Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Neuroscience of Believing

When they are pressed for reasons or an explanation, a great many people who are religious, maybe most of them, will concur that their religious beliefs cannot be given substantial support in terms of evidence or rational arguments. To corroborate the mainstream view, there has been widespread agreement among philosophers and theologians for decades that rational and evidentialist theology is dead—the classical arguments for the existence of God do not succeed, nor can the full nature of religious belief and commitments be accounted for along those lines. Besides, billions of believers on the planet in history have believed fervently without any reference to or even awareness of anything resembling an argument for God’s existence. The notion that God can be somehow proven with an appeal to argument or empirical observation is the obscure construction of philosophers and is utterly foreign to the grounds of belief as most people see it. A few rationalist theologians and apologists continue to labor away, but their numbers dwindle and their anachronistic pursuits grow more and more out of touch with the scientific vanguard and the nature of ordinary religious belief.

Believing in God for the vast majority of people arises out of a particular set of feelings. They feel God’s presence in the form of guilt, satisfaction, transcendence, passion, beauty, awe, love, devotion and a host of other primal and powerful sensations.

So we have billions of people on the planet who engage in religious behaviors and beliefs, and who disavow attempts to rationally justify those beliefs. And centuries of tremendous and concerted efforts to derive some rational justification have come to nothing.

Meanwhile, in the background, our investigations into the biological and neurological foundations of human behaviors and cognitive dispositions have rapidly expanded and given us unrivaled and unprecedented insights into our nature. The human brain once seemed unimaginably complex and the gap from it to our minds and our cognitive lives as we know them from the inside seemed unbridgeable. But every new issue of the very best scientific journals on the planet contains studies that chip away at the problem. Bit by bit, we gain access to its inner workings.

Recently, prairie voles have gotten a great deal of attention. Neuroscientists became interested in voles because of their rare propensity to form long term monogamous relationships. It turns out that when her oxytocin levels are increased, the female vole locks onto the nearest male. The findings give us more insight into the chemistry of attachment, love, and relationships. In Nature, this week (457, 148 (8 January 2009), Larry J. Young says that the implication of these studies is that “pair-bonding in humans . . . can be enhanced or suppressed by tinkering with brain hormones like oxytocin and vasopressin, and predicts that we’ll be seeing new drugs to do just that.” Imagine being able to supplement marriage therapy, or being able to stifle the obsessive behavior of a celebrity stalker.
See John Tierney’s story in the New York Times, and see the article by Young, “Being Human: Love: Neuroscience reveals all” in Nature.

So if we are now penetrating the neurobiological sources of love, the most mystical and powerful of all human emotions, can similar developments in the neurology of religious feelings and behavior be far off? We have already seen a host of studies exploring religious experiences, propensity towards mysticism, genetic correlates of strong religiousness, the benefits of religiousness, psychological commitments to religious belief despite cognitive dissonance, and countless others. We’ve also seen an increasing body of evidence and arguments that show that introspection by the individual is not a reliable or accurate means of ascertaining the reasons why they believe and act as they do. These arguments for an externalism about belief, justification, and the mind cast more doubt on the antique position that believing in God is the result of some sort of carefully reasoned, deliberative, and consciously rational process.

Overall, what is the situation we are in currently with regard to understanding our own religiousness? We have a set of beliefs and behaviors that by widespread agreement are not based in rational or evidential considerations. And those beliefs and behaviors persist doggedly in the vast majority of humanity. The question is, then, from what do they spring? A live and increasingly well-supported hypothesis is that the real cause of religious belief is built into the neurobiological nature of the human nervous system. Of course, no amount of neurological information about the mechanisms of religiousness will change the way it actually feels or what it is like to believe from the individual’s perspective. Finding out that oxytocin or vasopressin are the physical sources of love won’t make loving your husband feel any different, nor should it make you stop loving him. Knowledge gives us power. If you find yourself not really being able to adequately articulate why you believe, and you can’t provide rational justifications to your own satisfaction or to those who have their doubts, but it just seems right—it feels like God is real, wouldn’t you want to understand what’s really going on inside of you? And doesn’t neuroscience therefore have the potential to liberate and empower us with an understanding of ourselves that has never before been possible in human history?

57 comments:

Brigitte said...

I don't really have much of a problem with this post, except you always ignore the Logos, the word, the idea, the reason, the truth, itself. It has a power of its own.

You want to be logical on this blog, but you should also BELIEVE (sorry to capitalize, I don't know how to use the tags; I'd rather have some italics) in logic (there could be a neurological basis for this, too.)
(Why are some more rational, logical than others and how did they get that way and how do they stay that way?, etc.)

This is the elephant in the living room.

In terms of neuroscience explaining things: why not. There is such a thing as the "incarnational understanding". The spiritual, or love, is in the vessel of the material and somehow it is "both and".

Matt McCormick said...

"you always ignore the Logos, the word, the idea, the reason, the truth, itself. It has a power of its own."

Honestly, I haven't got the faintest idea what you're talking about. I know what truth is--I discuss several modern theories about it in several of the seminars I teach. And I can give a pretty good account of modern descriptions of ideas, and reason. But none of those are the same thing. And you seem to have imbued the whole string of terms with some sort of magical, mystical significance that's just nonsense. Words or ideas on their own don't have power, they are magical. They are rough terms we use to describe cognitive contents. Imagine if I kept complaining about your posts: "But you consistently ignore the power and influence of the invisible elves that permeate all of reality."

As for the last sentence, here's a challenge. Can you express these thoughts without employing any jargon or metaphors, as clearly and simply as you can? I think these sorts of utterances are excellent examples of religious language that is non-cognitive. It may feel meaningful and even true to the utterer, but in fact it doesn't make any sort of real assertion about the world at all.

MM

Player Piano said...

Brigitte,

Are you implying dualism? Or something else? Just curious.

You're contending that the spiritual and the material are in the same vessel. Where is the spiritual? Our consciousness, our emotions, our decision-making, etc. has been shown by neuroscience to be functions of our brain.

Most often I hear the claim that this spirituality is a higher form of consciousness. However, since we know that consciousness is a property of the human brain, perhaps it is also plausible that this spirituality feeling is also a product from the same source?

And of course, multiple religions claim that we have consciousness after we die, when the brain (the source of consciousness) stops and then deteriorates when we die. How do we keep our consciousness? Do we get a new consciousness? If that is the case, then we wouldn't even be the same person, would we?

It makes more sense to me that our urge for spirituality is a part of our consciousness, and that as a function of the brain, our consciousness is suspended once our brain stops functioning. Where is the spiritual? Where is the soul? Where is our consciousness?

steve martin said...

Matt M.

You are a moron and a jerk.

How do you feel? Words do have power, don't they?

I didn't mean it , of course, but I was trying to show you that words DO have power.

The Logos of which Brigitte speaks is the Greek philosophical principle of the power by which the whole of the universe (universes) is held together and is controlled.

The bible says that this Word (or Logos) was spoken and the whole of creation came into being.

Christians believe that Jesus is this Logos. He is the reason (not just for the Season) for everything. It all belongs to Him.

This belief comes not from within but comes extra nos, from outside ourselves.

There is no reasonable scientific explanation for it. There doesn't have to be.

Science can create nothing,while the Logos creates everything.

Science just thinks God's thoughts after Him...but will never catch Him. He will always remain just over the horizon.

Brigitte said...

Matt, you say, you teach all kinds of current theories about truth, but you say: words don't have power of their own, truth does not have power of its own, ideas don't have power of their own. I think we live in different worlds. What is more powerful than an idea? What is more convincing than the truth itself?

"Incarnational understanding" refers, for example, to the idea that: yes, the Bible is God's word (with power of its own), BUT it is communicated through human beings--with flesh and blood, hormones, feelings, thought, skills, weaknesses... It did not come to the world like Mohammed claims by direct dictation or floated down as a complete book.
(My understanding is that the term comes from the Tuebingen school of theology).

Therefore, the Bible reflects the human writer, as well. The word of God is "incarnated" in the writer who writes it. --The human writer's neuroscience and pen is utilized.

This idea can be applied in different contexts, I postulate.

Similarly, my religious feeling (and thought) via the word, mediated by neuroscience, is not negated by neuroscience but incarnated in it (incarnate is not jargon, in means "in" and "carnate" means "flesh" (material, as you would know; kind of plain English, really.

Player Piano: I don't know how you come up with the idea of dualism. Does that not mean that spirit is good and flesh is bad? I am not saying anything of the sort. It is not a Christian idea. Rather spirit and flesh belong together for us.

As to the other questions regarding exact relating spirit and consciousness(es?, levels of?) we might be referring those to Sigmund Freud or else God, as Steve Martin pointed out a few posts back (or maybe the neuroscientist?).

steve martin said...

This may not be exactly relative, but in a similar vein:

http://extranos.blogspot.com/2009/01/dawkins-on-little-bit-of-luck-luck.html

Player Piano said...

steve martin:

There's absolutely no way for anything you just said to be falsified, is there? Does your belief make any promises, make any guarantees? How do we know what you're saying is correct? You've explained a lot of concepts, but you haven't demonstrated why anyone should believe these concepts, other than a clarification that these beliefs come from "outside ourselves".

Brigitte,

No, I was not saying that "spirit is good and flesh is bad" or anything like that -- I just wanted to confirm whether or not you believe that our bodies are both spirit and physical in their components. Then I wanted to know what/where the spirit component is, in your opinion.

Brigitte, you also ask, "what is more powerful than an idea?"

Well, that is a good question. What makes an idea powerful? What gives it strength?

To me, the power/strength/utility of an idea (or a truth) is represented by the degree of which its representation of something in the real world is accurate. Therefore, we have criteria to evaluate how powerful are spiritual ideas such as those found in the Bible? When we measure how accurately the events in the Bible depict real world states, we should be able to determine how powerful those ideas are. If you are intrigued by these ideas, I suggest you look into this:

http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2009/01/idq-flaws-relevant-to-holy-spirit.html

There are six articles in the series. Some of them are quite interesting.

I agree that ideas and truth are very powerful -- and a good way to measure the power of ideas is to test if they accurately reflect real world states.

You claim that the "word of God" was "incarnated" in the human writers of the Bible. So, when the writer of 1 John 4:18 says "The one who fears is not made perfect in love", but the writer of Isaiah 8:13 says "The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread", which one of these two "incarnations" of the Biblical god is correct, the verse which claims that fear is not made perfect in love (though your god supposedly is love, and supposedly is perfect) or the verse which claims that this god of love is a god to be feared and dreaded? Which "incarnation" is correct? Why would your god utilize humans to send two conflicting messages of his own nature? What do you think?

It seems more likely to me that two different people had two different opinions of your god's nature, and it is possible that neither knew the real nature of a divine god or gods.

That's one problem with the whole idea of Biblical "incarnations": how do we know which ones are correct, especially when the claims are contradictory?

paulv said...

How does one explain the existance of love (the sentiment) from an evolutionary perspective, other than as a hardwired trigger to cause committment to another, because this committment is a very successful strategy for survival. Like our taste for fat and sugar. So does showing love (the sentiment) has a chemical explanation prove the love (the commitment to another) is bad, not useful, or not true?

If religious feelings have a chemical base, it likely means they are hardwired like love, and our taste for sugar, because the committment religion brings is ultimately so beneficial to us that it can't be left to chance.

Certainly fast food companies, car commercials and others can manipulate or exploit our hard wired tastes and emotions to other ends, or to excess, but this does not imply that fatty food, love, or religion are essentially bad things. The trick is to identify the excess without throwing out the rest.

steve martin said...

Player Piano,

"How do we know what you're saying is correct? You've explained a lot of concepts, but you haven't demonstrated why anyone should believe these concepts, other than a clarification that these beliefs come from "outside ourselves"."

There is no way of knowing.

That is why faith is so important. You cannot believe these things without it and even with it, you cannot know for sure. It is all about trust.

That is why I tell my friends that you cannot argue someone into believing...it doesn't work that way.
The only way for someone to believe in God is for them to hear the gospel, that Christ has died for them and forgiven them all their sins. In this hearing (the Word) lies the powe of God unto to salvation for all those who believe it.

Why do some believe and some not? Who knows...only God knows.

Jesus said, "No one can come to me, unless the Father draw him" The literal translation of the word 'draw' is 'to compel'.

Some things are still a mystery and are not for us to know, otherwise He would have let us in on it.

Thanks!

Matt McCormick said...

PaulV, there's a serious fallacy here in several of your comments. It is simply not true that if some biological system or feature is present in an animal then it therefore must have served some beneficial purpose and was selected for. If that was the case, then we'd all need to get our wisdom teeth, tonsils, and appendices surgically replaced. Adaptation is a kludgey affair that straps together a solution from the available variations. The solutions are often limited, half-assed, partially effective, and the frequently come with lots of other extraneous features that don't serve a benefit, but the genes for them persist because they don't do any particular harm. Furthermore, many evolved features will persist long after their usefulness, even if they were vital for survival in some early set of environmental circumstances.

A number of the current evolutionary theories about the origins of the religious urge take this latter routes. Dennett, for example, thinks that an overactive propensity to imbue things in our environment with intention and consciousness made it possible for us to do a good job of predicting what predators might do, but it left us with the tendency to endow the weather, trees, water, and everything else with a mind. And it's just a few steps from there to this mystical, magical Logos business that Brigitte and Steve Martin are talking about.

MM

Player Piano said...

steve martin,

Thanks for clarifying your claims. However, I do see at least one difficulty with what you're saying. What if someone said in response to your claim, that:

"That is why I tell my friends that you cannot argue someone into believing in Allah...it doesn't work that way.
The only way for someone to believe in Allah is for them to hear the Qu'ran, that Allah is the one and only god and that Mohammed (PBUH) is his Prophet. In this hearing, the Word from the Qu'ran, lies the power of Allah unto to salvation for all those who believe it.

Why do some believe in Allah and in his messenger Mohammed (PBUH) and some not? Who knows...only Allah knows...Some things are still a mystery and are not for us to know, otherwise Allah would have let us in on it."

Do you see the problem with your argument's reasoing? You're relying on the premise that you have correctly identified which god or gods you are supposed to worship. How do you know that your belief system is better than Islam, or Hinduism, or Buddhism? What right do have to tell them that they are wrong and that you are right, or that you are more correct in any way?

By putting your trust in "faith", you fail to specify which "faith" to which this trust is applicable, and it seems that you have no effective way to differentiate as to where you should place this "faith".

paulv said...

I agree that a certain beneficial adaptations might have outlived their usefullness, or that a by-product or spandrel which was never useful (but must have been at least relatively harmless), now in a different environmant may be harmful. But this needs to be proven. It shouldn't be assumed without proof that they are now harmful. The benefit of the doubt in my mind should be that what was once useful or not harmful might very well still be. Showing something is hardwired, to me, seems to make it more likely that it is important, but granted it is not proof either.

My point is only that showing neurological origin does not mean religion or love is bad, or unimportant, it can still be good and important. No one disputes whether an excess of fatty food, or religion can be harmful, what is more difficult to prove is whether judicious quantities of food or religion are helpful or harmful.

As for Dennett, I will trust Atran's critique, pgs 242-245 of "In God's we trust" for the moment.

Player Piano said...

paulv,

"But this needs to be proven."

Perhaps it does; perhaps it doesn't?

For those who are able to live a moral, fulfilling life without this belief system, one could reasonably argue that such belief does not fulfill an evolutionary purpose.

Yes, religion can still be somewhat important, and it could certainly be less harmful. However, a significant benefit of religion is derived from its purported truth, and if we do not have evidence showing its validity, but we do have evidence that conflicts with its claims, as I believe is the case, then it would be perfectly rational to relinquish such belief.

steve martin said...

Player Piano,

There are a lot of claims to God, but only one God.

That Muslims believe in Allah or that Buddhists believe in Buddha is a rejection of what the true God has done for them.

Christ showed up and claimed to be God (the only leader of a great religion that made that claim).
He performed miracles that no other has performed. He taught things that are so unlike us (love your enemies, etc.) What He taught and what He did was so different that we would never have cooked it up.


It is normal for people(not all) to seek after God (or a higher power).

If there is a group of folks that want to believe the earth is flat, no amount of evidence will convince them otherwise.

There is evidence for the life of Christ and the things that He did. (thousands of eye witnesses)

But even many of those that saw Him raise the dead, did not come to faith.

As a Christian, I proclaim the truth revealed to me in Holy Scripture, in my baptism, and the faith which I have come to recieve through nothing that I have done.

With this, the greatest of questions...there is but one true and right answer...and that is Christ Jesus.

Everything else is just man-made, cooked up baloney.

Player Piano said...

steve martin,

"There are a lot of claims to God, but only one God."

How do you know which claim is better than another?

"That Muslims believe in Allah or that Buddhists believe in Buddha is a rejection of what the true God has done for them."

How do you know that you're not rejecting what their god has done for you? What evidence do you have which specifically points to your deity as being the correct one, or in fact, what evidence do you have that there is a god, or even a supernatural realm?

"Christ showed up and claimed to be God (the only leader of a great religion that made that claim).
He performed miracles that no other has performed. He taught things that are so unlike us (love your enemies, etc.) What He taught and what He did was so different that we would never have cooked it up."

So Krishna revealing himself to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita doesn't count in the "someone showing up who claims to be a god" category? Also, another interesting aspect of the Bhagavad-gita is that Krishna says "bring me your failure", much like Jesus is supposed to have atoned for sins.

"It is normal for people (not all) to seek after God (or a higher power)."

It was once normal for people to believe that lightning was the wrath of a god, too. That doesn't mean it's true.

"If there is a group of folks that want to believe the earth is flat, no amount of evidence will convince them otherwise."

I'm not so sure. Most people would believe it's not flat if they were given the evidence (if that's the only difference). The problem is, religion is so much more than that. Religion isn't just a proposition about belief -- it's a way of life.

"There is evidence for the life of Christ and the things that He did. (thousands of eye witnesses)"

Except that this is all written in secondhand sources, compiled at least several decades after Jesus is supposed to have walked on the Earth?

"But even many of those that saw Him raise the dead, did not come to faith.

As a Christian, I proclaim the truth revealed to me in Holy Scripture, in my baptism, and the faith which I have come to receive through nothing that I have done.

With this, the greatest of questions...there is but one true and right answer...and that is Christ Jesus.

Everything else is just man-made, cooked up baloney."

Once again, how do you know these things? You claim that truth is revealed to you in the Bible? How do know it's reliable?

How do you know if anything of this is reliable - Bible, baptism, faith?

You know because you know?

Bryan Goodrich said...

Matt,

In reading this blog you seem to fall into a similar mistake Dr. Young (the love Doctor!) has made. Therefore, to clarify that point, I will point out some problems I see in how people interpret Dr. Young's findings.

First off, we're not voles. I would think that obvious, but the way many media sources have jumped on these vole findings makes it seem like we forget this. I haven't kept up on the latest findings, though I might track down the research paper of Young's (I don't have access to Nature), but the only real correlate to humans I've heard of was brought up by Tierney's article you cite. "Researchers have achieved similar results by squirting oxytocin into people’s nostrils." Of course, "similar" is not expanded on, and some of the experiments, if I recall correctly, were not related to love, intimate bonding, etc., but things like "trust".

(Has there been any research of this sort on primates which would be the obvious next step?)

Simply put, there is a huge gap between the neurochemical responses in the brain of voles and that of human love. In fact, it begs the question that what Dr. Young is even describing in his findings -is- love as we conceive it.

In other words, Dr. Young, and any advocacy of this perception of love, is nothing more than a semantic card-switch that redefines the term "love" to fit the research. That's like saying we can redefine "democracy" to whatever superpower happens to dominate the political spectrum, as long as it vaguely resembles what is commonly referred to as democracy. It didn't define it. It re-defined it to fit the findings. That's a huge, and critical, difference.

In that respect, pardoning any caricature I might present, you have basically moved yourself in that direction once you start making religious belief and experience to be whatever science starts defining it as. It brings up a major issue about who has authority on these terms, because some scientists would take a neutral stance saying they aren't saying anything about, in these cases, love or religion, but that they are only describing the precise mechanisms going on in the brain during certain events (probably the best scientists you can get on a payroll).

Other scientists have agendas and predisposed beliefs they are trying to show or working on the agendas of others, these will be found often in the Government sectors and maybe having a goal of money. (An amusing dialogue can be found here)

In addition to that, you get media and philosophers taking these results and using them in their articulation of these concepts, sometimes performing this switch.

So who is justified? How do we justify such a move? I think Alexander Paseau, "Naturalism in Mathematics and the Authority of Philosophy," Brit. J. Phil. Sci. 56 (2005): 377-396. makes a good case for differentiating between science, math and philosophy in who justifies such norms, since this essentially is a normative issue in some respects.

But that brings up the issue I'm trying to raise. This isn't even a scientific topic, not really. Talking about vole pair-bonding and then tacking on "this is love" is completely unjustified from the beginning. They were studying mating behavior of voles and the neurochemical precursors to such behavior. Unless we just presume an equality between that and love, it's basically thrusting love into becoming an issue of science, when it wasn't.

On the other hand, a philosopher might find it a topic of their analysis, and, being a good naturalist, appeal to the relevant science which lends support on such ideas. However, it still begs the question to what role these scientific findings play in terms of love, and that is precisely the problem I see when, as seems to have been done, we connect pair-bonding and the neurochemistry to be equivalent (enough) to love. Where is the qualification? It seems talked about like it's a "duh!"

I do not see any kind of qualification for this conjecture, by scientists and philosophers, about love's precursors being explained by the findings regarding voles. Furthermore, you didn't provide any qualification for doing essentially the same thing in tying religion, religious beliefs and mystical experiences broadly to any neuroscience results that happen to explain them.

I could bring up a couple other examples, like the near-death experiences (NDEs) and the way we can induce certain "out of body experiences" that some scientists say might be the same brain mechanisms for when NDEs occur naturally. At least the scientists leave the gap there and don't bridge it with some kind of equivalency. There was also the "cheating gene" (link), which I know got some space in the Sac Bee because some co-workers (researchers) and I were talking about it in our break room. We mocked the stupidity behind the weak amount of scientific support and the causal connection to correlations of genes. The correlations weren't even always cheating but were qualitative measures about the marriage, even if there was no divorce or cheating.

In the end, I think these kinds of notions are like superficial summarizations of technical details by turning them into pop science (the media can definitely drive them) name games. The problem is when we starting using these superficial name games as actual arguments.

You do add the caveat at the end, however, that these findings don't effect any kind of phenomenological content, e.g., "Finding out that oxytocin or vasopressin are the physical sources of love won’t make loving your husband feel any different, nor should it make you stop loving him." But "are the physical sources of love" is completely unqualified. At the most basic, it has absolutely not been demonstrated that oxytocin or vasopressin are sufficient for love, nor has it been demonstrated that they might even be necessary. All that was shown was a relative analysis of mating behavior in voles, and, as far as I know, that in game theoretical settings people tend to be more nice, giving and trusting when taking a nasal spray of this stuff. That's a huge jump to "love" by any definition.

If I were to continue I would point out there's also a "vertical" gap that has been completely unrecognized. In particular, something like "love" is rather abstract. At the very least, it's a few degrees higher than the level of description of brain chemistry. We wouldn't talk about atoms being wet, yet we have no problem talking about water being wet. Yet, water is a collection of atoms relating in a certain way. The property of liquidity is obtained on a higher-level of description. The same is true for the solidity of a table. We would no more talk about economics in terms of physics than we would love in terms of biochemistry. Even if such a reduction could be performed (and theoretically I would say there can, and that there -must-), to place it on something as superficial as two hormones. The fact, for instance, that oxytocin plays a role in so many behavioral things (multiple realizability) should make one wonder how many other factors are involved which differentiate, for instance, the role oxytocin plays in trust, versus the role it plays in bonding, anxiety, maternal feelings and any other host of things it does that we know or don't know at this time. No one is contending the significance it does play. That is the extent of what the science shows. There's a huge different to throwing "love" into that list of roles it plays or summarizing "love" out of that list comes as completely baseless, and part of that has to do with the fact "love" is abstracted well outside of the domain of just neurochemistry (I would think "love" would emerge from a number of things that oxytocin plays a role in, but that is only a conjecture, and there is certainly no science behind it, and one would have to question if neuroscience can even investigate such topics. It is like trying to say physics can study economics!)

Bryan Goodrich said...

MM,

You say, "MM

Dennett, for example, thinks that an overactive propensity to imbue things in our environment with intention and consciousness made it possible for us to do a good job of predicting what predators might do, but it left us with the tendency to endow the weather, trees, water, and everything else with a mind."

I haven't become versed in Dennett's work yet, but I have some idea about his general opinions. I'm curious if he has any kind of science to back up that speculation you bring up in that quote. In particular, is there anything in the scientific literature that suggests the role imbuing things with intentionality plays any survival role against predators? Would it say at which time-period in our evolutionary past this would have been effective and played its role? The depth of conjecture there just leaves me wondering where it stems from.

Matt McCormick said...

Thanks for your thoughtful replies Bryan. I'll say a few things about the love issue. Of course I'm over-simplifying and generalizing. I favor quick and interesting in the blog posts over any tedious, plodding analysis of every detail. At most, what I think you're comments about love show, and I think this must be right, is that whatever the full-blown phenomena is in humans, it will be a much more complicated affair than simply elevated levels of oxytocin. But in order for this line of objection to go anywhere, Bryan, I think you have to argue something quite bizarre. To have a real point against my general thesis, you'd need to argue that the full blown phenomena of love is of a different category altogether than anything occurring in mammals like the voles. And as such, it doesn't have a physical basis at all. The point is that it's really clear that people FEEL God, but the vast majority of them can't say anything plausible or cogent about why. Combine that with what we have learned about mammal brains and the answer is clear: feeling God, or having those compelling God sensations is a kind of cognitive illusion, like seeing water on the highway when it's hot. Except here, the illusion is not generated by a simply optical phenomena, it's coming from deep in our cognitive faculties. So that makes it much harder to root out as an illusion. God is all in the brain, and nothing else.

MM

Matt McCormick said...

See Dennett's Breaking the Spell, Bryan.

MM

Bryan Goodrich said...

Piano Player

You say, "I agree that ideas and truth are very powerful -- and a good way to measure the power of ideas is to test if they accurately reflect real world states."

To use the previous example of "you're a jerk" there is no doubt there is a "power" behind that in its causal efficacy. Just like any communication, a word, or picture or statement can induce a response in us. We can measure it with fMRI or a GSR. What I am wondering is that you essentially appeal to (often from realist) an almost correspondence theory truth when you say its power would be measured (be real?) if it accurately reflected "real world states."

The contention I have with that is it seems to imply "You're a jerk" has causal efficacy (i.e, "power") if it reflects real world states. Using a disquotational rule (i.e., "snow is white" iff snow is, in fact, actually white in reality), "you're a jerk" has power iff, as a real world state, you are a jerk. I don't think that's what you wanted to articulate, but it seems implied, nonetheless!

Thus, what is it that you are referring to by "real world states"? Do you mean what is measured? The fMRI and GSR results? But now that misses all the content which made it "powerful"! If I show you a picture of a lion, the image has "power" according to these "real world states" because you have a galvanic skin response indicating a heightened state of anxiety or stress. It completely scrubbed the power of the image being that of a lion causing fear in you.

In other words, there is some intentional content in the message transmitted in this communication. Whether it is a word or image, there is something X which causes a reaction in you. Since the first implication would cause an asinine result (i.e., one is only offended by a rude remark iff it is true that the rude remark were correct--we get offended by lies!), I think it is safe to say scrubbing the content from the communication by observing only the response is just as asinine. The "power" is in the intentionality or intentional content of the word or image or how the person relates to that content. If we were only looking at the consequences, we miss everything important.

Now, here is the correspondence problem. If "real world states" require the -content- to be, well, real, then we're left with another queer result: the intentional content must be real. That is just false, because one could be lying (for a simple and superficial example) or one could be referencing an impossibility or something not real (e.g., "the present king of France is bald.").

One might try and work around that with "the intentional content must relate back to a conscious mind expressing it" in the case of words. But then we have a huge gap between that content, the intentionality, the communication and the response and how all that relates! In other words, the "real world state" would be of the form "p believes that X" and the utterance of X at you causes a real GSR response indicative of offending you leaves something missing. In particular, the statement "p believes that X" is not the same as the content of "X" which is the response. You're not necessarily offended by whether or not p does, in fact, believe that X, but by the X being uttered at you. It's the difference between "I believe that (the toothfairy is real)" is a true statement and "the toothfairy is real" being true (that is our X).

Just thought I'd mention that and ask for clarification.

Bryan Goodrich said...

MM,

You conclude that "God is all in the brain, and nothing else."

I find that hypothesis contentious because God, or the religion that surrounds it, is vastly social. This is something I didn't bring up when I dissected the love issue in my initial comments, but to talk about love in terms of oxytocin neglects the social aspects surrounding love and the host of other factors that go into love from those social variables.

Here is where my analogy to evaluating economics through physics comes in. We might say that all those social variables can also be reduced to the brain, in theory (I'd agree with that), but that does not mean "love is in the brain." At the very least, we need to say "love is in brains." But then that gets rather odd. In fact, it presumes all the social factors are in the brain proper and not in the environment or obtained in the relation of things "outside the brain" in the sense of how our meat bags interact. We don't want to make a composition fallacy, because the sum of these parts may very well be different than just "it's all in the brain."

I could draw an analogy of that to genetics and evolution, and the often neglected (mostly by pop science articulations) environmental and social factors that play into "evolved behavior," which you did a good job bringing up some of these issues yourself in your comments earlier to Paulv.

On a more philosophical level, it seems like you presume that collective ("we") intentionality, which we might say reflects these social constructions, is clearly reducible or equivalent to some kind of aggregate or sum of individual ("I") intentionality. I don't think that is a well supported reduction at all. But you paint that picture when we take this rather social concept (whether God or love) and reduce it to whatever is going on within any one person (or aggregate), as if any kind of aggregate features would have to be reducible to the parts (like solidity of a table reduces to "solidity of the atoms of the table", which would be absurd). I think John Searle's work (link) does a good job making that case. As the wikipedia links provides,

"...collective intentionality (e.g. "we're going for a walk") is a distinct form of intentionality, not simply reducible to individual intentionality (e.g. "I'm going for a walk with him and I think he thinks he's going for a walk with me and thinks I think I'm going for a walk with him and ..."). However, he believes collective intentionality is sustained by individual people: each person thinks "we're going for a walk", there's no "group mind" that has this thought."

I'm not supposing there is some "group mind" that is God or where God or love or social conceptions reside, but the mechanistic and the physical factors which make social constructs what they are extends beyond the individual and their individual intentionality. To even have collective intentionality of the sorts about social constructs requires these things outside of the individual (including their brain chemistry). Granted, intentionality can be wrong or about things that are false (e.g., someone can have a collective intentionality--we believe that P--while being the only one who actually believes in whatever).

In fact, I might raise the concern that if God were only in the brain, then what accounts for the socially critiqued conception of God that gets molded by any group of people? Certainly people have varying ideas of God, right down to the individual, but certain sets of characteristics of that belief get molded by the group and their interactions and reinforcements (all social psychological things to be investigated, and are not explained through neuroscience, at least not alone).

Thus, I would agree if it were the case that the conception of God were only in one's head, then God would be in the brain, but the (social) fact that we have collective beliefs about God requires that the variables that go into reinforcing these kinds of conceptions and intentional contents is an interplay of things outside of the brain.

And a technical critique, the brain doesn't do everything. That'd be like saying my computer is my CPU as if my graphics are processed there instead of in the GPU of my video card. Every aspect of an individual isn't contained in the brain but is a result of the whole bodily interaction and all the systems interacting (the endocrine system, especially, involves all parts of the body and plays a huge role in our behavior, attitudes, etc.), but I digress.

Player Piano said...

Bryan Goodrich,

You said in reply to some of my earlier comments:

"To use the previous example of "you're a jerk" there is no doubt there is a "power" behind that in its causal efficacy. Just like any communication, a word, or picture or statement can induce a response in us. We can measure it with fMRI or a GSR. What I am wondering is that you essentially appeal to (often from realist) an almost correspondence theory truth when you say its power would be measured (be real?) if it accurately reflected "real world states."

The contention I have with that is it seems to imply "You're a jerk" has causal efficacy (i.e, "power") if it reflects real world states. Using a disquotational rule (i.e., "snow is white" iff snow is, in fact, actually white in reality), "you're a jerk" has power iff, as a real world state, you are a jerk. I don't think that's what you wanted to articulate, but it seems implied, nonetheless!"

No, that certainly isn't what I wanted to articulate, Bryan.

"Thus, what is it that you are referring to by "real world states"? Do you mean what is measured? The fMRI and GSR results? But now that misses all the content which made it "powerful"! If I show you a picture of a lion, the image has "power" according to these "real world states" because you have a galvanic skin response indicating a heightened state of anxiety or stress. It completely scrubbed the power of the image being that of a lion causing fear in you."

I am beginning to understand this distinction. It appears that I didn't fully articulate what I was trying to say.

"In other words, there is some intentional content in the message transmitted in this communication. Whether it is a word or image, there is something X which causes a reaction in you. Since the first implication would cause an asinine result (i.e., one is only offended by a rude remark iff it is true that the rude remark were correct--we get offended by lies!), I think it is safe to say scrubbing the content from the communication by observing only the response is just as asinine. The "power" is in the intentionality or intentional content of the word or image or how the person relates to that content. If we were only looking at the consequences, we miss everything important.

Now, here is the correspondence problem. If "real world states" require the -content- to be, well, real, then we're left with another queer result: the intentional content must be real. That is just false, because one could be lying (for a simple and superficial example) or one could be referencing an impossibility or something not real (e.g., "the present king of France is bald.").

One might try and work around that with "the intentional content must relate back to a conscious mind expressing it" in the case of words. But then we have a huge gap between that content, the intentionality, the communication and the response and how all that relates! In other words, the "real world state" would be of the form "p believes that X" and the utterance of X at you causes a real GSR response indicative of offending you leaves something missing."

Yes, I am beginning to understand this. Somehow. I'm sorry, it's hard for me to understand a lot of this. I'm not good with long strings of "If such, then such" type arguments. If you read through all of the threads on this blog, you'll see that I don't really use this style very much. I know it's pretty important to be able to do it, but it's difficult for me. I have problems with understanding processes which have a lot of steps -- I prefer to analyze one problem at a time or to synthesize a lot of individual problems and analyze patterns and trends. I am trying to understand what you're saying to the best of my ability. I do realize that what I said was in error.

"In particular, the statement "p believes that X" is not the same as the content of "X" which is the response. You're not necessarily offended by whether or not p does, in fact, believe that X, but by the X being uttered at you. It's the difference between "I believe that (the toothfairy is real)" is a true statement and "the toothfairy is real" being true (that is our X).

Just thought I'd mention that and ask for clarification."

Yes, well, what I was trying to say was that one important way to evaluate some material is to try and understand if its claims accurately represent things which it makes claims about. I probably could have said that better, and I could probably still say that a lot better. Obviously, I am still trying to work a lot of these ideas out for myself.

Honestly, I'm not afraid to admit that I am not anywhere near as refined in my argumentation as you are, and I appreciate that you are pointing out things I say which don't make very much sense, so I can improve my methods of communication.

You are very good at communicating clearly what you are trying to say and thinking clearly, too.

Please understand that I am doing my best.

Player Piano said...

By the way, it's "Player Piano", not "Piano Player".

Usually I wouldn't harp on such a minor point, but you're the third or fourth person on this blog or at DC who has misread my name!

I don't know why people have such a hard time with it - please don't take it personally. It's from Kurt Vonnegut. ;)

paulv said...

Just because something is in the brain doesn't mean it isn't triggered by something real outside. (neither does it prove it is) Take vision. We can induce visions with drugs or electrical stimulus. That doesn't mean there isn't a real world is out there. Richard Gregory, a prominent British neuropsychologist, estimates that visual perception is more than ninety per cent memory and less than ten per cent sensory nerve signals This presumably allows us to make a best guess at what is around us from sometimes very little input. (from the New Yorker Magazine http://www.newyorker.com 2008/06/30"The Itch")

So reproducing religious or spiritual feelings via chemical or other stimulation does not answer why these feeling systems exist in the brain and what their natural trigger is or was.

Once effective oxytocin and vasopressin can be cheaply produced, consumer products will be laced with it and we will feel brand loyalty that may outcompete that induced by our children.

Matt McCormick said...

You're missing the point. We have two things going on here: 1) the vast majority of people readily admit that their religious beliefs are not based on any real evidence but arise from some internal feelings of faith, and 2) neuroscience is making great and rapid strides in explaining the chemical and neural foundations of many such feelings. Of course when someone looks at a real tree there are brain events that occur, but in the case of God, we nothing on the outside, by the believers' own admission, except their feelings, and it appears that we'll have a clearer account of how those feelings are produced by the brain (rather than arising from some objective phenomena.).

MM

Bror Erickson said...

Even if it was true, and here I see no reason to debate the point, that the vast majority of believers can offer no rational reason for their belief, it does not negate the fact that there is a rational basis for belief in Christianity.It just means a lot of people never question. I tend to think that is generally true. The vast majority of people I know who believe in evolution have no idea why they do beyond "well that is science." But they never stop to think, "what is science?" "What are the limits to scientific investigation?" etc. Just some "science" text book they had in the third grade said they evolved from something akin to a monkey, and they believe it. It doesn't mean there aren't more rational reasons to believe in evolution, it just means they don't have it. They might be great mechanics, but they don't care enough to ever ask the park ranger how they determined how old the Grand Canyon is to see if that was rational or not.
But you might be careful here. The science is not quite in yet on these chemical reactions, and it might just come to find that the atheist has a neurological disease, or deficiency of some chemical. Whose to say?

Eric Sotnak said...

Bror Erickson wrote:
"it does not negate the fact that there is a rational basis for belief in Christianity"

Unsurprisingly, I am unconvinced. So, too, was another prominent Lutheran -- Soren Kierkegaard, by the way.

Feel free to explain the rational basis for Christianity here, if you like, but you can probably count on receiving a few objections.

Bror Erickson said...

Yes, Soren Kierkegaard was the mouth piece of rationalism. Soren was about as Lutheran as Nietzsche. Though I might be more sympathetic to Soren. The Pietism he was raised with ruins almost anyone. One might even see Nietzsche's philosophy as a rebellion to the same.
The deal though it is just as rational to believe in the death and resurrection of Christ, as it is to believe in any other historical event, say Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. And the arguments against the death and resurrection of Christ are about as rational as any argument one could come up with for not believing Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo.
Perhaps though unbelief is caused by nothing more than a neurological disorder that can be fixed easier with a pill than a rational argument. That it seems is what this article implies.

Matt McCormick said...

You're still ignoring the Salem Witch Trials argument and several other serious objections that I have given to the historical argument for Jesus.

Eric Sotnak said...

Bror Erickson wrote:
"The deal though it is just as rational to believe in the death and resurrection of Christ, as it is to believe in any other historical event, say Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo."

Would you say it is also as rational to believe in the Golden Plates Joseph Smith said he found hidden by the angel Moroni?

steve martin said...

I don't think there were any historical witnesses to the that whole golden plate thing. Joesph Smith was a convicted con-man (factual history in N.Y. state).

There were plenty of people who saw Christ die and plenty who saw Him again afterward.

Many went to their deaths affirming Christ when all they would've had to do was tell the truth (assuming He really didn't appear to them in public)to save their own skins.

He (Christ Jesus) is real. He made a believer out of me and turned my life around.

That much, I know.

Carlo A Sclippa said...

Hello Dr. McCormick,

Neuroscience is certainly an exciting field and has made great strides in explaining mental processes. However, I as a philosopher I always seemed to stump my neuroscience professor on matters concerning mental experiences. In other words, neuroscience can explain causal process related to perception, emotion, pain etc but cannot explain them wholly. I asked once what exactly is going on when a person perceives pain (obviously outside of stimulation of C-fibers). My neuroscience professor used to reply "well, that is a philosophical question".

This alludes to another important point in which Saul Kripke once challenged the view of identity materialism - a view I believe your post is presuming. That is, mental facts are equal to physical facts (identity materialism). However, identity materialism must rely on an A posteriori necessity. But we can easily refute an A posterior necessity, particularly in the case of pain = stimulation of C-fibers. As you lectured once in your epistemology course pain can come about through mental perceptions alone i.e. the cold hand experiment in Locks case. Also, the necessity of an A posterior fact is troubled with other possible world scenarios where pain is produced without an entity possessing c-fibers - there’s no contradiction in such a case and is thus a permissible logical possibility. Therefore, identity materialism is problematic and we cannot as philosophers rely on science to solve philosophical problems.

steve martin said...

http://www.aldenswan.com/

A post title 'Inane Atheists'

Fairly short and good for discussion.

Reginald Selkirk said...

I don't think there were any historical witnesses to the that whole golden plate thing.

I don't think you know what you are writing about.
The Book of Mormon
Including:
THE TESTIMONY OF THREE WITNESSES
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.
Oliver Cowdery
David Whitmer
Martin Harris


See also:
THE TESTIMONY OF EIGHT WITNESSES
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shown unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.
Christian Whitmer
Jacob Whitmer
Peter Whitmer, Jun
John Whitmer
Hiram Page
Joseph Smith, Sen
Hyrum Smith
Samuel H. Smith

steve martin said...

Reginald,

Is it not recorded that Joseph Smith was a convicted con man in New York?

I believe He made up that whole wild book of mormon.

St.Paul said that if an angel from Heaven comes down with a different gospel (Mormonism) let him be accursed.

I picked up that book and started reading and within 5 minutes I found several doctrines that were antithetical to the Holy Bible.

It's just another man-made religion.

Carlo A Sclippa said...

RE: Steve Martin

You're correct in your assessment of the LDS doctrine being anti-thetical to the bible i.e. John 15:28-30 "the doctrine of Christ is finish" and your reference to Galatians 1:8. However, Reginald has a valid point concerning , how Christians, Muslims, pagans etc determine the validity of other religious claims. I believe that many of us merely use scripture as you did. But this isn't so convincing to skeptics (atheist and theists) alike. I tend to discriminate religious testimonies based on the credibility of the witness. For example, I know the LDS doctrine is false outside of biblical consistency because its sole witness is Joseph Smith. a man who was a well known charlatan. He was in the business of treasure hunting (confirmed by early LDS leaders) as well as the common folk of that era. Joseph Smith was also convicted in a NY court of fraud. The court document listed his skill of glass looking i.e. scrying in occult matters (This was also consistent with common folk testimony). So Joseph Smith's doctrine is not only inconsistent with the bible with being a credible witness.

I think atheist have a good complaint against the manner in which a given theist is able to discredited another's set of beliefs about his/her God. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet answer here for them.

Ultimately, I belief that Christ is who he says he is because his doctrine encompasses a moral system that far supersedes any human system (self sacrifice, charity, humility etc). Such is consistent with the highest conceivable kind of virtues. And virtue I believe is the highest form of truth. Much like universal morals that Immanuel Kant suggested (categorical imperative).

Reginald Selkirk said...

Is it not recorded that Joseph Smith was a convicted con man in New York?

So then you are acquiescing to the established fact that there are indeed recorded historical witnesses to the golden tablets? That's what I was arguing against, and I can't find a counter-argument in your post.

I believe He made up that whole wild book of mormon.

So do I. What's your point?

St.Paul said that if an angel from Heaven comes down with a different gospel (Mormonism) let him be accursed.

I doubt very much that St. Paul made specific references to Mormonism, since it postdated him by 1800 years or so. Any reason why I shouldn't presume that he was talking about the gospels of Mark, Luke, Matthew and John, since those also came later than Paul?

I picked up that book and started reading and within 5 minutes I found several doctrines that were antithetical to the Holy Bible.

If that is your standard of judgement, you're going to run into some serious issues with circular reasoning.

It's just another man-made religion.

Once again, I agree entirely. Mormonism is another man-made religion, just like all the others.

Richard G. Lanzara, Ph.D. said...

Do we really know anything about "true" religion or do we only argue about the dogmas of organized religions? For those who seek true understanding through years of reading and research, I highly recommend my father's new book (”The Secret Life Of Jesus And Mary Magdalene” by Richard J. Lanzara). You can see the reveiw at the Barnes and Noble site ( http://search.barnesandnoble.com/The-Secret-Life-Of-Jesus-And-Mary-Magdalene/Richard-J-Lanzara/e/9781607034162 ). Enjoy!

Jon said...

Some evil Jesus quotes:

Jesus says that he has come to destroy families by making family members hate each other. He has “come not to send peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:34
Matthew 10:34

Families will be torn apart because of Jesus. “Brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death." Matthew 10:21

Jesus strongly approves of the law and the prophets. He hasn’t the slightest objection to the cruelties of the Old Testament. Matthew 5:17

Bror Erickson said...

Sorry guys,
Haven't been stopping by here much lately as the arguments seem to be getting sillier. However, Matt, you write:"You're still ignoring the Salem Witch Trials argument and several other serious objections that I have given to the historical argument for Jesus."
No Actually I answered your objections. We have all seen injustice dealt by a court. What you are doing is ignoring the historical argument for Jesus and refusing to engage it, by grasping for straws and trying to compare it to other historical events that happened under different circumstances. You are trying to compare apples and oranges in the assumption they are all kiwis.

Bror Erickson said...

Reginald,
Your analogy to Mormonism is funny. Where as the historical evidence for the events of the Bible is surprisingly strong.
That for Mormonism is not.
Where as the disciple of Christ would have been better off financially remaining fishermen they abandoned that profession and faced death for doing so.
Joseph Smith on the other hand had a good con going, lived a life of wealth, and had unscrupulous control over his followers for his story to the point of even stealing their wives and taking them for his own.
The men who say they witnessed the plates, also turned against him and denied it later. The only manuscript evidence for the book of Mormon is a novel published under another man's name.
Further more archeology has proven so devastating to the claims of Mormonism that even Mormon scholars have come to the conclusion that the story must have happened elsewhere.
Again you compare apples to oranges thinking them kiwis.
Just because one claim to historicity is easily proven false does not mean that the next is.
I'll be checking out now.

Bror Erickson said...

I should have included Eric in that last post with Reginald.

Reginald Selkirk said...

Bror Erickson: for reasons already discussed at length, I do not consider you to be a reliable source on questions of historicity. You are right that the arguments here have been getting sillier since you showed up.

Eric Sotnak said...

I certainly agree that the historical evidence favoring Mormonism is so thin as to border on the silly. But then, so also is the historical evidence that once upon a time there was a magic Jew who walked on water and came back from the dead. I'm not an historian, but I'd be willing to bet that there is far better evidence that Napoleon lost at Waterloo than that Jesus came back from the dead.

steve martin said...

Eric,

If I had a chance to save my skin by denying Christ (his disciples and many others)..I would have...had I not really seen Him.

If I saw Him after the resurrection then I probably would have done what they did and go to my death willingly.

All they would've needed to do to live was to deny Him.

Thay could not.

Reginald Selkirk said...

If I had a chance to save my skin by denying Christ (his disciples and many others)..I would have...had I not really seen Him.

Big Yawn. Many religions have had martyrs.

Carlo A Sclippa said...

RE: Jon

You're a bright person that I have no doubt enjoyed the company of much provocative discussion. However, I am puzzled why you would copy and paste a website (skeptics annotated bible) that is devoted to bashing bibical quotes without considering their contextual meaning. Jesus just sent out his apostles to spread the message that will save many people. That is, in a time when barbaric practices of the state. Men and women ought to accept christ's message, which includes obeying the divine laws previously put down ( 10 commandments etc). The reference to Jesus as a sword is obviously metaphorical - the message will divide the worthy from the unworhty - or sinnful from the pious. You cannot interpret the passage literally since its langauge obviously refers to an analogy - the force of the message and what would happen if one rejects it. This is much like a father telling his son not to stray towards a group of friends that are gang members. The fatehrs message will certainly be like a sword if his child does not heed to it - both being ofensive o the childs freedom and serving as his peril. When Jesus made the quote you prescribe he was trying to explain the kind of strife his apostle would meet - lots of resistence. It is not uncommon for families to be in strife over differences in moral beliefs. And we can no doubt agree that this strife is not in any sense violent but rather a strong sense of disagreement. if a person or family was to deny a good set of moral stadnards then they will no doubt see misery in their life. I hope this helps bring to light a little context to that quote.

Carlo A Sclippa said...

Re: Eric

i dont think the validity of jesus coming back from the dead is an evidential matter but rather one that is afforded to a man-God. You're better off trying to refute the God then what the God did.

Reginald Selkirk said...

The reference to Jesus as a sword is obviously metaphorical

I should hope that is obvious, and it is just as obvious that it is a violent military metaphor. Swords are not used as you describe, to carefully divide this from that. That would be a knife, or even a scalpel. Swords are used to hack off limbs and kill people.

Carlo A Sclippa said...

Are you serious Regina? Only swords are used to hurt people and knives etc are for analogies? I have no idea why you would say this.

So according to you the profeessor in the link is going to play with a double edged sword while teacher her class? Going to be evil and hurt her students?


Playing with a double-edged sword: Analogies in biochemistry
http://docs.lib.purdue.edu/dissertations/AAI3113854/


The word "sword is often used in analogies in many pieces of literature and was obviously popular with the bible authors. In the bible it refers to divine judgement i.e. the word of God.


"X is a double edged sword"


And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith
he which hath the sharp sword with two edges." (Revelation 2:12).

"For The Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight." (Hebrews 4:12-13).

"Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." (Proverbs 12:18)

"Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword.

Julius Caesar

Reginald Selkirk said...

Are you serious Regina? Only swords are used to hurt people and knives etc are for analogies? I have no idea why you would say this.

Your inability to comprehend what you read, or even to competently cut-and-paste, is readily apparent in your mangling of my name. You are very confused about what I wrote. I did not say that only swords are used to hurt people, I said that swords are only used to hurt people. They are not generally used to carefully separate things.

So according to you the profeessor in the link is going to play with a double edged sword while teacher her class? Going to be evil and hurt her students?

Once again, the metaphor is a violent one. Thank you for underscoring my point. A "double-edged sword" is dangerous not only to the intended victim, but to the sword-wielder.

Jon said...

Carlo I understand what you mean that the "sword as divider" can be metaphorical.

If I use that quote and meaning in conjunction with Jesus in Matthew 5:17 then it appears that Jesus wants us to live by the Laws of Moses (not just the 10 commandments). Those laws are very problematic when fitting them in with morality. And if Jesus divides people into camps who upholds or discards those rules, then at that time in history it appears that not just the opposing side is in the wrong concerning morality in conjunction with religion. Not to say that all precepts of the old testament and other religions at the time were not moral. But, if we do what Jesus said and go to "the letter of the law" then there are problems. This also conflicts with what to take literally vs. metaphorically in the Biblical Law and Analysis.

Carlo A Sclippa said...

Regina you contradicted yourself in your own post. You also have claimed that you cannot use the word "sword" as an analogy. I dont know what to say


"I did not say that only swords are used to hurt people, I said that swords are only used to hurt people."

Carlo A Sclippa said...

Hey Jon I understand your frustration. But I think in order to undertand the biblical laws you need to take into account the whole story of the Bible. Often critics of the biblical text selectively take out excerpts without considering context. There many cases in the Old Testament where the tribe of Israel was split and led to certain tribes worshiping Yahweh and others falling astray to old habits i.e. worship of pagan gods. In the cases of worshipping the pagan gods the Bible is not as clear as excluding these cases to be incorrect commandnts -at least not explicitly. We often have heard of priests battling using magic or sorcery or even King Solomon and his dealings with demons. Of course if I was a rabid atheist who did not read the Bible from the beginning to the end I cannot begin to understand the story to even criticized. Such a case I believe it often faulted to the common atheist.

Moreover, I do not see any laws prescribed by Jesus Christ as being immoral. In fact, I see his work as trancending many human moral doctrines. Also, it is important to note biblical errancy. I actually believe there are parts of the Bible that have been altered to serve mankind. It would be naïve to think otherwise. Such corruption can be confusing and may lead some (those who selectivly read it) to conclude that such is evil (immoral). Often people mistake a story in the bible as a command becasue it is just merely in the bible. This is false. Some biblical storys serve for historical and moral development as well.

Jon said...

I understand your point Carlo, I have read the Bible fully at least twice and the new testament many times over as well as portions of the old testament many times over. Not that your accusing me of that, it has just been easier for me to grab my points from a web site then going over to my bookshelf and grabbing the Bible and flipping to the areas I want to address (plus the Bible I have is written in super small print and is not good for my eyes - I need a new one).

After much Bible study over the years, especially as a youth, I have taken the writings less and less serious concerning how they apply to ethics and reality, however there is also good shit in there that I would not deny as being good or truthful.

Also, I do not underestimate the various secular evils that pervade our world, those are just as dangerous and sure it is argumentative as to which "side" outweighs which on the evil spectrum. It would be great if no one has to worry about various evils of any form.

I have willingly argued against both Atheists and Theists on many issues (this site included - Although I am an Ateist myself, even though I am religious in that I believe that the universe is ultimately mystical in - don't ask yet!), but I must disagree with you on the Bible, and we can talk more Biblical details later, I have written enough for the moment, my friends just got home so I have to enjoy the rest of the afternoon, thanks for writing.

dfisch said...

I like this blog as it presents arguments that help me with my quest for understanding. As much as I want to believe in a God, I can't help but see man's fingerprint in 'His' attributes. These attributes tend to glorify mankind, giving man a special purpose, meaning, significance...of course these are good things but it seems logical to me that neurologically we need this to feel driven to live and procreate! Thus, perhaps our religious needs and leanings...As much as I would like to visualize God, I lean instead to an abstract timeless concept that I have trouble connecting with but at least gives me hope that there is more than what meets the eye. Consider Steven Hawking's theories that require the universe to have at least 11 dimensions. Most religious organizations have bashed him for claiming that God is not required to explain the creation of our Universe. When I think of a universe with more than 4 dimensions I can't help bu think we may have just defined God incorrectly!

feathertail said...

So we're about to discover, through science, that spirituality is as natural as love. And your response to this is "That disproves god"?

What. The. Crap.