[ExI] Function of religions

Darren Greer darren.greer3 at gmail.com
Mon Sep 27 17:53:49 UTC 2010

Brent wrote:

"What, concisely, are all of you experts saying, and what do you agree on?
 And how much consensus, is there really, for such?  If we can come up with
that, rigorously and definitively, then I think there is hope for the

It would be pretty hard to come up with acknowledged experts on moral
consensus, since there actually is no moral consensus. This is one of the
realities of modern life that religionists lament publicly about the most
often. They claim they take their moral guidance from religious texts as
"God's Law" because the rest of the world is falling apart because of the
lack of moral agreement.

In some ways they're right.  The lack of agreed upon universal standards for
moral behavior that aren't dependent upon cultural or religious norms is a
huge problem. On one hand, you have groups of morally righteous individuals
who claim that their moral standards are the moral standards of the world
and should be instituted as such. There are the obvious crazies  -- those
who propose Sharia or Mosaic law as the universal standard. And the more
subtle -- those who propose we sacrifice some individual freedoms and rights
for the sake of others that they deem more important, even though those
perspectives too are often culturally and/or economically biased. On the
other hand you have the relativists, whose impotence in the face of outrages
performed on the body politic by the first group comes from an unwillingness
to step on any toes, informed by Alister Crowleys' Thelema Doctrine (though
not directly of course) of Do What Though Wilt (often amended to Do What
Though Wilt as long as it doesn't interfere with others doing the same.)
 Descriptive ethics refers to this as territorial morality.

Almost every single war we see taking place in the world today is a result
of this age-old philosophical struggle between relativism and objectivism.
Edward Said put it nicely in his book Orientalism. The wars or the future
will not be east vs west, he said, but rather  fundamentalism vs modernity.

I read somewhere recently, and I'm sorry I can't remember where so I can't
reference it, that we spend far too much time trying to come up with
universal moral standards that would be accepted by everyone, when we should
in fact spend more time looking for where our moral beliefs come from in the
first place, even those that appear to be diametrically opposed. And a very
useful tool for doing this is evolutionary psychology, for it narrates to
the species as a whole and not just to cultural or national factions. Such
an approach has the power to actually unite us, as it establishes trust on
the most basic level: that of our  evolutionary and genetic commons.

But like Keith, I don't hold out much hope for this in the near future
either. I suspect, like most drastic changes in perspective, it will need to
be precipitated by an intense crisis before people let go of their cherished
illusions. Either the proposed singularity where power will be removed from
our hands either for our own good or despite of it, or some man-made
disaster before then. I've held this opinion for twenty years and have been
bracing myself for it ever since.

Call me pessimistic. I'm used to it.


On Mon, Sep 27, 2010 at 1:29 PM, Brent Allsop <brent.allsop at canonizer.com>wrote:

> Keith and Spike,
> I was attending Mormon Sunday School yesterday.  It's pure hell listening
> to all the irrational faithless fear mongering, the irrational worshiping
> and wallowing in misery they go on and on about there, but it is very
> educational to watch them, and to learn what motivates them, and to find out
> the real purposes of religion and how hierarchical religions have evolved to
> be so successful at taking advantage of people's sheepish tendencies.
> The older lady lay teacher, was leading the discussion.  She started
> bringing up how all the 'worldly people' accuse them of being 'closed
> minded' and so on.  Our church is in the small town of Sandy, just outside
> of SLC.  And she said they always accuse her of being in this "little sandy
> bubble" ignorant of the rest of the world.  But she, and obviously everyone
> else there, was very proud of that, and she literally said: "I'm proud of
> this little Sandy bubble we're in" that she believes protects them from "the
> world".
> All these people are clearly people that don't enjoy thinking about moral
> issues much.  They are far less intelligent than experts that are
> intelligent and interested in moral issues.  These types of people have no
> hope of standing up to any real argument, against  intelligent moral
> experts, so they must have something they can trust and lean on, to do it
> for them.  Within humanity, not everyone can be moral experts on everything,
> so others must have something they can trust in.   And obviously these
> people desperately want some 'prophet' they can trust so they don't have to
> think.  Religions have obviosly evolved to take advantage of the tendency of
> the normal human to act in such sheepish ways.
> But there is clear evidence, that people in general do trust scientists and
> proven experts, on certain things.  Especially if they could be the ones to
> lay down the criteria of selecting who is and isn't an expert.  So I
> believe, the only problem is, having a good way to measure for moral expert
> and scientific consensus, so that everyone can learn to know and trust such.
>  Obviosly, most of us can see there are lots of moral experts that believe
> much of what the prophets say is wrong.  But, since there is not yet some
> way to measure for this moral expert consensus, anyone claiming what the
> prophets are saying is wrong, can easily be doubted by the religious
> leaders.
> But, if we could measure, and rigorously show that the moral and scientific
> expertise is definitively refuting the the hate, war and fear mongering the
> popes and prophets are touting is wrong, such that nobody could refute such,
> I think there is great hope for humanity to finally take the power  away
> from the hierarchical selfish primitive leaders.
> I think it's all about knowing, concisely and quantitatively, what the
> moral and scientific experts are saying.  And that is precisely our goal at
> canonizer.com.  I can't be a moral expert at everything, so would sure
> like the help of all you moral experts to help me out, so I no longer needed
> to trust in these primitive, selfish, hierarchical religious leaders, for my
> moral direction.
> What, concisely, are all of you experts saying, and what do you agree on?
>  And how much consensus, is there really, for such?  If we can come up with
> that, rigorously and definitively, then I think there is hope for the world.
> Brent Allsop
> On 9/27/2010 9:53 AM, Keith Henson wrote:
>> On Mon, Sep 27, 2010 at 8:00 AM, spike<spike66 at att.net>  wrote:
>> snip
>>  We have seen a religion become considered almost as a race, so that
>>> criticism of it has become the practical equivalent to racism.  How did
>>> that
>>> happen?
>>> So the temptation is to get one's philosophy redefined as a religion,
>>> even
>>> if it really isn't one.  I recognize the temptation, but my ethical
>>> intuition tells me this is wrong.
>> Spike, we need to consider why humans have religions at all.  But
>> first it is a feature of top predators that their numbers are
>> ultimately limited by self predation.  Lions are a good example, they
>> evolved the pride social organization as a response to lions killing
>> lions.  Chimps are largely immune to predation and their numbers are
>> limited by group on group war.
>> The line that led to humans escaped predation by the big cats a long
>> time ago so there has been plenty of time for evolution to act.  Human
>> populations grow till they stress the ability of the ecosystem to
>> support them.  Then a behavioral switch flips, they organize and and
>> kill "the others."
>> Religion, even if it isn't always easy to see, is based on xenophobic
>> memes that are part of the organizational process leading to wars.
>> Since a lot of populations around the world are under
>> ecosystem/economic/ecological stress, mostly from accumulated
>> population growth, it's no wonder that religious memes have become
>> more of an influential factor.
>> Now the logical thing would be to strongly restrain the birth rate and
>> make ever effort to grow the economy in a way that did not depend on
>> rapid depletion of resources.  But for reasons involving the
>> conflicting interest of genes and the persons they are in, "war mode"
>> makes people irrational.
>> I think it is possible to get economic growth ahead of population
>> growth and shut off the drift of so many populations into "war mode."
>> As you know, I work on ways to solve the energy/carbon problems,
>> trying to keep my own ego out of the analysis.  Unfortunately there
>> are very few people trying to solve the problems.
>> I don't hold out a lot of hope for the intermediate future (before the
>> singularity).  Chances are the world will see a really drastic
>> population reduction in a lot of places over the next few decades.
>> Keith
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