Religion, Politics & Personality: It’s All about Sex! Part 2

My last post covered Geoffrey Miller’s first book. I summarised his theory that most of the traits that make the human species unique (be it complex language, sense of humour or religious belief) have evolved due to us trying to show off certain qualities to potential mates, leading to sexual selection for those traits. Although what follows is written to be stand alone, you will get more from this post if you read that first, don’t worry I can wait.

In his second book Miller takes what he established about how our minds developed for sexual selection in the past and applies the consequences of this theory for modern society. In particular he looks at what this means for consumerism and develops new theories, as with his first theory the sheer range and amount of human behaviour that these explain and predict is staggering. In my second of this pair of posts I will explore some of these aspects of humanity, as always I will concentrate mostly on what this means for my proposal for a spiritual materialism, but I’m so taken with some of the ideas on display I cast my net more widely than often before. I hope you are equally inspired by at least the potential if not my interpretations, and if not, please, I beg your indulgence.

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Science & Values: Is My View of Religion Reductionism or Scientism?

Reductionism and scientism are phrases thrown around, mostly by people with beliefs that conflict with science, those who’ve been taken in by pseudoscience or who have vested interest against some paradigm in science (such as the anti-vaccine crowd, the climate change denier lobby, certified MBTI® administrators or alternative medicine dispensers). In order to make their arguments unassailable they often use these terms loosely and obtusely; they avoid defining exactly what they are saying.

However, as I will discuss below I suspect by and large they are made by fear and misunderstanding, rather than due to ulterior motives. Furthermore, could some of the criticisms bundled up in these umbrella terms have some merit when used as warnings to avoid potential pitfalls when doing science, or discussing philosophy of science? Here I try to delineate what people mean when they make accusations of scientism and reductionism and I can then discuss to whether my philosophy of spiritual materialism falls afoul of them.

Both are used, then, in a variety of ways, but I think it is possible to cut through the
rhetoric to get at what fears cause people to brandish them so readily. Continue reading

Problems for my Stance

One of my favourite things about Darwin’s On the Origin of Species is that he devotes a chapter on difficulties on the theory, another favourite thing is that their have been few objections since that aren’t found already predicted by him.

Following him I won’t just publish things that support Spiritual Materialism on this blog, but also things that don’t. Whether to argue against them or simply admit I have problems. Here are a couple I’ve come across in the past week.

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An Inquiry into Robert Pirsig’s Works Part II: Notes on Lila: An Inquiry into Morals

Having devoted his first book laying out the idea of ‘Quality’, which I interpret as ‘the internal reality of the mind’, Pirsig uses his second book to develop Quality into a ‘Metaphysics of Quality’. This metaphysics divides subjective reality into the antagonistic Static Quality (convention) and Dynamic Quality; that is the new, the here and now of instinct or reasoning/intellect. Confusingly Dynamic Quality is, I think, pretty synonymous with ‘Quality’ in his first book; the cutting edge of experience. Each Quality can be overlaid to Pirsig’s hierarchy of value patterns, which are:

  1. Intellectual patterns
  2. Social or societal patterns
  3. Biological patterns
  4. Inorganic patterns

Each pattern is ‘more moral’ than the pattern below and tries to free itself from it and so tries to overcome it and curtail its tendencies. Pirsig makes no justification as to any of this: why is one more moral than the other? Why in that particular order? He attacks the cultural context of science (fairly), but that hierarchy of moral patterns is surely an outcome of the culture it was written in too? He does condemn cultural relativism (laudably in my opinion), so it is noticeable that he does not apply the same criticism to his own ideas. It is a hierarchy that crops up again and again in philosophy, going at least as far back as Plato, who believed the pursuit of philosophy (and intellectual pattern) was the highest calling of the human spirit.

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An Inquiry into Robert Pirsig’s Works Part I: Notes on Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values

Robert Pirsig is responsible for the best selling philosophy book of all time Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values and his much less read follow-up Lila: An Inquiry into Morals. Much has been written on his ideas, including many an undergraduate dissertation. They had a huge influence on me in developing my ideas about spiritual materialism. Over a couple of posts, taking each book in turn, originally written a couple of years ago, I present what I think he is trying to say and you can see how my ideas developed. Continue reading

Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Belief by Justin L. Barrett

The first part of Barrett’s book presents evidence to show why the indoctrination hypothesis is wrong. Belief in god is almost inevitable given natural brain development during childhood because of agenticity, theory of mind and teleological thinking; cognitive pathways that mean we are prone to seeing a consciousness where there isn’t one, then theorising as to it’s desires and intents and attributing other phenomena to its design. I have previously discussed these and other aspects of religious psychology based on Michael Shermer’s The Believing Brain, a much wider-scoped primer on how we form beliefs and why.

The vast majority of atheists still rail against indoctrination despite this evidence having been around from some years. Even Skeptics who are dedicated to educating others as to how people form false beliefs, have been lagging behind. It’s tempting to think that itself it may because it’s equally natural to think other people believe things due to indoctrination. Certainly, it seems to be based mostly on an appeal to common sense. Regardless, I suspect many other false beliefs are due to maturationally natural cognition which predisposes us to belief in psychics, alternative medicine, UFOs and the like.

The second part discusses what the consequences of this new understanding. Continue reading

Chasing Davis: An Atheist’s Guide to Morality Using Logic and Science by James Luce

I bought this book because I had read many philosophical discussions and justifications for the ability of atheists to have morality without religion, but little with and practical help for how to live one’s life. Not because I necessarily desire any dictates on what to do in specific circumstances, but general advice on how to be more objective about interactions with people and dispassionate about my own thoughts and biases.

Chasing Davis is not the book I was looking for, its guidance is limited. It pays lip service to being that sort of book, so I think I am justified on reviewing it as such, rather than just complaining that it did not meet my expectations. Continue reading