ORIGINS OF RELIGION, MORALITY AND BELIEF—select quotations. PART 1

“If we go back to the beginning we shall find that ignorance and fear created the gods; that fancy, enthusiasm, or deceit adorned or disfigured them; that weakness worships them; that credulity preserves them, and that custom, respect and tyranny support them in order to make the blindness of men serve its own interests.” Baron D'Holbach


Natural Morality:
If human morals and values do not arise out of divine command, then where do they come from? They come from our common humanity. They can be properly called humanistic.
A considerable literature exists on the possible natural (biological, cultural, evolutionary) origins of morality. Darwin saw the evolutionary advantage of cooperation and altruism. Modern thinkers have elaborated on this observation, showing in detail how our moral sense may have arisen naturally during the development of modern humanity.
We can even see signs of moral, or proto-moral behavior in animals. Vampire bats share food. Apes and monkeys comfort members of their group who are upset and work together to get food. Dolphins push sick members of a pod to the surface to get air. Whales will put themselves in harm's way to help a wounded member of their group. Elephants try their best to save injured members of their families.
In these examples we glimpse the beginnings of the morality that advanced to higher levels with human biological and cultural evolution. You may call them instinctive, built into the genes of animals by evolution. But this is a plausible mechanism for the development of human morality as well—a purely natural process, arising out of matter alone. Nothing ‘spiritual’ is involved because there is no substance separate from matter that we can call ‘spirit’. (I suggest the name of this magazine be changed to Science & Nothing.)
It seems likely that this is where we humans have learned our sense of right and wrong. We have taught it to ourselves. Do Our Values Come from God? The Evidence Says No. Victor J. Stenger. August 2005


The Beginnings of Morality lie in Primate Behaviour: Frans de Waal. New York Times. March 2007.
Religion can be seen as another special ingredient of human societies, though one that emerged thousands of years after morality. There are clear precursors of morality in nonhuman primates, but no precursors of religion. So it is reasonable to assume that as humans evolved away from chimpanzees, morality emerged first, followed by religion. “I look at religions as recent additions,” he said. “Their function may have to do with social life, and enforcement of rules and giving a narrative to them, which is what religions really do.”


“During the youthful period of mankind's spiritual evolution, human fantasy created gods in man's own image who, by the operations of their will were supposed to determine, or at any rate influence, the phenomenal world.” Albert Einstein 1879-1955


“Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes.” Bertrand Russell 1872–1970


“Gods are all in the mind. They are the imaginations of wishful thinkers who do not think enough because they have not learned enough. In other words, god exists only inside the head, and not outside of it.” Terence Meaden, 17 February 2007.


“The supreme mystery of despotism . . . is to keep men in a state of deception and with the specious title of religion to cloak the fear . . . so they will fight for their servitude as if for salvation.” Baruch Spinoza


“Religion is something left over from the infancy of our intelligence; it will fade away as we adopt reason and science as our guidelines.” Bertrand Russell 1872 – 1970


“Religions are fairy-like fictions. Once created (usually by men, the makers of male gods), they are promulgated by priests (usually men who promote and sustain patriarchies) and succeed because they nourish easily-satisfied cerebral needs for most people (who get fearful when indoctrinated) in providing personal comfort and solace.” Terence Meaden. Atheistweb. 6 January 2008.


“Traditionally, brand-name religion is instilled from infancy, often with ferocious warnings against heretics and infidels, making it hard to doubt the precepts with which one has grown up.” Damien Broderick. The Australian. March 2007.


“All religions start with the very young, and condition them to believe that their teachings are the correct teachings, and to question those teachings is somewhere between blasphemy and a sin. Many grow up to be closed minded on religion, since it is a conditioning process, rather than a process of logical reasoning. They cannot go against what they have been taught all their lives, and what all their family and friends believe, without becoming an outcast.” Robert Dewar, The Enquirer. 2007


Excerpt from a review, 2006, in Scientific American of Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell.
“If nowhere else, the dead live on in our brain cells, not just as memories but as programs—computer-like models compiled over the years capturing how the dearly departed behaved when they were alive. These simulations can be remarkably faithful. In even the craziest dreams the people we know may remain eerily in character, acting as we would expect them to in the real world. Even after the simulation outlasts the simulated, we continue to sense the strong presence of a living being. Sitting beside a gravestone, we might speak and think for a moment that we hear a reply. In the 21st century, cybernetic metaphors provide a rational grip on what prehistoric people had every reason to think of as ghosts, voices of the dead. And that may have been the beginning of religion.
If the deceased was a father or a village elder, it would have been natural to ask for advice—which way to go to find water or the best trails for a hunt. If the answers were not forthcoming, the guiding spirits could be summoned by a shaman. Drop a bundle of sticks onto the ground or heat a clay pot until it cracks: the patterns form a map, a communication from the other side. These random walks the gods prescribed may indeed have formed a sensible strategy. The shamans would gain in stature, the rituals would become liturgies, and centuries later people would fill mosques, cathedrals and synagogues, not really knowing
how they got there.” The complete review is at :
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/067003472X/002-3131770-7372014?v=g...
His explanation of the god phenomenon is not so different from what Euhemerus proposed in 400 BC, although it is more satisfactory because we have a better knowledge of the brain and the Neolithic world than did Euhemerus.


“If the philosophers were to form a government, the people, after 150 years, would forge some new superstition, and would either pray to little idols, or to the graves in which the great men were buried, or invoke the sun, or commit some similar nonsense. Superstition is the weakness of the human mind, which is inseparably tied up with it; it has always existed, and always will.” Frederick the Great, letter to Voltaire, 1766.


“I believe that the idea of God has been a disaster for humanity, and any person who bases their morality on the writings of hallucinating pre-modern nomads is going to have pretty warped values.” (Johann Hari, Attitude, June 2006)


“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.” Albert Einstein

Tags: Beliefs, gods, morals, origins, religion

Views: 12

Replies to This Discussion

Some further remarks, prompted by learned questions from member Ronald G:

The scientific atheist position is that which originates from assimilating the deep truths of scientific knowledge.

I accept that, especially in the last 150 years, millions of scientists have done tens if not hundreds of millions of experiments, the results of which cross-fertilise with and support one another.

Hence we have an ever improving, detailed understanding of the Universe and the origins of stars, Earth, and, as expressed through modern Darwinism, life on Earth.

Mankind is the peak of achievement of the natural development of life forms. “Things like family, relationships, government, etc. existed in (virtually?) all cultures, and were therefore considered natural institutions of Man” (to quote Ronald G.)

Culture is a natural development for mankind. However, we also recognise that only in recent centuries have there been enough brilliant scientists to explain the natural origins of things like evolution, geological processes, and the physics, chemistry and biology of our world.

Until then, and continuing even today, the physical world was described by many people (starting with the founders of religion, preachers, and the like) by what amounted to guessing, i.e. the creation of wholly improbable fairytales which the gullible and the innocently-ignorant swallowed.

How can it be that among them there are otherwise clever people who accept millennia-old stories, initiated by Bronze Age/Iron Age desert travellers, in preference to the astounding world of reality as revealed by science?

It is because they were caught and indoctrinated as children. And yet, some non-scientific people also escape from the cerebral trap that was laid for them as children, and these are the fortunate people endowed with enough and considerable commonsense.

Religion has long been part of human experience (chiefly out of ignorance, but also because it has been helpful to tribal leaders, kings and preachers for control purposes) and continues to be for many, largely because of inadequate education as to the scientific truths about the world and the long-lasting influence of religious schoolteachers and parents.

In short, I fall in the class of people who believe that our current religious views are a perversion in the field of human experience and deserve total annihilation because they are all wrong and represent a continuing tragedy for the human race.
What follows is brought over from the open blog site where Ronald G. wrote:

We both seem to be awake at the same time. I like being awake at 4am ... most of the time.

Let us consider the function of religion with human experience. I consider the function of religion not to explain the world, but rather to give meaning and substance to human experience not fulfilled in day-to-day mundane existence. As such, some religious practices do better than others.

Remember, the ancient Greeks had a heliocentric universe, with Eratosthenes measuring the circumference of the earth with a 1% margin of error. Somehow these scientific facts were lost and replaced with a flat earth at the center of the universe. The modern world has since updated (although the Church did not help.) Likewise, I believe that there existed a human experience that transcended banal existence and launched some (if not all) major religions, and like the ancient Greek findings became lost. A rough sequence being: Individual Spiritual Event - Group Spiritual Events (when the events were transmitted to other) - Philosophical Explanation - Organization and Institutionalization - Fossilization -- ending up with the same s**t we see today. I've had this discussion with other scholarly minds and the only thing we really disagree with is the time line, other than perhaps adding or deleting a stage or two.

Religions need updating just like any other understandings, and I think the time is ripe.

Those religions that attempt to supplant science as the yardstick by which we see the world around us, I agree in principle ... annihilate them, but not totally. We should keep some of it on display in museums and such, the same way we talk about a flat terra-centric universe.

You are far more fortunate there in GB. Those of us in the USA have to deal with the political reality of churches still trying to teach variations of Creationism in lieu of Evolution -- a *theory* whose proof is still in dispute according to our current and (thankfully) soon-to-be ex-president. Think of England with "W" on the throne, and the late Jerry Falwell as PM.

Be grateful for small blessings.

Response to the points raised by Ronald G.:

R.G.: Let us consider the function of religion with human experience. I consider the function of religion not to explain the world, but rather to give meaning and substance to human experience not fulfilled in day-to-day mundane existence. As such, some religious practices do better than others.

T.M.: Of course, religion does provide succour, comfort, satisfaction, to many people. Most of them would feel lost, and have empty lives otherwise. The best aim of present-day rationalists is to convince the doubters as to where the truth lies. The high believers of the god-myths will never be convinced by any argument, however perfect it may be.
An unwanted function of religion is the power that it gives to mentally-challenged warmonger and bomb-throwing extremists.


R.G.: Remember, the ancient Greeks had a heliocentric universe, with Eratosthenes measuring the circumference of the earth with a 1% margin of error. Somehow these scientific facts were lost and replaced with a flat earth at the center of the universe. The modern world has since updated (although the Church did not help.) Likewise, I believe that there existed a human experience that transcended banal existence and launched some (if not all) major religions, and like the ancient Greek findings became lost. A rough sequence being: Individual Spiritual Event - Group Spiritual Events (when the events were transmitted to other) - Philosophical Explanation - Organization and Institutionalization - Fossilization -- ending up with the same s**t we see today. I've had this discussion with other scholarly minds and the only thing we really disagree with is the time line, other than perhaps adding or deleting a stage or two.

T.M.: Progress in rational scientific thinking has been erratic during the world’s history of the last 6000 years.
The best of classical Greek philosophy was a major pre-christian high point. Unhappily the advances of that era came to be ended and then lost to the intellectual world. Rational freethinking renaissance only came but slowly under the stifling authority of the Medieval and post-Medieval church.
All religions were thought up by someone or other, whether it was a true “individual spiritual event” or a deliberately fake one (as with L. Ron Hubbard of Scientology), or conveniently falsified (as with Joseph Smith of the Mormons and Charles Taze Russell of Jehovah’s Witnesses), or with maybe incidentally fabricated spiritual events as with the frontal-lobe-epileptic Mohammed of the Arabian Desert. A few of what were minor religions developed into worldwide ones.


R.G.: Religions need updating just like any other understandings, and I think the time is ripe.

T.M.: Religions are left-overs from archaic times. Some have been updated by charismatic tricksters (Joseph Smith, Charles Taze Russell, L. Ron Hubbard). The writings of them all should be set on bookshelves alongside tales by Aesop, the Greek gods, the Roman gods, Grimms fairy tales, and Hans Andersen.

R.G.: Those religions that attempt to supplant science as the yardstick by which we see the world around us, I agree in principle ... annihilate them, but not totally. We should keep some of it on display in museums and such, the same way we talk about a flat terra-centric universe.

T.M.: Admitting that belief in the church is an ineradicable part of world history, then museum-type displays may be acceptable in highlighting the fictions, dangers and consequences.

R.G.: You are far more fortunate there in GB. Those of us in the USA have to deal with the political reality of churches still trying to teach variations of Creationism in lieu of Evolution -- a *theory* whose proof is still in dispute according to our current and (thankfully) soon-to-be ex-president. Think of England with "W" on the throne, and the late Jerry Falwell as PM.

T.M.: The great country that is America is more deserving of a religion-free society than it has acquired. The founding fathers did a good job. Recent presidents have’ lost the plot.’
American achievements in science and technology are splendidly admirable. American regression by the ill-educated part of the population who believe the biblical/creationist stupiditie,s is abhorrent.


R.G.: Be grateful for small blessings

T.M.: In England just as the church is losing its centuries-long stranglehold on the minds of common people and the functioning of the state, the politicians and the future king are sleepwalking into allowing the rise of creation-worshipping Islam within our hard-won free and democratic country.
Ronald G. replied to the above on MY BLOG instead of here, so I am carrying forward his comments to this site.
Thanks Ronald.

Comment by Ronald G. one day ago

"Yes, let us both pray that the likes of Scientology and Mormonism don't inherit major religion status, although the Mormon Church does run the entire state of Utah, which has a larger land mass than GB.

And I did forget your Muslim imports. Most of our fundies are home grown.

I think the George Jr. administration has pretty much woken up American citizenry, at least those that want separation between Church && State, such as our Founding Fathers. George's only redeeming quality is that of a good example of religion gone mad and the government joining suit and industry (and some politicians) taking advantage of a lucrative opportunity.

Most of our advances in technology are the result of the Cold War, when our government thought we had to be one step ahead of the USSR. The country could not afford the luxury of getting drunk on religion. This opinion is becoming consensus. We have always had our fundies, but government knowingly kept it out of the education system, and it listened to its scientific community lest we become socialists.

Again be thankful for small blessings. I would have liked to reconstruct and possibly resurrect Samkhya Yoga, but for me "peer review" means satisfying the swamis, who are still considered the ultimate authority. I was told point blank that I would have to account for all the religious commentary that has since grown up around the now extinct atheist tradition. How would you like it if every time you wanted to publish a paper, it had to pass a Xian litmus test. Alas, woe is me!

BTW, that is the reason I did not want to through out all seeming religious thought. Samkhya Yoga is considered to be of that genre, although it explicitly denies the existence of any Supreme Kreator (sic), and the word "God" should only be used as a figure of speech.

No wonder the new medieval Muslim rulers got rid of both them and the Buddhists who shared that view. "
Thank you for putting it in its place.

ronald g.

RSS

Support Atheist Nexus

Donate Today

Donate

 

Help Nexus When You Buy From Amazon

Amazon

MJ

© 2014   Atheist Nexus. All rights reserved. Admin: Richard Haynes.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service