logo Welcome, Guest. Please Login or Register.
2023-03-22 11:45:25 CoV Wiki
Learn more about the Church of Virus
Home Help Search Login Register
News: Do you want to know where you stand?

  Church of Virus BBS
  General
  Society & Culture

  The Moral Animal
previous next
Pages: [1] Reply Notify of replies Send the topic Print 
   Author  Topic: The Moral Animal  (Read 1391 times)
David Lucifer
Archon
*****

Posts: 2641
Reputation: 8.95
Rate David Lucifer



Enlighten me.

View Profile WWW E-Mail
The Moral Animal
« on: 2012-12-26 06:22:37 »
Reply with quote

source: NYTimes.com
h/t: Sam Harris

By JONATHAN SACKS
Published: December 24, 2012
London

IT is the religious time of the year. Step into any city in America or Britain and you will see the night sky lit by religious symbols, Christmas decorations certainly and probably also a giant menorah. Religion in the West seems alive and well.

But is it really? Or have these symbols been emptied of content, no more than a glittering backdrop to the West's newest faith, consumerism, and its secular cathedrals, shopping malls?

At first glance, religion is in decline. In Britain, the results of the 2011 national census have just been published. They show that a quarter of the population claims to have no religion, almost double the figure 10 years ago. And though the United States remains the most religious country in the West, 20 percent declare themselves without religious affiliation - double the number a generation ago.

Looked at another way, though, the figures tell a different story. Since the 18th century, many Western intellectuals have predicted religion's imminent demise. Yet after a series of withering attacks, most recently by the new atheists, including Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, still in Britain three in four people, and in America four in five, declare allegiance to a religious faith. That, in an age of science, is what is truly surprising.

The irony is that many of the new atheists are followers of Charles Darwin. We are what we are, they say, because it has allowed us to survive and pass on our genes to the next generation. Our biological and cultural makeup constitutes our "adaptive fitness." Yet religion is the greatest survivor of them all. Superpowers tend to last a century; the great faiths last millenniums. The question is why.

Darwin himself suggested what is almost certainly the correct answer. He was puzzled by a phenomenon that seemed to contradict his most basic thesis, that natural selection should favor the ruthless. Altruists, who risk their lives for others, should therefore usually die before passing on their genes to the next generation. Yet all societies value altruism, and something similar can be found among social animals, from chimpanzees to dolphins to leafcutter ants.

Neuroscientists have shown how this works. We have mirror neurons that lead us to feel pain when we see others suffering. We are hard-wired for empathy. We are moral animals.

The precise implications of Darwin's answer are still being debated by his disciples - Harvard's E. O. Wilson in one corner, Oxford's Richard Dawkins in the other. To put it at its simplest, we hand on our genes as individuals but we survive as members of groups, and groups can exist only when individuals act not solely for their own advantage but for the sake of the group as a whole. Our unique advantage is that we form larger and more complex groups than any other life-form.

A result is that we have two patterns of reaction in the brain, one focusing on potential danger to us as individuals, the other, located in the prefrontal cortex, taking a more considered view of the consequences of our actions for us and others. The first is immediate, instinctive and emotive. The second is reflective and rational. We are caught, in the psychologist Daniel Kahneman's phrase, between thinking fast and slow.

The fast track helps us survive, but it can also lead us to acts that are impulsive and destructive. The slow track leads us to more considered behavior, but it is often overridden in the heat of the moment. We are sinners and saints, egotists and altruists, exactly as the prophets and philosophers have long maintained.

The Moral Animal

If this is so, we are in a position to understand why religion helped us survive in the past - and why we will need it in the future. It strengthens and speeds up the slow track. It reconfigures our neural pathways, turning altruism into instinct, through the rituals we perform, the texts we read and the prayers we pray. It remains the most powerful community builder the world has known. Religion binds individuals into groups through habits of altruism, creating relationships of trust strong enough to defeat destructive emotions. Far from refuting religion, the Neo-Darwinists have helped us understand why it matters.

No one has shown this more elegantly than the political scientist Robert D. Putnam. In the 1990s he became famous for the phrase "bowling alone": more people were going bowling, but fewer were joining bowling teams. Individualism was slowly destroying our capacity to form groups. A decade later, in his book "American Grace," he showed that there was one place where social capital could still be found: religious communities.

Mr. Putnam's research showed that frequent church- or synagogue-goers were more likely to give money to charity, do volunteer work, help the homeless, donate blood, help a neighbor with housework, spend time with someone who was feeling depressed, offer a seat to a stranger or help someone find a job. Religiosity as measured by church or synagogue attendance is, he found, a better predictor of altruism than education, age, income, gender or race.

Religion is the best antidote to the individualism of the consumer age. The idea that society can do without it flies in the face of history and, now, evolutionary biology. This may go to show that God has a sense of humor. It certainly shows that the free societies of the West must never lose their sense of God.

Jonathan Sacks is the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth and a member of the House of Lords.
« Last Edit: 2012-12-26 06:37:25 by David Lucifer » Report to moderator   Logged
Fritz
Archon
*****

Gender: Male
Posts: 1746
Reputation: 8.87
Rate Fritz





View Profile WWW E-Mail
Re:The Moral Animal
« Reply #1 on: 2012-12-26 17:27:44 »
Reply with quote


Quote from: David Lucifer on 2012-12-26 06:22:37   
source: NYTimes.com
h/t: Sam Harris

By JONATHAN SACKS
Published: December 24, 2012
London

IT is the religious time of the year. Step into any city in America or Britain and you will see the night sky lit by religious symbols, Christmas decorations certainly and probably also a giant menorah. Religion in the West seems alive and well.

But is it really? Or have these symbols been emptied of content, no more than a glittering backdrop to the West's newest faith, consumerism, and its secular cathedrals, shopping malls?
<snip>
<snip>
Jonathan Sacks is the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth and a member of the House of Lords.


[Fritz] Or .....

Source: http://www.secularhumanism.org/library/fi/hunt_19_3.html
<snip>
The Unbeliever Puzzle

I return to the first of my puzzlements - Why are unbelievers different from the great majority of their fellow human beings? They are not, however, unique, for throughout civilized history a small minority have not needed supernatural religious explanations of their own thoughts or of the mysteries, tragedies, and glories of everyday life. I refer not just to out-and-out atheists but to that larger minority who have held or hold a deistic concept of God or who regard the inherently consistent laws of nature, governing the behavior of galaxies, genes, and quarks, with the awe and respect that others accord to a more traditional God.

The best example of such a person actually predates modern science. It is Spinoza, for whom God was coterminous with the actual universe, neither outside it nor above it but identical with it and with all natural laws. For him, God was nothing more nor less than the total corpus of those laws.

Perhaps current unbelievers are all contemporary Spinozists, sensitive to and in tune with the god who pervades the universe - who is the universe - who is identical with reality. Perhaps unbelievers do not so much reject the religious needs and impulses of the human race as adapt to them in realistic and humanistic terms, replacing the fairy tales of conventional religions with the more intellectually demanding tales, provided by modern science, of natural laws and of the demonstrable, replicable evidence of cause-and-effect relationships.

Perhaps unbelievers meet the basic human need for order and social integration within the subsociety of science itself and its hierarchical structure. Perhaps for unbelievers scientific humanism offers deeply satisfying answers to all those profound and troubling mysteries that religion purports to answer, and unbelievers are comfortable with those answers although they are incomplete and, no matter how our knowledge increases, will remain so, with new discoveries always raising new and more complex questions about reality.

Finally, perhaps unbelievers differ from the great majority of human beings in one other way: possibly unbelievers are psychologically adult, needing no invisible parent figure, able to face the reality of human life and death without fear (or at least live with that fear), and too sensible to believe in anything that has no proof, any explanation of the world that is either impossibile or absurdum.

But that's only a guess; perhaps I flatter unbelievers unreasonably; perhaps they're not that special and wonderful. But I hope they are.
« Last Edit: 2012-12-26 17:28:36 by Fritz » Report to moderator   Logged

Where there is the necessary technical skill to move mountains, there is no need for the faith that moves mountains -anon-
Pages: [1] Reply Notify of replies Send the topic Print 
Jump to:


Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Church of Virus BBS | Powered by YaBB SE
© 2001-2002, YaBB SE Dev Team. All Rights Reserved.

Please support the CoV.
Valid HTML 4.01! Valid CSS! RSS feed