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Blunderov
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RE: virus: Believe it or not
« on: 2006-03-10 08:18:51 »
Reply with quote

[Blunderov] “Neurotheology”? Now here is a strange and lozenge shaped affair
as Antrobus might have remarked.

Best regards.

http://financialtimes.printthis.clickability.com/pt/cpt?action=cpt&title=FT.
com+%2F+Arts+%26+Weekend+-+Believe+it+or+not&expire=&urlID=17411406&fb=Y&url
=http%3A%2F%2Fnews.ft.com%2Fcms%2Fs%2F28032028-a9a2-11da-9f4e-0000779e2340%2
Cs01%3D1.html&partnerID=174

Believe it or not
By Clive Cookson
Published: March 3 2006 15:21 | Last updated: March 3 2006 15:21


Science has always neglected religion as a subject for serious study. Given
its social and political importance in recorded history - and its personal
importance in the lives of billions of people around the world today - the
paucity of scientific research into religious belief is astonishing.

As Daniel Dennett puts it, “up to now there has been a largely unexamined
mutual agreement that scientists and other researchers will leave religion
alone, or restrict themselves to a few sidelong glances, since people get so
upset at the mere thought of a more intensive inquiry.” He wrote Breaking
the Spell to disrupt this presumption.

Dennett - one of America’s best-known philosophers and atheists - is not
alone in calling for a sustained investigation of religion through biology,
psychology and neuroscience. Two celebrated writer-scientists from Britain,
the biologists Lewis Wolpert and Robert Winston, have brought out new books
about science and religion, Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast and The
Story of God respectively. There has also been a spate of television and
radio programmes, and newspaper and magazine articles, looking at the
subject.

Richard Dawkins, “Oxford geneticist and professional God-baiter” as Winston
describes him, will rejoin the fray in the autumn when he publishes a book
based on his recent Channel 4 television series, The Root of All Evil?
Judging from the TV programmes, it will be a vicious attack on religious
faith. But Dawkins fans do not have to wait until then. This month Oxford
University Press publishes Richard Dawkins, a meaty collection of essays in
his honour, marking the 30th anniversary of his ground-breaking book The
Selfish Gene. Several of the contributions examine his views on religion.
Dawkins is cast in the role of militant campaigner, trying to eradicate what
he calls “the God delusion”. In the Richard Dawkins volume, the philosopher
A.C. Grayling gives a good summary of the scientist’s theory that beliefs
mimic the way viruses use hosts to replicate and spread. Children’s brains
have to be open, receptive, gullible and trusting in order to acquire
language and a huge body of information about the world. This leaves them
wide open to “mental infections”, like immune-deficient patients.

Dawkins may be brilliant but he is too aggressive - and many would say too
arrogant - an atheist ever to be an open-minded scientific investigator of
religion. Dennett and Wolpert are atheists too, though of a gentler and more
accommodating disposition. They set out to win over readers of a religious
persuasion - Dennett addresses his arguments directly to them, an artifice
that soon irritated this non-religious reader.

Winston, in contrast, is a practising Jew, though a questioning one. “I do
not pretend to understand the nature of God; I do not know whether our moral
code is a human construct, a piece of genetic programming or a God-given
gift; I do not fully understand the concept of a soul and I have no idea
whether there is an afterlife - but I am prepared to accept that God may
exist,” he writes.

It seems that anyone writing about science and religion has to declare his
own religious affiliation or the lack of it. In this respect the most
engagingly personal of these authors is Wolpert, who also grew up in a
Jewish family. “I was quite a religious child, saying my prayers each night
and asking God for help on various occasions,” he writes. “It did not seem
to help and I gave it all up around 16 and have been an atheist ever since.”
Then his youngest son Matthew became a born-again Christian in a church that
takes the bible literally. “Contrary to what friends thought,” he explains,
“I was not upset as the church really helped Matthew.”

Wolpert wrote Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast partly to help himself
better understand his son, though it is far from clear after reading the
book whether he succeeded. (For those who don’t recall their Lewis Carroll,
the title refers to Alice’s encounter with the White Queen. When Alice says
she cannot believe in impossible things, the Queen replies: “I dare say you
haven’t had much practice... Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six
impossible things before breakfast.”)

The passions aroused by religion, pro and con, certainly impede its
scientific investigation. Few people can do such research with objectivity -
and fewer still will be accepted as neutral observers by outsiders with
strong beliefs.

The scientific study of human sexuality, another vital field where research
was taboo until recently, provides an interesting contrast. While sex
arouses passions too, it does not divide people into opposing camps in the
same way as religion. There is a general consensus these days that sex is in
principle a desirable and healthy activity, despite disagreements over what
boundaries and constraints should be applied to it. Once prudish objections
to studying sex are swept away, its scientific investigation becomes
relatively straightforward.

However, it is far easier to investigate sexual than religious activity in
the laboratory. For example, scanning the brains of volunteers in a state of
sexual arousal is quite straightforward. Achieving a comparable level of
religious arousal in a lab rather than a church or temple is apparently
harder. But a few neuroscientists are trying. The best known is Mario
Beauregard of the University of Montreal, who hopes to discover the brain
activity underlying the “mystical union with God” experienced by Carmelite
nuns.

Winston describes similar work with meditating Tibetan Buddhists by Andrew
Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania, who concluded that “mystic
experiences use the very same brain systems as sex”. As Winston says,
religions throughout the world are rife with sexual and bodily symbolism. “I
have... felt strong sensations of both arousal and peace at hearing the call
of the muezzin in some eastern city. I would baulk at saying there was
anything sexual about these feelings but, like sexual stimuli, they elicited
a very bodily response, suggesting that some of my primordial buttons were
being pushed.”

Coincidentally Dennett, who spent his early life in Beirut where his father
was a US cultural attache (and spy), feels something similar - “the
beautifully haunting call [of the muezzins] never fails to send chills
through me when I hear it today.”

Dennett uses Lebanon to illustrate the point that researching religion out
in the field is difficult too. Some religions are willing to reveal all
their secrets and to show outsiders what goes on in the inner sanctum, but
many are not. Dennett ponders the case of the Druze, whose intriguing
religion weaves together elements of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Two
obstacles have thwarted attempts to study it. First, Dennett himself was
told by non-Druze Lebanese that the first principle of the Druze is to lie
to outsiders about their beliefs - a claim denied by the Druze themselves,
but could he believe them? Second, an anthropologist, Scott Atran, who
attempted more systematically to study the religion - and eventually won the
respect of the Druze elders - failed to publish his research, because he had
promised not to disclose Druze secrets to the uninitiated. “It seems that we
still don’t know what the Druze really believe,” Dennett writes. “We may
begin to wonder if they themselves know.”

As Dennett points out, there is a more fundamental limitation to the sort of
observational research practised by anthropologists. Even when people are
totally co-operative, the anthropologist can only investigate behaviour, not
inner belief. To get inside the religious mind, researchers must use
disciplines such as neuroscience, genetics and evolutionary biology.

Dennett, Winston, Wolpert and Dawkins have given broadly compatible accounts
of the evolutionary origins of religion, though each author puts his
distinct emphasis on the complex interplay of biological and cultural
processes involved. Archaeological evidence about the emergence of religious
belief is ambiguous. Winston says that 100,000-year-old burial sites, where
people were interred with possessions such as tools, imply belief - “the
idea that the dead might ‘need’ these items and so were somehow still
alive”.

The appearance of the first folk religions, whenever it was, must have been
closely related to the evolution of the human obsession with knowing why
things happen, and how one event causes another. But there is still academic
speculation about the evolutionary factors involved. A good illustration is
Wolpert’s thesis that the development of tools was the main driving force.
His view contrasts with that of evolutionary psychologists such as Robin
Dunbar, author of The Human Story (2004). Dunbar believes that human causal
understanding first evolved for social reasons, so that people could
understand each other’s intentions. This ability to predict the behaviour of
others enabled humans to solve problems creatively and, only as a secondary
effect, to make tools. Dunbar argues that the primary benefit of religion
was that it acted as a social glue holding groups together.

According to Wolpert, Dunbar and his followers got the sequence of
developments the wrong way round. Causal thinking was an adaptation required
to make complex tools, which then led to culture and religion. “If you were
to go into the jungle, which would you prefer to have with you, a friend or
an axe?” Wolpert asks. He expects the reader to answer: “The axe, of
course!” But I expect some would prefer a friend.

Wolpert pushes tools too hard, in an effort to create an original and
distinctive theory. Although he may be right to say that scientists have
paid too little attention to tool use, he does not produce convincing
evidence that technology came first. We do not know enough to disentangle
the evolutionary interplay of tool-making, social interactions, sexual
selection, hunting and gathering, language and consciousness in our hominid
ancestors.

Whatever the factors preparing the human mind for religious belief, the
importance of having abundant leisure should not be underestimated. As
Winston points out, “the lifestyle of hunter-gatherer societies contains an
enviable amount of free time” compared to settled agricultural and
industrial societies. This would have given our palaeolithic ancestors ample
opportunity to sit around, ponder and tell stories. “That in turn would have
encouraged [their] minds to wander from the particular to the general, to
see links and similarities between their lives and the world around them.”

These authors’ conjectures about the origins and early history of religion
are sometimes thought-provoking and often entertaining, but inevitably
speculative. It is a pity none of them devotes such attention to the way the
latest scientific developments, particularly in neuroscience and genetics,
are beginning to illuminate contemporary religion - and to outline further
lines of research.

A big question is to what extent people carry “god genes” or have a “god
centre” in the brain. In 2004 Dean Hamer, a US geneticist, published a book
entitled The God Gene - misleadingly so, because Hamer does not believe any
gene can make people religious on its own. Susceptibility to religion is
presumably determined by genetic and environmental factors. Hamer identified
one gene - VMAT2 - which affects brain biochemistry and appears to occur
more often in people who have spiritual experiences. As Dennett says, “none
of this is close to proven yet, and Hamer’s development of his hypothesis is
marked by more enthusiasm than subtlety, a foible that may repel researchers
who would otherwise take it seriously. Still, something like his hypothesis
(but probably much more complicated) is a good bet for confirmation in the
near future, as the roles of proteins and their gene recipes are further
analysed.”

Another avenue of research in the new field of “neurotheology” is to apply
electromagnetic stimulus to the brain, in an attempt to simulate religious
feelings. A pioneer here is Michael Persinger of Laurentian University in
Canada. He claims to have elicited spiritual or religious feelings in 80 per
cent of volunteers whose temporal lobes were exposed to oscillating
electromagnetic fields. Persinger’s work suggests that some aspects of
religious experience are programmed into our brains, according to Wolpert,
though the research is controversial and has not been replicated fully in
other labs.

Scientists seeking to understand any biological phenomenon want to know how
it affects evolutionary fitness. What are its pros and cons? The first
scholar to address this question seriously for religion was William James,
the great philosopher-psychologist whose The Varieties of Religious
Experience (1902) set the scene for the scientific study of religion. James
(brother of the novelist Henry James) distinguished two main ways in which
religion might benefit people. It might make them more effective and
healthier, mentally and physically, in their daily lives - “the mind-cure
movement”. And it might improve them morally through “saintliness”.

Both Wolpert and Dennett concede that there is up-to-date evidence for
religion being good for your health. “Although the studies should be
regarded as tentative, the evidence is that there is an inverse relationship
between pain intensity and religious beliefs and intensity,” Wolpert writes.
“This is consistent with the findings that those within a religious
community enjoy better mental health... There is also evidence that
religious activities reduce psychological stress and promote greater
wellbeing and optimism, and so help to reduce the bodily effects of stress
such as those on the heart.” Of course these atheist authors do not believe
that the benefits come from supernatural causes. They attribute them to
psychological factors such as the placebo effect and to the social support
that most religious communities provide.

Attempts are now under way to discover whether believers can make people
better by praying for them, using the technique of the double-blind,
placebo-controlled trial developed originally to test pharmaceuticals. This
depends on splitting a large group of volunteers with a well-defined health
problem at random into two groups. One group receives prayers for recovery
from religious believers and the other does not. Such a trial is hard to
carry out, because the sick subjects must not know whether they are being
prayed for (to rule out the placebo effect), while the people praying have
to know whom they are asking God to help.

There is no evidence yet to show whether intercessory prayer helps people
recover, beyond the placebo benefits, Dennett says. Anyway, many liberal
theologians find such research distasteful because, as the Reverend Raymond
Lawrence, director of pastoral care at the New York Presbyterian Hospital
put it, “This whole exercise cheapens religion and promotes an infantile
theology that God is out there ready to miraculously defy the laws of nature
in answer to a prayer.”

Research into the power of prayer - and other miraculous manifestations of
religion - may be a futile exercise. But there is much worth learning about
belief. Though the answers may not emerge quickly, it is time for scientists
to try to get to grips with one of the greatest sources of good and evil
today.

Clive Cookson is science editor of the FT.

BREAKING THE SPELL: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
by Daniel Dennett
Allen Lane £25, 448 pages

SIX IMPOSSIBLE THINGS BEFORE BREAKFAST: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief
by Lewis Wolpert
Faber £12.99, 244 pages

THE STORY OF GOD: A Personal Journey into the World of Science and Religion
by Robert Winston
Bantam £18.99, 354 pages

RICHARD DAWKINS: How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think
edited by Alan Grafen and Mark Ridley
OUP £12.99, 288 pages


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DrSebby
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18680476 18680476    dr_sebby drsebby
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RE: virus: Believe it or not
« Reply #1 on: 2006-03-12 17:35:01 »
Reply with quote

...what a great post.

...i think a large part of the anger generated by such discussions has to do
with the simple straightout FACT that the religious theories put forth by
all the worlds religions are so FUCKING STUPID and utterly absurd, that when
broaching them, it is next to impossible to do so profoundly without
basically making the believer look/feel stupid...which rarely generates any
sympathetic response.

...a major point in this, can be said to be the whole "keep an open mind
about it" notion.  that sounds really nice and well-meaning...but i think it
can be said that "keeping an open mind" about something, is still reserved
for subjects or possibilities which have some sort of remote possibility for
verification...something that at least has some thin shred of
possibility....such as:  a man convicted of murdering someone he had motive
to murder, he has no alibi, and the knife was found in his car...then the
DNA sample matches his.  in this case there is room to keep an open mind as
to whether or not he may be guilty...as unlikely as it may be, the
exceptions which would set him free HAVE been observed before or they can be
seen to be plausible, though unlikely.

this is my big point:

...if we MUST keep an open mind towards religion, then we MUST keep an open
mind towards everything and anything equally absurd/implausable/random. 
therefore, i should be able to walk up to someone and punch them square in
the nose...then say, "it wasn't me" and have you ponder it fairly and then
proclaim that you cant really be ABSOLUTELY certain that it was me...and
take no action in response.  the religions of the world ask us to suspend
reality MUCH more than this example, with absolutely zero proof...and
Quintillions of Terahertz of information and evidence in direct
contradiction to every step of it.

...what is the basis for credit with religion?  why is it given even polite
consideration?

...I wager that it's a matter of time - because it's been around for a
loooong time, people give it cache...either through the stupid assumption
that something that's been around a long time MUST have some truth to it, or
just as likely...people like to cling on to old things for a sense of
continuity and dependability.

...on a side note; can i resume praying to the old greek gods and get away
with the various practises under the umbrella of 'religious freedom'?

DrSebby.
"Courage...and shuffle the cards".




----Original Message Follows----
From: "Blunderov" <squooker@mweb.co.za>
Reply-To: virus@lucifer.com
To: <virus@lucifer.com>
Subject: RE: virus: Believe it or not
Date: Fri, 10 Mar 2006 15:18:51 +0200

[Blunderov] “Neurotheology”? Now here is a strange and lozenge shaped affair
as Antrobus might have remarked.

Best regards.

http://financialtimes.printthis.clickability.com/pt/cpt?action=cpt&title=FT.
com+%2F+Arts+%26+Weekend+-+Believe+it+or+not&expire=&urlID=17411406&fb=Y&url
=http%3A%2F%2Fnews.ft.com%2Fcms%2Fs%2F28032028-a9a2-11da-9f4e-0000779e2340%2
Cs01%3D1.html&partnerID=174

Believe it or not
By Clive Cookson
Published: March 3 2006 15:21 | Last updated: March 3 2006 15:21


Science has always neglected religion as a subject for serious study. Given
its social and political importance in recorded history - and its personal
importance in the lives of billions of people around the world today - the
paucity of scientific research into religious belief is astonishing.

As Daniel Dennett puts it, “up to now there has been a largely unexamined
mutual agreement that scientists and other researchers will leave religion
alone, or restrict themselves to a few sidelong glances, since people get so
upset at the mere thought of a more intensive inquiry.” He wrote Breaking
the Spell to disrupt this presumption.

Dennett - one of America’s best-known philosophers and atheists - is not
alone in calling for a sustained investigation of religion through biology,
psychology and neuroscience. Two celebrated writer-scientists from Britain,
the biologists Lewis Wolpert and Robert Winston, have brought out new books
about science and religion, Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast and The
Story of God respectively. There has also been a spate of television and
radio programmes, and newspaper and magazine articles, looking at the
subject.

Richard Dawkins, “Oxford geneticist and professional God-baiter” as Winston
describes him, will rejoin the fray in the autumn when he publishes a book
based on his recent Channel 4 television series, The Root of All Evil?
Judging from the TV programmes, it will be a vicious attack on religious
faith. But Dawkins fans do not have to wait until then. This month Oxford
University Press publishes Richard Dawkins, a meaty collection of essays in
his honour, marking the 30th anniversary of his ground-breaking book The
Selfish Gene. Several of the contributions examine his views on religion.
Dawkins is cast in the role of militant campaigner, trying to eradicate what
he calls “the God delusion”. In the Richard Dawkins volume, the philosopher
A.C. Grayling gives a good summary of the scientist’s theory that beliefs
mimic the way viruses use hosts to replicate and spread. Children’s brains
have to be open, receptive, gullible and trusting in order to acquire
language and a huge body of information about the world. This leaves them
wide open to “mental infections”, like immune-deficient patients.

Dawkins may be brilliant but he is too aggressive - and many would say too
arrogant - an atheist ever to be an open-minded scientific investigator of
religion. Dennett and Wolpert are atheists too, though of a gentler and more
accommodating disposition. They set out to win over readers of a religious
persuasion - Dennett addresses his arguments directly to them, an artifice
that soon irritated this non-religious reader.

Winston, in contrast, is a practising Jew, though a questioning one. “I do
not pretend to understand the nature of God; I do not know whether our moral
code is a human construct, a piece of genetic programming or a God-given
gift; I do not fully understand the concept of a soul and I have no idea
whether there is an afterlife - but I am prepared to accept that God may
exist,” he writes.

It seems that anyone writing about science and religion has to declare his
own religious affiliation or the lack of it. In this respect the most
engagingly personal of these authors is Wolpert, who also grew up in a
Jewish family. “I was quite a religious child, saying my prayers each night
and asking God for help on various occasions,” he writes. “It did not seem
to help and I gave it all up around 16 and have been an atheist ever since.”
Then his youngest son Matthew became a born-again Christian in a church that
takes the bible literally. “Contrary to what friends thought,” he explains,
“I was not upset as the church really helped Matthew.”

Wolpert wrote Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast partly to help himself
better understand his son, though it is far from clear after reading the
book whether he succeeded. (For those who don’t recall their Lewis Carroll,
the title refers to Alice’s encounter with the White Queen. When Alice says
she cannot believe in impossible things, the Queen replies: “I dare say you
haven’t had much practice... Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six
impossible things before breakfast.”)

The passions aroused by religion, pro and con, certainly impede its
scientific investigation. Few people can do such research with objectivity -
and fewer still will be accepted as neutral observers by outsiders with
strong beliefs.

The scientific study of human sexuality, another vital field where research
was taboo until recently, provides an interesting contrast. While sex
arouses passions too, it does not divide people into opposing camps in the
same way as religion. There is a general consensus these days that sex is in
principle a desirable and healthy activity, despite disagreements over what
boundaries and constraints should be applied to it. Once prudish objections
to studying sex are swept away, its scientific investigation becomes
relatively straightforward.

However, it is far easier to investigate sexual than religious activity in
the laboratory. For example, scanning the brains of volunteers in a state of
sexual arousal is quite straightforward. Achieving a comparable level of
religious arousal in a lab rather than a church or temple is apparently
harder. But a few neuroscientists are trying. The best known is Mario
Beauregard of the University of Montreal, who hopes to discover the brain
activity underlying the “mystical union with God” experienced by Carmelite
nuns.

Winston describes similar work with meditating Tibetan Buddhists by Andrew
Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania, who concluded that “mystic
experiences use the very same brain systems as sex”. As Winston says,
religions throughout the world are rife with sexual and bodily symbolism. “I
have... felt strong sensations of both arousal and peace at hearing the call
of the muezzin in some eastern city. I would baulk at saying there was
anything sexual about these feelings but, like sexual stimuli, they elicited
a very bodily response, suggesting that some of my primordial buttons were
being pushed.”

Coincidentally Dennett, who spent his early life in Beirut where his father
was a US cultural attache (and spy), feels something similar - “the
beautifully haunting call [of the muezzins] never fails to send chills
through me when I hear it today.”

Dennett uses Lebanon to illustrate the point that researching religion out
in the field is difficult too. Some religions are willing to reveal all
their secrets and to show outsiders what goes on in the inner sanctum, but
many are not. Dennett ponders the case of the Druze, whose intriguing
religion weaves together elements of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Two
obstacles have thwarted attempts to study it. First, Dennett himself was
told by non-Druze Lebanese that the first principle of the Druze is to lie
to outsiders about their beliefs - a claim denied by the Druze themselves,
but could he believe them? Second, an anthropologist, Scott Atran, who
attempted more systematically to study the religion - and eventually won the
respect of the Druze elders - failed to publish his research, because he had
promised not to disclose Druze secrets to the uninitiated. “It seems that we
still don’t know what the Druze really believe,” Dennett writes. “We may
begin to wonder if they themselves know.”

As Dennett points out, there is a more fundamental limitation to the sort of
observational research practised by anthropologists. Even when people are
totally co-operative, the anthropologist can only investigate behaviour, not
inner belief. To get inside the religious mind, researchers must use
disciplines such as neuroscience, genetics and evolutionary biology.

Dennett, Winston, Wolpert and Dawkins have given broadly compatible accounts
of the evolutionary origins of religion, though each author puts his
distinct emphasis on the complex interplay of biological and cultural
processes involved. Archaeological evidence about the emergence of religious
belief is ambiguous. Winston says that 100,000-year-old burial sites, where
people were interred with possessions such as tools, imply belief - “the
idea that the dead might ‘need’ these items and so were somehow still
alive”.

The appearance of the first folk religions, whenever it was, must have been
closely related to the evolution of the human obsession with knowing why
things happen, and how one event causes another. But there is still academic
speculation about the evolutionary factors involved. A good illustration is
Wolpert’s thesis that the development of tools was the main driving force.
His view contrasts with that of evolutionary psychologists such as Robin
Dunbar, author of The Human Story (2004). Dunbar believes that human causal
understanding first evolved for social reasons, so that people could
understand each other’s intentions. This ability to predict the behaviour of
others enabled humans to solve problems creatively and, only as a secondary
effect, to make tools. Dunbar argues that the primary benefit of religion
was that it acted as a social glue holding groups together.

According to Wolpert, Dunbar and his followers got the sequence of
developments the wrong way round. Causal thinking was an adaptation required
to make complex tools, which then led to culture and religion. “If you were
to go into the jungle, which would you prefer to have with you, a friend or
an axe?” Wolpert asks. He expects the reader to answer: “The axe, of
course!” But I expect some would prefer a friend.

Wolpert pushes tools too hard, in an effort to create an original and
distinctive theory. Although he may be right to say that scientists have
paid too little attention to tool use, he does not produce convincing
evidence that technology came first. We do not know enough to disentangle
the evolutionary interplay of tool-making, social interactions, sexual
selection, hunting and gathering, language and consciousness in our hominid
ancestors.

Whatever the factors preparing the human mind for religious belief, the
importance of having abundant leisure should not be underestimated. As
Winston points out, “the lifestyle of hunter-gatherer societies contains an
enviable amount of free time” compared to settled agricultural and
industrial societies. This would have given our palaeolithic ancestors ample
opportunity to sit around, ponder and tell stories. “That in turn would have
encouraged [their] minds to wander from the particular to the general, to
see links and similarities between their lives and the world around them.”

These authors’ conjectures about the origins and early history of religion
are sometimes thought-provoking and often entertaining, but inevitably
speculative. It is a pity none of them devotes such attention to the way the
latest scientific developments, particularly in neuroscience and genetics,
are beginning to illuminate contemporary religion - and to outline further
lines of research.

A big question is to what extent people carry “god genes” or have a “god
centre” in the brain. In 2004 Dean Hamer, a US geneticist, published a book
entitled The God Gene - misleadingly so, because Hamer does not believe any
gene can make people religious on its own. Susceptibility to religion is
presumably determined by genetic and environmental factors. Hamer identified
one gene - VMAT2 - which affects brain biochemistry and appears to occur
more often in people who have spiritual experiences. As Dennett says, “none
of this is close to proven yet, and Hamer’s development of his hypothesis is
marked by more enthusiasm than subtlety, a foible that may repel researchers
who would otherwise take it seriously. Still, something like his hypothesis
(but probably much more complicated) is a good bet for confirmation in the
near future, as the roles of proteins and their gene recipes are further
analysed.”

Another avenue of research in the new field of “neurotheology” is to apply
electromagnetic stimulus to the brain, in an attempt to simulate religious
feelings. A pioneer here is Michael Persinger of Laurentian University in
Canada. He claims to have elicited spiritual or religious feelings in 80 per
cent of volunteers whose temporal lobes were exposed to oscillating
electromagnetic fields. Persinger’s work suggests that some aspects of
religious experience are programmed into our brains, according to Wolpert,
though the research is controversial and has not been replicated fully in
other labs.

Scientists seeking to understand any biological phenomenon want to know how
it affects evolutionary fitness. What are its pros and cons? The first
scholar to address this question seriously for religion was William James,
the great philosopher-psychologist whose The Varieties of Religious
Experience (1902) set the scene for the scientific study of religion. James
(brother of the novelist Henry James) distinguished two main ways in which
religion might benefit people. It might make them more effective and
healthier, mentally and physically, in their daily lives - “the mind-cure
movement”. And it might improve them morally through “saintliness”.

Both Wolpert and Dennett concede that there is up-to-date evidence for
religion being good for your health. “Although the studies should be
regarded as tentative, the evidence is that there is an inverse relationship
between pain intensity and religious beliefs and intensity,” Wolpert writes.
“This is consistent with the findings that those within a religious
community enjoy better mental health... There is also evidence that
religious activities reduce psychological stress and promote greater
wellbeing and optimism, and so help to reduce the bodily effects of stress
such as those on the heart.” Of course these atheist authors do not believe
that the benefits come from supernatural causes. They attribute them to
psychological factors such as the placebo effect and to the social support
that most religious communities provide.

Attempts are now under way to discover whether believers can make people
better by praying for them, using the technique of the double-blind,
placebo-controlled trial developed originally to test pharmaceuticals. This
depends on splitting a large group of volunteers with a well-defined health
problem at random into two groups. One group receives prayers for recovery
from religious believers and the other does not. Such a trial is hard to
carry out, because the sick subjects must not know whether they are being
prayed for (to rule out the placebo effect), while the people praying have
to know whom they are asking God to help.

There is no evidence yet to show whether intercessory prayer helps people
recover, beyond the placebo benefits, Dennett says. Anyway, many liberal
theologians find such research distasteful because, as the Reverend Raymond
Lawrence, director of pastoral care at the New York Presbyterian Hospital
put it, “This whole exercise cheapens religion and promotes an infantile
theology that God is out there ready to miraculously defy the laws of nature
in answer to a prayer.”

Research into the power of prayer - and other miraculous manifestations of
religion - may be a futile exercise. But there is much worth learning about
belief. Though the answers may not emerge quickly, it is time for scientists
to try to get to grips with one of the greatest sources of good and evil
today.

Clive Cookson is science editor of the FT.

BREAKING THE SPELL: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
by Daniel Dennett
Allen Lane £25, 448 pages

SIX IMPOSSIBLE THINGS BEFORE BREAKFAST: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief
by Lewis Wolpert
Faber £12.99, 244 pages

THE STORY OF GOD: A Personal Journey into the World of Science and Religion
by Robert Winston
Bantam £18.99, 354 pages

RICHARD DAWKINS: How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think
edited by Alan Grafen and Mark Ridley
OUP £12.99, 288 pages


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RE: virus: Believe it or not
« Reply #2 on: 2006-03-14 03:02:57 »
Reply with quote

[Blunderov] The crucial thing is, I think, to keep an open mind about any
evidence and what it might mean. In the absence of evidence well...there's
nothing to have an open mind about.
Best Regards.

http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=grothe_26_2

"LEADING QUESTIONS

On the Record: An Interview with Herbert Hauptman
DJ Grothe

The following interview is from the February-March 2006 issue of Free
Inquiry

At an August 2005 City College of New York conference featuring a panel of
Nobel Laureates, one scientist created a stir by arguing that belief in God
is incompatible with being a good scientist and is "damaging to the
well-being of the human race." Herbert Hauptman shared the Nobel Prize in
Chemistry in 1985 for his work on the structure of crystals and is also a
Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism. A gentle, unassuming man
in his eighties, Hauptman sat down with DJ Grothe, Editorial Associate of
Free Inquiry, at the acclaimed Hauptman-Woodward Institute in Buffalo, New
York.

Free Inquiry: What led you to speak out about religion versus science?

Herbert Hauptman: City College is proud of its Nobel Laureates, of which
they have eight or nine, and we came to do a panel at a scientific
conference and to serve as judges for contributions by City University of
New York students. After the panel, one of the students asked the question
regarding the compatibility of science and religion. I ended up being the
only one who answered the question, which surprised me.

FI: What response did you elicit from the audience?

Hauptman: There was little or no reaction . . . from the audience or from
the other panelists. I completely expected other panelists to support what I
said, but none did. The only significant negative reaction came from
Cornelia Dean, a reporter from The New York Times. I was later told by
several of the other Nobel Laureates that they agreed with me, but for
reasons of their own, they just did not respond.


FI: Why do you think they were reticent?

Hauptman: Well, obviously this view is unpopular in this overly religious
society. People who are outspoken about it are more than just regarded as
cranky, they are deeply disliked.

FI: So why did you speak out?

Hauptman: I have never hidden my beliefs, but neither did I advertise them.
In fact, I never thought too terribly much about it; I have kept myself busy
thinking about other problems, scientific problems. But I spoke out because
of this frustration I have only lately begun to feel about the religiosity
in our society.

FI: Then came the media response. A story by Ms. Dean concerning your
remarks appeared on the front page of The New York Times. Never having
publicly aired your views on religion before, were you afraid of being
thrust into the media as an atheist?

Hauptman: No, not really. I received a number of letters, mostly positive.
But when a producer at This Week with George Stephanopoulos invited me to
appear on the show, my wife suggested I not do it out of concern for my
safety. Consider the beating of the professor in Kansas who was attacked for
announcing he was going to teach a course on evolution versus Intelligent
Design, or Bernard Slepian, the doctor who was slain for conducting
abortions. Whenever you hear of these horrible acts of violence, you can be
pretty sure they are not done because of someone's lack of belief in God but
out of a fervent religious belief. Of course, most religious fundamentalists
are not violent. In any case, out of concern for my safety, we decided not
to do Stephanopoulos.

FI: Over 90 percent of the members of the prestigious National Academy of
Sciences are atheists or agnostics. Do you think there is a relationship
between being a good scientist and being a religious skeptic?

Hauptman: What are religions based on? They are not based on evidence but on
faith. On the other hand, a good scientist insists that, before one assents
to a claim, there must be good evidence for that claim. If you live by this
principle of science, I believe you will end up believing as I and most of
the other members of the National Academy of Sciences believe: that there is
no God.

FI: What do you think of those scientists who believe as you do but refuse
to let their views be known?

Hauptman: I do not think they should be in the closet on this issue, but it
is really a matter of how you allocate your time and energy-and a matter of
conscience. Still, I think we would be better off if scientists were more
open about their lack of belief in God.

FI: What is one question about the science-versus-religion controversy that
you would like answered?

Hauptman: When will religion no longer be an issue of importance to the
majority of the people in our society?"



Dr Sebby
Sent: 13 March 2006 00:35

...what a great post.

...i think a large part of the anger generated by such discussions has to do

with the simple straightout FACT that the religious theories put forth by
all the worlds religions are so FUCKING STUPID and utterly absurd, that when

broaching them, it is next to impossible to do so profoundly without
basically making the believer look/feel stupid...which rarely generates any
sympathetic response.

...a major point in this, can be said to be the whole "keep an open mind
about it" notion.  that sounds really nice and well-meaning...but i think it

can be said that "keeping an open mind" about something, is still reserved
for subjects or possibilities which have some sort of remote possibility for

verification...something that at least has some thin shred of
possibility....such as:  a man convicted of murdering someone he had motive
to murder, he has no alibi, and the knife was found in his car...then the
DNA sample matches his.  in this case there is room to keep an open mind as
to whether or not he may be guilty...as unlikely as it may be, the
exceptions which would set him free HAVE been observed before or they can be

seen to be plausible, though unlikely.

this is my big point:

...if we MUST keep an open mind towards religion, then we MUST keep an open
mind towards everything and anything equally absurd/implausable/random. 
therefore, i should be able to walk up to someone and punch them square in
the nose...then say, "it wasn't me" and have you ponder it fairly and then
proclaim that you cant really be ABSOLUTELY certain that it was me...and
take no action in response.  the religions of the world ask us to suspend
reality MUCH more than this example, with absolutely zero proof...and
Quintillions of Terahertz of information and evidence in direct
contradiction to every step of it.

...what is the basis for credit with religion?  why is it given even polite
consideration?

...I wager that it's a matter of time - because it's been around for a
loooong time, people give it cache...either through the stupid assumption
that something that's been around a long time MUST have some truth to it, or

just as likely...people like to cling on to old things for a sense of
continuity and dependability.

...on a side note; can i resume praying to the old greek gods and get away
with the various practises under the umbrella of 'religious freedom'?

DrSebby.
"Courage...and shuffle the cards".




----Original Message Follows----
From: "Blunderov" <squooker@mweb.co.za>
Reply-To: virus@lucifer.com
To: <virus@lucifer.com>
Subject: RE: virus: Believe it or not
Date: Fri, 10 Mar 2006 15:18:51 +0200

[Blunderov] “Neurotheology”? Now here is a strange and lozenge shaped affair
as Antrobus might have remarked.

Best regards.

http://financialtimes.printthis.clickability.com/pt/cpt?action=cpt&title=FT.
com+%2F+Arts+%26+Weekend+-+Believe+it+or+not&expire=&urlID=17411406&fb=Y&url
=http%3A%2F%2Fnews.ft.com%2Fcms%2Fs%2F28032028-a9a2-11da-9f4e-0000779e2340%2
Cs01%3D1.html&partnerID=174

Believe it or not
By Clive Cookson
Published: March 3 2006 15:21 | Last updated: March 3 2006 15:21


Science has always neglected religion as a subject for serious study. Given
its social and political importance in recorded history - and its personal
importance in the lives of billions of people around the world today - the
paucity of scientific research into religious belief is astonishing.

As Daniel Dennett puts it, “up to now there has been a largely unexamined
mutual agreement that scientists and other researchers will leave religion
alone, or restrict themselves to a few sidelong glances, since people get so
upset at the mere thought of a more intensive inquiry.” He wrote Breaking
the Spell to disrupt this presumption.

Dennett - one of America’s best-known philosophers and atheists - is not
alone in calling for a sustained investigation of religion through biology,
psychology and neuroscience. Two celebrated writer-scientists from Britain,
the biologists Lewis Wolpert and Robert Winston, have brought out new books
about science and religion, Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast and The
Story of God respectively. There has also been a spate of television and
radio programmes, and newspaper and magazine articles, looking at the
subject.

Richard Dawkins, “Oxford geneticist and professional God-baiter” as Winston
describes him, will rejoin the fray in the autumn when he publishes a book
based on his recent Channel 4 television series, The Root of All Evil?
Judging from the TV programmes, it will be a vicious attack on religious
faith. But Dawkins fans do not have to wait until then. This month Oxford
University Press publishes Richard Dawkins, a meaty collection of essays in
his honour, marking the 30th anniversary of his ground-breaking book The
Selfish Gene. Several of the contributions examine his views on religion.
Dawkins is cast in the role of militant campaigner, trying to eradicate what
he calls “the God delusion”. In the Richard Dawkins volume, the philosopher
A.C. Grayling gives a good summary of the scientist’s theory that beliefs
mimic the way viruses use hosts to replicate and spread. Children’s brains
have to be open, receptive, gullible and trusting in order to acquire
language and a huge body of information about the world. This leaves them
wide open to “mental infections”, like immune-deficient patients.

Dawkins may be brilliant but he is too aggressive - and many would say too
arrogant - an atheist ever to be an open-minded scientific investigator of
religion. Dennett and Wolpert are atheists too, though of a gentler and more
accommodating disposition. They set out to win over readers of a religious
persuasion - Dennett addresses his arguments directly to them, an artifice
that soon irritated this non-religious reader.

Winston, in contrast, is a practising Jew, though a questioning one. “I do
not pretend to understand the nature of God; I do not know whether our moral
code is a human construct, a piece of genetic programming or a God-given
gift; I do not fully understand the concept of a soul and I have no idea
whether there is an afterlife - but I am prepared to accept that God may
exist,” he writes.

It seems that anyone writing about science and religion has to declare his
own religious affiliation or the lack of it. In this respect the most
engagingly personal of these authors is Wolpert, who also grew up in a
Jewish family. “I was quite a religious child, saying my prayers each night
and asking God for help on various occasions,” he writes. “It did not seem
to help and I gave it all up around 16 and have been an atheist ever since.”
Then his youngest son Matthew became a born-again Christian in a church that
takes the bible literally. “Contrary to what friends thought,” he explains,
“I was not upset as the church really helped Matthew.”

Wolpert wrote Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast partly to help himself
better understand his son, though it is far from clear after reading the
book whether he succeeded. (For those who don’t recall their Lewis Carroll,
the title refers to Alice’s encounter with the White Queen. When Alice says
she cannot believe in impossible things, the Queen replies: “I dare say you
haven’t had much practice... Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six
impossible things before breakfast.”)

The passions aroused by religion, pro and con, certainly impede its
scientific investigation. Few people can do such research with objectivity -
and fewer still will be accepted as neutral observers by outsiders with
strong beliefs.

The scientific study of human sexuality, another vital field where research
was taboo until recently, provides an interesting contrast. While sex
arouses passions too, it does not divide people into opposing camps in the
same way as religion. There is a general consensus these days that sex is in
principle a desirable and healthy activity, despite disagreements over what
boundaries and constraints should be applied to it. Once prudish objections
to studying sex are swept away, its scientific investigation becomes
relatively straightforward.

However, it is far easier to investigate sexual than religious activity in
the laboratory. For example, scanning the brains of volunteers in a state of
sexual arousal is quite straightforward. Achieving a comparable level of
religious arousal in a lab rather than a church or temple is apparently
harder. But a few neuroscientists are trying. The best known is Mario
Beauregard of the University of Montreal, who hopes to discover the brain
activity underlying the “mystical union with God” experienced by Carmelite
nuns.

Winston describes similar work with meditating Tibetan Buddhists by Andrew
Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania, who concluded that “mystic
experiences use the very same brain systems as sex”. As Winston says,
religions throughout the world are rife with sexual and bodily symbolism. “I
have... felt strong sensations of both arousal and peace at hearing the call
of the muezzin in some eastern city. I would baulk at saying there was
anything sexual about these feelings but, like sexual stimuli, they elicited
a very bodily response, suggesting that some of my primordial buttons were
being pushed.”

Coincidentally Dennett, who spent his early life in Beirut where his father
was a US cultural attache (and spy), feels something similar - “the
beautifully haunting call [of the muezzins] never fails to send chills
through me when I hear it today.”

Dennett uses Lebanon to illustrate the point that researching religion out
in the field is difficult too. Some religions are willing to reveal all
their secrets and to show outsiders what goes on in the inner sanctum, but
many are not. Dennett ponders the case of the Druze, whose intriguing
religion weaves together elements of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Two
obstacles have thwarted attempts to study it. First, Dennett himself was
told by non-Druze Lebanese that the first principle of the Druze is to lie
to outsiders about their beliefs - a claim denied by the Druze themselves,
but could he believe them? Second, an anthropologist, Scott Atran, who
attempted more systematically to study the religion - and eventually won the
respect of the Druze elders - failed to publish his research, because he had
promised not to disclose Druze secrets to the uninitiated. “It seems that we
still don’t know what the Druze really believe,” Dennett writes. “We may
begin to wonder if they themselves know.”

As Dennett points out, there is a more fundamental limitation to the sort of
observational research practised by anthropologists. Even when people are
totally co-operative, the anthropologist can only investigate behaviour, not
inner belief. To get inside the religious mind, researchers must use
disciplines such as neuroscience, genetics and evolutionary biology.

Dennett, Winston, Wolpert and Dawkins have given broadly compatible accounts
of the evolutionary origins of religion, though each author puts his
distinct emphasis on the complex interplay of biological and cultural
processes involved. Archaeological evidence about the emergence of religious
belief is ambiguous. Winston says that 100,000-year-old burial sites, where
people were interred with possessions such as tools, imply belief - “the
idea that the dead might ‘need’ these items and so were somehow still
alive”.

The appearance of the first folk religions, whenever it was, must have been
closely related to the evolution of the human obsession with knowing why
things happen, and how one event causes another. But there is still academic
speculation about the evolutionary factors involved. A good illustration is
Wolpert’s thesis that the development of tools was the main driving force.
His view contrasts with that of evolutionary psychologists such as Robin
Dunbar, author of The Human Story (2004). Dunbar believes that human causal
understanding first evolved for social reasons, so that people could
understand each other’s intentions. This ability to predict the behaviour of
others enabled humans to solve problems creatively and, only as a secondary
effect, to make tools. Dunbar argues that the primary benefit of religion
was that it acted as a social glue holding groups together.

According to Wolpert, Dunbar and his followers got the sequence of
developments the wrong way round. Causal thinking was an adaptation required
to make complex tools, which then led to culture and religion. “If you were
to go into the jungle, which would you prefer to have with you, a friend or
an axe?” Wolpert asks. He expects the reader to answer: “The axe, of
course!” But I expect some would prefer a friend.

Wolpert pushes tools too hard, in an effort to create an original and
distinctive theory. Although he may be right to say that scientists have
paid too little attention to tool use, he does not produce convincing
evidence that technology came first. We do not know enough to disentangle
the evolutionary interplay of tool-making, social interactions, sexual
selection, hunting and gathering, language and consciousness in our hominid
ancestors.

Whatever the factors preparing the human mind for religious belief, the
importance of having abundant leisure should not be underestimated. As
Winston points out, “the lifestyle of hunter-gatherer societies contains an
enviable amount of free time” compared to settled agricultural and
industrial societies. This would have given our palaeolithic ancestors ample
opportunity to sit around, ponder and tell stories. “That in turn would have
encouraged [their] minds to wander from the particular to the general, to
see links and similarities between their lives and the world around them.”

These authors’ conjectures about the origins and early history of religion
are sometimes thought-provoking and often entertaining, but inevitably
speculative. It is a pity none of them devotes such attention to the way the
latest scientific developments, particularly in neuroscience and genetics,
are beginning to illuminate contemporary religion - and to outline further
lines of research.

A big question is to what extent people carry “god genes” or have a “god
centre” in the brain. In 2004 Dean Hamer, a US geneticist, published a book
entitled The God Gene - misleadingly so, because Hamer does not believe any
gene can make people religious on its own. Susceptibility to religion is
presumably determined by genetic and environmental factors. Hamer identified
one gene - VMAT2 - which affects brain biochemistry and appears to occur
more often in people who have spiritual experiences. As Dennett says, “none
of this is close to proven yet, and Hamer’s development of his hypothesis is
marked by more enthusiasm than subtlety, a foible that may repel researchers
who would otherwise take it seriously. Still, something like his hypothesis
(but probably much more complicated) is a good bet for confirmation in the
near future, as the roles of proteins and their gene recipes are further
analysed.”

Another avenue of research in the new field of “neurotheology” is to apply
electromagnetic stimulus to the brain, in an attempt to simulate religious
feelings. A pioneer here is Michael Persinger of Laurentian University in
Canada. He claims to have elicited spiritual or religious feelings in 80 per
cent of volunteers whose temporal lobes were exposed to oscillating
electromagnetic fields. Persinger’s work suggests that some aspects of
religious experience are programmed into our brains, according to Wolpert,
though the research is controversial and has not been replicated fully in
other labs.

Scientists seeking to understand any biological phenomenon want to know how
it affects evolutionary fitness. What are its pros and cons? The first
scholar to address this question seriously for religion was William James,
the great philosopher-psychologist whose The Varieties of Religious
Experience (1902) set the scene for the scientific study of religion. James
(brother of the novelist Henry James) distinguished two main ways in which
religion might benefit people. It might make them more effective and
healthier, mentally and physically, in their daily lives - “the mind-cure
movement”. And it might improve them morally through “saintliness”.

Both Wolpert and Dennett concede that there is up-to-date evidence for
religion being good for your health. “Although the studies should be
regarded as tentative, the evidence is that there is an inverse relationship
between pain intensity and religious beliefs and intensity,” Wolpert writes.
“This is consistent with the findings that those within a religious
community enjoy better mental health... There is also evidence that
religious activities reduce psychological stress and promote greater
wellbeing and optimism, and so help to reduce the bodily effects of stress
such as those on the heart.” Of course these atheist authors do not believe
that the benefits come from supernatural causes. They attribute them to
psychological factors such as the placebo effect and to the social support
that most religious communities provide.

Attempts are now under way to discover whether believers can make people
better by praying for them, using the technique of the double-blind,
placebo-controlled trial developed originally to test pharmaceuticals. This
depends on splitting a large group of volunteers with a well-defined health
problem at random into two groups. One group receives prayers for recovery
from religious believers and the other does not. Such a trial is hard to
carry out, because the sick subjects must not know whether they are being
prayed for (to rule out the placebo effect), while the people praying have
to know whom they are asking God to help.

There is no evidence yet to show whether intercessory prayer helps people
recover, beyond the placebo benefits, Dennett says. Anyway, many liberal
theologians find such research distasteful because, as the Reverend Raymond
Lawrence, director of pastoral care at the New York Presbyterian Hospital
put it, “This whole exercise cheapens religion and promotes an infantile
theology that God is out there ready to miraculously defy the laws of nature
in answer to a prayer.”

Research into the power of prayer - and other miraculous manifestations of
religion - may be a futile exercise. But there is much worth learning about
belief. Though the answers may not emerge quickly, it is time for scientists
to try to get to grips with one of the greatest sources of good and evil
today.

Clive Cookson is science editor of the FT.

BREAKING THE SPELL: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
by Daniel Dennett
Allen Lane £25, 448 pages

SIX IMPOSSIBLE THINGS BEFORE BREAKFAST: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief
by Lewis Wolpert
Faber £12.99, 244 pages

THE STORY OF GOD: A Personal Journey into the World of Science and Religion
by Robert Winston
Bantam £18.99, 354 pages

RICHARD DAWKINS: How a Scientist Changed the Way We Think
edited by Alan Grafen and Mark Ridley
OUP £12.99, 288 pages


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RE: virus: Believe it or not
« Reply #3 on: 2006-03-13 17:48:12 »
Reply with quote

I weyken that we should claim precedence => http://www.churchofvirus.org/bbs/index.php?board=31;action=display;threadid=24844

Some of the other FAQs may also be applicable. As might "weyken" itself.

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With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. - Steven Weinberg, 1999
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