Some time ago I wrote about Geoffrey Miller’s brilliant thesis that we adorn ourselves with consumer products, ideologies and religious beliefs that allow us to best display our personality traits as detailed in the Big Five model. This means we try show off our degree of Open-mindedness, Consciousness, Extraversion, Emotional Stability and Agreeableness by our choice of conversation topics, body and home decorations and attendances at religious and secular groups (among many other strange things we do). He further argues that these displays are unique to the human species and are a huge part of what made us evolve our intelligence, sense of humour and other physical and mental characteristics that make us different from our closest animal relatives. These came about through sexual selection, which is usually overlooked or denied as a significant factor in human evolution.
My posts generally revolve around my own arguments that I’ve developed for spiritually without belief in a spiritual realm; I’ve done little justice to the fact that this conversation is happening throughout many non-believing communities.
A nice example is this piece by Jennifer Kalmanson of the American Humanist Association on Congregational Humanism.
Several people have questioned me on using the word ‘spiritual’. They remark it is nonsensical or confusing, that even if they understand my use of it in the term Spiritual Materialism, that it will cause confusion for others and I’m doing myself a disservice. This is something I worry about, that passers by on my blog will see ‘Spiritual’ and neglect ‘Materialism’, thinking it is yet another site promoting groundless woo or pseudoscientific babble. Also, it risks falling into the ‘spiritual but not religious’ category, which seems to be disliked by both the religious and non-believers, used mostly as an accusation or accompanied with a roll of the eyes.
I use the word ‘spiritual’ for two main reasons. Continue reading
I’ve recently discovered Dan Fincke’s Camels with Hammers blog, which is very much on the same page as me. Here’s a lovely exchange about how atheists can be religious without compromising their materialism and how different people react to this. As a response to a personal plea it covers things from a more personal angle than I often do, and even the things I do discuss are put in better words than I can manage.
– The Spiritual Materialist
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.
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
I’ve often wondered why there seems to be a universal understanding of what is ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ and what is ‘conservative’, why all nations seem to have left- and right-wing parties despite the terms being Franco-centric and how do these inform national party policies. Why in the UK we talk about ‘big C’ and ‘little C’ conservatism? As wikipedia puts it ‘There is general agreement that the Left includes: anarchists, anti-capitalists, anti-imperialists, autonomists, communists, democratic-socialists, feminists, greens, left-libertarians, progressives, secularists, socialists, social-democrats and social-liberals. There is also general consensus that the Right includes: capitalists, conservatives, fascists, monarchists, nationalists, neoconservatives, neoliberals, reactionaries, right-libertarians, social-authoritarians, theocrats and traditionalists.’ How did these agreements come about? Why are conservatives usually pro-capitalist in Western nations despite capitalism being progressive by definition? Note I will be using ‘liberal’ as shorthand for all things Left-wing and ‘conservative’ as Right-wing throughout.
The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt is a book about the psychology of morals but by explaining them he solves my conundrum and explains the relation between psychology, politics and religion at the individual, national and global scales. He does this by introducing his moral foundation theory, the idea that there are six major areas the human brain is wired to care about:
These are the categories of our moral emotions; things pertaining to them trigger our feeling that something is right or wrong. Due to a combination of genes, neurology and environment different people have moral emotions triggered by different things. It’s the combination of what and how strongly these 6 foundations are triggered by that gives rise to all our political dimensions, with the vast majority of people falling into two broad groups based on what causes their sympathies and judgements. The graph below shows how the liberal-conservative spectrum informs the first five of these traits. The foundations hold true across cultures, suggesting they are universal to humankind; we are probably born with a predisposition to be one point on the spectrum based on our personality, with some leeway to change the point as our brains develop in life. They are a definition of liberal and conservative at their most basic psychological level. The political and everyday meanings, at the national or cultural level, (are you ‘left-wing’ or ‘right-wing’, Republican or Democrat?) in turn map onto the foundations; a local event impresses upon our psychology producing a moral emotion in us; we then use this to decide policy.