Re: Religion and evidence

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Thu 19 Jan 2006 - 23:31:00 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "RE: Religion and evidence"

    At 03:06 PM 1/17/2006 +0000, Kate wrote:
    >Chris Taylor wrote:


    >As a result of my investigations into Christianity, atheism and other
    >world religions I became convinced that a lot of what I believed were good
    >arguments against Christianity were in fact good arguments against things
    >that have nothing to do with Christianity. For example I had thought that
    >science disproved religion and then I read thoughtful, intelligent debates
    >amongst people who were Christians, scientists and able to engage in
    >rigorous discussion of the issues that this throws up. And they all seemed
    >to believe in evolution, too.

    There is nothing that prevents one from believing in sets of incompatible memes if you just don't consider the places they conflict.

    >When I began to discover what Christianity actually says it made a lot of
    >sense to me. When I began to put its claims to the test they held
    >water. When I made changes to my life in accordance with those claims my
    >life got a whole lot better, in lots of ways. People who knew nothing
    >about my changed outlook commented on the difference in me.

    Not entirely a surprise. In fact, Christianity promotes memes that are consistent for genetic survival within tribes and those extended tribes we call nations.

    For example, "do unto others" is almost a restatement of the best first move in the iterated prisoner's dilemma. Extensive computer testing has shown this to be the best strategy.

    >Most of all, the best explanation of what happened when I prayed seemed to
    >be that I was really in some sort of communication with a loving God. At
    >first I was nervous; inevitably unsure about whether I'd jumped down on
    >the wrong side of the fence. I began to avoid awkward
    >conversations. Then I suddenly thought - idiot - if you really believe
    >this is true then asking a few questions isn't going to change it. And if
    >it isn't true: even more of an idiot for leaving the lush grass of atheism
    >on the other side of the fence.

    The Christian meme is probably on the decline now as others have pointed out, but it has been around long enough that most of the damaging aspects of even the more recent mutations have mellowed (evolved from parasitic to mutualistic). Following its proscriptions tends to gain you status and positive reputation--and both were (and to some extent still are) highly predictive of reproductive success.

    >So I really began to grapple with the bits I still found hardest to
    >believe, to grasp, to live with. I'm still grappling with some of
    >them. But I didn't come across anything that fell down when I pushed it.
    >When I couldn't see my way out of a situation, and I prayed about it, the
    >way inevitably appeared. And even more remarkably, I cannot tell you how
    >many of the people I love I have prayed for, when they've been in some
    >sort of difficulty; and they haven't known anything about my prayers
    >because frankly not many of them would be interested; and the changes that
    >have happened have been astounding.
    >OF COURSE there are a thousand-and-one alternative explanations of the
    >things that I have experienced over the last twelve years. But here's why
    >I believe that my interpretation of events could be valid.
    >The ways in which we test religious claims have to be different from the
    >ways in which we test scientific claims.

    It depends. If a "religion" sets itself up by making scientific type claims--as scientology does--then it deserves to be run over run over by the lawn mower of scientific testing.

    >This is because science explains how the natural world works, but religion
    >interprets the meaning of those events. So you and I can be in complete
    >agreement about the events that have happened, but argue over their meaning.

    It used to be that was the true. Now when even things like human esthetic sense has been found to have an underlying (and sensible) genetic component. Looking at things from an evolutionary biology perspective might even provide a reason we have such a tendency to believe in gods. I know a whole mob of atheists, but you can tell from their intense efforts that they regret there being no god or gods. (They are doing their best to
    *create* something with most of the aspects of a god.)

    >This applies to any field in which interpretation is necessary. Creative
    >endeavours of all kinds - musical or literary, artistic or cinematic - are
    >argued over endlessly and simply pointing to the picture, watching the
    >film again, or whatever, will not resolve the argument. The same is true
    >of the ways in which we respond to other people. We make inferences about
    >their personalities, from the ways in which they behave, and we often come
    >up with different explanations of the same behaviour.
    >Similarly, when I examine the events of the past twelve years the most
    >plausible explanation of them, as far as I'm concerned, is that I have
    >actually had a relationship with a loving God throughout that time. There
    >are alternative interpretations, to be sure. But the Christianity
    >interpretation is coherent, consistent with the facts, and keeps throwing
    >up accurate predictions. In my life. So much so that I am prepared to
    >say that I believe the Christian interpretation of life to be the truth.
    >Now I'm feeling so off-topic that memetics is but a hazy image in the
    >distance. The modern dominance of secular thought/atheism in the West -
    >as per your other post - is a whole other, fascinating memetic
    >question. Hmmm . . .

    As is the reverse of that in some segments of the US where the people are looking for the rapture any day now.

    Keith Henson

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