as Comte, Ayer and Carnap. Ok you have only heard of Comte, that’s ok the names are not that important here. The first world they created was that of Faith and habit, this world was seen as those unimportant things each generation picked up and their children adopted this meant very little because they could not be seen as true and were different from person to person. The second world was that of the metaphysical, in other words religion and its use of explaining the events that where happening. Since this again can’t be observed and tends to differ, this world was also dismissed. The third world was created by the rational and logical person, with the assumption of the scientific method; there are many assumptions in this method. The idea was not that these three worlds could survive side-by-side rather, the second world had replaced the first and the third would replace the second.

 Science as the key to Understanding the world – Science can get it very wrong – In the 19th Century there was a strong organic model that was adopted from the field of biology and was used on one group of people, the poor. This I could describe as the first type of eugenics formed by science, it saw those suffering from poverty not as the result of the society being unfair as it was at the time rather a different and dangerous race of people. At the time of the research there was a great worry about the conditions people were living in and the diseases that were being created by the support of the industrial revolution that were forming tightly packed cities. The poor were seen has having a choice about how they lived when clearly the choice was never given to them, there was no welfare state and if you did not work then you did not eat. Science got this approach wrong and was later dismissed as working and living conditions improved. Still this idea of the race of the poor came about because the scientists involved used their personal experience to understand a social problem and they were not objective.

Science as the progress of society – Newton published in “The Opticks” 1704 the results of how light when it goes through a prism Image from www.wikimedia.orgseparates into the colour spectrum, removing the idea that white light itself cannot be broken down and is only made up of one element. Why did this even matter to Newton? He could have not understood the benefits that would later be developed from this idea; in part we can thank him for the ability to understand radiation and infrared light which are also based on the same spectrum. Perhaps the drive to understanding the world was his greatest force. Newton did provide something much more useful, the idea of induction. I won’t go into induction that deeply here but it is the idea that first you can close the world off and take out the things you want to test putting them in an artificial environment in the process. In other words putting the objects of study into an experiment to see their nature & relationship and this is where science can also go wrong. Taking the objects of study outside of the real world so we can test them, means something more – it means that we are unable to test them in the world, so effectively science never deals with the reflection of the world. Just a controlled version of it! Most science is pushed into explanations of real world things, it is important to remember that science is simply a theoretical model and theories sometimes go wrong.

So why does Science appear to be a contradiction and wrong at times, it’s first that scientist belong to a society and being part of the society with values & social identities, those can get in the way of a rational and logical person. Although the aim is to remove the first and second worlds, they do exist and what we take from them affects who & what is studied and with what aims. This is still happening and if you don’t believe me maybe you would like to visit the Creationist museum in Kentucky. Even if the creationist museum is right, not that I believe it is, then there are still others to provide the contradiction. The second is the misunderstanding of science, it is in essence a working model of the world which does not mean that it will predict or be able to control events in real life from those working models. This is not to say there should be an abandonment of science, it is very useful. Things have come from science that are valuable and people rely on it every single day, so although it can be powerful that does not mean that science is 100% a true reflection of the world, rather it is closer to the true reflection than any other body of knowledge. Evidence that refutes current belief changes that belief and this is why the model of science keeps on growing. The ability to explain and provide is not enough, the ability to change and stand up against evidence is its greatest strength even if it can only be 95% effective at best.

We come to why science happened and took hold in Europe, this is not a simple question to answer because during the dark ages Europe dismissed science and others in the world had a much greater use of it. There came about a new set of social and historical conditions, this was a move away from the divine and the rejection of God as the one in control of the world. Human knowledge took control and this came about through four sets of general changes. With the development of the nation states across Europe it developed the idea of liberalization and social reform. The idea of making your country better and dealing with social problems was at least on the table and the solutions to the problems could be allowed to grow. There was also a change in attitude; people started to think that reason could hold the key to the ability of changing the world. If there was ever going to be a method of making life better science was seen as the most effective one to meet that aim. The old methods of the divine had its chance and it fail to make the necessary improvements. Religion itself caused the place where science could slowly form; it was because of differing religions that caused so many wars and conflicts that resulted in the social development of an understanding for the tolerance of new concepts and ideas. Once people got fed up with conflict they allowed others to think what they would like to and this opened the door for the scientific method. Last of all there was a change in the model of business; once the industrial revolution happened there was a value change in people and by this I mean how much they were worth to a society. With the development of the capitalist market just because someone was a lord it did not matter, money really did make the world go around. This rejection of the old ways allowed the successful and intelligent a place to do their work, rather than a presubscribed position being allocated.

The power of the new idea of humans and their role to play started the shift away from the traditional towards the new methods. The needs of humans became the force of the aims of science. They were able to work together to produce a new set of knowledge and the more success supplied, the higher the role and importance of science. This is of course is a very short history but it is the general direction that happened. I would like to put the reference links in here but that seems too lengthy a process however, if you are interested in the reference books please let me know and I will give them to you. I would recommend Smith’s Social Science in question, ISBN 0-7619-6041-4 if you are interested in learning more.

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