Minutes: “Religious belief, hardwired and harmful?”

When: Tuesday September 29, 8PM
Where: Charles Commons Conference Center Salon A

Discussion led/moderated by graduate student Jonathon Hricko

“Religious belief hardwired and harmful?”

Some philosophers and psychologists have argued

1.) the default position most belief take is in some sense religious. Some reason to suspect this religious feeling is innate in humanity.
2.) we have at least some scientific evidence that these beliefs are false. Not only false, but potentially harmful, as they affect public policy and human behavior.

Discussion Ideas:

Are these claims correct? If they are, then there seems to be a tension.

Psychologist: Paul Bloom, gave a series of talks at Hopkins two years ago. Has a short piece on how common sense steers us in the wrong direction. People generally adopt some sort of creationist or ID view. There is some reason to think that this is a natural or default view, most children have it pretty early on. Children are more creationist then their parents. The alternative view is difficult to get an intuitive grasp on (natural selection). A lot of people perhaps only follow it because ‘smart’ people follow it.

How minds and brains work? Most people will say that there can be conscious experience and free will without a brain at all. Freaky Friday (terrible movie, mother and daughter switch bodies haha) this might capture some intuitive view of how that might be.  No brain, no mental life. We have some default view that people accept and then science telling us what is really going on.

These are not only false beliefs, but could be dangerous. The stuff on origin of species isn’t that bad, it might affect how classes are taught at public school. The stuff fon how the mind and brain works may have worse consequences… if you fall into the dualism of body and mind, body and soul… excuses for committing crimes, it wasn’t me, ‘my brain made me do it’… common sense steers us in the wrong way…

Daniel Dennett (philosopher): compares when you are religious to being drunk. Alcohol impairment and religion… we blame people for doing things while they got drunk. Religion seems to be praised across the board, if you are doing something from a deep seated faith, even if it is irrational or harmful, we have a reason to praise this stuff. This deserves blame just as much as getting drunk or something.

Interlocutor A: agrees with Dennett. But… a lot of religious beliefs are unverifiable… evidence for the religious beliefs being hardwired… is everyone being slightly religious…

Interlocutor B: experiments with young children… two puppets: brown mouse and mr. alligator. Brown mouse dies. Asks the children, “does brown mouse still feel hungry?” … “no, he’s dead” but then he asks, “does brown mouse miss his mother?” and they say, “yes, he does miss his mother”  missing your mother is associated with the mind and soul while being hungry is associated with the body…
Another experiment: extent to which babies will pay attention to shapes moving around on screen… you think about it as a fictional object

Interlocutor C: there is good evidence that certain things are innate… attributed agency… religion seems to exploit these mechanisms that are already there… religious beliefs tend to fall out of these mechanisms… religious belief might then be natural, they sort of fall out of these mechanisms…

Interlocutor D: cognitive science religion… none of it talks about ‘finding a religion module’… a series of things which might have been co-adapted, includes different things such as theory of mind… perceiving people as a body and a material soul…

Interlocutor E: should we think the religion module is innate? For the most part in human history there hasn’t been religion… people began with animism… thinking of them as having intentionality…
Thinking of religion as a meme…

Interlocutor F: thinking of religion as a social construct… just as memes come out of nowhere… social structures get imposed on us… religion at its core, if Christianity were created by man, it would have to have been thought of as an individual initially… when talking about religion itself, what gives us the right to think that religion has any sort of validity in itself? That belief is something that people have the ability to choose…

Interlocutor E: it is a back channel to prioritize people’s desires… take the government, it has a function and a minimum criteria for human organization. The sort of belief in an overarching schema that sets people’s priorities in their life like nothing else, and doesn’t appear to empirical observation, or controversial to rational thinking… this is what makes it dangerous

Interlocutor A: yes, and it is self-sustaining… people often share the same social belief structure…

Interlocutor E: rational self-interest reaches an equilibrium in a normal state of affairs, there isn’t a floor

Interlocutor C: science tells cannot tell us the relationship between mind and brain without some metaphysical basis… perhaps science will never answer these type of questions. If you have a certain belief about the mind-brain
-no one has a clear enough view of what is rationality… we need some way of knowing we are rationality most of the time

Interlocutor D: can you tie together the idea that I shouldn’t hit my brother, is it rational… perhaps not rationality but self-interest

Interlocutor F: what is the metaphysical assumption of rationality? What gives us a reason to think about it as truth? What gives us the right to say reason is on top of God?

Interlocutor E: I don’t like the concept of rationality… in an economics state of affairs: someone is thought to be rational if they access to a certain body of information, they understand what their goods are, what their intereset are… and they can carry out a basis for their information… the ability to identify the intrinsic goods present in nature and exercise your autonomy “I don’t know what those intrinsic goods are”

Interlocutor A: agrees: rationality is illusive to define. Religion apparently appeals to itself to justify itself. Says that science doesn’t appeal to itself, Shane says it doesn’t appeal to reason it applies to something else…

Interlocutor E: science explains physical phenomenon. You can observe them. Religion deals with issues that are less readily observable… your spiritual experiences are equally hard to see empirically…

Interlocutor H: Pascal’s wager… I want eternal salvation, what is the harm in believing? Religious people believe they are being rational, it doesn’t appeal to any external verification, you can’t get verification that goes exists. But there are people who have intense spiritual experiences… and for them that might be something that draws them in. brings up Jesus Camp… little kids speaking in toungues, kids being brainwashed, these kids aren’t expressing their religiosity…

Interlocutor I: what domains of religion can be studied empirically?

Interlocutor E: I’m catholic. Say I go into confession. There is a distinctly different feeling from going in and going out… on a level of a personal experience it is not something that I can analyze…

Interlocutor I: is that a type of dualism? Subjective experience is untouchable?

Interlocutor E: I wouldn’t say it is completely untouchable… mind and body… he thinks there is something irrational about claiming that it can be studied…

Interlocutor J: no weight on my personal beliefs… but look at religion as the rational way of thought. Well one could also argue that science is harmful, it is us being tricked while religion is 100% true… and I believe that your belief during your confession experience.

Interlocutor E: I am not saying all beliefs are equally good… you can have religious beliefs that are absurd… but one can look empirically at what is going on when I go to confession… but it could just be coinciding with something more going on…

Interlocutor J: what do you mean by spirituality?

Interlocutor E: I don’t really know

Interlocutor A: it is obvious that at the level at which we perceive phenomenon, that we cannot observe it at the atomic level. But that does not mean that science doesn’t explain it in some way. He doesn’t disagree that there might be two different domains… one where religious belief should be what you appeal to… and another where you think religion should appeal to… both realms might be overconfident in their own realms. Science and Religion overlap… it is hard to deal with it when they overlap…

Interlocutor H: this spiritual experience goes across all different types of religions… there is no certain way to distinguish which worldview is superior… with science, the one thing it has going for it, is that science is constantly evolving and changing to explain things… you can challenge religion and make progress to as the way the world is in the world… bad thing about religion is that it creates institutions, for instance institutions that women get oppressed, you can’t argue from it outside of religion

Interlocutor F: what is good? Perhaps the church of reason could stagnate that individual from reasoning through that problem…

Interlocutor A: scientific faith can almost be as ridiculous as religious faith…

Interlocutor E: there are cases where religion can be wrong…

Interlocutor J: religions do change… science: study of thought used to say it was in the heart, now it says it is in the heart… in this sense science is more malleable… so the harm could be that there is no room for plasticity in religious belief…

Interlocutor D: when we are talking religion… let’s not just talk about these mainstream religions… keep in mind those cults and crazy little religions…

Interlocutor E: how can we distinguish between religious and science explanations? The two are sort of a mismatch with eachother… difference between science and religion?

Interlocutor I: the processes… science is measured by the scientific method… way to categorize scientific statements is whether they fall under the scientific method

Interlocutor A: falfisifiability of a false belief… a religious belief is not falsibiable… relatively impossible to distinguish a belief from a personal belief system… it is hard to say “why I belief this?” without explaining my entire world view…

Interlocutor J: only line between science and religion.. most religious views when boiled down, it is because this thing decided something… while science think one thing caused another and they have no basis for saying what started it…

Interlocutor E: there is natural philosophy and religious philosophy… Aquinas, Leibnize, etc… giving properties for God are as rational or more rational than the explanations that people gave for physical phenomena back then also…

Interlocutor A: I can see that relating what we were talking about earlier… what is right? Which survives the cultural evolutionary process? Is it better than religion? Is it better than science?

Interlocutor F: make a defintion of what science is, of what religion is… I don’t see a difference… to say which one is correct and which is not correct, would be detrimental to seeing all of what reality is… is religious belief detrimental to how we are and conduct ourselves? In trying to find the ultimate truth we need to see the whole history of society and philosophy… I see it as just one phenomena…

Interlocutor B: there is nothing outside of religious belief to say which is harmful which is not harmful… one thing that one can think of… Alvin Plantinga, we have two sources for truth in this world, we have the natural phenomena that we perceive everyday, and we have god’s word… even if they are guides to truth, it is not that we arrive at the truth if we accept the bible is God’s word…

Interlocutor K: so many religions… so many controversies in itself… but perhaps with reason there is no controversy… there is some stuff going on where people disagree about certain things, and certain phenomena don’t fit into this… every theory that we give in is born into a sea of anomalies…

Interlocutor E: when you get into things that aren’t physical phenomena… if you get into political philosophy, he is not sure if the religious attempts have been unanimously worse than what non-religious people have said…

Interlocutor D: making the ID design argument, and saying it is setting the bar too high for science… for instance, if we go into a certain tribe and they ritualistically kill children because it rains… we don’t need a complete theory of meteorology to say it is a better than kill a child for rain theory…

Interlocutor A: what is harmful? Inside of their belief systems they would say this is not harmful… jihadists would say that it is not harmful…

Interlocutor J: perhaps a differentiation between religion and science is not important… if we were fanatically scientific and we thought anyone who was not scientific, that would be harmful…

Interlocutor F: epistemic value, rather than saying these beliefs as two different things, think of it as just what it is… all our perceptions can be cohesively united together…

Interlocutor A: harm in isolating the world and explaining them, I think it is just as harmful to appeal to one source…

Interlocutor F: see the world for what it is… if we have all these different perspectives… put it all together, would that be a much better view of the world than a scientific view… but hypothetically it would be a better way…

Interlocutor E: first, reason or science is really viable… that there is an option that anyone can adopt… so if you are looking at other ways to look at, where religion starts and someone else’s idea starts…
Second, religious beliefs are uncheckable, he doesn’t agree with this notion… people can talk about different moral ideas… that seems right, that doesn’t seem right… but still think it is discussable in some way…

Employers
do not randomly replace women with men; rather, they carefully choose
specific job categories to feminize while leaving others untouched.

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