22 January 2015

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Religion free society - Part 2

Dear Friends,

The meeting last Sunday on "Religion free society" went so well that we
decided to continue with the topic this coming Sunday. I still had a
list five people to speak 15 minutes before 9pm!! So Sunday we'll start
with this list.

I am therefore basically sending the same email as last week. However,
don't imagine that we've discussed everything in the essays not to
mention topics and issues that we never imagined.

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Religion free society.

Although, as you know, religion is a topic we approach with caution
during our meetings sometimes we have to cross this minefield in the
name of philosophy. In my essay (I was not that busy this week) I argue
that our topic is not a question of getting rid of religions or
religions are good for us. My position is that religions are made up of
a belief side and a prescriptive side. And should we end up with a
religion free society it would have been the result of the prescriptive
aspect of religion. In the meantime Ruel has sent is his link to his essay:

Hello Lawrence,
The link to the essay I wrote on the topic "Religion-free society" is:

See you on Sunday.
All the best,

Religion free society

This question may be interpreted in two meanings. The first is when
religions lose or change their scope within society through an
evolutionary process. A process that has been going on for centuries.
The second meaning is to ban religions outright. Something that is quite
common these days.

However both processes have their drawbacks. Evolution takes too long
and does not necessarily lead to an equitable and ethical state of
affairs. A ban on religions, though, implies the oppressive hands of a

Some might even argue that even a ban on religion is part of an
evolutionary process. Since, a ban on religion would no doubt be due to
a conflict between the new ideology and religion. Except that there is a
slight difference here, the ban usually happens in a relatively short
time frame compared to natural evolution. Besides, a ban is also
intentional whilst a natural process is just a natural causal chain of
event with the impression of being random.

So a religion free society depends on and is the result of two forces: a
natural causal process vs an intentional human desire for short term
results. But why should we care about what happens to religion?

I do not wish to go into any detail about the meaning of religion since
we only need to understand the basic components of a religion: 1) a
belief in a superhuman deity or god to legitimise those beliefs and the
consequential actions, 2) a set of beliefs that are accepted as
representing the state of affairs of the world we live in and that such
beliefs are accepted on the principle of faith and not empirical
justification, and 3) religion prescribes a lifestyle and behaviour that
is usually based on coercion and/or indoctrination.

It may be argued that it is a very human capacity to identify with some
imaginary form or being as having superhuman powers. Something we can
relate to but does not have the human weaknesses. Look, for example, at
such fictional characters as Super Man, Bat Man etc. However, the
argument used by religion is that these gods are real as much as the
plastic that makes up the keyboard on my PC is real. Unfortunately, the
reality issue is not available as a philosophical argument for religions.

Firstly, unlike say scientific claims about real things, the absence of
empirical evidence of a god fails on the ground that we do not have a
methodology to verify or refute the existence of a god. The reality of a
god does not seem to be established with any methodology. However, we
are hard wired to have methodologies to discover whether something is
real or not or true or not. How many times have you come across some new
food and started eating without first discovering what kind of food it
is? Indeed we are hard wired not to belief anything rather than to
belief anything purely on a verbal claim by someone.

Faith, belief or call it what you will is not a methodology but an
emotional disposition. In the same way that, for example, reciting a
mantra before I check my lotto ticket is an emotional disposition and
not a method. Even if one day I do win big at the lotto. As I will argue
the flaw about faith or belief about anything is that we have to
fact-check it with the world outside our brain and then whether we can
make predictions about whatever it is we believe.

The philosophical point is that faith about something does not equate to
a factual event about our universe. On the contrary, what we can say for
certain about doing things by faith is that it is an emotional state of
affairs in some people and not a proof of anything. Moreover, since we
are all human beings the scope of one of us having some super human
access to the most secretive aspects of the universe is very slim indeed.

But the status of religion depends purely on the existence of a god or a
super human figure. This is what is supposed to give legitimacy of
religion over all other beliefs. However, as human beings we don't have
the means to establish the existence of such beings. Firstly, we are
asked to demonstrate something that by all accounts does not seem to
have anything in common with the way the universe functions. Secondly,
and more importantly, we have so many conflicting accounts of what such
a god or gods are that we have no idea what we're looking for. An
thirdly, the bottom line is that we can discover or know about anything
if information about that thing can be communicated to us in an
empirical format; the only format we have. Unlike photography we only
have one format for transmitting information about anything the
empirical one; in photography if you really want to know we have raw,
jpeg, tiff, png (there are more in the pipeline) and that's just the
digital formats.

This leaves us with the prescriptive lifestyle religion imposes on
people; some religions only impose lifestyles on their followers while
others also want to impose lifestyles on the rest of humanity. This
prescriptive attitude of religion is usually accompanied with coercive
methods to impose their set of lifestyles or behaviour. Therefore, this
make religion a legitimate subject for philosophy since it is a question
about ethics and political philosophy. Let's be clear about it, if it
wasn't for the prescriptive aspect of religion it would not be of any
interest for us, or anyone else for that matter.

The descriptive aspect of religion, i.e. faith, beliefs, gods and
deities, is a normal human mental activity we all enjoy; this is one of
the things we do with our brain. Incidentally, the very same brain that
has served us so well to cure diseases, overcome natural challenges,
manipulate our environment to increase access to resources, and the
brain that has created art, music, literature, the Christmas pudding
and, maybe, football! What is sure though is that as a consequence of
our understanding of the world around us we also understand that the
workings of the brain are not always perfect or satisfactory; like many
causal processes, we sometimes fail. In other words, sometimes we are wrong.

By virtue of the fact that religions pay a huge amount of intellectual
effort and human resources on the prescriptive aspect of religion, it
betrays the genesis of religion in general: i.e. our biological make up
and behaviour. Our biological make up, or nature if you wish, dictates
that we have a lifestyle and behave in certain ways in the same manner
that nature dictates to ants and lions what to do with their time. If
religions where not so obsessed with lifestyle they would just have
written the manual and left it to people to do what they want; religions
are not like that.

Thus the prescriptive side of religion is an empirical phenomenon and
therefore, is covered, fair and square, by empirical criteria. And one
of the most important empirical criteria is that what is empirical can
be measured and verified/falsified. From this premise it follows that if
we have a belief about something in the world then we can reasonably
assume that this belief can be measured, verified/falsified and so on.
This does not mean that if we demonstrate that what we believe is not
the case, we should stop having that belief. Indeed I will never stop
believing that the universe was created so that we can have Christmas
puddings, however, I haven't yet started making plans for the Nobel
Prize in physics and astronomy I should be receiving in the near future!
Beliefs do not make facts!

But beliefs can lead to action. For example, thinking that vegetables
are good for me we expect that I sometimes eat vegetables or at the very
least promote the eating of vegetables amongst the people I know. But
with this kind of situation, we always come up with the problem of
induction: just because vegetables are good for me it does not
necessarily follow that they are good for everyone, they are not! The
biggest problem for us here is one of ethics and morality: do good
things follow a zero sum game or are they subject to the law of excluded
middle? Meaning that if something is good then it must be universally
good, for all time and everyone, or if something is good it cannot be
contradicted to being not good at the same time. Good wins everything,
and there cannot be both good and not good.

Let's take an example: some religions (and societies) prohibit or
disapprove of siblings known to each other to procreate (or incest to
widen our scope people). Today we know why this is undesirable, we can
read why and most of us know enough biology to understand the reasoning
behind this prohibition. However, there are/were many societies and
religions that allow such procreation. Who is right? We certainly know
that we are right, however, it does not follow these other societies are
wrong. For example, maybe the community some three thousand years ago
was small and isolated and therefore it was much better that the few
people procreated hoping for the best rather than for the society to die
out. Sure, this is not the best of all solutions, but the issue, I am
sure we all agree, is not one of what is good?

My point is that whilst our beliefs may be constant over time, our
empirical knowledge about the world changes because we are always on a
learning curve about life. Thus religions that remain stagnant despite
access to new knowledge are also in a regressive process of life. Those
who insist on still using a Bakelite rotary phone today are having a
very hard time making calls. Incidentally, this is a very clear example
of how religions and beliefs can fail the evolution race; stagnation.

However, persistent conflicts between sections of society about
empirical issues cannot be a sign of good tidings. And usually,
conflicts within society that involve religion centre on issues of
power, wealth control, and certainly, radical change of accepted beliefs.

So at the end, our topic centres as much on the evolution and
development of beliefs (religion) as much as the chaotic distribution of
knowledge and acceptance of that knowledge amongst humanity. It seems
that knowledge and attitudes as a consequence of that knowledge do not
develop within all societies at a lightning speed, despite the internet,
and do not influence everyone in the same way.

Of course, in my argument I am assuming that any evolutionary
development or any state of chaos is the product of a fair random
process. For example, I am not considering issues of oppression,
manipulation of people for the benefit of the few. I am also assuming
that any knowledge is eventually discovered by all societies and
religions, not to mention that there is no reason to assume that we are
all affected the same with any new knowledge.

The question, for us is not whether we should get rid of religions, or
are we better off with religion. The question for us is what will cause
the disappearance of religion as a consequence of its body of
philosophical principles. Incidentally, all aspects of our life are
governed by a body of philosophical principles; it's just that we don't
call them as such.

A religion free society is certainly a result of evolutionary forces
probably caused by access to more up to date knowledge about the world
in association with sections of society not sharing the same set of
beliefs. Having said that, I really doubt that an evolutionary would
really wipe out a set of beliefs, no matter how weird those beliefs are.
Unless those people with those beliefs are themselves wiped out of
existence. In a way rights about beliefs and free speech are there so
that no set of beliefs are allowed to disappear, even the weir one.
Because, as I said, we are hard wired to have beliefs we abhor beliefs
being lost forever; history, history of ideas, leisure reading, and
passing interest in unpleasant sets of belief (e.g. Nazi doctrine) are
evidence of the importance beliefs have for us.

What is likely to wipe out a religion from its privileged status (and
therefore society), is its prescriptive nature. Prescription is an
empirical challenge to an individual's existence and as we know, in a
conflict the side with the smarts are more likely to win than the one
with the muscles. Or to put it in a different way, the group with the
set of beliefs that has a flawed philosophy is more likely to cause its
own downfall than the set of beliefs that are a step ahead of evolution.

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
philomadrid@gmail.com <mailto:philomadrid@gmail.com>
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
From: January 15 at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Religion free
society - Part 2

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