Tag Archives: God

Fear of All Knowing, Judgemental Gods Makes Us More Sociable?

The following article or letter has just appeared in NatureMoralistic gods, supernatural punishment and the expansion of human sociality. (Or try this link.) Warning, however: high profile journals such as Nature are known to experience the highest retraction rate among scientific publications. Presumably this is because they attract readers (i.e. payers) by publishing articles sure to be popular even though their claims have not been properly tested or have an inadequate peer review process for determining final editorial decisions.

Since the origins of agriculture, the scale of human cooperation and societal complexity has dramatically expanded. This fact challenges standard evolutionary explanations of prosociality because well-studied mechanisms of cooperation based on genetic relatedness, reciprocity and partner choice falter as people increasingly engage in fleeting transactions with genetically unrelated strangers in large anonymous groups.

To explain this rapid expansion of prosociality, researchers have proposed several mechanisms. Here we focus on one key hypothesis: cognitive representations of gods as increasingly knowledgeable and punitive, and who sanction violators of interpersonal social norms, foster and sustain the expansion of cooperation, trust and fairness towards co-religionist strangers.

We tested this hypothesis using extensive ethnographic interviews and two behavioural games designed to measure impartial rule-following among people (n = 591, observations = 35,400) from eight diverse communities from around the world: (1) inland Tanna, Vanuatu; (2) coastal Tanna, Vanuatu; (3) Yasawa, Fiji; (4) Lovu, Fiji; (5) Pesqueiro, Brazil; (6) Pointe aux Piments, Mauritius; (7) the Tyva Republic (Siberia), Russia; and (8) Hadzaland, Tanzania. Participants reported adherence to a wide array of world religious traditions including Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as notably diverse local traditions, including animism and ancestor worship.

Holding a range of relevant variables constant, the higher participants rated their moralistic gods as punitive and knowledgeable about human thoughts and actions, the more coins they allocated to geographically distant co-religionist strangers relative to both themselves and local co-religionists.

Our results support the hypothesis that beliefs in moralistic, punitive and knowing gods increase impartial behaviour towards distant co-religionists, and therefore can contribute to the expansion of prosociality.

 

 

Putting in a Good Word for God

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No railway lines in West Bank and Gaza so trucks replaced trolleys in the narratives.

Speaking of the Devil or his doppelgänger, God, in my slightly flippant recent “trolley dilemma” post, what should appear in the serious social science research literature but that very trolley problem applied to Palestinian Muslims and Allah.

God usually gets a bad rap among us atheists but fair’s fair so when the research tips in favour of the Ineffable One integrity demands we duly acknowledge it.

Our findings cast doubt on the notion that there is something special about religious faith, including Islamic belief, that invariably favors promotion of violent intergroup conflict.

PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) has published Thinking from God’s perspective decreases biased valuation of the life of a nonbeliever by researchers Jeremy Ginges, Hammad Sheikh, Scott Atran and Nichole Argo. (The supporting data is also published as a supplement.)

Here is the article’s own statement of its significance (as usual, all bolding and formatting in quotations are my own):

Significance

Religious belief is often seen as a key cause of human conflict because it is said to promote preferential treatment of adherents and to harden group boundaries. Here, we examined a critical aspect of this link in the context of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, a multigenerational violent conflict with significant religious aspects.

We find that although Muslim Palestinian participants valued Palestinian over Jewish Israeli lives when making difficult moral choices, they believed that Allah preferred them to make moral decisions that valued the lives of Palestinians and Jewish Israelis more equally.

Beliefs about God may promote more equal valuation of human life regardless of religious identity, encouraging application of universal moral rules to believers and nonbelievers alike.

Gulp! How can that be? Before I discuss details of the article, here’s the overview:

Abstract

Religious belief is often thought to motivate violence because it is said to promote norms that encourage tribalism and the devaluing of the lives of nonbelievers. If true, this should be visible in the multigenerational violent conflict between Palestinians and Israelis which is marked by a religious divide.

We conducted experiments with a representative sample of Muslim Palestinian youth (n = 555), examining whether thinking from the perspective of Allah (God), who is the ultimate arbitrator of religious belief, changes the relative value of Jewish Israelis’ lives (compared with Palestinian lives).

Participants were presented with variants of the classic “trolley dilemma,” in the form of stories where a man can be killed to save the lives of five children who were either Jewish Israeli or Palestinian. They responded from their own perspective and from the perspective of Allah.

We find that whereas a large proportion of participants were more likely to endorse saving Palestinian children than saving Jewish Israeli children, this proportion decreased when thinking from the perspective of Allah. This finding raises the possibility that beliefs about God can mitigate bias against other groups and reduce barriers to peace.

Ouch! Possible that religion can be a force for peace? Well, “religion” is a loaded term. That’s not quite what the study is addressing. So here are some details. . . .

read more »

So God is Only Human?

For God so loved the world that he did what many other people would have done — only to undo all his good with a much worse act later.

trolley-switchOne mind-game that keeps recurring in my recent and current readings in the nature and origins of our moral sense is the trolley experiment.

You see a trolley is running out of control along railway tracks and is about to kill five people hedged in by high banks on the track ahead. You have the option of pulling a lever to re-route the trolley to a side-track but there is another person similarly trapped there and who will die of you do.

Is it permissible to pull the lever so the trolley kills the one but saves the five? Most people say it is.

Then it occurred to me that isn’t this a bit like what the Christian gospel is about? God sees many people doomed to die, so he flicks a switch so that only one dies instead. (Okay, there are more theological trappings to this: those five have to repent or believe or they’ll find themselves in the same situation again and then God will decide not to pull the lever and they’ll all die anyway!)

So far, apart from the theological monstrosities, does not God’s great act of salvation appear to be little more than a perfectly natural human act in accordance with perfectly natural human ethics?

The mind-game gets more interesting if we introduce some variations. What about tossing a very heavy bulk of a man onto the track to stop the trolley if there is no lever to save the five; or what about pulling a lever that will drop the heavy bulk of a man on to the track so you don’t actually push him, and so forth.

Then there are other types of variation to introduce. One of these is having the solitary person on the side track being a close friend or relative of yours, perhaps your child? What if the five people are all staunch supporters of [fill in your most hated politician/party here]?

Then try the variants of scale. What if not just five people were doomed but an entire city by something accordingly matching the trolley?

If you saw the entire population on earth was doomed and the only way to save them was to allow your child to die, what would you do? It would be horribly painful but I suspect some, even many, people would even sacrifice their child.

Would God, then, have been any better than many mere mortals?

(Come to think of it, how many mere mortals, lacking awe and mystery, would then doom that entire population in a re-run if they failed to believe God had not lost his child after all but had magically brought him back to life?)

Understanding the Nature of Religion and the Religious

Emile_Durkheim
Emile Durkheim

This post is in some ways a response to the Jerry Coynes and Sam Harris’s and others who blame religions for human actions; it is also a response to my reading a certain professor’s study of Christian origins from a perspective that yields no quarter to any explanation that resorts to “something unknowable to the modern historian”.

In this post I will outline a way of understanding the nature of religion — as well as an understanding of what religious believers are really engaged in with their beliefs and practices — from a considered empirical perspective. Religion is a human creation and should be understood like any other human activity.

Yet in reality religion is rarely seen as something so natural or as something that can be evidently explained in mundane human terms.

If someone religious does something crazy or cruel many of us are likely to blame the religion itself as a cause as if the religion is a monstrous force that took possession of willing or unwilling slave. Some even speak of religious memes as if there are free-floating genetic-like forces that can infect and plague the unwary.

If someone joins a bizarre cult many of us will likely say brainwashing was to blame.

Religions can appear to be mysterious powers, divine or demonic.

Religious scholars and even those not so religious can scarcely bring themselves to understand the origins of a great faith in terms of the same sorts of historical forces that are assumed to give rise to other institutions.

Despite the diversity of Christian views on the subject, Christians almost universally assume that something extraordinary stands at the very beginning of Christianity. Whether this extraordinary moment is understood in terms of the singular intrusion of the divine into history, or in terms of the revolutionary way in which the historical Jesus awakens the numinous in others, the origin of Christianity for Christians remains unique. [Citations here to works by Crossan, Borg, Keck.] Apparenty, as Rodney Stark’s recent account demonstrates, the power of this presumption of uniqueness is great enough to immunize the extraordinary nature of Christian origins against even the explanatory efforts of sociologists. (J.C. Hanges “Durkheim and Early Christianity” in Reappraising Durkheim for the Study and Teaching of Religion Today ed by T.A. Idinopulos and B.C. Wilson, 2002, p. 143, my bolding)

For James Constantine Hanges (quoted above) as a historian of religion this is not good enough. Christianity, indeed any religion, “must be explicable in terms of empirical processes, especially in terms of the processes of social formation.” (p. 144)

Returning to Durkheim cannot be done presently without recognizing the serious criticisms to which his theory of religion has been subjected. While we have started with Durkheim’s analysis of the totemic religion of clans, in light of Durkheim’s almost total dependence on what subsequent fieldwork has show to be fundamental misapprehensions of the ethnographic facts, we can continue only by extracting from Durkheim’s work the sociological principles that guided it. We must then speak of social groups and the unifying role of symbols, instead of clans and totems. If Durkheim’s system is to prove useful, we should find these funda- mental principles and observations helpful in understanding the truth of the social formation of early Christianity, as it is expressed in the cult itself. (Hanges, “Durkheim and Early Christianity”, p.144)

For this understanding Hanges turns to Émile Durkheim‘s sociological understanding of the nature and origins of religions. The beauty of this approach is that it enables a

a means by which to disrupt [our] accepted religious categories and to make something familiar seem suddenly very strange. (p. 144)

Reminds me of G.K. Chesterton’s famous quote about travel:

The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.

Everything that follows is based on my reading of some of Hanges’ explanations of Durkheim’s sociological explanation of religion (from Reappraising above and other works) and a perusal of Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (online). So understand these are elementary student notes cut very bare for a basic overview. With apologies to genuine students of sociology!

Here goes.

The Two Truths of Religion

To understand religion in modern societies Durkheim began by examining how religion worked in primitive societies. This way he expected to understand the fundamental principles of social institutions that become increasingly complex in the societies we know. Though religious ideas and institutions in modern societies are complex they can nonetheless be more easily understood if we can see the more primitive forms from which they have derived.

There are probably only two truths that are expressed in any stable religion —

  1. the nature of the individual

  2. the nature of society

Every individual is aware that he lives at two levels: as a private individual limited by his physical body and as a member of society, as part of a group that transcends any individual.

Society wields a power external to us and that is far greater than any of us. It represents an identity that is greater than any one person. Each of us has a very close (and subordinate) relationship with it. We each live in some sort of communion with this power.

I think we can see where this idea is headed with respect to the origin of “god”. read more »

Jewish Foundations of Christianity — Significance of God’s Name

tetraThere is something unusual about the way the name of God is treated in the Old Testament books. The name itself sometimes appears to have an existence of its own apart from God himself. It’s natural for us to take this kind of usage as a literary personification. But is it? This post is one more update of some of the new things I have been learning as I try to catch up with scholarly studies into ancient Judaism.

God does things with his name as if it were an entity “out there”. He places his name in the temple. We read that his name saves his people and is worthy of praise.

The first text to examine in order to understand what’s going on here is Exodus 23:20-34 (NIV). We find it is foundational in several ancient works — Philo, the Apocalypse of Abraham, and various other early Christian and Jewish texts — that treat the name of God in unusual ways —

20 “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. 

21 Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him.

22 If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you.

23 My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out.

24 Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices. You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces. 

The angel, like most angels in the Bible, is anonymous. But he does have God’s divine name in him. So God can call him “my angel”. The command is to listen to what he says and obey him. So he appears to have a voice of his own yet at the same time his voice is that of God. Moshe Idel explains it this way:

Although God is the speaker, it is the angels voice that is heard. Thus it seems the angel serves as a form of loudspeaker for the divine act of speech. (p. 17)

Similarly, as we see in verse 23, this angel is said to lead the Israelites while at the same time God explains he is the one who is acting.

But the phrase that has attracted most attention in Jewish studies is “my name is in him”.

Compare Exodus 33:14

The Lord replied [to Moses], “My Presence/Face will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Is this the same angel as we met ten chapters earlier? If so, the same angel has the name of God in him and also has the outward appearance of God. He is both a loudspeaker of God and a face-mask for God.

We find this same angel again in Isaiah 63:9 and once again he is helping or rescuing his people from trouble:

In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence [=Face] saved them.

What is most significant in this discussion is that this angel appears to be a container for the name of God. He is an ambassador or messenger for God and his presence announces the presence of God himself — by virtue of God’s name being in him.

This angel is one to be feared and obeyed. He will not forgive those who rebel against him.

Now the angel is not the only receptacle for God’s name. In Deuteronomy we learn that God is present in the Temple when his name dwells there. Indeed, as we read of the wanderings of Israel being led by this angel we eventually come to the time when they settle and have a stable place of worship. The wandering angel who contains God’s name is followed by the eventual resting place of that name (and angel?) in the Temple.

This same angel was understood by the Jewish philosopher Philo to be God’s “firstborn Son”.

read more »

Jesus with Isaac in Gethsemane: And How Historical Inquiry Trumps Christian Exegesis

Other uses for clubs and knives: Flickr photo by Meyer Potashman

Edited with explanatory note on Jesus not struggling with his sacrificial vocation — Dec 2, 2011, 08:10 am

This post concludes the series outlining Huizenga‘s thesis that Matthew created his Jesus as an antitype of Isaac. The earlier posts are:

  1. Isaac Bound: template for Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew — this examines the Jewish beliefs about the Isaac offering narrative before the Christian era;
  2. Isaac Bound & Jesus: first century evidence — this surveys Jewish and some Christian beliefs about Abraham’s offering of Isaac in the early Christian era;
  3. Matthew’s Jesus crafted from the story of Isaac — a synopsis of the Isaac allusions to Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew up to the Gethsemane scene.

This post concludes my presentation of Huizenga’s chapter The Matthean Jesus and Isaac  in Reading the Bible Intertextually. It first addresses verbal allusions and thematic correspondences between Genesis 22 and the Gethsemane and arrest scenes in the Gospel of Matthew; it concludes with a consideration of the reasons the Gospel author may have used Isaac in this way and the significance of his having done so. I also draw attention to Huizenga’s argument that while we have historical evidence for the likelihood of Isaac being used as a recognizable model for Jesus we have only later Christian exegesis to support the more widely held current view that Isaiah’s Suffering Servant was used as Matthew’s template.

What follows assumes some knowledge of the posts that have preceded. read more »

God: Liar? Compromiser? Poet? Incompetent?

Bob Dylan Portrait by T.HO 2004
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The will to believe is overpowering. And the idea of a single “God” as a real being who  epitomizes all Goodness lies at the heart of religions that can trace their historic influences back to ancient Persian Zoroastrianism, or maybe only as recently as late Mediterranean paganism when the lesser deities of the Olympian pantheon were being subsumed as mere manifestations or angelic agents of the Supreme Deity.

The efforts of modern believers to rationalize the God of their Book with pure Goodness are certainly quaint. A few of these were recently encapsulated in a theologian’s blog thus:

Many will say that the heart of the matter is whether God lied to humanity in the Bible. But that’s not the case at all. It is much easier to suggest that God accommodated the message in the Bible to what people could understand when it was written, or spoke in poetic rather than literal terms, or didn’t override the minds and understanding of the Bible’s authors when God inspired them, or perhaps didn’t even inspire the Bible at all, than to suggest that God lied and continues to lie to us through the evidence the universe itself provides. read more »

Appealing to Faith in a Search for Truth, Playing Tennis Without a Net

Before you appeal to faith when reason has backed you into a corner, think about whether you really want to abandon reason when reason is on your side.

(This quote and the following post are largely taken from page 154 of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Dennett.)

Many believers in God claim that their faith is something beyond reason and cannot validly be tested by the standards of science and rational thought. This is fine on a personal comfort level, but many believers also insist that it must apply just as meaningfully when they bring their faith into arguments about evolution, origins of life and the universe, and other pursuits for truth.

Philosopher Daniel C. Dennett has a beautiful response to this faith claim. He begins by referring to philosopher Ronald de Sousa who described philosophical theology as “intellectual tennis without a net“, with the net being a metaphor for rational judgment.

Let the believer who insists that the rigour of scientific method or rational argument not be allowed to touch his faith have the first serve, Dennett begins. Whatever the believer serves, suppose the nonbeliever replies:

What you say implies that God is a ham sandwich wrapped in tinfoil. That’s not much of a God to worship!

The believer volleys back demanding to know how the nonbeliever can logically make such a claim that his (the believer’s) opening serve has such a preposterous implication. So the nonbeliever replies:

Oh, do you want the net up for my returns, but not for your serves? Either the net stays up, or it stays down. If the net is down, there are no rules and anybody can say anything, a mug’s game if there ever was one. I have been giving you the benefit of the assumption that you would not waste your time or mine by playing with the net down.

Not that Dennett is opposed to faith per se. What he wants to see “is a reasoned ground for taking faith seriously as a way of getting to the truth . . .”

Before you appeal to faith when reason has backed you into a corner, think about whether you really want to abandon reason when reason is on your side.

Dennett assists the reader in answering this question with a few thought experiments:

1. You and your loved one are touring a foreign land when your loved one is brutally murdered before you eyes. Now in this land the legal system allows friends of the accused to testify their faith in his innocence. The judge listens to friend after friend tearfully, sincerely, movingly testify to their complete faith in the accused’s innocence, and by the end of the hearing this judge is far more swayed by their faith claims than the evidence of the prosecution. Would you be willing to live in such a place?

2. You are about to be operated on by a surgeon who tells you that whenever he hears a little voice telling him to disregard his medical training and do something different, he listens to and follows that still small voice. . . . .

Dennett concludes:

I know it passes in polite company to let people have it both ways, and under most circumstances I wholeheartedly cooperate with this benign arrangement. But we’re seriously trying to get at the truth here, and if you think that this common but unspoken understanding about faith is anything better than socially useful obfuscation to avoid mutual embarrassment and loss of face, you have either seen much more deeply into this issue than any philosopher ever has (for none has ever come up with a good defense of this) or you are kidding yourself. (The ball is now in your court.)

From http://gssq.blogspot.com/2008_02_01_archive.html

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7 predictors of belief in God; and the different reasons why “I” and “They” believe

Why Darwin Matters contains several sharable nuggets of dot-points findings and here’s one more. In 1998 Frank Sulloway and Michael Shermer surveyed 10,000 Americans about their beliefs in God. Here are the summaries (pp. 34-37):

The seven strongest predictors of belief in God are:

1. being raised in a religious manner
2. parent’s religiosity
3. lower levels of education
4. being female
5. a large family
6. lack of conflict with parents
7. being younger

They also asked respondents whey they believed in God and the top 5 reasons were as follows:

1. The good design / natural beauty / perfection / complexity of the world or universe (28.6%)
2. The experience of God in everyday life (20.6%)
3. Belief in God is comforting, relieving, consoling, and gives meaning and purpose to life (10.3%)
4. The Bible says so (9.8%)
5. Just because / faith / the need to believe something (8.2%)

But an interesting thing happened when they were asked why they thought others believed in God. What had been the mainly rational reasons for each respondent believing (concluding design required a designer, thinking about life experiences) were dropped to last and third places when asked why they thought others believed in God. Others — not themselves — were mainly thought to believe for emotional (nonrational) reasons.  Belief in God is comforting, relieving, consoling, and gives meaning and purpose to life (26.3%)

  1. Religious people have been raised to believe in God (22.4%)
  2. The experience of God in everyday life (16.2%)
  3. Just because / faith / the need to believe something (13.0%)
  4. Fear death and the unknown (9.1%)
  5. The good design / natural beauty / perfection / complexity of the world or universe (6.0%)

Related post — Why people do not accept evolution

Historian of science and Skeptics Society foun...
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“God, Actually” by Roy Williams (1)

godActuallySubtitle is “Why God probably exists, Why Jesus was probably divine, and Why the ‘rational objections’ to religion are unconvincing”

When I first saw dozens of copies of this new book piled high and red near the entrance of my local ABC bookshop (Australian, not American, broadcasting) I was compelled to investigate. First thing I noticed from the back cover was that the author was a lawyer. That reminded me, worryingly, of another lawyer’s attempt to prove Christianith with “Who Moved the Stone?” That book was so riddled with logical and historical-methodological fallacies that it has left me wondering why a publisher would want to advertize that yet another apologetic book was coming once again from the same profession that had failed so dismally once before to go beyond talking to the choir.

Since my interest has been largely in the historical evidence for Christian origins I turned quickly to where Roy Williams discusses “the historical Jesus”. Unfortunately, he does not appear to engage with the critique of the normal things (the usual texts and even archaeological (sic!)) evidence for Jesus’ existence, but brushes it all aside under the collective rubric of ” G. A. Wells and others” who are merely said to strike R.M. as “too clever by half”.

A brief discussion of Michael Onfray‘s critique is included, but his main fault appears to be that his is “[t]o put it mildly . . . a minority view.” (p. 153)

Williams then proceeds to repeat the normal routine arguments for the existence of Jesus found on any fundamentalist website or that are asserted (never proved) in general Christian texts.

Much in his book is also a response to recent atheist publications by authors such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens.

This was my first encounter with Roy William’s book, and since his arguments on the historicity so disappointed me, not engaging at all with the serious critiques against both their logic and historical methodologies, I didn’t think anything more of it. And I had little confidence in how he would have handled works by Dawkins et al given what I had seen of his treatment of this side of the argument, including the case made by Onfray.

But some months later I still see this book at many more bookshops, not only in Australia, and so I had another look. I even went so far as to break my promise not to bother to buy a copy.

So here I have it, and only need time to read it more completely (alongside many others on my list) and I hope I can respond in some detail to some of the points made in this book — if only for Australian lay audiences who may not so familiar with much of the scholarship and serious critiques of Jesus’ historicity as others in the home countries of Europe and North America where much of the debate and publishing on these topics takes place.

Will try to get to continuing with this and other posts in coming months.

Meanwhile, to comment on one specific argument I read while resting in the Singapore heat and humidity yesterday:

Why God cannot allow Children to avoid an early death

Roy Williams writes in part:

Imagine a world in which, say, no one could di before the age of twelve; a world in which a supposedly more loving God ‘spared the innocent’, at least for a fixed time. Would that be a better world? No. The possibility that such a world could work satisfactorily really does not hold up for a moment. Children at a certain age would be known to be indestructible, and with what results? Parents would not care for them so painstakingly, nor love them with such protective tenderness, all kinds of monstrous evils (short of death) would be all the more likely to be visited upon them, by their parents and by others. (p.220)

Fact: Anthropologists know all too well, and it has been a fact of history since history began, that there have been many cultures where a parent (especially a father) is less likely to care for a child until it has survived past a certain age and has proven itself more likely to be a candidate for long-term survival!

It is the prevalence of early death to so many children throughout so much of human existence that has been a factor in withdrawal of deep parental love. Many parents have too often sought to avoid the pain of emotional attachment and the wasted time and energy on a child until they can be sure it will survive in the long term.

It is the evil of the fact of too much early death that has bred this evil.

Parents don’t love a child, or do so “painstakingly” or with “such protective tenderness” because of the fear they might otherwise die, but because they are a part and extension and fruit of their own very selves, and for whom they naturally wish all the best in the world, for the sake of a happy life both now and in the future.

Allen & Unwin blurb of this book.

ABC publisher blurb of this

Author’s blurb

Adelaide Arts Festival blurb

Christian bookstore blurb

Christian propagandist site blurb

Richard Dawkins net discussion

Christian blog discussions — blog 1, blog 2

Good Reads web discussion

LibraryThing details

(let no one say i don’t give the other side a good chance to be heard! 😉

Australians believe in Space Aliens, Americans believe in God

I am glad I live in Australia rather than America.

Many of us here have cancelled plans to emigrate to New Zealand or Nepal since our erstwhile reactionary Prime Minister John Howard lost his seat at the recent election.

But even more happily invigorating is the latest HarrisInteractive poll on American beliefs, giving us the opportunity to compare the intellectual climate and health of the two countries.

82% of Americans believe in God, a statistic that makes me think of black overcast skies and Cromwell’s dreary England. Compare Australians. It is a statistical fact that “more Australians believe in space aliens than believe in God, despite the fact that more Australians have been to church than have been abducted by UFOs.” (Dale, 100 Things Everyone Needs to Know about Australia.) To be fair, space aliens in the original source refers strictly to the possibility of intelligent life out there and not necessarily to those little green creatures that abduct people in their sleep. But who’s splitting hairs?

See, Australians have checked out church and found it only has a ceiling or arch or stained glass up top. But no-one can justly accuse them of being incorrigible sceptics simply for the sake of scepticism. Australian’s can’t deny space aliens.

And the best part is that space aliens don’t make any claims on how people should vote or run the country or what films should be censored or what sexual leanings should be the basis of legal rights.

And they make much more interesting discussion topics than God when there are a few beers to get things going. I’m also sure they can offer much more fertile material for pick-up lines than God. One only has to compare “Have you had a close encounter lately?” with “Have you prayed today?”

And space aliens are much sexier than God. God positively frowns on sex. He will only reproduce by remote control through genetic-spirit implant into a virgin, — and he only ever went that far once in all eternity! Space aliens do much more interesting things while still working in mysterious ways with their abductees, as we all know.

Why Space Aliens are a more positive Belief Object than God

  1. Space Aliens don’t divide people morally over whether people believe in them or not
  2. Space Aliens don’t threaten to send you to hell if you don’t believe in them
  3. Space Aliens do not justify any wars
  4. Space Aliens do not make rules that mess up people’s sexual health
  5. Space Aliens expect you to believe in advanced technology but not in miracles
  6. Space Aliens do not command earthlings to keep impossible or silly rules
  7. Space Aliens do not censor the arts or any creative activity of earthlings
  8. Space Aliens do not want your money or your soul. (Some do want your body but only for a moment of experimentation after which it is returned without discernible after-effects.)
  9. When earthling attempts to communicate with Space Aliens are reciprocated it will be a scientifically verifiable event
  10. Space Aliens do not make any promises they can be accused of failing to keep
  11. Space Aliens do not take offence or get angry, — ever (even if you make graven images of them or have a laugh at their expense)
  12. Having a personal relationship with a Space Alien is entirely optional
  13. If you do decide to have a personal relationship with a Space Alien you are not required to go from door-to-door telling others about it.

Breaking the Spell: Daniel Dennett on religion

Another Radio National transcript of interview with a leading scientist on God and religion. From the “All in the Mind” program: read more »

God, the Universe and Everything

Another ABC Radio National program about God, only this time presented on a religion and not a science program: read more »