Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Religion & Science 2

Scientific Reality

Jeffrey at Issues In Mormon Doctrine has had a series of good posts on Dennet's "Breaking the Spell of Religion". While most of my comments never quite manage to be in sync with the subtleties required, the novel threads I end up thinking about after the face must mean I am at least adjusting my track, or perhaps just getting successively more off base.

One issue that has taken me a while to come to grips with is the various things people mean when they say something is scientific. Many branches of study seem to cling to the coat tails of science in a way that is analogous to how religions cling to divine endorsement. Often it is used as a tool of authentication rather than a means of establishing rigorous absolutes.

Going through Voltaire's Bastards, one certainly gets presented with the idea that much of what we assume to be valid may in fact just be the finalizing of a self justifying and hence, logically consistent system. However, one assumes science is independent of this for a few reasons.
1. Science is weakly dependent on value judgments. Facts are able, in most part, to speak for themselves. If not, they can be explained in a way that minimizes subjective interpretation.
2. Scientific results are context independent. They specify the conditions under which they are valid. Eventually conclusions can be shown to be correct in any attainable situation.
3. As an extension of 2, context independence infers that reality is what is being described. Repeatability solidifies this assumption.

In the scientific pursuit one of the things sought are unimpeachable results. These should apply to any specified conditions, or at least be simplified approaches that apply to limited domains (Newtonian mechanics vs. quantum mechanics). They should be repeatable, hence reliable. In other words they should describe reality. Following this line, one can come to the conclusion that reality is anything that can be depended upon and is context independent. More specifically many people would say that it corresponds to something absolute. Science is a means to describe this absolute reality.

An absolute, science communicates in communal fashion. It's results are thing upon which every logical person can agree. Those that don't are factually and demonstrably incorrect. This means it is based on communal realities. Now of course it happens that shared realities are the ones most likely to represent physically reality. However our experience of reality can't occur without participation. While philosophers will probably call me a fool, I don't think we can logically talk about reality as an absolute without reference to our experiential contact with it. In other words, it is like trying to talk about the momentum of an electron without reference to it's position. While precise momentum measures are possible, we can't take this figure and extrapolate it back to a given position. Their distinguishabilities are inversely related. When we talk about science discovering absolutes, we can't talk about it independent of experience. Of course degree to which experience interacts with reality varies depending upon the object and, perhaps, the observer.

If I am a schizophrenic and hear voices of an imaginary person communicating with me, in what way is this less real than another person who has an actual person talking to them? It is less real because no one else can experience it. While this obviously isn't a very useful way of dealing with things, what happens if other people were to act as if the schizophrenic voice was real? Obviously we would say we are entering into a world of pretend. It falls apart because there is no way different people could experience that same thing. Each "voice" would be different, hence unreliable. If, however, people understood the imaginary voice as communicating the same thing in a repeatable fashion, is it still unreal? As the voice becomes more anthropomorphized, the answer mimics reality more and more. Questions like this really lead one to question the value in the difference between actual realities and functional realities. If they are indistinguishable, what is the difference? To some extent, is this what religion may actually be proposing?

One of the first problems is that we can no longer deal with one reality that we all experience. There are individual realities that have substantial overlap, especially in certain areas. In this realm, religion has a niche. The unification it facilitates may enable its fundamental promises. It implies that what one accepts, to some extent, is able to change the reality one experiences. Fundamentally this is what repentance is about. Real change is feasible, and paradigm shifts can enable things that otherwise would not be possible.

To me this leads to an interesting way to think about the three degrees of glory. Somehow people in one degrees are able to share a reality that is fundamentally different from those in another. It could be a similar idea of how god works and how to follow his example. In this way it would be analogous to Christ's proclamation that if you have seen him and what he has done, you have seen the Father and what he has done. While Jesus and the Father are not physically one, it's a good bet they have a similar take on how things work. I don't think it a religious stretch to say that their reality is quite a bit different that what many of us would accept, conceive, predict, or apply.

Similarly there are certain other shared realities that are possible. Some may involve no spiritual promptings at all. In this regard I find the cognitive sci approaches to religion interesting. They seem to imply that religious inclination is at least fairly widespread. The conclusion that the supernatural, while not actually real, is nonetheless an effective way to embody ethereal connections seems fairly analogous to the mormon conception of the telestial kingdom. Distinctions in the other kingdoms could also be based on the way one perceives, shares and experiences reality.

Religion & Science 1

From religion to science

When religion tries to become scientific a couple of outcomes seem likely.
1. Religion chooses which facts and studies to accept, becoming at most a pseudo science. Intelligent design defense seems to fit in here. Proponents use the science label to justify and proof text positions..
2a. Rationalism is mistakenly presented as science. Thus people who say religion is scientific are at best saying it is rational. Historicity approaches to religion seem a good example of this. The more one values the simple edge of Okam's razor, the more religion is seen as a useful myth. (Here I mean rationalism as the attempt to make things logically consistent with what is currently accepted)
2b. On a similar note, a few may confuse philosophical consistency with scientific truth. Thus they may propose that they are scientifically studying a world that is, in large part, hidden from us. Few people would really accept philosophy as real science.
3. Religion uses scientific methodology as a basis for revelation. Scientists get up in arms because results are always extremely contextual, scientifically unreliable, and inherently corrupt. Using these results could lead to patently false conclusions (the tooth fairy is a real entity).

There are probably a few other categories of outcomes. The first seems inherently distasteful to me. I have never been overly fond of proof texting and self justification. Apologetics certainly has place in a PR world, but it is poor way to discover anything useful.

The second is probably much more diverse that I have indicated. Since I accept that the conclusions of religion are improbable (although certainly not impossible), I tend to think attempts at complete rationalization have severe restrictions due to their inability to deal with vagueness.

I am rather partial to the third. While it certainly can lead to compartmentalization of truth (ie my revelations don't apply to everday life, and scientific conclusions can be superceded), I don't think it has to. The problem seems to be how we view reality, and how willing we are to let in data that could lead to erroneous conclusions. Science is based on using data that is acceptable to everyone. While certainly dependable, it may be limiting to assume all things can be so universal.

Are there any other general categories of outcomes that can be expected if a religion tries to become scientifically based?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

VB 3 - Central Ideologies

Voltaire's Bastards
Central Ideologies

As one looks closer at society, extreme positions tend towards functional similarity. According to Terror & Liberalism, the extreme left is increasingly finding itself supporting regimes, or at least states, that are every bit as genocidal as their professed epitome of evil - nazism. While few countries are able to match German efficiency, I wonder if we aren't some times overly confident and adept in the creation of self justifying systems. Complexity can be a wonderful tool for creating the types of insulation necessary to make anything else seem foolish.

The Right and the Left, like Fascism and Communism, have never been anything more than marginal dialects on the extremes of reason. They are the naive answers that one would expect from a central ideology which, in its very heart, believes in absolute solutions. And so, despite this confusion of false ideologies, the ethic of reason has continued to spread within our societies. Certain characteristics of that ethic, less apparent in the beginning, have seeped through into dominating positions. It has produced a system determined to apply a kind of clean, unemotional logic to every decision, and this to the point where the dictatorship of the absolute monarchs has been replaced by that of absolute reason. The development and control of intricate systems, for example, has become the key to power

VB page 20

I have mentioned before that rationalism is very successful. I certainly can't imagine the world without it. However that does not mean that we aren't susceptible to over extending it in much the same way that people over extend religion. I think my posts ON IDEALISM have gotten at this idea. Often what matters isn't how things could work in an ideal world, it is how they function in practice. Pragmatism wins because it deals with the context that idealism forgets. However, just as extreme liberalism may find itself justifying Iraqi beheadings and condemning Californian executions, context can become an all encompassing shroud.

We see signs of failure, but the system provides no vocabulary for describing this breakdown, unless we become irrational; and the vocabulary of unreason is that of darkness, so we quite properly avoid it.

This absence of intellectual mechanisms for questioning our own actions becomes clear when the expression of any unstructured doubt - for example, over the export of arms to potential enemies or the loss of shareholder power to managers or the loss of parliamentary power to the executive - is automatically categorized as naive or idealistic... Our society contains no method of serious self-criticism for the simple reason that it is now a self-justifying system which generates its own logic.

VB page 21

Many people ask whether or not religion can stand up to scientific scrutiny. Does it have to throw up a wall of sacredness to avoid being shaken to myth? This seems to presuppose the existence of absolute solutions. While John Saul's comments certainly can be questioned, I wonder if some of the baggage brought to the debate doesn't illuminate some interesting duplicities concerning self justification.

Certainly science tends towards context independence. But in the debate, are we mistaking rationality for science and justifying it through self determining logic? When the solutions one is looking for are context dependent, a wrench certainly seems to get thrown into the mix. After all context independence seems a basic assumption upon which things naturally get framed. I wonder if, in some instances, we are mistaking rationality for science and religion for irrationality.

Rational complexity seems to have defined religion as its opposite. As they apply to moral fields, they may actually be sides of the same coin. The only difference could be the extent to which they have embraced scientific methodology When applied to moral fields, is rationality the scientology of religion? Does it hide behind the protective cloak of science in the same way religion hides behind its sacred walls?

To me the question seems to center around the extent to which science can stick to each.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

VB2 - rationality's communication problems

Voltaire's Bastards 2
Rationality's communication problems

People like specific solutions. In societal terms we want to have a knowledge that the direction we are tending is the best possible course. We instinctively shy away from leaders who would answer with vagueness, indicating that the specifics we rely on really don't matter much in the end. This tendency seem analogous to religious tendencies towards highly specific extrapolations. From Voltaire's Bastards:

Our unquenchable thirst for answers has become one of the obvious characteristics of the West in the second half of the twentieth century. But what are answers when there is neither memory nor general understanding to give them meaning? This running together of the right answer with the search for truth is perhaps the most poignant sign of our confusion.

page 17

Confidence towards religion or rationality is based on the ability to understand. Realistically, religious language, while much deeper than most people can fathom can be interpreted to a point where sudden clarity seems apparent and limitations obvious. This seems similar to a move along Fowler's stages of progression. The limiting factor is often a deciphering of language and meaning. However, should we suppose that rationality suffers no such equivalencies? Continuing,

It is a curious sort of confusion. Organized and calm on the surface, our lives are lived in an atmosphere of nervous, even frenetic agitation. Hordes of essential answers fly about us and disappear, abruptly meaningless. Successive absolute solutions are provided for major public problems and then slip always without our consciously registering their failure. Neither the public and corporate authorities nor the experts are held responsible for their own actions in any sensible manner because the fracturing of memory and understanding has created a profound chaos in the individual's sense of what responsibility is.

This is part of the deadening of language which the reign of structure and abstract power has wrought. The central concepts upon which we operate were long ago severed from their roots and changed into formal rhetoric. They have no meaning. They are used wildly or administratively as masks. And the more our language becomes as tool for limiting general discourse, the more our desire fro answers becomes frenzied.

page 17

In the moral realm it is common to think of rationality as a saviour. Yet, the more complex its associated language becomes, the more religious in nature it appears. While an ability to decipher significant levels of interactions may lead one to believe that absolutes can be discovered, this very complexity may sow the seeds of its own inapplicableness.

Yet there is no great need for answers. Solutions are the cheapest commodity of our day. They are the medicine show tonic of the rational elites. And the structures which produce them are largely responsible for the inner panic which seems endemic to modern man.

pg 17

Perhaps there is something to be said for reliance on vagueness. While not a popular thought (it certainly could stymie progress), perhaps forcing reliance on over specificity may be one of the underlying principles true religion should teach.

VB 1 - religion of rationality

Voltaire's Bastards
The religion of rationality

Let's face it, religion today has a bad name. What protestantism was to Catholicism, individual morality now is to organized religion. And yet the more one looks at our society the clearer one fundamentally ingrained religious tendencies appear. While this certainly doesn't imply people are out recreating pseudo synagogues, cathedrals and catechisms, it does mean many of the principals that lead to religious belief and organization somehow get represented in people for whom religion has become a hiss and a byword.

Like many avante garde modern moralities, adherents of politically correct morality could probably best be described as a religious sect. However in place of formal organization, the fear of such has lead to what could best be described as a guerilla organization. Coincidentally this seems to mimic the success tribalism is having dealing with large world powers - it decentralizes responsibility preventing any sort of consequential accounting. Modern "religion" seems to be re-inventing moral dogmatism under other auspices, couching itself in sacrosanct positions that empower it to define new heresies. Fundamentally, has anything except the structure really changed?

John Ralston Saul, perhaps expressed similar ideas in his 1992 book Voltaire's Bastards. However his concern is that our modern faith in reason has left us blind to issues surrounding it's use.

One thing is clear: despite successive redefinitions by philosophers, the popular understanding and expectations have remained virtually unchanged. This stability seems to withstand even the real effects of reason when it is applied: to withstand them so effectively that it is difficult to imagine a more stubbornly optimistic concept, except perhaps that of life after death.

pg 15

What is John Ralston Saul talking about here? Religion? The endless circularity that occurs in philosophy? The ineffectiveness of idealism? Actually, it seems to be about a miscalculation concerning the dogmatic nature of reason.

The original easy conviction that reason was a moral force was gradually converted into a desperate, protective assumption. The twentieth century, which has seen the final victory of pure reason in power, has also seen unprecedented unleashings of violence and of power deformed. It is hard, for example, to avoid noticing that the murder of six million Jews was a perfectly rational act. And yet our civilization has been constructed precisely in order to avoid such conclusions. We carefully - rationally in fact - assign blame for our crimes to the irrational impulse. In this why we merely shut our eyes to the central and fundamental misunderstanding: reason is no more than structure. And structure is most easily controlled by those who feel themselves to be free of the cumbersome weight represented by common sense and humanism. Structure suits best those whose talents lei in manipulation and who have a taste for power in its purer forms.

pg. 16

While many find religion easy to critique because of disappointment in moral absoluteness, I wonder if the world of reason in to which they escape is fundamentally different in anything other than degree? While science certainly leads to true and false answers, believing that life can apply black and white rationality may be quite a leap of faith. Despite it's limitations, is it possible that aspects of religious morality may be functionally equivalent to more progressive attempts at delineating the same?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

InG we T -Sin's Locus

In Gods We Trust
Ritual 3.1 - Sin's Locus

According to C. Ward and Beaubrun, possession exorcism affords positive advantages to the individual in such cases: direct escape for a conflict situation and diminution of stress and guilt feelings by projecting blame onto the intruding spirit. The critical advantage of the Pentecostal Church or the village holy man over doctors and folk healers is community support. The group accepts the cause of a person's difficulties to lie beyond the individual's responsibility or control and also accepts the collective burden of comforting, caring for, and eventually curing the individual.

-Atran pg 166

As Atran points out, one potential benefit from the development of sin is how it separates an individual from responsibility. Obviously this is sure to have some negatives associated with it. However, it certainly does make it easier for people to hate the sin and love the sinner.

Along related lines, it seems to give society the chance to create programs, traditions, or attitudes that can help remediate a given set of problems. For instance, many of the supposedly sexist sexual guidelines of the past are probably rooted in well meaning, and for their time period, successful attempts to deal with the risk of unplanned pregnancies. This is not to say the past had all the right answers, only that methods were created to deal with the problem.

It seems reasonable to assume that some people in the church use Satan as a foil to externalize some locus of control. Indeed I wonder if many of the people who conceptualize all sin as the results of an extremely active devil may not also be the ones who wish for more social engineering to combat the problems they see surrounding us. As a corollary, people who see sin as a real representation of their true character may be more inclined for personal rather than environmental solutions.

InG we T - Implicational logic

In Gods We Trust
Ritual 3.0 - Implicational logic

By tuning out the scripted routine and forgetting changing details, participants are able to turn their attention to the "logical" structure and implications of religious doctrine presented in exegesis, argumentation, and sermonizing. As the "inexorable implicational logic" of religious doctrine becomes transparent to participants, the "codification and transmission" of religious belief take on a "high degree of ideological integration, coherence, uniformity, stability" Indeed the systematic, logically integrated character of institutions is an adaptation to conditions of frequent reproduction.

Last year I wrote some posts on TRIBAL RELIGION. One aspect of tribal religions is their lack of universality. Tribal religions are often defined by the inability to fully accommodate outsiders. To have a true sense of their meaning, one has to be born into them. This is the only way to fully understand the hidden meanings that support a unique and basically non transferrable world outlook. Outsiders, like anthropologists, can try to decipher meaning, but hidden memes will always destabilize projections.

Religion it seems, becomes more logical the more one gets in tune with the hidden assumptions behind it. Like Atran mentions in the previous quote, implicational logic become transparent to participants. The reproduction of memes is easy for religion to accommodate. This is because in one sense, the real value of religion doesn't lie in philosophical based doctrines, rather it lies in the ability to give representation to deeply seated memes, heuristics, and even universal assumptions.

In this sense religion mimics deep assumptions about the world. As we look at our own religious views, perhaps we can become too proud of their seemingly logical irrefutability. We assume others just need to see things more from our perspective in order to be convinced. Perhaps we think our perspectives are more useful for others than they may actually be. Perhaps it is too easy to get caught up in the apparent correctness of our view, making a firm foundation of personal experience and validation even more important. If not, we may be wont to follow a path that, as we progress, appears to be more and more correct. As ever the importance of initial direction may only be offset by the importance of humility and a repentant attitude.

InG we T - Big Brother

In Gods We Trust
Commitment 2.6 - Big Brother

According to Jared Diamond, who relates a form of the "religion is oppression" argument: "Bands and tribes already had supernatural beliefs, just as do modern established religions. But the supernatural beliefs of bands and tribes did not serve to justify central authority, justify transfer of wealth, or maintain peace between unrelated individuals". True "religion" arose only when a central authority, or what Diamond calls a "kleptocrat," co-opted preexisting supernatural beliefs to set up a pyramid scam. In this game of social deception wealth flows up the social hierarchy from plebes to patrcians on its way to the gods. Of course, the plebes never see wealth get past the patricians, but they believe it does. The kleptocrat's trick is not entirely a con. He gets people to cooperate with one another under the belief that Bid Brother is always lurking about in search of defectors. The plebes hope to emulate Big Brother by spying on an policing one another, which helps maintain personal security through public order. It also gives people a motive to sacrifice themselves for nonkin

In large societies stability depends on the strength of the central authority. Whether this authority is fascist or democratic doesn't change the requirement that diversity must be balanced by organization. The more diverse a population, the more unifying elements are needed. It seems as if there are several current attempts to supply things around which our increasingly diverse population can unify.

Human rights and social progressiveness seems to be one tenet that seemed to gain notoriety in the 90's. The growth of feminist movements, queer studies, and various other minority voice issues seem to have an underlying theme that the embrace of diversity can function as a social glue. Not being a sociologist I will refrain from citing self referential studies, and merely conclude that, in practice, an embrace of diversity seems to often be a one sided affair that seems to self justify exceptions. Thus it rarely has the enforceable tendencies that would allow it to survive as a tenable rallying point.

Natural religion seems quite capable of providing a rallying point for civilization. According to Atran so far, it seems like an abstractly created Big Brother is a fairly universal human tendency. For it to function as a unifying force, however, one would assume there has to be some continuity in the social norms (memes) that it enforces. This explains why many people are concerned about the unraveling of social values that is occurring today. Despite what may be broadcase, individual points themselves may not have much intrinsic value. However, the diverging paradigms that are manifest and created as a result of these challenges may undermine our sense of internal policing. If we truly believe that the other side is out to lunch, unable to act rationally (from our frame of reference), and likely to push their agenda over our own values, there is little chance that their naturally evolved Big Brother will police them in a way that is mutually favorable.

Religion seems to overcome this by the display of commitment. Throughout this 5th chapter Atran points out that natural religions require commitment displays that are hard to fake. These displays must be costly, enforceable, somewhat prescribed, and hence limiting, and easily interpreted. This tendency to allow others to judge commitment, makes fooling the system more difficult. In this sense then, the creation of organized religion follows from the facilitation of such acts. Chances are you wouldn't put someone who skipped out every other Sunday as a teacher in charge of a whole ward. Neither would you trust a patriarch who never seemed to think about the scriptures or the gospel.

Perhaps some of this is what we feel is missing in politics. We expect historic displays of commitment, but, due to our diversity, must reject the narrow mindedness that such seems to entail. Being committed to generalities never seems to inspire much trust, though it certainly is superficially successful in our PR world.

A final quote from the summary of chapter 5:

All religions require their members to sacrifice immediate self-interest is displays of moral commitment to a particular way of community life whose rightness and truth is God give. For these displays to work their magic, however, they must be convincing. In the statistical long run, and on the average, displays of commitment are convincing only if people are sincerely committed to live up to their promises no matter the cost. To be convincing, then, displays of commitment must be uncontrollable and unreasonable enough to be hard to fake. They must be emotionally expressed and passionately held.

InG we T - quasi-propositional beleifs

In Gods We Trust
Commitment 2.5 - Quasi-propostional beliefs

From page 113
Religious doctrines, rites, and liturgies are only diversely connected sets of examples that serve as public entry points into the vast network of mostly unarticulated commonsense beliefs that nearly all human beings share or have ready inferential access to. In fact, the so-called norms and values of religious traditions are not rules, principles, axioms, or injunctions with fixed factual or propositional content. They are public representations of quasi-propositional beliefs. Quasi-propostitional beliefs may have the superficial subject-predicate structure of ordinary logical or factual propositions, but they can never have any fixed meaning because they are counterintuitive. Their cognitive role is to mobilize a more or less fluid and open-textured network of ordinary commonsense beliefs in order to build logically and factually impossible worlds that are readily conceivable, memorable, and transmissible.

One of the complaints against Mormonism is the ever shifting theology and doctrine. Religious attackers get frustrated as they assume religion should be creedal based and definite. Our open theology can be very frustrating because there seems to be such a church emphasis on religious conservatism and orthopraxy. In essence, they are attacking our beliefs as too quasi-propositional, just as Attran attacks religion in general. Personally I think many of these attacks come because people fail to account for vagueness and propositional uncertainty. Outside of faith in Christ, repentance and baptism, theologically, Mormons are pretty open about the uncertainty, or more accurately the lack of importance of much else. Sure conservatives may not come across this way, but chances are if the prophet told them things had changed, they would be quite accommodating. (look at polygamy WofW, black & priesthood, etc). In this sense, the fluidity LDS have with theology may partially arise from the lack of fixed meaning towards other's revelations.

As I mentioned over at ISSUES IN MORMON DOCTRINE, I think revelatory experiences can never be communally applicable. For them to have any weight, they must be experienced first hand. The fluid nature of quasi-propositionals ensures that we must always search for meaning that is ever changing. From Attran's point this makes religion a costly wast of resources. From a Mormon perspective it forces one to seek grounding spiritual experiences. In this light, scriptures are less about certainty of meaning than they are keys for enabling equivalent personal experiences.

The problem arises with the apparent ease we have in creating, and building upon counterfactuals. We tend to take these relatively rare personal experiences and feel free to apply them where we will. We seem to have a tendency to turn them into fantasy, or at least use them to justify other pleasing fantastical assumptions.. Perhaps it is just me, but I think we may abuse the reality of these experiences if we use them as an excuse not to deal with reality. There should be no caveat assumptions that things will work out when Satan is bound. There should be no assumptions that communal issue problems will be worked out once society is purified. It seems to me that the reality of the gospel indicates that there are workable solutions available. It is the working through these solutions that creates the fantasy that we may envision. Dreams are ethereal until somebody puts them down on paper and gets busy making them.

religious counter-intuitions...draw attention to those aspects of the world that people wish were otherwise. Such counter-intuitions evoke other, logically and factually impossible worlds that are nonetheless readily conceivable because they leave intact most of the everyday world - minus a few worrisome facts and inferences.

InG we T - the fallacy of convergence

In Gods We Trust
Commitment 2.4 - The fallacy of convergence

More often, religious prescriptions and commandments do not constitute social norms in the sense of shared rules or injunctions that determine behaviour. Instead, they stipulate only a bare, skeletal frame for collectively channeling thought and action....Their expression perfomatively signals and establish a cognitive and emotional commitment to seek convergence but doesn't specify what people should converge to. Supernatural agents are guarantors and placeholders for appropriate actions in future circumstances. The truth about them is accepted on faith and communicated through ritual display, not discovered or described as a set of factual or logical propositions.

It is interesting that Atran considers religious propensity an enabler for a convergence. I assume he believes this to be an artifact associated with abstract thinking skills. I would tend to assume the same. Whether or not there is something around which to converge is the crux of the religious argument.

If religion is entirely an unintended consequence associated with abstract, then humans should not be able to use it as a tool for group convergence. The ever mutating forms of religions and their associated conflicts seem to bear this out. However one could equally say that the growth and relative stability of world religions are a counter point. Indeed the apocalyptic nature of some of the New Testament seems to prophesy convergence (although one could certainly see it as convergence by eliminating everyone who doesn't agree). While this question certainly seems non falsifiable for either side, a few points could be significant.

This first is the mutation of religion. If there are mutations in religion, then there is most likely nothing substantial around which to converge. Thus God remains a fantastical supernatural being who is an invented artifact of our abstract thought. The founding intent of catholicism seemed to be an encouragement and facilitation of convergence. LDS views on the apostasy would say for religion to be convergent, there must be communication between god and man, which was not present until the restoration. All religions seem to excuse convergence by blaming individual weakness. As Atran points out, this will always prevent scientific accountability. However, I wonder if part of the fallacy of convergence is the belief that large scale convergence is necessary.

The LDS notion of multiple kingdoms, and MY TAKE ON IT (creating heaving) seems to make it possible to believe that small scale convergence may be all that religion needs. People go as far with it as they want. Everyone gets off at a different point. (link on mormon terrestial is Protestant heave) It seems that the only type of convergence the gospel suggests is that everyone will confess that Jesus is the Christ. Even that may not happen for quite some time in the hereafter.

InG we T - Societal Morals

In Gods We Trust
Commitments 2.3 - Societal Morals

From page 112

Simple consent between individuals seldom, if ever, successfully sustains cooperation among large numbers of people over long periods of time. Displays of commitment to supernatural agents signal sincere willingness to cooperate with the community of believers. Supernatural agents thus also function as moral Big Brothers who keep constant vigil to dissuade would-be cheaters and free riders. To ensure moral authority survives without the need for brute force and the constant threat of rebellion, all concerned - whether master or slave - must truly believe that the gods are always watching even when no other person could possible be looking. Once these sacred relations become a society's moral constitution, as in our "One Nation Under God," they cannot be undone without risking collapse of the public order that secures personal welfare. This is one way that the conceptual ridge of our evolutionary landscape connects with the ridge of social interaction.

According to this chapter, supernatural entities function as big brothers because of our awareness and sensitivities concerning false belief. Abstract thinking gives us the ability to assign intention to seemingly non-random events. Thus supernatural beings arise as plausible explanations for some of the doors abstract thinking opens. Our heuristics for false belief detection, make us conscious about our actions, or at least the way they may be perceived. This combination explains why we believe God is always watching. It also explains why people may be so concerned about the consequences of eliminating the unifying effect of religion in our society.

We can only operate in large groups if we believe other people are generally acting on a set of accepting laws and behaviours. While exceptions will always occur, society is glued together because it is accepted that these individuals will be punished, eliminating the benefits that one could get as a rogue. Once people stop playing by these rules, society can't help but collapse. The evolutionary cognitive arms race has selected for people who have no trust with strangers who may not play by accepted rules.

Can an open society ever create a strong enough sense of nationalism or strong enough cannon of accepted social guidelines to replace an evolutionary programmed Big Brother?


I think this ties into my thoughts on the religion like tendencies of progressive left wing humanism. Removing the acceptance of the universality of religion means some other universal set of rules must take its place, well as long as society is not to break down in chaos. I think the emphasis on human rights indicates that some believe there is a large enough core base of universally accepted moral values to enable us to get rid of those that may be tied into superstitious beliefs.

InG we T - finishing up

Since most comments on the book were covered some time ago, I stopped posting my responses. Having not posted anything for quite some time though, I though perhaps I might as well throw my responses online. They are still rough, and I haven't bothered cross linking things like I normally would, however since I doubt I will get around to correcting that, I am posting them nonetheless.


I have really appreciated all the work John Dehlin has put into his podcasts. Specifically episodes on masonry, David O. Mckay and mormon assimilation have stood out. While it is certainly been a while since I have posted anything, after listening to the stages of faith casts, I thought I might try and pry myself away from renovations to post a few thoughts.

The first time I was presented with Piagetian stages in 2nd year University. The concept seemed to gel. I certainly think the idea of schemas is quite useful. However I have never really appreciated many other hierarchal "stage" concepts. Partly it's because of how easily value judgments seep in. More significantly though, rarity is often unnecessarily associated with progress or perhaps more accurately usefulness. Liberalism offers an easy venue to justify superiority. Happily the sincere stories of the podcast certainly avoided these issues even if the whole concept of stages nonetheless encourages it.

While I certainly think Fowler's stages presuppose levels of merit, that point certainly seems debatable. To me, what is interesting in how unstable the equilibrium point is between relatively blind belief and functional disavowal of supernatural influence. As John mentioned if one moves out a believing paradigm one usually ends up an the realm of atheism or abstract new age supernaturalism. But why is this so?

Certainly some concepts in mormon religion can be hard for some to reconcile. From some perspectives, dissonance requires continual shifts in paradigms that can be taken as proof of religion's futility. Alternatively one can say that lack of stable, paradigms encourages a spirit of repentance and humility; or even that an acceptance of dissonance requires an extreme form of liberalism similar to Fowler's 5th level. While I certainly won't deny any of these possibilities, like assumptions of progressional merit in stage theories, they seem to reach beyond the mark.

Psychological approaches to the supernatural certainly allow one to think of religion as just an effective vehicle in the accomplishment of rather practical goals. If we take the logic in Abraham at face value, God, being the smartest of all of us will just use the most effective tool he can to accomplish what he wants. But why then are rather obvious solutions to the problem of belief left undone?

For a while I have been positing that time constraints involved with a hands off God can answer many questions, well at least for me. Alternatively one could also suppose that there is just a very high cost associated with maintaining traits that can only develop at certain unstable equilibria. But then doesn't this imply that Fowler's higher stages are what should be sought?

Not necessarily. Fowler's higher stages seem to be equilibrium points as comfortable as any previously mentioned. The pain in achieving them may give a sense of accommodated tension, but it is also missing the unnerving quest for answers that unstable equilibria provide. Unfortunately the purpose of this instability is exactly mirrored by the effect one would expect when trying to explain irrational beliefs in a supernatural religion. The latter conveys a sense of depth by providing a circular feedback loop with ever changing parameters. The former assumes that traits associated with unending reformulations are divine.